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.

 

Shocker for homeowners: no protection for private wells

Shocker for homeowners: no protection for private wells

If you get drinking water from a private well British Columbia, the provincial government provides no protection from any activities that might foul your water quality.

Sylvia Burrosa, the regional hydrologist for the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations (FLNRO), delivered that piece of bad news for thousands of Comox Valley residents at a June 6 meeting with Beech Street residents.

Beech Street residents fear that construction and operation of a sewage pump station in the rural neighborhood poses a high risk to their mostly shallow wells. And a hydrology analysis by GW Solutions commissioned by the residents supports that concern.

Several of the residents recently met with representatives of FLNRO, the Vancouver Island Health Authority and Kris LaRose, the Comox Valley Regional District’s senior manager of water/wastewater services, at the health department’s Courtenay office.

Burrosa said there are no protections for individual wells under the B.C. Drinking Water Protection Act (DWPA). It only addresses threats to drinking water that affect two or more households connected to the same system.

In other words, someone or some entity, such as a regional district, can pollute or dry up your water supply, and you’ll get no help from the province’s water protection law.

That should concern everyone with a private well. But it especially concerns Beech Street residents because LaRose admitted the construction will impact residents’ water supplies.

LaRose said the degree of impact on the wells will be determined by the method of construction of the pump station that will move sewage from Courtenay and Comox households to the treatment plant at a higher elevation.

If they dewater the site to place the pumps below ground there’s a high risk it will dry out neighborhood wells during the entire 18 months of construction.

If they use a pile driving method, rather than dewater, there is an unknown risk of having a permanent object in the aquifers from which the wells draw water. The piles could cause groundwater flows to change direction, making the wells useless.

Given the failed history of regional district engineers to predict outcomes of previous sewage planning (Willemar Bluff erosion, treatment plant odors), and the subsequent successful lawsuits, the Beech Street residents have good reason to worry.

Burrosa also noted that provincial regulations require pipelines carrying sewage to be no closer than 30 metres of wells. Rural residents know that their wells must be 30 metres from their septic fields.

LaRose said the CVRD had to double-wrap the new sewage pipe from HMCS Quadra for this reason. This appears to mean the CVRD would have to do the same for the pipes in the Beech Street neighborhood, which would significantly add to the cost of construction.

None of the health authority or FLNRO representatives could answer questions about the legality of a sewage facility within 30 metres of wells, or whether the forcemain must stay 30 metres from wells along the four (4) kilometres route from Beech Street to the Brent Road treatment plant.

Engineers for the Courtenay/Comox Sewage Commission are waiting for results from an assessment of the forcemain sewer pipe and a new hydrogeology report before they can estimate the cost of constructing the new pump station. Any of those items could raise red flags that derail the project.

But given the risks during construction and the promise of no noise, vibration or odor from the pump station, another lawsuit over Courtenay/Comox sewage planning seems likely.

 

Here’s a novel idea: politicians working together

Here’s a novel idea: politicians working together

I’m amused and somewhat disappointed at all the hand-wringing about the imminent British Columbia minority government.

Since the May 9 election that gave no single party a majority of seats in the B.C. Legislature, political pundits, former elected officials and newspaper editorials have quickly pointed out that recent minority governments have failed to last.

That’s historically true. The last B.C. minority government to last more than a year was a Liberal government that lasted 1,406 days, or 3.85 years, back in 1924-1928.

But the argument that every minority government will fail relies on a modern phenomena: minority governments require too much compromise and negotiation.

Too much compromise and negotiation?

Are British Columbians so used to absolutely NO compromise and negotiation from dictatorial majority provincial governments that the idea our MLAs might have to talk seriously with each other is abhorrent?

Don’t you find the notion slightly insulting that Canadian elected officials cannot cooperate and collaborate for the common good?

A recent Globe and Mail editorial said, “… it requires a leap of quasi-religious faith to believe that this (NDP and Green Party) coalition can hold for anything close to four years … It also means parties having to compromise with their partners.”

As if that’s something Canadians can’t or won’t do. Why not?

Where did this notion come from that says every piece of legislation proposed in the B.C. Legislature must pass? And if one doesn’t, then convention dictates that the government must resign and British Columbians must go back to the polls and elect a government that can do whatever it wants.

It’s a convention that perpetuates block voting and absolute loyalty to party leadership. But it discourages honest debate and the ability to amend and improve legislation. A poorly written bill should fail.

Fortunately, the current iteration of a B.C. minority government includes the Green Party, which allows its members to vote their conscience. This introduces the possibility that not every NDP proposal will pass and that the Legislature can continue without calling another election. It also suggests that MLAs might have to collaborate to make policy.
This type of collaborative government works well in other stable and leading countries — like Germany and New Zealand — and made the norm by the electoral system of proportional representation.

If the NDP and Greens can show British Columbians that our elected officials are capable of working together for good governance, despite their disagreements, then we will all benefit.

 

Lawn mowing, part 1: don’t run over the kids hiding in your lawn

Lawn mowing, part 1: don’t run over the kids hiding in your lawn

While doing some seriously complicated scientific research on the most ergonomic entry and exit of the common household hammock, I came upon a startling statistic: more men are injured while mowing lawns each year than those who sit around and drink beer.

In fact, more than 200,000 people are injured in lawn-mowing accidents every year, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. They say 16,000 kids per year get run over by lawn mowers and that 95 percent of lawn mowing accidents at John Hopkins pediatric trauma center involve amputations.

This tells me that only trained professionals should operate lawn mowers. Also, if the kids had actually operated the lawn mowers, as God intended them to do, they wouldn’t have been lying around randomly in the grass where some incompetent older guy, who’d rather be golfing, could run them over.

That’s why those of us who really care about the current state of lawn safety leave our lawn mowers outside during the winter. Lawn Safety Advocates such as myself have figured out that if the mower won’t start, we won’t have to cut the lawn, ergo, we minimize the chance of injury to ourselves and any children that might be hiding in our lawns.

I was pondering this theory recently as I sat up from my hammock just long enough to notice Fran marching towards the garage, obviously in a lawn mowing mood. Just as I was settling back down, wondering if the neighbors would appreciate “our” dedication to the beautification of the street, the news that the mower wouldn’t start hit me like a rain cloud. I even had to remove the custom-designed, carbon-fiber sun-tanning toothpicks from between my toes.

I spent the next hour getting all greasy taking apart a machine I pretended to know something abut, cursing and hoping the lawn would take pity on me and suck itself back down to a respectable length.

Just as I was about to stab it to death with a screwdriver, I looked up to find a small teenaged boy from down the street staring at me, trying to figure out what all the commotion was about. When he saw I was working on an engine, his eyes lit up.

“Lost your spark?” he asked.

“I beg your pardon,” I huffed, hoping he wasn’t making a snide comment about my age.

Once he determined that I had indeed lost my spark, he proceeded to tell me about removing the flywheel to polish the points and why I would need a brass punch. He started reducing my mower to about 8,000 separate pieces, announced he had found the problem and fixed it in about 10 minutes.

“But I have to get home for lunch, can you get it back together?” he asked.

“Are you kidding?” I said, kidding.

“Oh, good,” he said, and left.

I panicked. But after two more hours, it was back together again. I just threw all the extra pieces in the garbage.

It started on the second crank.

About that time, Fran came outside surprised to see the lawn mower was working again.

“Have any trouble with it,” she asked.

“Are you kidding?” I laughed, nervously.

And off she went happily mowing the lawn, swerving to miss the kids scattered about, while I returned to my science project over by the hammock.

Moving on to battle climate change, without Trump

Moving on to battle climate change, without Trump

The difference couldn’t be more striking.

In his second inaugural address, former U.S. President Barack Obama said this:

We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations … We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries – we must claim its promise.”

Announcing that the United States would back out of the Paris climate accord yesterday, current President Donald Trump said this:

As president, I have one obligation and that obligation is to the American people. The Paris Accord would undermine our economy, hamstring our workers, weaken our sovereignty, impose unacceptable legal risk and put us at a permanent disadvantage to the other countries of the world.”

With those words, the president who vowed to put “America First” has put America last. It seems to be the theme of his administration.

But America cannot resist this transition, we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries, we must claim its promise — from Obama’s 2013 inaugural address.

Trump is on his way to making the U.S. presidency irrelevant, but he won’t stop the progress to limit greenhouse gas emissions around the world, or at home. The momentum toward clean energy sources is driven by environmental and economic forces. Industrial entrepreneurs view market domination in clean energy businesses as the next gold rush.

China has moved away from its reliance on coal. India has reduced its carbon footprint by 43 percent by switching to solar power for electrical production, which it has found less expensive than new and existing coal plants.

Multiple states and leading U.S. companies reacted to Trump’s withdrawal with renewed commitments to honor the Paris Agreement. They see climate change as a threat and an economic opportunity.

And yet, the U.S. withdrawal will have political consequences. It gives other nations an excuse to slow down their own commitments and clean energy progress.

But more important than Trump’s grandstanding on the international stage are the backward policies he’s enforcing on the domestic front. He’s systematically rolling back all of Obama’s environmental protections. He taking another run at weakening federal fuel-economy standards and trying to eliminate the federal wind power tax credit, because it endangers the viability of coal and gas power plants.

In April of this year, a monitoring station atop the Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii recorded the highest level of heat-trapping carbon dioxide in 3 million to 5 million years. During that prehistoric era, known as the Pliocene Epoch period, global temperatures averaged 5 to 7 degrees higher and sea levels were tens of feet higher.

There’s nothing significant about reaching 410 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, except that it illustrates the accelerating pace at which we are producing harmful emissions. The carbon level is increasing by 2 parts per million per year, about 100 times faster than it grew toward the end of the Ice Age.

At this rate, we will exceed the United Nations’ goal of halting carbon emissions at 450 parts per million, in about 25 years. No one knows for certain what catastrophic effects on the climate will occur beyond that point, nor do we want to find out.

The importance of the new data serves as a grave reminder to elected officials – including our state legislators – that the survival of future generations depends on the actions we take today. We must not hesitate to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and replace fossil fuels with clean energy technology.

It’s plain to everyone, except the most pigheaded climate change deniers, that carbon dioxide emissions from burning coal, oil and natural gas are driving the velocity of change.

It’s appalling that controversy still exists over what is now common knowledge within the scientific community. But that’s another reality we must acknowledge and overcome.

The rest of the world is quickly writing off President Trump as an ally and as a world leader. His tiresome and dangerous behaviors have worn thin. They are moving on without America.

Trump, like other short-sighted elected officials, favor job creation regardless of the environmental consequences. But those who cannot see that the new jobs and future economic growth will come from clean energy are doomed

Because it’s not a mutually-exclusive proposition, as Obama said:

“The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition, we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries, we must claim its promise. That’s how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure — our forests and waterways, our crop lands and snow-capped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.”

 

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