A thorn in cross-border relations between the northwestern U.S. and Canada is going away. And therefore so too is one of the best protest mascots in recent history.
For more than a decade, a character named Mr. Floatie—a piece of poo wearing a sailor's cap—nagged greater Victoria's politicians and citizens in falsetto voice to stop dumping the capital region's raw sewage in shared border waters.
Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said construction is now finally underway on a sewage treatment plant. The Canadian consul in Seattle, Tourism Victoria and the mayor are making a show of retiring the pooped out protest mascot with his cooperation. The consul general hosted an official retirement party in Seattle on Friday afternoon at which Mr. Floatie was to remove his costume for the last time.
"Before there was lots of talk, and now what we have is action in the form of construction workers building the plant,” Helps said.
Helps said she's relieved to flush this controversy away because when she traveled across the border on business before, Northwest Americans would inevitably switch the subject to ask when Victoria would get off the pot and treat its sewage.
Washington state leaders even periodically threatened travel boycotts.
"For those people who have been reluctant to travel to Victoria because of this no sewage treatment, please reconsider," Helps pleaded in an interview Friday.
Her Worship the mayor was in the unusual position of playing sidekick to a former candidate for her office on Friday. Mr. Floatie made an abortive run for mayor of Victoria in 2005. His campaign slogan was “No. 2 for No. 1. Mr. Floatie means business.”
Elementary school teacher James Skwarok debuted as the costumed character one year before to draw attention to a satiric citizens group named People Opposed to Outfall Pollution (POOP).
“Thirteen years is a long time to dress up as a seven-foot tall turd," Skwarok said. "I had no idea it would take this long but I’m very grateful to have been part of a movement of caring determined people, from both sides of the border, who helped bring sewage treatment to Victoria."
“Mr. Floatie was flushed with joy after the Capital Regional District finally voted in favour of a revised plan," Skwarok continued in a statement distributed by a PR firm. "What a relief."
Helps said the first big phase of construction entails tunneling underground and underwater to build a conveyance pipe across the mouth of Victoria Harbour from Ogden Point to the site of the regional treatment plant at McLoughlin Point in the neighboring community of Esquimault. Both promontories face the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Salish Sea. The U.S.-Canada border runs down the middle of the strait.
"The silver lining is that by waiting an extra couple of years, we ended up with a higher level of treatment," Helps said. "We're actually building a tertiary treatment plant, not just a secondary treatment plant." Moving from secondary to tertiary level treatment results in water that is sufficiently clean to re-use in certain applications aside from drinking, such as for watering parks.
The full build-out of the sewage treatment system is budgeted at $765 million (Canadian) and is scheduled to be up and running by the end of 2020.
Victoria is the only major West Coast city without a sewage treatment plant. British Columbia's capital region currently flushes millions of gallons of raw sewage out to sea every day. In years past, community leaders defended the practice as having negligible environmental impact because the swift currents in the Strait of Juan de Fuca quickly diluted the waste.