September 12, 2017
The Comox Valley Project Watershed Society
and K’ómoks First Nation announce deal to purchase
the Field’s Sawmill Site (Kus-kus-sum)
(Comox Valley, BC) The Comox Valley Project Watershed Society and the K’ómoks First Nation have reached an agreement with Interfor to purchase and restore the former Field sawmill site on the Courtenay River near the 17th street bridge.
“After several years of negotiations, we are pleased to announce that we have an accepted offer to purchase the property from Interfor,” stated Tim Ennis, Director for Project Watershed. “Project Watershed, the K’ómoks First Nation and Interfor are all extremely excited to see this project take a positive step forward, but now it is time for the heavy lifting to start.”
In 2014, the Comox Valley Project Watershed Society began discussions with Interfor Corporation who own the site and ascertained that they were open to and supportive of a conservation solution to the land. Early conversations with both the K’ómoks First Nation and the City of Courtenay confirmed that Project Watershed’s proposal to purchase and restore the land was possible. While Project Watershed is recognized internationally for its marine stewardship, restoration and science capabilities, it does not hold title to land. Both the K’ómoks First Nation and City of Courtenay have stepped forward by agreeing to take on the role as landowners, once the acquisition is complete.
The K’ómoks First Nation’s interests in the site span millennia. In ancient times, the site was just across the river from a village called Kus-kus-sum. The property itself was used as the final resting place of K’ómoks ancestors. After consultation with the Nation, the name Kus-kus-sum was chosen as the new name for the property. Chief Nicole Rempel and Band Administrator, Tina McLean have joined the Project Watershed negotiating committee along side Ennis and Project Watershed Directors Bill Heidrick and Don Castleden.
The City of Courtenay stands to gain significant benefit from the project including the mitigation of flood impacts that will come from the restored site’s ability to absorb floodwaters. Councillors Doug Hillian and Rebecca Lennox have been assigned by the City to liaison with Project Watershed on the project. In June 2017, Council unanimously supported a motion agreeing in-principle to share in ownership of the property alongside KFN. “The City of Courtenay’s Council and senior staff, have been incredibly supportive of this project, and we are certainly grateful for this support,” stated Bill Heidrick, Director for Project Watershed.
“Now that we have agreed on the basic parameters of a deal, we need to negotiate a contract of purchase and sale and work towards removing conditions,” explained Ennis. “This will involve negotiating specific details with the City, the Nation and other governments with jurisdiction in the estuary. From there we will need to roll up our sleeves and begin fundraising in earnest. We have a limited amount of time to raise the funds required to complete the purchase and restoration work. Failure to do so could see the property go back on the market. The total project cost is estimated at $6M.”
Project Watershed is committed to restoring the decommissioned site with a view to returning the site as much as possible to its natural state, preserving it for future generations. “We have been successful at securing funds from federal, provincial, private and international funding agencies to support the conservation and sustainability of many vital areas in and around the Comox Valley. We are confident in our ability to protect and support this site’s ecological integrity,” stated Dan Bowen, Technical Director for Project Watershed.
“Over the next several years, by submitting grant applications, and obtaining contributions from local businesses, residents and service groups we will bring together the resources needed to achieve this vision. It will be a total community effort”, states Project Watershed Treasurer Brian Storey. Project Watershed Director Kathy Haigh, and Chair Paul Horgan are heading up the fundraising committee. “Ultimately, we seek to un-pave a parking lot and put a paradise”, says Haigh. “We have established a local fundraising target of $500,000 towards that end, and hope to bring in the balance from Provincial, Federal, international, corporate and other private donors”.
The Comox Valley Project Watershed Society and the K’ómoks First Nation looks forward to updating the public, as more information is available about this land purchase. Project Watershed invites the people of the Comox Valley to help launch this initiative at our Keeping It Living kick-off event sponsored by The Old House Hotel and Spa, 5:30pm on Sept 21st on the lawn in front of Local’s restaurant on 1730 Riverside Lane.
About the Comox Valley Project Watershed Society
For more information, please visit the Project Watershed website at www.projectwatershed.ca
About K’ómoks First Nation
The K’ómoks First Nation is located in the heart of the Comox Valley on Vancouver Island. Membership is currently 336 members within four clans: Sathloot, Sasitla, Leeksun and Puntledge. Two cultures are identified in their community: Coast Salish (Island Comox Speaking peoples) and Kwakwaka’wakw (Kwak̓wala speaking peoples). K’ómoks originally occupied sites in Kelsey Bay, Quinsum, Campbell River, Quadra Island, Kye Bay and along the Puntledge Estuary. For more information, please visit www.komoks.ca.
For more information, please contact:
Paul Horgen, Board Chair, Project Watershed P: 250-702-0864 E: firstname.lastname@example.org
Tina McLean, Band Administrator, K’ómoks First Nation, P: 250.339.4545 ext. 105, E: email@example.com
History of the Fields Sawmill Site
The original Fields Mill was started in 1947 on the current site of Arden Elementary school. The Comox Rd site was cleared of trees in the late 1940’s and the mill moved its operation to the Courtenay River location, below the 17th Street Bridge in 1949. The Fields family retired the mill in 1969 selling it to Errol Zinck and Bill Phillips, two employees at the time (“A Look Back into The History of The Comox Valley, Field’s Sawmill”, 2013).
In the 1970’s, the mill owners were filling the marsh area between Courtenay River and Comox Rd, with an assortment of chips, oil cans and wire etc. Concerned residents stopped this and the landfilling was halted. In 1974, the Provincial NDP government paid $95,850 for 25.5 acres to prevent the owners at the time from destroying what is now called Hollyhock Marsh, reports Betty Donaldson (2010).
The owners of the mill sold it to Peter Gregory of Gregory Manufacturing Ltd. in 1973. Gregory then sold the mill to Primex Forest Products. The mill at that time was cutting and selling lumber (yellow) cedar to both the American and the Japanese markets. In the 1970s, the operation employed over 100 people and, at its peak 160. (photo 2 Mill at peak operation). In 2000, Primex started facing economic problems and began employee lay-offs. In 2001 Interfor bought out Primex and acquired the Fields Sawmill.
The Mill experienced hard times again in 2003 – 2004. The mill closed often and in 2003 it operated at a loss of $8 million. The mill was decommissioned and closed officially in 2006.
In 2006, Interfor demolished the mill, auctioned off the equipment, and paid out severance to its employees. At this time, reclamation of the site was also undertaken to safely remove and dispose of industrial toxins. A number of test wells were drilled to determine the quantity and nature of toxic materials in the soils. Concrete was broken up, and toxic soils were excavated and removed from the site. The holes were backfilled with clean soils and the wells tested again to verify the site was reclaimed. The Province issued a Certificate of Compliance, verifying that the site now meets the highest standards.
The property was offered for sale in 2008, but despite several offers to purchase, Interfor has chosen to work with Project Watershed and the larger community to achieve a conservation vision for the property.
Ashley MacIssac, the Juno award-winning fiddler from Cape Breton Island, performed for a sold-out audience at Live! At Filberg Park Aug. 24. Known for some outlandish behavior in the past, there was nothing controversial about his Filberg performance, except that he did seem distracted with his phone at first by trying to stream the event live on Facebook. Interesting fact: he plays a right-handed fiddle left-handed.
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 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.
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.
The Vancouver-based world music group Delhi 2 Dublin opened the Filberg Festival main stage with an SRO performance Friday night. The group bills its unique musical style as, “a fusion of Bhangra, Electronic, Funk, Dub Reggae, Hip Hop, Celtic music and a mash up of other genres.” The festival continues Saturday and Sunday.