Area B residents want voice on regional Sewage Commission

Area B residents want voice on regional Sewage Commission

By George Le Masurier

The problems inherent when several distinct government jurisdictions nearly overlap each other reared its ugly head again at last week’s regional Sewage Commission meeting.

And it’s no coincidence that these issues rise because two larger jurisdictions (Courtenay and Comox) have dumped their effluent problems on a smaller third jurisdiction (Area B), without allowing the latter any formal representation.

Big governments have historically pushed their problems out of town, into less populated rural areas, where they are presumably less noticeable.

But for the residents of Curtis Road, who are downwind from the nearby sewage treatment plant, noxious odour problems are more than just noticeable. The smell of human waste has plagued them for 35 years, forcing some them out of their homes.

And the residents of Croteau Beach, just outside the boundaries of the Town of Comox, took special notice when a previous Sewage Commission planned to build a new pump station in their Area B neighborhood. The plan was fraught with flaws, not the least of which was a threat to residents drinking water wells.

Grant: “A lot of the things (Nichol) said were just not factual”

Croteau Beach residents lobbied for Area B representation on the Sewage Commission at the time. They argued that the principles of democracy demanded it.

No jurisdiction should be allowed to locate infrastructure necessary for a function or service in a separate jurisdiction that derives no benefit from the service and has no effective voice at the decision-making table, they said.

Now, Curtis Road residents are joining in that debate. They, too, want Area B representation on the Sewage Commission. And they have backed that argument up with a detailed history of alleged flagrant disregard for their concerns by three decades of commission members.

And now, new Area B representative Arzeena Hamir has asked the commission to add her as a voting member.

That’s a proposal that didn’t sit well with Comox Councillor Ken Grant.

Grant questioned whether it was legal under the BC Local Government Act to appoint a voting member to a commission from which that proposed members’ constituents do not participate. By that Grant meant that Area B residents don’t pay for the cost of operating the regional Sewage System, nor do they get to use it.

But Grant did not question whether it was ethical for the commission to build a “stinking plant” — as Curtis Road resident Jenny Steel said — next to residents who have no say in the matter.

Still, Grant went further. He said when the Sewage Commission experimented with a non-voting Area B representation to appease Croteau Beach concerns, it was a failure.

“It didn’t matter what we did, it didn’t matter. It wasn’t good enough for the area (Croteau Beach),” he said.

And then Grant called out former Area B representative Rod Nichol.

“A lot of the things (Nichol) said were just not factual,” Grant said. “It made it difficult to come up with a proper decision.”

Decafnation emailed Grant after the meeting to clarify his statements. Was he calling Nichol a liar, who purposely stated untruths? Or did he mean that Nichol was uninformed, that he just didn’t know what he was talking about?

Grant refused to clarify his statements.

Nichol, however, said he stands by any statements he made at the Sewage Commission.

“I did not attend the meeting … so I am not aware of what was said and by whom,” Nichol wrote via email. “If Ken Grant indeed said what you claim, then here are my comments:

“It is easy to chuck sh*t when the other party is not present to defend himself. If “a lot of things the previous director said were simply not factual” why has it taken this long for the allegation to be made? Everyone has an opportunity to speak and be heard at those meetings — if I said things that were not factual, why didn’t someone challenge me at the time? I do not know what Ken Grant is allegedly referring to, but I stand by what I said.”

Comox Valley Regional District Chief Administrative Officer Russell Dyson said a governance review is underway that may help the Sewage Commission decide whether they can, or want to add the Area B representative in either a voting or non-voting capacity, or at all.

A motion to include the question of Area B representation on the commission in the governance review was passed by a 4-3 vote split along jurisdictional lines.

All three Courtenay representatives voted in favor of the motion, as did the representative from CFB Comox.

All three Comox representatives — Grant, Maureen Swift and Russ Arnott — voted against it.

 

 

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Comox failed to consult with KFN over Mack Laing Park

Comox failed to consult with KFN over Mack Laing Park

Naturalist Hamilton Mack Laing tending trees in his nut farm, now called the Orchard Park area / Archives photo

By George Le Masurier

Now that Chief Nicole Rempel has made it clear the Town of Comox failed to properly consult the K’omoks First Nations about plans to demolish Mack Laing’s heritage home, called Shakesides, and construct something else, a serious question arises:

With whom did town staff and council members consult?

We know that neither the town or Comox Council consulted in any formal way with the Mack Laing Heritage Society, which is the only other local party to the legal action to demolish the house.

We know the town did not consult with Lacasse Construction, the well-known Comox Valley construction company that has volunteered to take on the restoration of Shakesides, or with any of the two dozen other civic-minded building and architectural professionals.

We know the town didn’t consult with about a dozen Mark Isfeld High School students who wrote letters to the mayor and council supporting the preservation of Laing’s house on Comox Bay.

In fact, as it turns out, the town and council didn’t formally consult with anyone other than themselves.

You might say a recent public engagement workshop on the topic was a form of consultation. But because participants were allowed to hear about only one single possibility for the building’s future, it doesn’t count.

Still, even disregarding the town’s intentional lack of consultation, it’s a mighty big oversight to not consult with the K’omoks First Nation.

“It is therefore with disappointment … that this proposal and future improvements to the Mack laing Parks has already been … decided upon without prior consultation with KFN, Chief Rempel wrote. “The large shell midden here is of significant cultural importance to KFN. It is the resting place for many KFN ancestors. This significance is well-recognized.”

KFN requested a halt to all planning and other work until “meaningful consultation has taken place.”

And it wasn’t the first time KFN has expressed concern about the town’s activities on the waterfront property Laing bequeathed to the Town of Comox.

“We have previously written to Mayor Paul Ives on the importance of this site and area is to the KFN,” Rempel wrote.

KFN expressed concerns roughly four years ago when the town demolished Laing’s original home, called Baybrook, which is just across Brooklyn Creek from Shakesides. In particular, KFN noted the town had erected a bench on top of a midden.

Informed local people know — or should know — this area is an important and sacred area for KFN.

A 1990 archaeological investigation for the archaeology branch of the Ministry of Municipal Affairs, found that First Nations people “occupied the two kilometre-long Comox Harbour Site, which lies in the lee of Goose Spit” for “at least the last 2,000 years.”

It’s not like the town hasn’t had the time. They have been planning to demolish Shakesides for years. Consulting with KFN is the first thing they should have done.

To make matters worse, during a recent Committee of the Whole meeting, Mayor Russ Arnott claimed he had spoken with KFN. He gave the impression to some that the K’omoks were duly informed and on board with the town’s plans.

But that’s not the case, according to KFN Chief Rempel.

Arnott’s idea of collaboration and consultation appears to be that “when we’ve decided what we’re going to do there, we’ll let you know.”

That approach is understandably offensive to KFN.

The protection of archaeological sites is “a moral and spiritual obligation” for KFN people, Rempel said. And she cited the United Nations Declarations of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and how other jurisdictions, such as the City of Vancouver, have honored it proactively.

“It is KFN’s perspective that all Local Governments should follow these examples, and take the management and preservation of archaeological sites much more seriously,” she wrote to Arnott and council members.

Ditto to that. And we would add the management and preservation of “all sites with a heritage value.”

 

 

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Comox Cannabis Innovation Centre  construction underway

Comox Cannabis Innovation Centre construction underway

Looking at the 21,000 square foot greenhouse site, with pre-fabricated walls on the left  /  George Le Masurier photo

By George Le Masurier

There hasn’t been a lot of activity over the winter at the seven-acre Cannabis Innovation Centre construction site these days, but it’s about to get busy. Real busy.

The prefabricated greenhouses have arrived from the Netherlands that will span over 21,000 square feet, along with a crew of Dutch workers. After a few days of safety training, the workers will begin installation.

Walls are already going up for the 10,500 square foot office building and laboratories, which was also prefabricated. Employees of Island Timber Frames, of Cumberland, are helping in this specialized type of construction.

The office building components arrived in packages, with each piece individually marked with a code for where it fits into the complex erection process. The parts were packaged to be taken out and installed in a specific order.

Heidi Nesbitt, the lead architect on the project from the Vancouver firm Local Practice, told Decafnation on site today that there is a digital database with the code for each individual piece and all its particular specifications.

Some of the large beams have ends pre-cut at multiple angles that will only fit in a single location.

Nesbitt and Project Coordinator Nick Page toured the site Tuesday morning. Page is the twin brother of Dr. Jon Page, who founded Anandia Labs and was the first scientist to sequence the cannabis genome. The Page brothers were born and raised in the Comox Valley.

Due in part to the unique requirements for preventing cross-contamination among the seven isolated sections of the greenhouse, there is a complex web of electrical, water and other utilities weaving through foundation.

Page and Nesbitt joked they hoped it all is accurately positioned.

At the same time as the building construction, other crews are creating an infiltration gallery and detention pond to control rainwater falling on the property.

Page said the piece of the property used for the infiltration gallery was given to the Town of Comox, but the CIC will pay for its ongoing maintenance.

The current $20 million project is the first phase of construction on the site. Future phases will expand both the greenhouses and the labs.

The new 31,500 square-foot phase-one facility in Comox will do all of Anandia’s breeding and genetics, and provide feed stocks for more medical strains of cannabis exclusively for Aurora.

The centre will focus on disease resistance and preventing mould, powdery mildew and other diseases and pathogens common in commercial cannabis cultivation.

 

 

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Rural Comox residents want less odour, more compensation

Rural Comox residents want less odour, more compensation

A lagoon at the Comox Valley wastewater treatment plant on Brent Road  /  George Le Masurier photo

By George Le Masurier

This article has been updated following the April 16 Sewage Commission meeting. It was originally published April 15.

 

Curtis Road residents want Comox, Courtenay and other users of a wastewater treatment plant in their neighborhood to pay them under a Host Community Compensation agreement.

Speaking for the Curtis Road Residents Association at Tuesday’s Courtenay-Comox Sewage Commission meeting, Jenny Steel said neighbors of the treatment plant have endured 35 years of noxious odors and numerous failed promises to eliminate the smells. The plant opened in 1984.

“And the plant still stinks,” she told commissioners from the two municipalities and CFB Comox.

There are 49 properties between the treatment plant and the Strait of Georgia at Cape Lazo. Many of them were established in the 1930s and still belong to the same families. But the location puts residents in the path of daily off-shore breezes, which pick up odors from the open treatment facilities and blows them through Curtis Road homes.

In a 17-page history of the odor problems sent to commissioners last week, Steel said residents find the stink is so strong that it wakes them up at night. When the sewer smell gets really bad — usually when there’s no wind from the southeast to blow the odors back toward the plant — residents are forced out of their homes because it’s “sickening.”

Previous Sewage Commissions ignored the problem and refused to finance additional remedies, so the residents sued, and won. The Sewage Commission compensated homeowners for reduced property values and rental incomes. There are carriage houses and secondary residences on some properties.

“But the problem hasn’t gone away,” Steel said. “It’s a little better now than last year, and it will probably be a little better next year … but it’s still there.”

British Columbia has no odor control standards. Only the provinces of Ontario and Manitoba have established standards.

An air quality study completed in 2016 showed that odors from the Brent Road plant exceeded the Ontario standards up to two kilometers away and that at some Curtis Road homes they exceeded the metric by 10 times.

The sewerage system and treatment plant serves only residents of Courtenay, Comox, K’omoks First Nation and CFB Comox. It is managed for them by the Comox Valley Regional District. There is no representation on the Sewage Commission from Area B.

After Steel presented a history of the problem, the commission voted to request a staff report before responding to the residents’ demands.

The residents want the Sewer Commission to immediately and completely cover its bioreactors to control the odours emitted during the biological process of removing pollutants from the wastewater. They estimate the cost at around $3 million, although the CVRD puts it over $5 million.

Steel also asked the commission to reassess the need for a new equalization basin, or to at least relocate it on the treatment plant’s 35-acre site in the Cape Lazo area.

The removal of trees in about 25 percent of the forested buffer area between the plant and Curtis Road to build the new EQ basin has made the plant visible from residents’ properties, and further reduced their value.

In an email to Decafnation, Steel said the Sewer Commission did not consider the visual stigma created by this new EQ basin “and its effect on our home prices as well as the potential additional odour source.”

The plant uses EQ basins a few times each year when high tides coincide with an increased volume of liquid entering the plant due to heavy rainfalls, according to Liquid Waste and Water Manager Kris LaRose.

He said that because treated wastewater flows by gravity from the plant to the outfall in the Strait of Georgia off Point Holmes, they must store partially treated wastewater for “several hours on a handful of days” during the late fall and early winter.

The Curtis Road residents also want the Sewer Commission to sign a Host Community Benefit Agreement to compensate homeowners until the odour problem is resolved and a visual screen is restored.

In an email to Decafnation, Steel described a Host Community agreement.

“The concept … is to balance the impacts a local community may experience in hosting a waste management facility against the advantages received by the users of the facilities from other communities,” she said.

Steel pointed to the $9 million agreement between the Comox-Strathcona Solid Waste Committee and the Village of Cumberland in 2013 for hosting the North Island landfill within their municipal boundaries.

The Capital Regional District also signed a Host Community Compensation agreement with Esquimalt for locating that region’s new sewage treatment plant.

Steel said she was happy with today’s meeting. 

“I was delighted  that we had a packed house,” she told Decafnation. “The sewage commission members were engaged and respectful, plus it seemed that most had read our report.   

“We’ll obviously know more when we receive their response next month.”

 

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Bruce and Nicole Gibbons, photograph from their Facebook page

By George Le Masurier

Representatives of 53 municipalities on Vancouver Island and the British Columbia coast have endorsed a Comox Valley initiative for the province to stop issuing licenses for the bottling and commercial sale of groundwater.

Meeting this week in Powell River, the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities, which includes Comox Valley municipalities, passed the resolution unanimously.

The motion now moves to the Union of BC Municipalities for consideration at its annual meeting during the week of Sept. 23 in Vancouver. If it is supported by a majority of provincial municipalities, the resolution would be sent to the BC government for action.

Bruce Gibbons, of the Merville Water Guardians who originated the initiative, called the AVICC vote “a huge victory.”

“That (the unanimous vote) means that the 53 member communities of the AVICC unanimously support the ask of that resolution, and ultimately the protection of groundwater,” he said.

Gibbons praised Strathcona Regional District Director Brenda Leigh for championing the resolution. The SRD passed a similar motion in February requesting the province cease groundwater exports for commercial water bottling and bulk water sales.

“There are 29 regional districts in British Columbia, and a lot of them have been impacted by corporate extraction of their water supply,” said Leigh. “This is very important because the commodification of water in Canada means that we’re putting our water sources at risk.”

Groundwater extraction and water bottling rose to public attention last year at the Comox Valley Regional District. Merville landowners Scott MacKenzie and his wife, Regula Heynck, obtained a license from the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource and Rural Development (FLNRORD) to extract up to 10,000 litres per day or 3.65 million litres per year.

But the CVRD ultimately denied MacKenzie and Heynck an application to rezone their property on Sackville Road to conduct water bottling operations as the principal use of their property.

MacKenzie and Heynck then approached the Strathcona Regional District and were denied again.

The struggle between FLNRORD and the Comox Valley Regional District highlighted the friction between regional districts and the BC government over groundwater extraction for profit. The dispute began when FLNRORD MacKenzie a license without public notification and against the wishes of the CVRD and K’omoks First Nation.

But there was considerable public opposition to the license, and the CVRD denial effectively rendered the license unusable.

Leigh said her motion is rooted in general principle, and not in reaction to the CVRD dispute.

She says changes to the provincial Water Sustainability Act would negate the need for district-level efforts to control commercial water extraction with zoning decisions.

“First things first – we need to get the province on our side, and make sure they’re protecting our water. They have the power to do that.”

Some areas in Leigh’s district, which includes the north Oyster River area, rely totally on groundwater. In recent summers, drought conditions in August have forced the district to tap emergency reservoirs.

She anticipates climate change will exacerbate the problem in the future.

Watershed Sentinel Assistant Editor Gavin McRae contributed to this article

 

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