Shakesides: Comox erases lively murals

Shakesides: Comox erases lively murals

With the popular summer festivals coming up this weekend in Comox — Filberg Festival and Nautical Days — the town likes to get all gussied up. Plants watered and weeded. Streets swept and lines repainted. Lawns mowed, and so on.

But this annual beautification apparently doesn’t extend to a building the mayor and council want to tear down. Maybe they want it to look as bad as possible?

Since June 10th, a volunteer local artist spent more than 18 hours painting realistic murals on the plywood boards covering the doors and windows of noted ornithologist Hamilton Mack Laing’s former home, called Shakesides, which he left to the Town of Comox after his death in 1982. (See gallery below)

The local artist was asked to do the mural work by Gordon Olson, a friend of Laing and an advocate for saving the noted naturalist’s house. The town plans to demolish it.

The artist painted the window panels to look like real windows, with curtains and artifacts visible in the panes. It made the house look alive, like it might have looked when Laing lived there. The colorful murals made the abandoned building more interesting and attractive.

Many of the murals have been there for over a month.

But Wednesday morning, the town parks staff was ordered to remove the murals by turning the plywood panels around or painting over them. What were momentarily works of art are once again knotty pieces of plywood.

Apparently nobody at the town had noticed the murals until Tuesday. And only then because, ironically, Olson was touring a heritage building consultant from the respected Vancouver firm AMCE Building Services Co. through the house.

They ran a noisy gas generator to power floodlights. That attracted someone’s attention who emailed the town and other nearby residents like Terry Chester that someone was in the Laing house.

But Olson had permission from the town to conduct the heritage evaluation, which includes an analysis of Laing’s importance and other factors as well as a physical examination of the building. The consultant then writes a statement of significance (SOS).

Olson hopes the SOS will recommend that Heritage B.C. bestow heritage status on Shakesides. If it does, then there’s a possibility of obtaining money for the house’s restoration from the B.C. Heritage Legacy Fund.

According to Olson, the attention created by the heritage evaluation caused a “firestorm” of phone calls and emails from town officials, and led to the awareness of the murals. Chester said he and at least three other people complained to the town.

The complaints resulted in the directive to turn the panels around. Parks staff was also told to remove the Canadian flag that Olson had flown on the building.

Now, unwanted graffiti is a nuisance and the bane of every property owner. Painting anything without the owner’s permission is vandalism. So the town had every right and, arguably, good cause to erase the artwork.

Except that, in this case, the murals made the building look better. Doing something creative and in tune with the building’s history isn’t the same as tagging, spray painting profanity or drawing obscene pictures.

Curiously, the town has ignored actual graffiti spray painted on other parts of Mack Laing Nature Park; tags on bridges and trees have been there for months. Last February, someone painted a four-letter word on the panel covering the front window. Despite being notified, the town left the graffiti in place. A neighbor eventually painted over the obscenity.

Even if the town gets its way, the building won’t come down for a long time, maybe years, as the case winds it way through the courts. So, what’s the harm of injecting some life into the home of one of the town’s most famous, and generous residents?

Town councillors probably wouldn’t have given permission to paint murals on Shakesides, but once they were up, why take them down? From the town’s view, it’s an abandoned building slated for demolition. Let it go out with some dignity.

Olson believes the town doesn’t want the building to look good, or to be improved in any way. That might cause more people to visit the house and then take an interest in saving Shakesides.

I asked Comox Mayor Paul Ives about the murals yesterday. He said they were removed because “they were done without a permit, to my understanding.” And later, “Staff have acted in response to concerns raised about non-permitted use of this property by third parties.”

But when pressed on whether he personally ordered the removal, or had any communication with staff about the issue, Ives said, “I have no further comment in this matter.”

Town CAO Richard Kanigan did not respond to my email.

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The IRS won’t stop me from voting for Hillary

The IRS won’t stop me from voting for Hillary

After watching the Republican and Democratic party conventions this week, I’m glad that I haven’t given up my right to vote in U.S. federal elections. This election is too important for the whole world.

But, in the last six years, many American citizens living abroad gave up their right to vote in order to avoid filing U.S. tax returns. That’s unfortunate because every vote counts, especially in close races.

In 2010, President Obama signed into law the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FACTA). It’s a requirement for U.S. citizens living abroad to file yearly reports on their non-U.S. financial accounts. The intent was to impede tax cheats and money launderers, and apprehend them.

Law abiding, ordinary middle-income Americans living abroad were never the target of FACTA. It was aimed at wealthy people who hide untaxed earnings in offshore accounts. But it caused considerable inconvenience for every citizen living outside the country, and for some an extra expense.

For that reason, many Americans living in Canada gave up their U.S. citizenship. And with it, their right to vote.

I moved to Canada in 1973 and continue to maintain my dual citizenship. It’s not fun, or easy, to file a U.S. tax return every year. It’s easier to hire a professional accountant to do the work, but not everyone living abroad can afford to do that.

The alternative — revoking my U.S. citizenship and my right to vote — has never appealed to me. A democracy depends on citizen engagement. Of all the avenues open to individuals in a free society to influence the direction of their government, voting is the most important.

Congress has often rectified the unintended consequences of legislation to unburden innocent victims. I hope it will create such a safe harbor from FACTA reporting.

But I’m not holding my breath. Three years ago, the current U.S. Supreme Court ripped a key provision from the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which had banned voter suppression tactics used against the poor and mostly African-Americans in the South. That has recently encouraged conservative states to pass new laws that discourage people from voting.

Because most U.S. citizens living abroad lean Democratic, a Republican-controlled Congress may keep FACTA in place.

In the meantime, I’m not sitting out the 2016 U.S. federal elections. I’m registered to vote in Pierce County, Washington, and can’t wait to mark my ballot for Hillary Clinton and my friend U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer.

The stakes are too high this time. Not only is there a clear choice between Hillary and Drumpf on the issues, and on mental stability, but the next president will also shape the U.S. Supreme Court for future generations.

Either Hillary or Drumpf will nominate at least one and probably two new justices, and so determine the future of money and politics (whether Citizens United stands), the reach of the Voting Rights Act, civil rights (LGBTQ issues), women’s reproductive freedom, religious liberty (Hobby Lobby, etc.), defining the Second Amendment in relation to gun violence, and other important issues.

After listening to speeches at both conventions, I’m more convinced than ever that retaining my right to vote was the correct choice.

George Le Masurier, a Comox Valley resident, has lived in Canada since 1973. He is a citizen of both the U.S. and Canada and has faithfully filed his U.S. tax returns.

Dr. Chris Pileou: Valley’s eminent ecologist

Dr. Chris Pileou: Valley’s eminent ecologist

BY MAINGON LOYS

A few days ago, the scientific world, Canada, the Comox Valley as a whole and Comox Valley Nature (CVN), in particular, lost a 5-foot 2-inch giant. Nobody is ever likely to replace Dr. Chris Pielou.

I knew her long before I came to the Comox Valley. I joined CVN largely because she was a member – what self-respecting scientist wouldn’t have. I was shocked and amazed that she was given so little recognition locally.

If I had to rate Canadian biologists or Canadian environmental scientists, I would have to say that she was perhaps Canada’s greatest contribution to our global understanding of the environment.

I knew Chris intimately (I choose that word carefully- and she laughed when I slyly told her that), because I, as many postgraduate biology students, had learnt multi-variate statistics from her classic book, “The interpretation of Ecological Data,” which is the a key work for any mathematical ecologist. In this, she towers above a David Suzuki, whom I also respect, but while he gives mere information, Chris gave us the tools to get the information, destroy corporate lies, as we are obligated to communicate.

Every serious biologist in Canada is a student of Dr. Pielou, and she deserved every bit of respect she claimed. Regrettably, few people in the Comox Valley understood how important, how brilliant she was and how much she deserved to be heard. And man, thank god she could roar.

She was an extremely important member of CVN, who worked tirelessly at the head of the group’s conversation committee, which for decades was CVN’s advocacy voice, taking on both local and provincial issues. In addition to being provincially well-known as the Chair of the Scientific Panel on Clayoquot Sound in 1991-1992, which led to Clayoquot Sound being designated as a United Nations Biosphere Reserve, she had been an avid outspoken and a forceful environmental protester.

Her drive led to the creation of the Comox Lake Ecological Reserve, for which she was appointed the first voluntary warden.

Chris had a delightful lack of patience for fools and people she disdainfully referred to as “twits.” She hated presentations of “pretty pictures.” She demanded substance in everything and always met the highest environmental standards. And she had cause to demand high standards, because she always met them herself.

She was known world-wide as a pre-eminent bio-statistician. As a brilliant ecological mathematician she pioneered multivariate statistics, which is now the universal standard for ecological research.

After obtaining a PhD in mathematics, she went on to do a second PhD on mathematical ecology at The University of London, and went on to teach at Yale, Dalhousie and ultimately at Lethbridge University on a Canada Research Chair – which gave her a free hand.

She published widely, both professionally and as a consultant. Late in life she wrote a series of popular books for naturalists that endeavoured to make the wonder of science accessible to everybody, such as books on flora and fauna, and on popularized physics, such as, “The Energy of Nature” ( highly recommended).

This diminutive lady was not only a giant in the recognition of women’s equality in science, she was widely recognized internationally for her endeavours and merit, by the University of British Columbia which granted her yet another honorary PhD in 2001. Part of her 2001 address to UBC’s graduating class is worth quoting, if only because it encapsulates the quintessential Chris, and it is a belief I share:

“This may explain why so many people say, complacently, “Of course, I’m lousy at math but … ” and then go on to imply that their mental powers are perfect apart from this trivial defect. Well, it isn’t trivial – a person who blocks out math is a mental couch potato.”

Sharp as ever at 90, she once pointed out to me that most anti-environmentalists were dunces at math. One in particular who caused me grief at UBC and her grief on the Scientific Panel, was a forester who was a mathematical dullard and fraud, and she could prove it, he had failed her class.

Today, the world is poorer, and nature is diminished. CVN has lost a very great friend, leader and mentor and the naturalists’ and environmentalists’ community is greatly diminished internationally.

We owe it to Chris to perpetuate her environmental commitment, as she once said to me: “Fight every day, and have the math to prove it!”

And so we will, death be damned. I am sure she would appreciate that.

Maingon Loys, a retired biologist living in Merville, wrote this for his Facebook page. It’s reprinted here with his permission. You can read more about Dr. Chris Pileou here and here and here.

Director calls for Valley-wide sewer plan

Director calls for Valley-wide sewer plan

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.

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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.

Project Watershed files complaint against Town of Comox over Cape Lazo rip-rap

Project Watershed files complaint against Town of Comox over Cape Lazo rip-rap

By Jennifer Sutherst

Project Watershed has filed a natural resource violation complaint with the province against the Town of Comox for the work they are undertaking along Lazo Road in the Point Holmes area.

The town has chosen to install rip-rap (large angular rocks) to address erosion taking place along the shoreline, and to make room for a three-meter wide shoreline trail. We believe this treatment will destroy an important remnant area of sensitive Coastal Sand Ecosystem and will be ineffective in the long-term.

Erosion-control structures such as bulkheads, seawalls and rip-rap, are known as hard armouring and have been shown to cause a loss of natural shoreline ecosystems, damage vital shoreline habitat and exacerbate erosion problems on adjacent properties.

Hard armouring amplifies the energetic forces of the waves that come into contact with it, whereas a natural, gradually sloping beach will absorb the energy of the waves.

You can read more about Comox shoreline erosion and its causes, and other concerns over the town’s rip-rap project at Cape Lazo here and here.

The accelerated erosion in the Point Holmes area is the result of a domino effect of hard armouring that started when the CVRD buried a sewer pipe beneath the Willemar Bluffs in the mid-1980s. This initial disturbance destabilized the natural processes of erosion and accretion from longshore currents and wind that shape the landforms such as spits, dunes, beaches and sand bars.

Local property owners began to experience erosion issues and successfully sued the CVRD for damages. In order to halt this erosion rip-rap was installed below the Willemar Bluffs. Soon after, other beaches began to erode and private property owners to the north of the bluffs began to lose shoreline. They in turn also began to install rip-rap to save their properties.

Now, the popular Cape Lazo/Point Holmes beach has started to suffer from erosion during more frequent and intense winter storms, a trend which is likely to continue as we experience the impacts of climate change.

Another consequence of this work being undertaken by the town is that the remaining natural dune vegetation in the area will be significantly reduced or lost due to the stabilizing effect of the rip-rap armouring. This will promote the establishment of shrubs and then trees over herbaceous dune plants. Species present at the site such as Silver Burweed and Beach Dunegrass will likely diminish in extent.

Given the high level of soil disturbance associated with the work, Scotch Broom and other invasive plants will likely become dominant in many places.

Rip-rap armouring of shorelines in our region also impacts the marine ecosystems. In particular, the beach areas shorten and become steeper which reduces the area available to beach spawning fishes (known as forage fish), and decreases the availability of forage fish to salmon, seabirds and other marine species.

The State of Washington recognizes that hard armoring destroys sensitive shorelines and has an incentive program to help landowners remove hard armouring and replace it with Green Shore projects.

Green Shore projects imitate natural systems and confer many benefits including: shoreline stability, improving the habitat for fish and other wildlife, improving access for swimming and other water activities, offer a more natural aesthetic, and can save a significant amount of money.

The Town of Comox has stated that they are using a blending of ‘Green Shore methods’ but no Green Shore project would include the installation of rip-rap along one of the last remaining sand dune areas in our region where the greatest amount of natural dune vegetation is located.

Based on the information that has been provided to Project Watershed, the Town of Comox does not currently have a permit to undertake this work on Crown land. We have made multiple requests to the provincial government to clarify whether or not they require such a permit, but have received no response to date.

We believe that permits and an adequate public review processes are required and in the interim we have filed a natural resource violation complaint against the town and the contractor undertaking the work. Extensive damage has already been done to the area since work started at the end of June.

This area is one of two locations in the entire Georgia Basin where wind-formed backshore dunes are known to occur, and the only place on Earth where Garry Oak – Shore Pine – Sand Dune communities occur.

Jennifer Sutherst is the estuary coordinator and staff biologist for Project Watershed. She wrote this article on behalf of the Project Watershed  board of directors: Barbara Wellwood, Bill Heath (biologist), Bill Heidrick, Brian Storey, Dan Bowen, Don Castleden, Paul Horgen (biologist) and Tim Ennis (biologist).