Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently said that “governments can grant permits, but only the community can grant permissions.” It’s a message that has inspired Canadians, but one that has fallen on deaf ears at the Comox Valley Regional District.
Residents from all over the Valley have expressed concerns to the CVRD and the Sewage Commission about its proposals to construct new sewerage facilities and pipelines, especially within the K’omoks estuary or Baynes Sound.
A Comox Valley-wide coalition of 10 environmental groups, independent professionals and scientists, Project Watershed, the Croteau Beach neighborhood and other individuals have all asked, in various forms, for the CVRD to reconsider its plans.
What do they want? A new plan that redirects the flow of sewage through an all overland route to the CVRD’s treatment plant on Brent Road. They want all of the regional district’s sewer infrastructure out of the estuary.
The Estuary Working Group of Project Watershed, which represents the 10 environmental groups, has offered — more than once — to work with the regional district and commission toward a sustainable solution. The CVRD has rejected them.
Many now hope the South Sewer referendum on June 18 fails, because it will leave the door open to press the CVRD and Sewer Commission for an overland route that better protects the environment.
South Courtenay sewage could flow to the current Courtenay pump station #1 on the Dyke Road, and then directly across the former Farquharson Farms, to connect with lines at Guthrie Road area and flow by gravity to the treatment plant.
This would eliminate the use of most existing pipes in the estuary foreshore, and would not require any new ones. A relatively short section of pipe might remain from the K’omoks First Nation to the Courtenay #1 pump station.
This plan would also eliminate the need for the proposed new pump station on Beech Street, outside of Comox.
If Area A voters approve the South Sewer System referendum, there will be more sewage pipes in our marine environment, including the estuary, Baynes Sound and in front of the Willemar Bluffs. And that means more risk of environmental damage, especially given the predicted effects of climate change.
The worst part of the South Sewer System plan calls for miles of new pipe to run underwater from Royston, across the oyster-rich Baynes Sound, over the shifting sands of the Comox Bar, in front of the Willemar Bluffs and up through the foreshore where it will connect to the existing outfall pipe from the treatment plant on Brent Road.
From there, it will travel through the pipeline in the Point Holmes foreshore to the outfall, a section of pipe highly vulnerable to winter storms.
This plan doesn’t address the geomorphlology and hydrology of the miles of marine environment covered by the South Sewer System proposal.
It’s good that the CVRD will finally remove the pipe at the base of Willemar Bluffs. But it’s not enough. The Point Holmes beach pipe is just as vulnerable. And, as we argue in other articles on this page, the remaining pipes along with the proposed new pipes for HMCS Quadra and the south Courtenay area will continue to pose unnecessary risks.
It’s becoming obvious that a large and important sector of our community has not “granted permission” for the regional district’s plans. So, how has the CVRD responded to these voices?
The Sewer Commission has said, in so many words, “We’re not listening.”
At its most recent regular meeting, the commission refused to permit a delegation of concerned citizens to speak. The group had to submit questions in writing, and those questions still haven’t been answered.
It’s as if the commission is afraid of constituents who have differing perspectives.
In response to the most recent letter from Project Watershed’s Estuary Working Group that pleaded with the CVRD to involve them, and to reconsider its current sewerage plans, Sewer Commission chair Barbara Price returned a boilerplate response without addressing the merits of any of the letter’s questions and concerns.
It’s unacceptable for elected officials to callously dismiss the good intentions and genuine concerns of constituents.
What is it about honest civic engagement that scares the Sewer Commission? That they might have to compromise? That educated, professional citizens might have ideas that lead to a better plan?
Good leadership would invite diverse, informed community input to the table, not shoo it away. And that would lead to more sustainable, responsible solutions to our sewer problems.