Stormwater systems shift slowly toward green infrastructure

Stormwater systems shift slowly toward green infrastructure

Director of Engineering Services Ryan O’Grady at Courtenay City Hall   |  Photo by George Le Masurier

By George Le Masurier

This is the fourth in a series exploring the adverse effects on our waterways from how municipalities have traditionally managed stormwater runoff, and the slow shift to mimic natural through green infrastructure. This week we look at how Comox Valley municipalities are addressing the issues. Next week: what other communities are doing.

 

Stormwater management plans in the Comox Valley have historically treated rainwater as waste, something to be collected and disposed of quickly, usually into previously clean streams or directly into the ocean.

Our local governments have commonly relied on hard engineering solutions that employ expensive infrastructure, such as storm drains, catch basins, pipes and ponds.

That approach has removed and altered the source of groundwater that used to recharge our aquifers. And it has left us with polluted streams incapable of supporting aquatic life, shellfish harvesting bans, eroded private and public property, the loss of attractive natural environments and a long-term financial burden we cannot afford.

Shellfish bans to all of the K’omoks Estuary

Comox Valley governments already have more than roughly $400 million in unfunded infrastructure liabilities (even more if the calculation was based on replacement cost), and stormwater systems account for a significant portion of that staggering total. The Town of Comox alone had $160 million in 2012.

And each new regional housing development ultimately adds more to the total because builders pay development cost charges that cover only the costs of installing infrastructure. They pay nothing for ongoing repairs, maintenance and replacment. Taxpayers are saddled with that burden, forever.

Clearly, a new approach is needed.

Forward-thinking municipalities have shifted toward source control, managing rain where it falls through infiltration, evapotranspiration and rainwater harvesting, techniques known as green infrastructure. This improves water quality, reduces flooding and erosion and costs taxpayers less.

To fund this fundamental transformation in stormwater systems, some municipalities have introduced new fees based on the percentage of impervious surfaces on a property, along with corresponding financial incentives to install green infrastructure.

So, given the benefits and cost savings of going green, are Comox Valley municipalities and other local governments rushing to implement green infrastructure? Not exactly.

A 2017 study conducted by the Canadian Freshwater Alliance and Green Communities Canada, which included data from the Comox Valley, found that most municipalities were moving slowly.

“Most communities surveyed are not far advanced in adapting urban landscapes to manage rain where it falls,” according to a Green Communities summary of the study. “Communities appear to be making moderate commitments … in community plans.”

So, what exactly are Comox Valley municipalities doing?

City of Courtenay

Ryan O’Grady, the city’s director of engineering services, will lead the development of an Integrated Stormwater Management Plan (ISMP) in 2019. The plan will encompass strategies for flood mitigation in the downtown core, how to replace traditional engineered infrastructure with green solutions and will, he says, look through a broad lens at regional solutions.

“The ISMP will have an educational component, too, about stormwater systems,” O’Grady told Decafnation. “These will be challenging conversations, but there is a collective desire to change.”

Water and sewer issues have gotten most of every municipalities’ attention up until now, he said. Stormwater is one of the last service areas to focus on.

Rain gardens on Courtenay’s new ‘complete’ Fifth Street

“Our city has prioritized stormwater lower in the past to deal with drinking water,” O’Grady said. “All staff are looking forward to working on stormwater.”

The city has also shifted its approach to management of assets from reactive to proactive, a move he said came from Chief Administrative Officer David Allen (see separate story).

For example, the city is currently doing a culvert assessment where streams pass under roadways to see they are working properly. Good working culverts are important for fish passage. And the recently renovated upper portion of Fifth Street was designed with rain gardens to test how well they work and the ongoing cost to maintain them.

“We’re learning how to integrate green infrastructure and low-impact development going forward,” he said.

O’Grady intends for the stormwater plan to take a regional view, including discussions about Brooklyn Creek, which originates in Courtenay, flows through regional Area B and empties into Comox Bay.

“There’s a collective desire to collaborate … it would be great to work together,” he said.

The stormwater management plan project is part of a national pilot project to improve Courtenay’s resilience to climate change. The city is one of 72 across Canada chosen to participate.

O’Grady told Decafnation he has already begun contacting representatives from the development community, regional technical staff, stakeholders, elected officials, regulatory agencies, creek and stream stewardship groups and the K’omoks First Nations. The planning will get underway in early 2019.

The city has set aside $110,000 to develop the plan, and will get additional funding assistance from the Municipal Natural Asset Initiative (MNAI), a collective that supports municipalities to better understand, value and manage its natural assets onan equivalent basis with its other infrastructure.

“I look forward to facilitating that conversation with the bigger group,” he said.

Town of Comox

Comox does not have a town-wide stormwater management plan, but has created detailed plans for specific developments, such as the North East neighbourhood..

On paper, the North East neighbourhood stormwater management plan looks to be the most progressive for a subdivision in the Comox Valley.

However, the green infrastructure recommended in a plan commissioned by the area’s land owners and developers from McElhanney Consulting Services Ltd., has not been adopted by the town into bylaws that fund and manage their long-term operation.

So, it is unknown at this point whether these green infrastructure policies will actually be implemented, or enforced.

Town of Comox Municipal Engineer Shelley Ashfield refused to meet with Decafnation to discuss the town’s plans. Instead she answered some email questions and referred us to links on the town’s website.

Vegetated property cleared for condos near the Comox Golf Club. Town says no source control on rainwater will apply

If fully enacted, the McElhanney report recommends a variety of source control measures for eventual North East homeowners. These include rainwater harvesting, disconnecting downspouts from stormwater pipes, rock pits (infiltration pits), green roofs, amended soil for rain gardens and permeable pavement for driveways.

The report also recommends the town require narrow streets for less impervious surface, town-owned rain gardens in roundabouts and boulevards, and infiltration galleries.

McElhanney expressed concern in its report about the possibility that homeowners and the town would not maintain or protect the green infrastructure features, which could result in their failure and cause flooding and other problems.

“Given the potential difficulties in enforcing the ongoing maintenance and upkeep … it has been decided that the water balance benefit derived from the use of these features ought to be significantly discounted, to ensure the long-term performance of the overall stormwater management system,” the report says.

To hedge against that possibility, the report suggests, “It may be prudent to approach the shift to greater reliance on Low Impact Development tentatively, by designing a few subdivisions on the basis of redundant capacity, and then monitoring for compliance with clearly worded and well-publicized operation and maintenance regulations.”

It appears the neighbourhood will get traditional stormwater conveyance in addition to requirements for green infrastructure

The engineers are recommending the creation of series of dry detention ponds connected by infiltration trenches that all ultimately flow into the Queens Ditch, which is a low-sloped ditch leading to the Strait of Georgia at the Point Holmes boat ramp.

And they recommend copious informational signs reminding homeowners of their responsibilities for managing rainwater on their property and not to damage town-owned green infrastructure.

Ashfield said the town is currently updating its Subdivision and Development Services Bylaw and she hopes to have it finalized by next spring. But she would not say whether all or some of the North East Comox stormwater recommendations would be included in the town-wide bylaw.

Asked via email whether the town asked for green infrastructure features in the redevelopment of the Comox mall, or in the development of new multi-family projects at the Comox Golf Course or on Anderton Road, Ashfield said it did not.

“These sites are per the town’s current Official Community Plan and as such are currently modeled with the town’s 2013 storm study,” Ashfield wrote.

She also said bioswales or other infiltration features were considered for the recent Robb Road renovation, but were rejected because of the installation and maintenance cost premium and soil condition.

Ashfield said the town would be an active participant in the Courtenay Integrated Stormwater Management Plan process.

“Anything upstream of the town drains into Brooklyn Creek and so is very important that all jurisdictions within any watershed work together …” she said.

Village of Cumberland

The majority of Cumberland’s rainwater is collected and is either combined with the sanitary sewer system or, where it is separated, directed to one of three wetland areas around the village.

Manager of Operations Rob Crisfield said the village does have some storm drainage systems where rainwater is collected into a bioswale and soaks away into the ground.

One of several rain gardens in the boulevards entering the Village of Cumberland

“This method is used in the new ditches that were established on Cumberland and Bedan roads as part of a (renovation) project in 2016-2017,” he told Decafnation. “Of course, this doesn’t always work, depending on soil conditions.”

The village also requires ground recharge infiltration methods in appropriate subdivisions to allow water to soak back into the ground without runoff. And it is looking at a man-made pond in the Carlisle Lane development as a retention pond.

“We are also looking at including the potential of rain gardens in our downtown enhancement plan when it is updated in the near future,” he said.

Comox Valley Regional District

Marc Rutten, the general manager of the regional district’s engineering services branch, says the CVRD has no stormwater infrastructure to manage.

But the regional district is responsible for land use planning in the rural areas and uses the development permit too to reduce natural hazards (steep slopes) and protect the natural environment (streams). The CVRD has mapped the entire district to identify steep ravines and slopes, and streams, with the goal of ensuring no adverse effects from water flows.

The CVRD also dictates that water flows before and after a property is developed remain equal, so that streams neither flood nor run dry. But the CVRD shifts responsibility to the landower to employ green infrastructure — minimizing impervious surfaces, ponds, rock pits, pervious pavers, etc. — to achieve that goal.

How a street-side rain garden functions

However, stormwater runoff from Courtenay and Comox does affect the CVRD wastewater treatment plant on Brent Road.

Inflow volumes at the treatment plant increase by 3.5 times during the rainy winter months, an indication that stormwater is leaking into the sanitary sewer system.

Rutten said current municipal bylaws don’t allow stormwater to be tied into sewer lines, but there are legacy connections, which were common 70 years ago. Courtenay and Comox have separated sewer and stormwater lines over the last 40 years.

But because sewer and stormwater pipes are usually buried side-by-side, stormwater can leak into a gravity sewage system, such as the Courtenay-Comox sewer lines.

A gravity sewer systems runs under atmospheric pressure and the pipes are generally 25 percent to 75 percent full and flowing downhill. There is generally not enough pressure inside the system to force sewage out of the pipe, but groundwater enters because when groundwater levels rise, static pressure is created to force the water into the sewer pipe through worn out gaskets in pipe section joints.

Darry Montieth, the CVRD’s manager of liquid waste planning, said the Ministry of Highways has some subdivision approval authority in rural areas, and maintains all rural ditches.

But in the developments where the CVRD does have approval authority, Montieth says the district stresses 30 metre riparian setbacks and steep slope guidelines and can require a stormwater drainage plan through the development permit process.

The future

“Stormwater runoff is one of the largest water pollution issues facing the U.S. today,” says Larry Levine, a senior attorney with the National Resource Defense Council, an international environmental advocacy group.

And the challenge for Canadian municipalities is to wholeheartedly embrace green infrastructure as the only affordable and effective long-term solution to how rainwater is managed.

Next: how other communities on Vancouver Island and around the world are meeting this challenge.

 

 

 

 

 

 

READ MORE

North East Comox Stormwater Management Plan

Green Communities Canada

Canadian Fresh Water Alliance

 

 

A SHORT GLOSSARY OF STORMWATER TERMS

Bioswales — A stormwater conveyance system similar, but larger than a rain garden (see below).

Evaporation — As water is heated by the sun, surface molecules become sufficiently energized to break free of the attractive force binding them together, and then evaporate and rise as invisible vapour in the atmosphere.

Green infrastructure — Any natural or built system that provides ecological benefits and help to maintain pre-development hydrology. It encompasses natural features like streams, wetlands, forests and parks, as well as engineered systems that manage urban runoff.

Groundwater — Subterranean water is held in crack and pore spaces. Depending on the geology, the groundwater can flow to support streams. It can also be tapped by wells. Some groundwater is very old and may have been there for thousands of years.

Hydrologic cycle — The endless circulation of water. From the beginning of time when water first appeared, it has been constant in quantity and continuously in motions. The same water molecules have been transferred time and time again from the oceans and the land into the atmosphere by evaporation, dropped on the land as precipitation and transferred back to the sea by rivers and ground water.

Low-impact development (LID) — The systems and practices that use or mimic natural processes that result in the infiltration, evapotranspiration or use of stormwater in order to protect water quality and associated aquatic habitat.

Precipitation — Rain, snow or hail from clouds. Clouds move around the world, propelled by air currents. For instance, when they rise over a mountain range, they cool, becoming so saturated with water that water begins to fall as, snow or hail, depending on the temperature of the surrounding air.

Rain garden — A miniature wetland in a residential setting, lower than the adjacent grade to collect rainwater from roofs, driveways or streets, thus allowing infiltration into the ground.

Runoff — Excessive rain or snowmelt can produce overland flow to creeks and ditches. Runoff is visible flow of water in rivers, creeks and lakes as the water stored in the basin drains out.

Transpiration — Water vapour is also emitted from plant leaves by a process called transpiration. Ever day an actively growing plant transpires five to 10 times as much water as it can hold at once.

 

 

 

 

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City CAO David Allen focuses on sustainable asset management

City CAO David Allen focuses on sustainable asset management

Courtenay Chief Administration Officer David Allen at the city’s first ‘complete street’ project  |  Photo by George Le Masurier

By George Le Masurier

Wide-ranging urban expansion has left municipal taxpayers with growing unfunded long-term debt for the infrastructure required by water, sewer, stormwater and other services. But a relatively new framework for management of public assets hopes to change that.

Courtenay Chief Administration Officer David Allen was part of a small group in 2008 that developed this system for managing public assets that provides for service and financial sustainability. It is now used by almost every municipality in British Columbia.

“The goal is sustainable service delivery; to avoid service failures,” Allen told Decafnation. “By moving to a proactive rather than reactive approach to maintenance, we can keep the infrastructure in good shape based on what the community wants and can afford.”

The provincial and federal governments regulate water and sewer standards through statutory regulations. But other things that have value, like quality of life services and stormwater, have not been regulated and the standards are discretionary.

“Therefore, City Council and the public must agree on what services are provided and at what levels of service, compared to the price the public is willing to pay,” Allen said.

Green infrastructure, for example, reduces a municipalities’ dependence on hard engineering in the future, and it does not depreciate and requires less maintenance, he said.

“It also does not have to be replaced in the future,” Allen said. “So it also extends the life of existing infrastructure.”

The city has been working with the Municipal Natural Assets Initiative (MNAI), which attempts to place a value on a municipalities’ natural assets. The Public Sector Accounting Board is working on a shift in official accounting methods to allow for this approach.

“We are using these methods to develop ways to use a combination of engineered assets and natural assets to replace our existing stormwater and flood management systems,” Allen said.

Infrastructure has no value by itself; its value is the service it provides, Allen says.

In 2009, the Public Sector Accounting Board required municipalities to record the value of their tangible assets, not including their natural assets, and only the original or historical costs. It did not consider replacement value in today’s dollars.

The whole Comox Valley has somewhere near $400 million in unfunded infrastructure liabilities, the backlog of foregone capital renewal and maintenance.

“Consequently, those numbers are not realistic and grossly undervalued,” Allen said.

It’s like owning a house or a car, according to Allen. Regular maintenance means no surprising big bills and inevitable down time later.

The Asset Management BC framework corrects this misunderstanding and allows for improved long-term financial planning by identifying what truly needs to be renewed, when that should happen and how much it will actually cost.

The infrastructure deficit is related to the municipal share of the property tax bill, which is about eight percent.

“It’s too low,” Allen said, “because the nature of the services that municipalities deliver are far more dependent on capital assets than other levels of government.”

“Those numbers are not realistic and grossly undervalued”

For example, in most western nations the national governments use capital assets to deliver their services that are valued at approximately the same amount as their total annual revenue. Provincial or state governments have capital assets worth approximately three times their total annual revenues.

But to deliver local government services, municipalities typically own capital assets worth 10 or more times their annual revenue.

Some communities — like Victoria and Richmond — have created new utility functions for stormwater to fund the maintenance and replacement of its infrastructure. In most communities, however, those bills are paid out of general taxation, and most years there hasn’t been enough.

But the Asset Management BC framework, which Courtenay has adopted, guides the city to undertake infrastructure conditions assessment, and to assess each asset’s risk of failure. This way, the city can prioritize its maintenance schedule and avoid a major service failure.

When city workers recently dug up a street in one of Courtenay’s oldest neighbourhoods, they found the stormwater pipe under the street they needed to repave was in good condition; it would last for another 30 years. Since pavement only lasts for 20 years, they left the pipe in the ground and plan to replace it the next time the street needs repaving.

Understanding the actual condition of stormwater pipes, Allen says, can prevent premature replacement, so available resources can be directed to those assets that need replacement or to reserves for future renewal when it’s necessary.

“We want to replace infrastructure only when necessary,” Allen said. “Otherwise, we’re wasting money.”

 

THE MUNICIPAL NATURAL ASSETS INITIATIVE

The Municipal Natural Assets Initiative (MNAI) provides scientific, economic and municipal expertise to support and guide local governments in identifying, valuing and accounting for natural assets in their financial planning and asset management programs, and in developing leading-edge, sustainable and climate resilient infrastructure.

Asset management—the process of inventorying a community’s existing assets, determining the current state of those assets, and preparing and implementing a plan to maintain or replace those assets—allows municipalities to make informed decisions regarding a community’s assets and finances.

Unfortunately, local governments lack policies to measure and manage one class of assets: natural assets. Natural assets are ecosystem features that provide, or could be restored to provide, services just like the other engineered assets, but historically have not been considered on equal footing or included in asset management plans.

Read more about MNAI

 

WHAT IS A NATURAL ASSET?

The term ‘Municipal Natural Assets’ refers to the stocks of natural resources or ecosystems that contribute to the provision of one or more services required for the health, well-being, and long-term sustainability of a community and its residents.

 

WHAT IS THE ECOLOGICAL ACCOUNTING PROCESS (EAP)?

Ecological Accounting Process — “The EAP approach begins by first recognizing the importance of a stream in a natural state and then asking: how can we maintain those ecological values while allowing the stream to be used for drainage,” says Jim Dumont, Engineering Applications Authority with the Partnership for Water Sustainability in BC.

 

ASSET MANAGEMENT BC

Learn more about this organization here

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16 candidates for six Courtenay City Council seats answered questions from the Comox Valley Chamber of Commerce last night in front of a full house at the Sid Williams Theatre. Taxes and amalgamation were the hot topics

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Most new candidates for six town of Comox council seats would do more to require that developments include an affordable housing component, while sitting council members say affordability is being addressed with a 90-unit building on Anderton

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Saturday’s Royston meeting had over 50 citizens in attendance, giving up part of their sunny afternoon to listen to and question both candidates. There was a twist to this all candidates affair, the moderator was ill, and there was no one willing to take his place, so both candidates were running the show, alternating recognizing questions from the floor.

In the Comox Valley, Decafnation recommends ….

There’s a youth movement in Comox Valley politics and Decafnation supports it. Former council members have had their chance. It’s those who must live with the impact of decisions tomorrow who should have the opportunity to make them today

Union Bay boils water, new turbidity standards

Union Bay boils water, new turbidity standards

By George Le Masurier

Union Bay residents are boiling water today that before August they were drinking from the tap. That’s when Island Health’s standard for turbidity in water from Langely Lake changed from 3 NTUs to 1 NTU.

Turbidity is the degree to which light is scattered by particles suspended in a liquid. And an NTU is a Nephelometric Turbidity Unit, a method of measuring turbidity uses a white light at 90 degrees to the detecting sensor.

The Union Bay Improvement District issued the boil water advisory on the weekend after heavy rainfalls and high winds stirred up the water in Langley Lake, the source of Union Bay’s drinking water. The UBID treats its water with chlorine, but turbidity can disrupt that process.

The UBID is currently designing a water treatment plant that will address the new turbidity standard and reduce water quality advisories. It is expected to issue a tender for construction next March.

Check the UBID website for more information.

 

Frequently Asked Questions

Q.: How do I boil tap water so that it is safe to consume?

Tap water should be boiled for one minute. Use any clean pot or kettle. Kettles that have automatic shut offs are acceptable. After boiling, let the water cool by leaving it on the counter or in the refrigerator in covered containers. After water is boiled it can be stored in food grade containers at room temperature or in the refrigerator.

Q.: When will the notice be lifted?

The notice will be lifted once the health authorities, in conjunction with the Superintendent of Waterworks, have concluded that the potential risk has been mitigated.

Q.: What are the health risks during a boil water notice?

The health risks associated with ingesting water that has not been boiled are hard to estimate. The Notice was issued because conditions exist that make it impossible to ensure the safety of the water without boiling it first. The risk could be low if no actual contamination occurred or very high if pathogens are present. However, you can be confident that boiling your tap water for one minute is sufficient to destroy any pathogens that are present in the water.

It is important to note that Boil Water Notices are specific to microbiological threats. They are not appropriate to address threats from chemical contamination. Boiling chemically contaminated water will only result in the chemical becoming more concentrated or release the chemical into the air where it could be inhaled. In such cases a different kind of Notice would be used.

Q.: What should I do once the notice has been lifted?

· Run cold-water faucets and drinking fountains for one minute before using the water

· Drain and flush all ice-making machines in your refrigerator

· Run water softeners through a regeneration cycle

· Drain and refill hot water tanks set below 45 C (normal setting is 60 C)

· Change any pre-treatment filters (under sink style and refrigerator water filters, carbon block, activated carbon, sediment filters, etc.)

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CVRD raises rebate offers to switch from wood stoves

CVRD raises rebate offers to switch from wood stoves

By George Le Masurier

The Comox Valley Regional District has increased the incentive for people wood burning stoves to switch to cleaner-burning systems. The rebates apply to any wood stove manufactured prior to 2014.

Thanks to the provincial wood stove exchange program announced this week, the CVRD is now offering:
• $250 for exchanging a non EPA/CSA certified wood stove for a new CSAB415 wood stove
• $600 for exchanging a wood stove manufactured prior to 2014 with a new gas, propane or pellet stove
• $1,000 for exchanging a wood stove manufactured prior to 2014 with an electric air-source heat pump

The CVRDis one of three regional districts in BC to offer this type of exchange. The other two are the Alberni-Clayoquot and Cowichan Valley Regional Districts.

Funding support for the Comox Valley wood stove exchange program has been provided by the BC Ministry of Environment, the BC Lung Association and Island Health. The Comox Valley Regional District also contributes a top-up incentive to applicants upgrading to these cleaner-burning heating sources.

For information about how to apply, click herehttps://www.comoxvalleyrd.ca/services/environment/air-quality/wood-stove-exchange-program

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The Week: Sharpe dissed, dogs sprayed, no pot and Go Santa!

The Week: Sharpe dissed, dogs sprayed, no pot and Go Santa!

Before cannabis was legal in Canada, back in the 1970s, people had to stand outside on the porches of the Lorne Hotel to smoke it. Photo by George Le Masurier

By George Le Masurier

Does anybody else feel like Mt. Washington’s freestyle skier Cassie Sharpe got overlooked for the Lou Marsh Trophy, which supposedly is awarded to Canada’s top athlete of the year?

Sharpe is the reigning Olympic champion in her sport, the halfpipe. She won the gold medal at this year’s Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. In 2015, she won the silver medal in halfpipe at the World Championships and both the gold and bronze medals at the Winter X Games in 2016 and 2018.

But a group of undisclosed sports reporters assembled by the Toronto Star newspaper — the award is named after a former Star sports editor — chose Mikael Kingsbury, of Quebec. He’s a worthy choice for having dominated moguls skiing competition for years, and also won gold at the 2018 Winter Olympics.

But Sharpe wasn’t even a finalist and didn’t get mentioned in the voting.

¶  Take this short test to determine Your Tolerance for Anarchy …

Question: If you see a dog running loose without a leash, do you:

A) Lasso the dog and tie it to the nearest tree?
B) Confront the dog’s owners and give them a stern talking to?
C) Shoot the dog with bear spray?

An elderly Comox couple apparently feel like “C” is an appropriate answer, although most of the rest of us would consider it an extreme response.

And yet, people who let their dogs off-leash in parks and other areas where the animals should be leashed can cause a real public nuisance. Some people have a fear of dogs. Nobody wants a friendly but muddy dog to jump up on them.

The worst offenders in the Decafnation world are people who enjoy the Goose Spit Stair Climb and let their dogs run up the dirt slopes, off the stairs. The dogs damage the slope and cause erosion. When the Comox Valley Regional District built new metal stairs this fall, they also landscaped the adjoining earthen slopes and posted a sign to keep animals on the stairs.

It hasn’t been 100 percent successful because some people let their dogs loose.

The answer is not bear spray. Obviously. But neither is consciously ignoring a requirement to leash your animal. The answer is to show respect for other people and our environment.

¶  So can the Comox Council hurry up its plan to create an off-leash dog park. Right now, the only place for dog owners to let their animals run free is in Cumberland.

¶  A regular Decafnation reader wrote to us this week, praising the in-depth story about Jonathan Page, PhD, a GP Vanier grad, who has rocketed to the top of the cannabis science world in Canada, and whose Anandia Labs is building the unique Cannabis Innovation Centre near the Comox airport. It’s the first-ever facility in the world devoted solely to breeding and genetics of cannabis.

The reader noted comments in the story about the fast-paced cannabis market, and how corporations are rushing to get ahead of the competition and dominate in our nation’s experiment in legalization.

But, our reader said, there doesn’t seem to be any rush to open a retail recreational marijuana store in the Comox Valley. In fact, he said, getting consumer access to legal pot seems to be bewilderingly slow.

¶  Congrats to Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns for pressing the issue of marine plastics in the House of Commons with a private member’s bill last year, and for managing to get it passed this year with unanimous support.

John’s bill calls for a nationwide strategy to reduce and, he hopes, eliminate plastic pollution in all marine environments, based partly on a report from the University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Centre.

So, how about it, Comox Valley governments? Cumberland is publicly working toward a plastic bag ban, but nary a formal peep so far from Comox and Courtenay.

¶  By the time St. Joseph’s General Hospital closed last year, the board had already released its vision for dementia village on the 17-acre site at the top of Comox Hill, which would include a campus of care services for all seniors. But for that vision to pencil out, The Views needed additional publicly-funded beds.

The Views have, no doubt, applied for some of the new complex care beds promised by Island Health two years ago, but which have been delayed for unspecified reasons. So it was a little surprising this week, that The Views Chief Administrative Officer, Michael Aikins issued a release about the already known vision.

That and unreturned phone calls to St. Joe’s board members makes us wonder if something is afoot, and that Island Health might make an announcement soon.

¶  Don’t tell your kids, but it’s scientifically impossible for Santa Claus to travel at 650 miles per second carrying gifts weighing at least 350,000 tons. At that speed and workload, Rudolph and the other reindeer would burst into flames and cook like a tofuturducken.

Or is it?

A professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at North Carolina State University says it is. Santa would only have to harness a relativity cloud, based on Albert Einstein’s discovery that time can be stretched while space is squeezed.

Trying explaining that possibility to a skeptical nine-year-old.

More Commentary | News

The Death of Governing Whiplash

Imagine, if you will, elected officials from one party cooperating with the elected officials of another party in order to develop long-lasting legislative priorities that stand the test of time.

Town’s Mack Laing “hub” aims to influence court

The timing of the Tow of Como’x new information hub about Mack Laing seems to indicate that it will function mostly to justify the town’s controversial decision to have the terms of the Mack Laing Trust altered by the B.C. Supreme Court and to report on the outcome of the case.

What are these guys so afraid of?

If the result of the 2018 referendum is the adoption of a proportional representation voting system, a second referendum [shall] be held, after two provincial general elections in which the proportional representation voting system is used, [to determine] whether to keep that voting system or revert to the First Past the Post voting system. So what are these guys afraid of?

Challenging a colonial Inheritance

In New Zealand, proportional representation enabled the Maori Party to achieve important reforms for the country’s indigenous people. British Columbia’s First Nations also deserve a stronger legislative voice, and electoral reform can make it happen

The buck (doesn’t) stop here

The key to maintaining the public’s confidence in its government departments and agencies, is the concept of public accountability. The gap between the serious nature of the issues presented by community representatives and the response provided by Island Health is staggering. Island Health acknowledges its accountability but does it, in fact, hold itself accountable?

Record’s error went beyond omitting a disclaimer

The Comox Valley Record, our local newspaper, drew widespread criticism last week by turning over its Dec. 12th front page to an advertisement that looked like a news story. The “advertorial” was sponsored by a development company at war with some residents and the Comox Valley Regional District.

Art: inspired or appropriated?

Contrary to the popular cliche, a person never gets too old to learn something new. I’m old, and this week I learned that I may have over many decades inappropriately appropriated African-American culture. As a teenager growing up in the 1960s, I listened to Elvis on...

Injection sites can prevent deaths, not overdoses

Not many people who moved to the Comox Valley for its small-town feel, access to recreational opportunities or the lively arts scene imagined heroin addicts injecting themselves in public places or one person dying almost every month from an opioid overdose. But these...

Who’s at fault: drivers or cyclists for crashes?

Provincial Court Judge Peter Doherty handed down a fair decision in the case of Timothy Prad of Bowser, the motorist who struck and killed a bicyclist, Paul Bally of Fanny Bay, on the Old Island Highway about a year ago. The judge found the motorist honestly thought...

Pot report stumbles on medical access

The federal task force on marijuana released a thorough report this week that proposes to end Canada’s 93-year prohibition on legal pot production and consumption. Its 80 recommendations touched on the important considerations and concerns for a well-regulated system,...