“Unbelievable accusations” move water bottling to public hearing

“Unbelievable accusations” move water bottling to public hearing

The CVRD moved a rezoning application for a water bottling plant in Merville to a public hearing later this summer after the applicant complained the process has not been fair or transparent

 

UPDATE, 10:30 am June 18 — In a surprise move, the Comox Valley Regional District Electoral Areas Services Committee did not take a vote this morning (June 18) to reject a rezoning application for a water bottling plant in Merville.

Instead, following complaints by the applicant, Christopher Scott Mackenzie, that his rezoning application process has been unfair and not transparent, Area C Director Edwin Grieve made a motion to take the application to a public hearing. No date has been set.

The CVRD staff recommended the committee deny Mackenzie’s rezoning application — see original story below.

At this morning’s meeting, Mackenzie said the staff report contained “a lot of derogatory comments that lack any real substance.” He called them a “barrage of unbelievable accusations” that have “spiraled out of control.”

Mackenzie submitted documents to the CVRD that he says show fears about depleting the aquifer from which he would draw up to 10,000 litres per day are not true.

“It’s not going to happen,” he said. And he briefly noted claims in his submitted documents that the aquifer is actually a catch basin that recharges every year.

He said water levels in the aquifer have increased by 3.2 cm in the last 14 years — the equivalent of more than 300 million litres of water — despite  92 years of water extraction by neighboring property owners.

Before being cut off by the committee chair, Mackenzie alleged that neighboring farms and homesteads had multiple wells into the aquifer, including some that are “free-flowing artesian wells.”

Mackenzie said he doesn’t like how his “simple application” has been represented and that he’s gotten no support from Director Grieve, the Area C representative. 

In making his motion for a public hearing Grieve said, “The applicant is concerned about the protection of his process. I don’t want him to think he isn’t getting a fair shake.”

The public hearing is likely to be held sometime this summer.


The original story ….

The Comox Valley Regional District staff has recommended denying a rezoning application for a Merville area property that would permit a water bottling operation.

But the fight to stop the extraction of up to 10,000 litres of groundwater per day is not over.

The Electoral Services Commission is expected to rely on the staff report at its meeting this morning (June 18) and reject the rezoning application. But that only means the applicants cannot operate a water bottling facility on the Sackville road property.

The water license issued to Christopher Scott Mackenzie and Regula Heynck by the B.C. Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (FLNRORD) remains valid.

They can still extract the water and, with an amendment to his license, can sell it by some method other than a bottling facility on the property.

If the couple attempts to truck water off the property to sell and deliver, the case could end up in court over whether “trucking” falls under the CVRD’s rezoning authority.

FURTHER READING: Ministry stalls FOI request; Farmers urge CVRD to reject Merville water bottling operation; Water Bottling project raises aquifer concerns

So the fight to protect the aquifer for nearby farmers has, for now, shifted to the Environmental Appeal Board and a citizens petition.

Bruce Gibbons, who owns and lives on ALR land about 300 metres from the Sackville Road site, has filed an appeal under the Water Sustainability Act (WSA).

Gibbons expects a decision any day on whether he has the right to appeal, meaning whether the merits of his appeal meet the criteria of the WSA. If the board rules in his favor, then he can makes arguments in front of the board for withdrawing or altering Mackenzie’s and Heynck’s water licence.

The Merville Water Guardians, a group of neighboring landowners formed to fight the water bottling operation, is circulating a petition for the BC government to stop approving groundwater licenses for bottling and commercial sales.

“The petition focuses on groundwater,” Gibbons told Decafnation. “With fresh water licences, you can see the effect — a stream goes dry. But with groundwater, you can’t see the impact on an aquifer.”

“The people … must demand … immediate action to stop approving groundwater aquifer licences for bottling and commercial sale to ensure we all have access to good, clean water for our personal needs, to grow our backyard gardens and to supply the farms that grow our food,” the petition reads.

The CVRD staff report echoes that sentiment.

“The proposed land use is incompatible with the surrounding area, and once such land use is permitted through zoning, the CVRD is potentially enabling the use of this property for water bottling at a much greater scale in the future,” the report reads.

K’omoks First Nation

The CVRD reached out to numerous stakeholders and other regulatory agencies for feedback on the rezoning proposal, including the K’omoks First Nation.

In a strong letter to the CVRD, Chief Nicole Rempel noted that KFN had originally opposed the application back in 2017 when the ministry considered the water license.

“I wish to advise you that in addition to the matters that we have raised in our various communications with the province, we are concerned that the actual license has been issued unlawfully,” Rempel wrote. “It is obvious to us that the consultation with K’omoks on this matter has not been meaningful and our substantive concerns have not been addressed.”

FURTHER READING: Read the 206-page staff report, which includes the feedback from K’omoks First Nation and agencies, as well as the public feedback.

 

Ministry stalls FOI request on Merville water bottling

Ministry stalls FOI request on Merville water bottling

IMAGE: Courtesy of Inhabitat

The B.C. government has stalled a Comox Valley citizen’s Freedom of Information request for a technical study and other information regarding the approval of a water extraction licence in the Merville area

 

Did the provincial government do an in-depth technical study before issuing a licence for a Merville couple to extract 10,000 litres per day for a water bottling operation?

Or, did they approve the licence without doing a sufficient examination of the aquifer from which the water would be drawn and the number of farmers who depend on that water to grow local produce?

And, is it possible that British Columbia has designed its open government regulations to allow ministries to effectively thwart citizen’s requests for information?

Those questions are being asked this week because the Ministry of Forests, Land, Natural Resources, Operations and Rural Development (FLNRORD), which granted the Merville groundwater licence, has stalled a Freedom of Information (FOI) request for more than a month.

Merville area farmer Arzeena Hamir, owner of Merville Organics, submitted an FOI request in March regarding the recent decision to grant a groundwater license in Merville (File – 20004026, Water License – 500169) for a water extraction and bottling operation.

FURTHER READING: Water bottling project raises aquifer concerns; Farmers: reject Merville water bottling operation

Hamir wanted to know, “How Ministry staff determined that a public consultation did not need to occur; How Ministry staff determined that the aquifer did not need to be studied; The Ministry staff response to the Komox First Nations referral to the application. (Date Range for Record Search: From 07/01/2016 To 12/31/2017).”

More than a month later, Hamir still hasn’t any idea when the ministry will send her the requested information.

On April 26, she received an email from Andrew Bonneau, a senior FOI analyst in the Ministry of Citizen’s Services, saying that she’s not much closer to getting the information.

“The ministry is currently in the process of confirming that there will no longer be any fees for your request based on the new wording,” Bonneau wrote. “I am anticipating on receiving a response from them shortly and once confirmed, they will begin gathering the records and I will be able to provide you with a new due date for your request.

“Depending on the total number of records that are received and/or whether or not any consultations will be required with other public bodies, there may be a need to extend the due date of your request, however, I will inform you if that will be necessary at that time,” he wrote.

In other words, the ministry has no intention of fulfilling Hamir’s request on a timely basis, and it could be another month or two before she gets any of the information.

That’s not acceptable.

Hamir has asked Comox Valley MLA Ronna-Rae Leonard to look into the issue.

“This is insane. It’s taken FLNRORD more than three weeks to tell the FOI office how long it’s now going to take them to produce just one report,” she said. “Then they have another 30 days to provide that report.”

Several Merville area farmers who are concerned about a loss of water for crop irrigation have questioned whether the ministry did a sufficient study of the demands on the aquifer in question before issuing the extraction licence.

Christopher Scott MacKenzie and his wife, Regula Heynck, applied for a licence to extract 10,000 litres per day or 3.65 million litres per year. The Comox Valley Regional District and the K’omoks First Nation opposed the licence application, but the ministry approved it anyway.

There are environmentally sensitive areas surrounding the property, including many farms and Agricultural Land Reserve areas that rely on groundwater.

Area C Direct Edwin Grieve warned that aquifers eventually get pumped down and he wondered what effect that would have on the water supply for nearby farms. He noted that climate changes have caused Portuguese Creek to dry up in the summer.

The CVRD must approve a rezoning application to permit “water and beverage bottling” as a principal use on the property. CVRD staff are gathering information and will report back to the board of directors in May or June.

The Area C Advisory Planning Commission discussed the rezoning issue at its May 2, 2018 at 7 p.m. at the CVRD board room. There was no public input at this meeting. Full report to follow.

Meanwhile, Hamir wants the information she requested from the ministry quickly so she and other Merville area farmers can review the data on which the water extraction licence was approved.

Hamir said given the public controversy the water licence has created, “it’s hard to believe this report and the other information I requested aren’t readily available on somebody’s desk.”

 

Farmers: reject Merville water bottling operation

Farmers: reject Merville water bottling operation

PHOTO: Merville area residents and others attend a public forum last week about the water bottling proposal

The Mid-Island Farmer’s Institute asks the CVRD to decline a rezoning application and to urge the B.C. government to rescind a water licence for a bottling operation in the Merville area

 

The Mid-Island Farmers Institute has asked the Comox Valley Regional District board to reject a water bottling facility on Sackville Road in Merville.

The farmers also want the regional district to ask the Ministry of Forestry, Land, Natural Resources, Operations and Rural Development (FLNRORD) to rescind the water licence granted to the Sackville Road property owners, Christopher MacKenzie and Regula Heynck.

The regional district didn’t issue the water licence and has no authority to rescind it. But the CVRD can deny a rezoning application that is necessary to allow water bottling as a principal use on the property.

The provincial agency approved the controversial groundwater licence for a water extraction and bottling operation on a two hectare property in the Merville area despite strong objections from the CVRD and the K’omoks First Nation.

“We believe that this licence was issued without a thorough understanding of the aquifer and the impact that water extraction would have on neighbouring farms and home sites,” board members of the farmers organization wrote in a letter to the regional district board of directors.

“The rezoning application is not in line with the CVRD’s own Official Community Plan and will negatively impact neighbours and road infrastructure,” they said. “The fact that the licence was granted despite objections from the CVRD , objections from the K’omoks First Nation, and the lack of any public consultation brings serious doubt to the legitimacy of such a decision and the operation must not be allowed to go forward.”

FURTHER READING: Water bottling project raises aquifer concerns

MacKenzie told a CVRD committee last month that he originally drilled a well for domestic purposes. But after his wife, Regula Heynck, insisted on testing and discovering the water had high pH levels (alkaline), the couple envisioned a viable family business.

MacKenzie claimed the alkaline water has health benefits and is “something the community needs … it’s really unique”

But farmers in the Merville area believe the bottling facility would draw too much water from the aquifer and affect their crop production. The licence allows MacKenzie/Heynck to extract 10,000 litres per day or 3.65 million litres per year.

The Mid-Island Farmer’s Institute wants the Ministry of FLNRORD to rescind the licence and “declare a moratorium on the issuance of water bottling licences on BC’s aquifers until a full review is conducted on the current and future demand for this water from BC’s farmers.”

The farmers also want the CVRD to “apply for a Water Reservation over the aquifer to ensure that the water is only used for Comox Valley community needs,” which could only be lifted if “the CVRD’s Agriculture Watershed Public Advisory Committee has determined that there is sufficient water for current and future needs of the CVRD community.”

The next CVRD board meeting is Tuesday, April 24. But the matter probably won’t be addressed again until the Electoral Services Committee, which makes recommendations to the board on rural rezoning applications, meets on May 14.

 

Managing urban deer is a local problem, not a provincial one

Managing urban deer is a local problem, not a provincial one

Provincial ministry confirms: province has no legal responsibility for managing urban deer. Comox Valley elected officials ignore problem while Oak Bay and Haida Gwaii take action

 

[dropcap}Q[/dropcap]uestion: What do the City of Oak Bay and the islands of Haida Gwaii NOT have in common with the Comox Valley?

Answer: They have recognized the problems caused by an excessive quantity of deer and have taken actions to reduce their deer populations.

The Comox Valley has done nothing.

Meanwhile, the federal government will spend $5.7 million over the next three years on a program that will eradicate deer from six islands in Haida Gwaii, and
Oak Bay will spend $40,000 on an experimental program to put some of its urban deer on birth control.

But Comox Valley governments have allowed their urban deer populations to expand, partly because elected officials cling to the erroneous notion that managing the animals is a provincial responsibility.

A Comox Valley Regional District representative has told Decafnation that deer are a provincial problem, and Comox Mayor Paul Ives repeated this misinformation on Facebook recently.

So Decafnation contacted the Ministry of Forest, Lands and Resource Operations and Rural Development. Here’s what they said:

“According to section 2 (1) and 2 (5) of the Wildlife Act, all wildlife is owned by the government, but no right of action or compensation exists against the province for death, personal injury or property damage,” a ministry representative wrote via email.

“So, while the province owns the deer, it has no legal responsibility for managing urban deer populations toward objectives established by local governments.”

But the province encourages local governments to develop detailed deer management plans, and it partners with local governments to facilitate and develop socially acceptable urban deer management solutions.

FURTHER READING: Ottawa spends $5.7 to eradicate deer in Haida Gwii; Oak Bay to issue deer contraceptives

If any Comox Valley municipality developed a deer management strategy the province would provide technical advice, regulatory authority, necessary permits, specialized equipment and other management tools.

And, in 2016, B.C. launched an urban deer management program, which provides $100,000 each year to help fund community-based urban deer management projects.

The funding follows up on the province’s pledge – made at the 2015 Union of BC Municipalities annual convention – to set aside annual funding for urban deer mitigation. The province is helping to fund Oak Bay’s program.

That makes it clear that local governments must initiate strategies to manage its deer populations, and the province will help with resources and funding.

So why are Comox Valley governments ignoring this problem?

Gardeners lose thousands of dollars worth of plants to the voraciously hungry deers, and spend thousands more on fencing and other methods to deter them. Farmers have lost crops. Motorists have collided with deer.

Deer attract dangerous animals. Deer make up about 95 percent of a cougar’s diet, and are lured into the urban area by the easy prey of unwary deer. The area conservation officer reports frequent cougar sightings in the Valley.

Letting the deer population go unchecked raises the risk of spreading Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses. While reported cases of Lyme disease are not as prevalent here as in the Lower Mainland and other areas, a high density of deer means more ticks and a greater risk.

What Oak Bay is doing

The city recently put radio collars on 20 does to track their movements and better understand the deer population. The next step is to administer an immunocontraceptive vaccine, Zonastat-D, either by hand or via a darting rifle.

While the current version of the drug remains effective for up to 22 months, scientists are working on a vaccine that would work for up to seven years.

What’s going on in Haida Gwaii

Deer were introduced to the Haida Gwaii archipelago in 1880 by the B.C. Game Commission. They have since spread to all of the region’s 200 islands.

“The deer don’t have any predators so there’s no real control for their hyper abundance and they’re beginning to damage the ecosystem in an almost irreparable way,” a Parks Canada resource management technical told CBC news.

Professional sharpshooters have been hired to kill the deer and train young islanders to assist in the eradication.

The deer meat will be distributed for hot lunch programs throughout Haida Gwaii.

Who to call

If individual deer are an immediate threat to human safety, the Conservation Officer Service will respond. These instances should be reported to the RAPP line (Report All Poachers and Polluters) 1-877-952-7277 (RAPP) or #7277 on the TELUS Mobility Network.

To encourage local governments to develop deer management programs, call Comox Town Hall (339-2202) , Courtenay City Hall (334-4441) or the Comox Valley Regional District (334-6000).

 

Requiem for a Garry Oak prairie

Requiem for a Garry Oak prairie

DND tried to save it, Town of Comox allowed it to be destroyed

By LOYS MAINGON

Comox has just lost the last remains of the 6,000+ year-old Cape Lazo Garry oak prairie.

Until last year when the Department of National Defense took an active interest in this site, it was a poorly- stewarded one- to two-acre corner of land at the bottom of the Comox Valley airfield fronting Knight and Kye Bay Roads. This original part of what must have been Dr. Walter Gage’s father’s farmland, was converted on the eve of WWII into the airfield that we know today as CFB Comox.

Before 1860, most of that was a rich traditional Pentlatch Garry oak meadow. It was together with the lower Tsolum Valley “Comox Prairie” the original wealth of the valley in which British pioneers settled. These last two acres was all that remained of 65 square kilometres (25 square miles) of a northern Californian flora and fauna, that we know today as “Garry oak ecosystem,” and it even had some stunted wind-blown Garry oaks.

From a floristic point of view, this site was a charm. It was a site I regularly took visiting botanists to. They came from the USA and Victoria, to view the native flowers and grasses amidst the Comox garbage and vandalism.

Top photo: The prairie before it was destroyed. This photo: What it looked like after clearing for development

New plants, often not found anymore in and around the rest of Comox and Courtenay, such as red maids (Calandrinia ciliate) which are otherwise only found locally on Hornby, would be spotted about every second year. So we are still uncertain as to what lay hidden in the site’s soil seed bank.

A one day count in April 2017 identified 28 species of native flowers ( camas, harvest brodeia, Hooker’s onion, Chocolate lily, Scouler’s popcorn flower, and the list goes on) a carpet of purple and gold. Nobody had time to study the pollinator populations, and the Western bluebirds have been long-gone, probably with insects unknown.

Again, we will possibly never know the full extent of our children’s losses.

For years, everybody, including DND who put signs up to limit trespassing, thought that this was DND land. For conservationists, this was a boon, although it limited access, DND has an excellent record of responsible stewardship. Indeed, last year when it was pointed out that the site was being vandalized by ATV’s and was becoming an unmanageable and illegal dumping site overgrown by broom, DND mobilized soldiers to remove broom and garbage, and the erected a gate to limit illegal access.

FURTHER READING: Town of Comox fines resident $10,000 for pruning Garry Oak trees

We had every reason to hope that with responsible stewardship, this site would one day be an important regional conservation legacy.

As it turns out, the land is private. And it is within the administrative boundary of the Town of Comox, whose uncontrolled development policies have laid waste the Lazo Sand Dunes ecosystem area over the past two years.

Garry oaks on private land have been extirpated and native flora replaced by Kentucky turf. That is largely because Comox mayor, Town Council and staff either don’t care, or are ignorant of Comox’s natural heritage, or are hell-bent on development vandalism, which they seem to have a well-honed reputation for. Sadly, they are the town’s “representatives.”

In either case, DND learnt indirectly that it was not the owner of this piece of land, and was unable to buy it from the new owner, who it seems had no problems obtaining building and development permits from the Town of Comox on what any other town would have classed “ecologically sensitive habitat.”

Comox, after all, has no real tree by-laws or special environmental permitting requirements that would encourage landowners to manage land responsibly, for the benefit of other Canadians. If the political leadership is lacking and only exhibits a tendency to systemic ignorance, reckless vandalism, and disregard to the public interest, one should not dare expect private landowners to meet a higher standard.

So the new landowner did what every almost every other landowner in the Comox Valley before him has done: he hired an excavator to strip the topsoil and “improve” the building site, undoubtedly assuming it was a valueless field, and never having been told otherwise. He is not to blame. We all do it, and he sought permits and guidance from the Town of Comox.

We have lost the last remnant of our native grass prairie. At a time when this planet is experiencing a species collapse unmatched since the Cretaceous (65 million years ago), this is more significant than it seems. This prairie survived all the insults we threw at it since white settlers arrived, and stole it. It is proof that we have been the worst stewards imaginable.

Even those of us who claimed to care, myself included, did not care enough to check the title, we took for granted DND ‘s claims, and what local environmental organizations told us. So we failed all those other species whose DNA we share, and handed our trust and future over to Comox Council and staff.

It is exactly that ill-placed trust that drives mass extinction, and climate change, every day.

Loys Maingon is the Conservation Chair of Comox Valley Nature

 

FURTHER READING: What is a Garry Oak?; 

 

Is Site C a Done Deal?

Is Site C a Done Deal?

Dam opponents share concerns at a Comox Valley town hall meeting

PHOTO: Arlene Boon,on the Boon’s farm in the family for three generations, points out the proposed flood line if Site C dam goes ahead. Note the yellow stakes, raising funds for the First Nations’ court challenge. Photo by Sally Gellard

 

BY SALLY GELLARD

Last Friday evening 150 people gathered at the K’omox First Nation Band Hall for a powerful inspiring evening of speakers who proved that the fight to save the Peace River Valley is far from over.

The attentive audience heard from Ken Boon, farmer and member of the Peace Valley Landowners Association; Steve Gray, Site C Summit co-chair; and Wendy Holm, agronomist.

All three speakers explained why Site C is a boondoggle.

Boondoogle, a word rarely used before Site C, is defined as “unnecessary, wasteful and often counterproductive.” It is also a leather cord worn by Boy Scouts. There is no mistaking which definition Rafe Mair refered to in his latest book, “Politically Incorrect,” published shortly after his death in 2017.

“Site C, perhaps the most monstrous of them all, because we have the opportunity with a new provincial government to rid ourselves of this massive destruction of farmland and desecration of First Nations heritage in order to build a dam to provide power we don’t need, to customers we don’t have, just to satisfy the Gordon Campbell/Christy Clark/Fraser Institute-inspired mad energy philosophy. The cost of this giant boondoggle to date has been massive, the environmental damage gross,” he wrote.

That about sums up all the significant arguments against Site C, with the exception of the geotechnical issues, the soaring cost over-runs, the massive debt and land destruction we are leaving for future generations and the exciting new advances in alternative energy sources emerging globally which we, in BC, are not investing in.

Without a change of heart by our provincial government, we look for hope to the Moberly Lake and Prophet River First Nations as they go to the courts to defend their homeland, their way of life, their historical and sacred sites and the recognition of Treaty 8 and the United Nations Declaration of Indigenous Peoples.

As well, two new books emerge this month in the fight to save the Peace.

“Breaching The Peace: The Site C Dam and a Valley’s Stand Against Big Hydro,” written by Sarah Cox, award-winning journalist; and, “Damming The Peace: The Hidden Costs of Site C Dam,” edited by Wendy Holm.

Both these books will be “a powerful resource for the resistance to the travesty called Site C,” says Maude Barlow.

There’s lots we can do to stop this boondoggle.

Donate funds for the First Nations court challenge at www.stakeforthepeace.

Locally we are holding monthly Stand For the Peace vigils in front of our MLAs office on Fifth Street in Courtenay, on the 11th of each month, the anniversary of the announcement by a sour-faced premier on Dec. 11, 2017.

Sally Gellard, a Comox Valley resident, wrote this article for Decafnation. For more information about how to get involved, she may be contacted at sallygel@gmail.com.

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