When elected officials and the community they represent achieve a certain level of synchronicity, good governance and good outcomes usually result.
So a reasonable person might expect that after voters strongly rejected a Comox Valley Regional District sewerage system proposal for the Royston/Union Bay area that CVRD directors and staff might start paying closer attention to the mood of its constituents.
But not the Comox Valley Sewage Commission.
At its July meeting, the commission received more than 700 petitions from people opposed to building a second sewage pumping station at Beech Street, in the Croteau Beach neighborhood. Surely, such a large showing of public opinion deserved some attention.
But when Area B Director Rod Nicol, who is not part of the commission (see below), presented the petitions, there was a deafening silence. No discussion. No questions about why so many people from all over the Comox Valley object to the CVRD’s plan. No attempt to understand what so many petitions might mean in a larger context.
Only Courtenay Director Erik Eriksson seemed to get the message.
Eriksson suggested the petitions represented wide community concern about more than a single pump station on Beech Street. And then he ticked off a long list of those possible other concerns.
There’s limited capacity at the existing sewage treatment plant on Brent Road. There’s concern that sewage pipes in the foreshore of the K’omoks Estuary present a growing danger to a sensitive environment.
The Courtenay #1 pump station needs an upgrade. Project Watershed wants to restore the Field Sawmill site. Cumberland has opted out of CVRD sewerage plans. Voters failed the South Sewer Project referendum, as did Miracle Beach/Saratoga voters previously.
What’s needed, Eriksson said, is for the regional district to go back to the drawing board and come up with a new overall plan that encompasses the whole Comox Valley and that takes citizen and environmental concerns seriously. That’s what people want.
Amen to that. It’s an approach this website supports and has continually promoted.
Missing Eriksson’s point, Commission Chair Barbara Price, of Comox, said they already had a Sewage Master Plan (SMP). Kris La Rose, of the CVRD’s engineering staff, added that the regional district was following the SMP.
Except that they aren’t.
Major Trevor Fenton, the CFB Comox representative on the commission, asked why the staff hadn’t engaged a coastal engineering specialist to determine the remaining life of the raw sewage pipe running along the beach below Willemar Bluffs as recommended in the SMP five years ago.
It’s an important point because if the pipe doesn’t present any imminent danger for the next 5-10 years, then there’s no urgency to abandon that section of pipe and, therefore, no need for a new pump station on Beech Street.
There would be, in other words, enough time to develop a better plan, as Director Eriksson suggested.
La Rose answered that an assessment of the pipe’s condition is technically challenging because it operates continuously. And it would be expensive.
But does it make any sense to spend millions on a patchwork plan to replace a section of pipe that may be in good working condition? Shouldn’t that fact be determined first?
The sewage commission can’t have it both ways. They say they have a plan, but they don’t follow the plan. They haven’t conducted a plan review every three years or created a governance structure for areas outside of the existing mandate and other recommendations in the plan.
These inconsistencies suggest some unspoken purpose for wanting to build a second Comox pump station, despite such strong public opinion against it.
Earlier in the meeting, La Rose gave an overview of a recent open house on the Comox #2 pump station. It was a pleasant depiction that overlooked that most of the people who attended were opposed and that competing displays were set up outside the open house where opponents were busy gathering more signed petitions.
And when Area B Director Rod Nichol asked why the information from the sewage advisory group was missing from the open house, it was shrugged off as no big deal.
But it is a big deal, because the advisory group’s top recommendation was to upgrade the Courtenay #1 pump station now, eliminating any need for a second Comox pump. It’s a fact the sewage commission curiously ignores.
The CVRD Sewage Commission doesn’t have a good track record. It’s marred by mistakes, lawsuits and failure in the court of public opinion. So it’s time to do as Director Eriksson suggests: step back and develop a new plan in sync with the community.
Editor’s note: The Comox Valley Regional District Sewer Commission is a misnomer. The system of sewer pipes, pump stations and single treatment plant managed by the commission serves primarily the City of Courtenay and the Town of Comox, who own the system. HCMS Quadra ties into the system as does the K’omoks First Nation.
But residents of rural areas, A, B and C are not served and have no seat on the commission. Neither does the Town of Cumberland, which manages its own sewerage system.