That the Courtenay-Comox Sewage Commission shelved its multi-million dollar sewerage project this summer comes as no surprise.
For nearly two years, Comox Valley citizens have implored the commission and regional district engineers to consider less expensive and more effective solutions for moving raw sewage from Courtenay and Comox to a treatment plant on Brent Road, on the Comox peninsula.
And to do it on a site or sites that present no risk to people’s drinking water.
But the commission, strong-armed by the representatives from Comox Council and aided by a misinformed CFB Comox delegate, pressed ahead anyway to build a new pump station in Area B, which has no representation on the commission.
Like so many of the commission’s sewer plans in the past, this one seemed destined for another lawsuit costly to Courtenay and Comox taxpayers.
But faced with a cost estimate nearly double the original budget — $12 million to $22 million — and the spectre of adverse impacts to private wells in the neighborhood of the proposed site, the regional district’s engineers saw red flags and took the summer to reconsider.
For more reasonable thinkers, like Erik Eriksson, a Courtenay representative on the commission, this pause in a misguided project provides an opportunity 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.
Let’s review the facts:
The commission proposed building a Comox No. 2 pump station — at a cost of $12 million — to redirect its raw sewage from a deteriorating pipe that runs along the base of the Willemar Bluffs. The current pumps at existing Courtenay and Comox pump stations are inadequate to move the sewage up and over the Comox peninsula to the Brent Road treatment plant.
But the commission’s own Advisory Committee said building a new pump station was the least desirable option of several it considered. The committee recommended rebuilding the existing pump station in Courtenay as the most preferred solution.
The regional district’s own initial financial analysis showed upgrading the Courtenay No. 1 pump station was the best and most cost-effective option in the long run. Email documentation shows the Town of Comox disliked this report.
But an independent analysis confirmed that the CVRD could save taxpayers between $7 million and $12 million in the long-term if it upgraded the pumps at Courtenay immediately.
The commission’s long-term plan is to upgrade the pumps at Courtenay No. 1 in just a few years anyway. So why spend millions unnecessarily now?
In the alternative, the Advisory Committee noted, upgrading the existing pump station at Jane Place in Comox, would also cost less in the long run.
Either of those options would eliminate the need for a second pump station and eliminate the vulnerable section under the Willemar Bluffs. Plus, in both of these options, raw sewage would not threaten any drinking water supplies. Courtenay and Comox residents enjoy piped water, not vulnerable private wells.
And Eriksson, a potential candidate for mayor of Courtenay, has a third option that could also resolve issues created by the failed South Sewer referendum earlier this year.
Eriksson proposes building a new state-of-the-art treatment plant in the south Courtenay area that would handle all wastewater from west of the Courtenay River. That would take enough pressure off the existing Courtenay and Comox pump stations to render the proposed Comox No. 2 pump unnecessary.
And it would also solve the problem of failing septic systems in the Royston and Union Bay areas and provide the infrastructure for new development.
It would also provide a solution for the Village of Cumberland, which shamefully continues to pollute the Trent River watershed and estuary.
The new treatment plant could treat the water to such a high standard to use its effluent for agriculture and other reclamation purposes, including reinjection into groundwater. In an increasing number of communities around the world, wastewater is cleaned to potable standards and even flowed back into drinking water systems.
There are probably other farsighted options, too, rather than spend $22 million — at least! — on a pump station inherent with risks to humans and potentially expensive lawsuits that serves only a narrow purpose.
If there’s any justice and common sense left in this world, next month the engineers for the Courtenay-Comox Sewage Commission will recommend a more visionary, comprehensive sewerage strategy for the entire Comox Valley.