Given yet another opportunity to follow its own Master Plan this week, the Courtenay/Comox Sewer Commission chose to ignore it. Again.
A letter from two residents of the Area B neighborhood most affected by the proposed construction of a multi-million dollar pump station requested a minor restructuring of the commission’s membership.
But the residents were really questioning the commission’s governance of matters outside of its existing mandate. A matter that the commission’s 2011 Sewer Master Plan said should have been addressed six years ago, but which they have disregarded.
In their letter, David Battle and Lorraine Aitken asked that the Area B director be added to the commission on a limited basis. He or she would participate and vote only “on issues relating to any existing or proposed infrastructure in Area B.”
It’s a reasonable request. If the elected officials of Courtenay and Comox propose to build infrastructure outside of their municipal boundaries, then the elected representative of those in the affected area should have a voice and a vote.
Democracy is based on the idea that all citizens will have a voice in government — their own or their elected representative’s — on matters that concern them. But residents of Area B have been denied representation.
The Courtenay/Comox Sewer Commission comprises members only from Courtenay, Comox and CFB Comox. But where it places sewer pipes, pump stations and treatment facilities affect people outside of those jurisdictions.
The commission’s 2011 Sewer Master Plan anticipated this problem, and is absolutely clear about the appropriate resolution.
The Master Plan says that before the commission embarks on any of the plan’s identified projects, it should create a governance structure for areas outside of the City of Courtenay and the Town of Comox.
Presumably that would entail giving fair representation — voice and vote — to people in areas affected by the commission’s actions.
It’s no surprise that commission members haven’t undertaken even a simple review of governance structure in the six years since the Master Plan was adopted. The commission has consistently neglected those parts of the plan that seemed troublesome, expensive or that might have prevented them for doing whatever they want.
For example, the Master Plan calls for the commission to review and revise the plan every three years. It wasn’t done in 2014, as it should have been, and still hasn’t been done. Other plan initiatives have also been ignored.
The commission and Comox Valley Regional District engineering staff have a long history of ignoring the advice and concerns of the community on sewerage issues. The regional district has been successfully sued twice over engineering mistakes that citizens warned against.
And history is repeating itself. The Sewer Commission has bungled the proposed Comox #2 pump station project from the beginning. It planned the project and purchased the property in secret. It intentionally withheld announcement of its plan and property purchase until after the 2014 municipal elections.
And the commission continues to treat legitimate citizen concerns with disdain, adopting a confrontational posture, rather than trying to find a win-win solution.
The letter from Aitken and Battle presented the commission with an opportunity to change course, and resolve the Comox #2 pump station outrage before the situation devolves into new lawsuits.
The commission should have treated the residents’ letter with respect, and fulfilled its obligations under the Sewer Master Plan, by undertaking a review of its governance structure and decision-making framework that would address Aitken’s and Battle’s concerns.
Instead, they deferred the matter to their June strategic planning workshop. That could be seen as a positive step.
But without advance work to develop possible options and process requirements, legal opinions and geopolitical analysis, nothing definitive can come from the June session. At best, the commissioners will ask that this same work be done and they’ll discuss it again. Later.
To those already suspect of the Courtenay/Comox Sewer Commission’s intentions, this looks like an insincere stalling tactic, perhaps to avoid immediate legal action.
It would be lovely if it were not, and the commission finally recognized the legitimacy of the neighborhood’s concerns and the better and less expensive options available to them.
The connection between Passover and Easter
The Christian holiday of Easter and the Jewish holiday of Passover occur almost at the same time every year. Why is that you may wonder?
Here’s a link to help you understand their connection and their differences.
Reason No. 436 why we should start over on another planet
According to new estimates from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, there will be more than 3.6 million drones flown by hobbyists over American soil. That would be more than triple the number flown today.
There have been 770,000 new drone registrations in the U.S. in just the last 15 months.
Also, a post on a Facebook group page for a particular tropical beach community. “I’m thinking of visiting. Can a drone be flown over the beach?” Privacy? Relaxing holiday? Forget it.
The Trump Newsletter
A new poll why Quinnipiac University shows that 52 percent of American voters find Trump embarrassing. Only 27 percent are proud of the president. Trump’s latest approval rating of minus-22 percent is based on the percentage of voters approving of his job as president (35) and disapproving (57).
Ignorant politicians keep trying to find alternate reasons for global warming
The latest absurd attempt to explain climate change that excuses burning fossil fuels and other human-related causes comes from a Republican (what a surprise!) running for governor of Pennsylvania. Scott Wagner, a sitting state senator, acknowledges global warming but attributes it to the Earth’s “rotation” moving closer to the sun, and also human body heat as a result of population growth.
First, the good news. He recognizes the Earth is warming and that population growth on an overly-populated planet is not a good thing.
But physics experts say the energy from the sun surpasses the energy from body heat by at least a million times. So the claim is absurd.
Also, the Earth “rotates” every 24 hours, but its revolution does take it closer to the sun twice every year, and then further from the sun twice. That’s because our orbit is elliptical, not circular. But there’s no evidence the revolution is changing.
Obituary: Tom Amberry
The Decafnation doesn’t usually publish obituaries, but this one is special.
Tom Amberry, who died recently at age 94, was a North Dakota native and California podiatrist. But about 50 years ago, the 6-foot seven-inch WWII Navy veteran was offered a lucrative contract to play professional basketball for the Minneapolis Lakers (which incomprehensibly moved to Los Angeles). He turned it down to study podiatry.
But, his basketball skills never left him. He stepped up to the free-throw line at a gym near his home on Nov. 15, 1993, at age 71, and, in front of 10 loyal (but probably bored) witnesses, spent the next 12 continuous hours draining 2,750 shots in a row. (Check out the video.)
At the time, he was quoted as saying, “I could have made a bunch more. I was in the zone, as the kids say.” Unfortunately, the janitor wanted to go home.
That’s a guy worth writing an obituary about.
Millions of people participated in a first-ever annual grassroots demonstration 47 years ago to raise awareness about environmental concerns. They called it Earth Day.
At the time, in 1970, the message focused on saving the whales and cleaning the trash out of our rivers. Greenpeace was born. The public service announcements of the era featured an American Indian saddened to find garbage in a once-pristine river full of fish, and a cute owl that said, “Give a hoot – don’t pollute.”
Then everyone drove home in big gas-guzzling cars and squirted the chlorofluorocarbons into their ovens and their hair that eventually ate holes in our atmosphere’s ozone layer. They smoked cigarettes in cars and airplanes, spreading deadly carcinogens inhaled by everyone near them, including children.
The adage reuse-recycle-reduce that every elementary student knows so well today was a foreign concept back in the days when Wisconsin Sen. Gaylord Nelson, the founder of Earth Day, was considered a radical. Nelson’s genius was to capture the youthful anti-Vietnam War energy and shift it to environmental causes.
It wasn’t a difficult task when, in 1969, rivers like the Cuyahoga in Ohio were so full of toxic chemicals that they caught fire. The blaze and a subsequent west coast oil spill were Nelson’s inspirations.
Now that we know the dangers of second-hand smoke and that releasing hydrocarbons had led to changes in the Earth’s climate that threaten our existence, do we still need an Earth Day?
Unfortunately, yes, we do, now more than ever.
Even though we have made great strides toward reducing some of the ways we harm Earth’s life-sustaining ecosystem, the really hard work lies ahead.
Implementing a ban on single-use plastic grocery bags and teaching kids the merits of recycling are child’s play compared with bringing down human-and-animal-generated carbon emissions to a safe level.
No one seriously doubts any longer the harmful effect of our reliance on fossil fuels and the dangerous leakage of methane gas from gas and oil wells. But even though we know what’s killing us, like addicts, we can’t get our deadly dependence under control
There are hopeful signs, of course. We have started to embrace solar and wind as sources of power generation, and it has become cool to drive electric cars, especially Tesla roadsters. Widespread public pressure is mounting for the providers of electrical power to shut down coal-burning power plants.
Not everyone is pulling in the same direction, however, causing scientists to worry if we’ll make enough headway by mid-century to escape an environmental catastrophe that might someday result in extinction of the human species.
So, yes, we still need a day to both celebrate progress and create awareness of the work that lies ahead. And the whales are still in danger.
People often ask me about the differences between the U.S. and Canadian electoral systems. There are many, but one stands out as the most important.
Individual candidates hardly matter in British Columbia elections.
Canadians vote first of all for the party, its record or its campaign promises. And there’s a valid reason for this party-first voting tradition.
An MLA in B.C. is expected to publicly support and vote the party line. Every time. Without exception.
While differences of opinion may be tolerated during private caucus sessions, an MLA who dares to criticize his or her party or to vote against their party can expect a swift eviction notice. Cariboo North MLA Bob Simpson discovered this hard truth in 2010 when he criticized his party leader on a community website.
Political parties learned long ago that if they failed to pass a piece of legislation, the public would lose confidence in them, and that, in turn, would make another general election unavoidable and its outcome uncertain.
So party leaders acquired the power to discipline MLAs who fall out of line.
And to keep them in line, well-behaved MLAs receive rewards. Some get cabinet appointments, some get travel junkets, some get pork barrel benefits for their ridings and some get other coveted appointments; the list of possible benefits is long.
As a result, most individual Members of the Legislative Assembly in a parliamentary democracy are much less powerful than members of American state legislatures or the U.S. Congress. In the U.S. system, Republicans and Democrats frequently swing their votes across party lines based on specific constituency interests. Not so much on the Big Ticket issues.
But this ability to vote independently of party affiliation, bestows greater importance on individual candidates in the U.S. system than in British Columbia.
On the flip side, it also makes American elected officials more vulnerable to the influence of lobbyists. Without a party leader telling you how to vote, the temptations dangled by outside interests, who aren’t accountable to voters, can be persuasive.
It’s also clear in B.C. politics that only the select few in the premier’s tight group of confidents have any significant impact on party policy. This is also true in the U.S. system. But as U.S. President Trump and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan have discovered, a fracture in party unity can disrupt the plans of the boys and girls at the top.
So, unless a candidate in B.C. is embroiled in some scandal or ranks high enough in the party to have a material impact on policy, the local campaign rarely hinges on the record or actions of an individual candidate.
And that’s what makes the May 9 provincial election difficult for many voters.
What if, for example, you dislike the B.C. Liberal Party’s policies on education, the environment and government transparency … and maybe you have a particular aversion to party leader Christy Clark..
Maybe you just think that after 16 years it’s time for fresh faces in Victoria.
But what if you find the Liberal candidate more likable, smarter and more sympathetic on the local issues that concern you than the NDP candidate?
You might consider voting Green or Conservative, but if you’re at all pragmatic, you know neither of those parties has a chance to win.
If you’re interested in the direction of British Columbia generally, and how it fits with your world-view, rather than only your personal interests or those of your specific community, you have no choice.
You must base your vote on party policy, not on the appeal of any individual candidate.
For more than three decades, some Comox Valley community organizations and elected officials have touted the need for a convention center.
The Comox Valley lacks a facility that can accommodate the large numbers of people or trade show booths and equipment required by big event promoters, which some see as a potential economic driver.
But others view such large facilities as future white elephants, often underused and almost always a drain on taxpayers. In this view, the Valley simply has unrequited conference center envy.
So while there’s been much discussion about building a convention center in the Comox Valley, it has never gotten further than a lot of talk.
The Comox Valley Farmers Institute (CVFI) and the Comox Valley Exhibition Grounds (CVEG) have recently formed an unlikely and somewhat uneasy alliance to achieve what generations of community organizations could not: a multi-use facility for a variety of community user groups that can seat up to 5,000 people.
The CVFI imagines a facility where people can play indoor soccer, tennis, pickleball or ride horses. Where groups can hold large sit-down dinners. Where promoters can stage equipment trade shows, monster truck events, BMX competitions and concerts.
The CVEG envisions a smaller Agricultural Awareness Center that has gotten a little lost in the grand idea of a multi-use facility. They imagine a 12,000 square-foot facility that would benefit farmers with a commercial kitchen and diagnostic lab to develop and test new products.
But in order to get support from MLA Don McRae and other elected officials, the two groups had to merge their competing proposals. The payoff was a B.C. Liberal Party promise of $5 million toward the project, if they’re re-elected.
Courtenay and Comox councils have supported the idea and the Comox Valley Regional District is playing along. Its Committee of the Whole green-lighted a master plan for the Comox Valley Exhibition Grounds this week that includes a future 78,000 square-foot-plus multi-use event center.
But that doesn’t mean the facility is a certainty because there are a number of public and financial concerns that haven’t been addressed. They are:
Traffic congestion — The exhibition grounds area is already congested during event days. Cars often park along Headquarters Road even during regular Saturday morning Farmers Market events. When larger events take place — Music Fest, Rib Fest, etc. — the roadside parking extends further and along side roads like Vanier Drive. Daily traffic to Mt. Washington or to the Island Highway — it’s the truck route — complicates the congestion, though the dead-ending of Piercy Road at the old bridge and large roundabouts will help.
Parking — A new 500-car parking lot is proposed on the CVRD’s recently acquired property, the former Stonehenge Farm, which will help and be adequate for most community user groups, but parking will still spill onto side roads for large events.
Loss of ALR land — Removing property from the Agricultural Land Reserve must meet a provincial test. Calling the facility an ‘agriplex’ and having one or two farm-related events isn’t enough. The CVEG’s Agricultural Awareness Center, however, does qualify.
Construction costs — Current estimates range from $12 million to $15 million, but that could go higher after the CVFI meets with user groups and finalizes a design for the proposed project. Soil engineers may add extra cost to the project given the nearby floodplain and how far down they find bedrock suitable for the foundation’s footings.
Politics — The B.C. Liberal Party has promised $5 million, but what happens if the NDP forms the next provincial government? There’s been no promise of funding from the NDP. Or, what happens if the B.C. Liberals win the May 9 election, but the Comox Valley riding elects an NDP member?
How much are taxpayers willing to pay? — There is no formal business plan yet that estimates the amount of taxes Valley residents will pay to subsidize the multiplex operation on an annual basis. And these types of publicly owned facilities always need an annual public subsidy.
With the regional district’s approval, the CVFI and CVEG now know they can build a multi-use facility on the site. The next step is to meet with potential community user groups to determine if they will use it, at what rental price and if they have specific requirements that must be built into the design. Only after that, can the groups accurately estimate construction costs.
But they also need a professional management firm to assess the potential market of organizations likely to rent the facility. Because without sufficient outside revenue to pay operating expenses, including administrative overhead, one of two things will happen: local community user groups won’t be able to afford the rental fees (outside revenue keeps them low), or Comox Valley property owners will pay higher taxes to subsidize the facility.