When city councils listen, good things can happen

When city councils listen, good things can happen

The story of a Vancouver Island municipal infrastructure project, delayed for over a decade, appears headed for a happy ending.

In the 1990s, the City of Campbell River planned to upgrade and replace a key sewer force-main pipe that serves the southern portion of the city. The 6-plus kilometer pipe originally served a much smaller population, so it required upsizing. Also, given its age — about 50 years old — the pipe had begun to fail, causing leaks.

City officials considered starting with a 1.5 kilometer stretch where the pipe sits on the beach and is vulnerable to winter storms.  But there were challenges in arriving at a final concept, and funding issues. So they started with the more southern sections, which could also be incorporated into a highway renewal project through Willow Point.

Engineering studies proposed a variety of options for the section on the beach, including twinning the pipe and covering it with concrete to protect it from erosion. The city council of the day liked this idea, especially because it included the potential for a pedestrian walkway on top of the encasement.

Thank goodness the city didn’t dismiss the residents’ concerns and push the project ahead anyway.

But when the concept was presented to the community, it didn’t sit well with nearby residents. The city council listened to the residents’ concerns, and focussed resources on replacing the other sections of the pipeline.

Around 2008, a harsh winter storm washed out sections of the Old Island Highway near Oyster Bay.  This caused city staff to notice an increase in the wear and tear on the sea walk and to begin to understand the potential effects of sea level rise, climate change and the impact to the foreshore.

When the city planners turned their attention back to that 1.5 kilometers of sewer pipe, the city’s only sewer force-main pipe located on a foreshore, they realized the original plan had not taken into account the potential impacts of sea level rise and the increasing severity of winter storms.

The world was a different place in the late 1990s. Climate change hadn’t entered the discussion about municipal infrastructure. Fortunately, design standards are continually being updated to address changing conditions.

City staff studied the expected impacts of sea level rise and determined that the marine foreshore environment is likely to undergo significant changes in the next 100 years. As a result of these anticipated changes, staff now recommends that proper consideration be given to the placement of any critical infrastructure within the marine foreshore environment.

Campbell River staff have also determined that it’s a comparable cost to place the force-main within the highway structure and out of the marine foreshore. Moving the pipe overland will also likely result in reduced operating costs as the anticipated changes to the marine foreshore occur in the coming years.

Staff are now working on a report that summarizes these new developments and a plan to move the sewer pipe out of the foreshore. They will present it to City Council in the near future.

So, some people with a self-interest triggered a fortuitous delay of what to some seemed like a good idea in the 1990s, but which would have actually been a serious mistake.

Thank goodness the city didn’t dismiss the residents’ concerns and push the project ahead anyway.

Thanks in part to neighbors who opposed the project, and thanks to a city council that took the residents’ concerns seriously, the delay provided time for a better plan to emerge, one based on new and emerging scientific data.

A call for civility: ‘NIMBY’ is not a four-letter word

A call for civility: ‘NIMBY’ is not a four-letter word

Don’t want a toxic waste dump built on the vacant lot next to your home? Better enlist someone from a neighboring province to become the face of your Stop the Dump! campaign.

Otherwise, you’ll be dismissed as a NIMBY.

People who live in Victoria neighborhoods near Clover Point, and who oppose building a sewage treatment plant in this popular city park, have been labelled as NIMBYs. The mayor of Comox has used the NIMBY term to describe residents of a neighborhood just outside the town’s boundaries where a sewage pump station is proposed.

The acronym stands for “not-in-my-backyard,” and it’s almost always used in a pejorative sense. It’s a way to suggest that any opposition originating out of self-interest could not possibly have merit.

And the term is meant to imply worse: it stereotypes individuals or groups who oppose projects as selfish, or as hypocritical people who would turn a blind eye if the project were built somewhere else. In some cases, that may be true.

But the dirty little secret is that people usually throw out the NIMBY label to feel ethically justified when they stop listening to opposing viewpoints. If you want to dismiss someone’s concerns without having to address them, just call them a NIMBY. As if that term alone explains everything.

British Columbians should leave this type of name-calling to the Donald Drumpfs of the world. There’s nothing wrong with speaking out about projects that affect people’s quality of life or the character of their neighborhoods.

… self-interest can blossom into important policy debates.

What homeowner would honestly say they hope someone builds a sewage plant or nuclear waste dump or a fracking operation next door? Or that they’re glad a stinking hazardous waste plant will likely devalue their home?

But those developments are going somewhere, so it’s natural that those who live closest to an environmentally or culturally sensitive project will be the first to ask hard questions. And that self-interest can blossom into important policy debates.

Was the decision-making process fair? Were conflicts of interest overlooked? Did municipalities make decisions without studies that were recommended, but never completed? Were undemocratic deals made? Are there better options?

These are questions that might never get answered unless the people most affected have the courage to ask them.

When civic activism rises out of self-interest, it can drift in essentially two directions. If the siting of a project was fair, and there are no better options, and the opposition is based on nothing but a narrow self-interest, the movement will usually fail.

But if the neighbors’ initial hard questions are ignored, or not answered rationally and respectfully, if it turns out the process wasn’t fair or better options were not explored, then a “not-in-my-backyard” campaign can easily transform into a “not-in-anyone’s-backyard” community movement.

More often than not, it’s someone who’s been labelled a NIMBY that exposes flaws in the decision-making process, and makes the larger community aware of important issues that otherwise would have remained hidden.

Bullying and bullies have no place in a civil society.

Only the saints always act out of altruism. The rest of us usually vote in our self-interest. We select candidates who we believe will focus on the issues important to us.

When we’re passionate about something, we support it. We’re most likely to give to charities that help family members or people we know. We support museums because we like history or art, and parks because our kids play baseball.

But there’s no good reason to deny people a democratic voice simply because they have a self-interest rooted in geography. Their motives are just as important as the developer who wants to make a profit, or the elected official who acts only to appease his or her voter base. Those are self-interests, too.

The Leap Manifesto offers a glimmer of hope that Canadians have gotten past using NIMBY name-calling to intimidate people. Supported by a wide variety of Canadians and elected officials, The Manifesto includes this sentence: “The new iron law of energy development must be: if you wouldn’t want it in your backyard, then it doesn’t belong in anyone’s backyard.”

Bullying and bullies have no place in a civil society. So let’s stop labelling people to avoid debate on the merits of their arguments.

Playing God isn’t as easy as it seems, there’s a lot of guilt

Playing God isn’t as easy as it seems, there’s a lot of guilt

I’ve been playing God lately.

You know, deciding who lives, who dies. When to end a life, and whether by violent or somewhat more humane means.

And I have to say that, while it’s kind of empowering to play God, there’s a lot of guilt involved. I can’t say for sure if God feels any guilt about letting me live, while my two high school and college buddies died in horrific accidents. But I sure do.

I make most of my decisions about who to kill and not to kill in the spring. Because that’s when the natural world tries to invade my personal space.

This year, for example, I’m killing off carpenter ants by the thousands. Crushing them on sight without trial or remorse. I dispatch carpenter ants to the afterlife simply on sight, and without guilt.

Spiders, on the other hand, I take great care to capture in a drinking glass, under which I slip a stiff paper or or piece of cardboard. I try not to damage their many legs. What is that, 6 or 8, I don’t know.

Then I sentence the spider to the George Relocation Program, sometimes walking them all the way across the front lawn and flinging them into what could possibly be their preferred natural habitat in the neighbor’s yard. I only say to them, “You can’t live in my house,” and “You’re going to love this.”

Wasps die, usually by covering them in what looks like the foam in my Starbucks latte cup. I get too much foam at The Buck, and it kills me, too.

Bees live. I like bees. They aren’t mean like wasps. I think bees only sting you if you’re mean to them first, threaten them in some way. Wasps are like motorcycle gangs. They’ll sting you for no F-ing reason whatsoever, or because they’re drunk after gnawing up all that dried wood off your cedar fence.

Rats die, squirrels live. I kill a rat, there’s no remorse. But raised in a family of avid hunters, I made squirrels disappear by shooting gazillions of them with a 20-gauge shotgun. They would literally vanish. I still feel terrible about that.

Flys are dirty, so they die. Or as a friend of mine put it after a particularly hard day, “I just improved my outlook by washing windows and getting rid of all the smashed fly guts that were darkening my view.” Butterflies and most other flying creatures live.

You get the picture, right? I don’t feel remorse for killing living things that intend to harm my person or my property. But I take extra care not to harm living things that do me no harm.

Maybe that’s how God does it. I don’t know.

But I can say that if B.C. conservation laws allowed, I would gladly put the hit on every last deer wandering around my neighborhood like they own it. Urban deer are pests. They’re just big rats. They wander uninvited into your yard, chew up about $500 worth of plants, drop a pile of brown marbles and fall asleep on your lawn.

Oh, but the deer are so cute. The little deerettes have big doe eyes, and cute little noses. Horsefeathers. I like to think God would have kept Walt Disney around until about age 187 just to make more happy family films. But, no, Walt, had to go glamorize a little pest and named it Bambi. And he was punished.

And don’t get me started on the proliferation of wild bunny rabbits.

It gets serious for me when the B.C. government conducts misguided wolf kills, and allows trophy hunters to kill bears. There’s no excuse for big game hunters — like Donald Drumpf’s two sons — to shoot wild African animals. In fact, I don’t see the sense in most hunting these days, because for most people, hunting is for sport, not a food necessity.

And yet, in the time it’s taken you to read this, I’ve probably taken the lives of several carpenter ants and a few wasps. Is there a difference between what I do and what hunters or the B.C. government are doing? I think so.

Sometimes I justify my killing with the Bambi principle. Wolves and bears are cute woodland creatures. Ants and wasps are ugly … and creepy. But then, how do I make peace with my desire to murder deer? It gets confusing.

All I can say for sure is that if you believe in the afterlife and that you might be reincarnated as some fish or fowl, choose carefully before entering the universe under my omnipresence.

Exposing the misleading spin on the Comox pump station

Comox resident George Le Masurier has responded to a post on the Comox Valley Regional District website. The CVRD post attempts to discredit Le Masurier’s recent op-ed article in the Times-Colonist.


The CVRD has posted on their website a response to my op-ed article in the Victoria Times-Colonist. Unfortunately, parts of their letter are false because they claim I said things that I did not say.

First, the CVRD suggests in their second paragraph that I stated the pipeline “is failing as stated by Mr. Le Masurier.” It’s a false statement.

I did not use the word “failing.” I said it is deteriorating, and that’s a huge difference.

Of course the pipeline is deteriorating. It’s 35 years old and had an expected life of 50 years when first installed. It has to have deteriorated, but to what degree I did not say. (Nor do I believe the CVRD knows.)

Also, the CVRD plans to replace not only the Willemar Bluffs section, but the remaining section of the pipeline by 2029, and have it in their capital plan to do so. Why would they replace the remaining section if it is as good as new? It’s axiomatic that anything in less than new condition has deteriorated.

It’s a fallacious straw man argument.

Second, in their third paragraph, they said “contrary to the statement made by Mr. Le Masurier, the CVRD completed a Sewer Master Plan for the entire Comox Valley.” Again, putting words into my mouth.

I did not say the CVRD lacked an SMP for the entire Comox Valley. I actually said the CVRD was applying a band-aid approach “instead of creating a NEW sewerage master plan for the entire Comox Valley.”

Again, this is a huge difference. I acknowledge the CVRD has an SMP, and my words indicate so. How could they create a NEW plan if they didn’t have an old one? It’s simple logic.

Another fallacious straw man argument.

Third, in their sixth paragraph, the CVRD says, “Mr. Le Masurier suggests that there has been independent analysis completed to show long-term costs savings by upgrading the Courtenay and Jane Place pump stations. The CVRD did not complete this analysis ….”

This is objectionable and misleading for two reasons. One, it implies there may or may not be an independent analysis, calling the veracity of its existence into question; and, two, it tries to imply that I suggested the CVRD “completed” or solicited this analysis and they deny having done so. Again, I did not say the CVRD had anything to do with the analysis.

A project controller who does cost analysis for a major diamond mine north of Yellowknife — and lives in Comox — prepared a detailed analysis of the potential cost savings if the CVRD upgraded the Courtenay pump station and replaced all the pipe immediately. He presented it to the CVRD sewage commission in person. But a Comox director voted against their staff looking at the analysis because it would complicate things.

And that leads me to a final point. It’s true the CVRD formed an Advisory Committee, but only after (and probably because) the neighborhood protested the Beech Street site. I should have edited out the word “eventually.”

However, the bigger issue here is that the CVRD ignored the committee’s recommendations.

The committee considered five alternate sites. The committee gave its #1 recommendation to upgrading the Courtenay pump station and replacing all the pipe now. It rated Beech Street last. It did so, as the CVRD says in its post, because they found the top recommendation too expensive.

But the truth is, the CVRD doesn’t know for sure because they have not done a comprehensive financial analysis, or an environmental analysis, of this option, to my knowledge. Nor have they bothered to consider the independent analysis prepared for them (see my third point, above.)

(It’s important to note that the committee included an elected official from Courtenay, Comox and the CVRD, and one staff person from each jurisdiction, and three citizens. The citizens were outnumbered 2-to-1, and the committee still rated the Courtenay upgrade as #1.)

I don’t mind a good argument, and the CVRD is entitled to defend its position. But I do mind when someone falsely puts words into my mouth in order to spin the facts in their favor.

What I’ve learned about sex from Trump and Cruz

You know what I like about the U.S. presidential campaign? Sex.

That’s right, we are learning so much about the Republican candidates’ sexual preferences. It’s kind of like the Kardashians, except with angry, middle-age white guys.

Here’s what we know so far:

Donald Drumpf has guaranteed the American public that he has at least a normal-sized penis. This is important for the leader of the most powerful nation on Earth. Sometimes, the U.S. president has to stand toe-to-toe with bullies like Vladimir Putin and compare the size of their nuclear arsenals. How could Drumpf dominate the little shirtless Russian if he’s sporting a genital comb-over?

Drumpf also has a hotter wife than challenger Ted Cruz, which he proved in a “hot-or-not?” national ad campaign showing a side-by-side comparison.

The First Lady in a Drumpf White House would not waste time trying to reverse the trend of childhood obesity, supporting military families, encouraging national service, promoting the arts and arts education, or starting conversations about how working women can balance their careers and families, as Michelle Obama has done. Drumpf’s First Lady will make America great again by just standing behind The Donald and looking hot.

“Let me be clear: although Donald Drumpf is a rat, I have no desire to copulate with him.” But doesn’t this raise more questions than it answers?

We have not yet determined with any certainty whether Ted Cruz had an affair with one of this campaign staff, as Drumpf has alleged. It’s possible this is true, given the number of God-fearing anti-gay Republicans caught soliciting sex in airport bathrooms or flying to South America for extramarital affairs while supposedly hiking the Appalachian Trail.

But this is also Drumpf, who alleges President Obama was born in Kenya and is a devout Muslim, and that most Mexican immigrants are drug dealers and rapists.

Ted Cruz appeared to come clean about his sexual preferences, stating in a news conference, “Let me be clear: although Donald Drumpf is a rat, I have no desire to copulate with him.” But doesn’t this raise more questions than it answers?

Would Cruz copulate with other rats, just not one that turned out to be Drumpf? Would Cruz copulate with other animals? Isn’t this illegal in most states, outside of the South?

How does a human copulate with rodents? Was this a comment on Drumpf’s penis size?

Cruz did, however, clarify his position on sex toys, to the relief of many Americans.

As the former Texas solicitor general, he argued to ban the sale of vibrators and other “obscene” sex toys, equating them to “hiring a willing prostitute or engaging in consensual bigamy.” But on a radio talk show, Cruz stated emphatically that he won’t ban the sale of sex toys if he’s elected president.

It was a clever political strategy to win over women — I may want to control your ovaries, but I won’t take away your vibrator.

And, finally, we have the third wheel, John Kasich, whose comments don’t matter all that much, except maybe to young women voters attending college.

In response to a woman concerned about rape on college campuses, Kasich said, “don’t go to parties with a lot of alcohol.” So that means pretty much no parties. Or, maybe  it means don’t go to parties where there are predatory, hormonal men emboldened by booze to act without respect for the dignity of other human beings?

It’s good that the Republican presidential candidates have talked about the “birds and the bees” so candidly. They have given American voters real substance upon which to cast their votes.