Will common sense prevail in the Comox Valley?

Will common sense prevail in the Comox Valley?

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.

Courtenay Councillor Erik Eriksson

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 east 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.

 

The story behind recent Comox union negotiations

The story behind recent Comox union negotiations

In a press release published by the Comox Valley Record recently, Comox Mayor Paul Ives put a positive spin on the town’s new five-year collective agreement. But there’s much more to this story.

It is good news, of course, that the town finally reached an agreement, considering that the last contract expired in March 2016, about a year-and-a-half ago. But why it took so long hints at the unreported backstory.

What Ives and the rest of the Comox Council don’t want you to know is that they tried to crack their public employees union with a two-tiered wage proposal.

Ives didn’t mention that the union staged multiple flash mobs waving signs of discontent around the Comox Valley, or their overwhelming strike vote, or the reason for such unrest by good, hard-working people.

According to several sources with inside knowledge of the negotiations between the Town of Comox and CUPE local 556, which represents municipal employees throughout the Comox Valley, the town hired an out-of-town negotiator who pressed a proposal that would have divided employees.

The town proposed that all new hires in certain categories would be compensated according to a different, and lower, wage structure. For example, when the town hired new custodians and gardeners, they would have worked under a separate compensation agreement, and the town would have paid them less.

That idea didn’t sit well with the town’s working people.

During the negotiations, Comox employees staged many flash mobs around the Comox Valley, waving signs that urged support for protecting the livelihood of future town employees.

So, after 80 percent of the town’s employees voted unanimously to strike, the town withdrew its proposal, terminated its hired-gun negotiator and a contract agreement was reached.

Surprise! All the employees wanted was a fair deal.

Did Mayor Ives and council members want to break the union? That is a logical interpretation of its proposed two-tiered wage structure. The purpose of the proposal is clear: At some point in the future, as existing workers on the current pay grid retired or moved on to other jobs, the town would employ only these lower-paid workers.

What other explanation is there? I suppose is it also possible that the Town of Comox’s finances are in such bad shape that they have to reduce expenses by squeezing their working-class employees.

But it wouldn’t seem so, considering the town just spent nearly $2 million on a twin-sail-roof building, and other upgrades at Marina Park, without knowing exactly how it will be used. The town is only now holding meetings to figure that out.

And that dollar figure doesn’t include the new children’s splash park, which is a nice addition.

Mayor Ives refused to comment for this story, except to say that all my “facts are as usual wrong,” but he declined an opportunity to specify and correct the errant facts to which he referred.

 

Tribal Canoe Journey visits K’omoks First Nations

Tribal Canoe Journey visits K’omoks First Nations

The Tribal Canoe Journeys landed at the point of Comox Spit today. Members of the K’omoks First Nations welcomed several dozen canoes carrying about 100 families from the Northwest Coast. They are enroute to Campbell River later this week where the ceremonial gathering will culminate. (Click any photo to start the slideshow.)

 

Pieter Vorster takes on TideChange community website

Pieter Vorster takes on TideChange community website

A Comox Valley website regularly used by more than 300 community service groups has changed ownership.

Pieter Vorster, the founder of Pod Creative, has assumed responsibility for TideChange.ca, from the nonprofit World Community, and plans to expand its reach to a variety of secondary audiences.

This third iteration of TideChange will continue to fill an important need for nonprofit organizations.

A lack of consistent attention from the news media has always been the bane of community service organizations. The ability to publicize news and events beyond their devoted membership affects how successfully they find volunteers, raise funds and create community action … and avoid getting in each other’s way.

But small-town newspapers and broadcast outlets don’t have the space or time to publish everything that every community group is doing.

Chris Hillar, a former Department of Fisheries and Oceans employee, now retired, recognized back in the mid-2000s that Comox Valley non-governmental organizations needed an information hub. So he started a weekly email newsletter with information about the nonprofits he knew.

Nine years ago, the World Community Development Education Society picked up the idea and created TideChange as an online outlet for local groups to post their news and events. They employed a part-time editor, Angela Burns, to manage the site.

In just the last few years, Comox Valley groups have posted more than 4,000 articles on the website.

But this year, Burns retired from TideChange and World Community decided it had grown the website to the point where it could become self-sustaining.

On June 1, Vorster, also a volunteer with World Community, took on full ownership and management of the website. Now that the Comox Valley has only one news gathering organization and the demise of another local publication, InFocus, Vorster sees “a real need for alternative news.”

Vorster says TideChange will continue its original mission of publishing the news and information from community groups, and providing a community calendar of their events. While the community-at-large uses the calendar, the groups themselves also use it to avoid scheduling overlapping events.

But he also believes that it’s time to grow the website’s audience.

“With 3500+ regular monthly visitors, who tend to visit between 3 and 4 pages on our site, we have secured our target audience,” he said. “We believe that it is time now to grow our reach and include a variety of secondary audiences, who might even produce citizen journalists looking for an outlet for their media contributions

“Over the next few months we might expand … including a more comprehensive list of news posts and/or calendar entries from the community, in the aim of extending our reach and therefore the value of the service we provide. That having been said, we have every intention of stubbornly persisting with the underlying values of TideChange, keeping it close to the vision I helped build over these past years.”

Vorster said TideChange will “continue to function as a community connecting resource. Our community calendar features feeds from a variety of active local orgs, and remains a popular draw – for those planning their social activities and those producing/presenting those activities.”

Vorster became involved with TideChange through World Community, which he voluntarily assisted in their own website development.

Vorter has degrees in communications and dramatic arts from the University of the Orange Free State and a diploma in Creative Writing from the AAA School of Advertising (Cape Town, South Africa). He cut his teeth as a professional copywriter for three years at Saatchi & Saatchi.

Vorster became Managing Editor of FYI South – a bilingual city guide in Taiwan focusing on the southern region of the island. He moved to the Comox Valley with his wife, Caila and his daughters Juniper and Wren, in late 2008, and launched his home-based business (now Pod Creative).

Author’s note: I have served on the TideChange Advisory Committee for the past six months during this period of transition.

 

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