Engineers battle coastal tankers

Engineers battle coastal tankers

Brian Gunn forms Concerned Professional Engineers

Photo: Aframax tanker negotiating the Second Narrows Bridge in the Burrard Inlet.


By Catherine Gilbert

From his office located on the second floor of the log home overlooking Upper Campbell Lake that he shares with partner Myrna Boulding, Brian Gunn has been working tirelessly for the past 15 years to make a better BC. 

He works without any expect of a reward; in fact often traveling and hiring help at his own expense. A retired engineer and former owner of a dude ranch in the Cariboo, Gunn is also past president of the Wilderness Tourism Association of BC, an organization that gives a voice to adventure tourism operators on issues such as land use and park permits. 

He is nearing his 80th birthday, yet still remains engaged in various advocacy issues and has garnered a reputation for getting things done.

The Second Narrows Bridge collapsed in 1979 when a ship collided with it

His latest project has been to form an organization known as Concerned Professional Engineers, or CPE that is composed of other retired engineers as well as a professor of engineering at UBC, Dr. Ricardo Fosci. The CPE have joined forces to challenge the methods in which oil products are being shipped from and along the coast of British Columbia. 

It all began with a trip up the northern coast of BC in the summer of 2012, starting in Bella Coola and ending in Kitimat, when Gunn and Norm Allyn interviewed residents and local politicians about their attitudes towards the proposed Northern Gateway Project. This developed into applying with the National Energy Board for Intervenor status, being accepted and attending the hearings at Prince Rupert. 

The CPE expressed the concern that NG intended to ship dilbit (diluted bitumen) by tanker out of Kitimat.  Kitimat is located 300 km from the open Pacific, and to reach the ocean, tankers would have to navigate narrow, foggy, stormy passages in an area of some of BC’s most pristine ocean environment. 

Instead of Kitimat, the CPE felt that Enbridge should have been considering alternative ports such as Port Simpson or Prince Rupert. One of their other major concerns is that not enough testing has been done to know how dilbit behaves in a marine environment and that the consequences of a major spill are unknown.

The map shows the position of both the First and Second Narrows Bridges in Burrard Inlet

Most recently, the CPE has been challenging Kinder Morgan’s proposal to increase their transport of oil through the Burrard Inlet in Vancouver from one day per week to seven days (the TransMountain Expansion). Already, alarm bells were going off when the CPE considered the danger in having any large tankers at all progress through the inlet, passing the First and Second Narrows bridges before arriving at the open ocean. 

They have proposed that Kinder Morgan should change its shipping terminal to Roberts Bank, just outside Tsawwassen, which would place the oil tankers away from the city.

As spokesperson for the CPE, Gunn likes to make it clear that the CPE are not against the oil industry and understand its relationship to Canadian economic growth.

They are however, concerned about protecting the British Columbia coast and its environment. They wish to provide an informed view of how projects such as Northern Gateway and the Transmountain Expansion can be made as safe as humanly possible. As Gunn says, “there is no such thing as 100 percent safe, but we know that there are safer alternatives than what are being currently proposed.”

Visit their website for details on what action the CPE has been taking, and what they propose still needs to be done.

Catherine Gilbert is a Citizen Journalist currently in Victoria writing a graduate thesis about Strathcona Park and continues to assist Brian Gunn with CPE correspondence. She can be reached through her website


Waste to energy discussion missed the GHG point

Waste to energy discussion missed the GHG point

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has committed Canada to aggressive reductions in our annual greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. It will take a coordinated national effort to get there, and that means small communities across the country, like the Comox Valley, must be constantly thinking of new ways to reduce its carbon footprint.

And yet, that doesn’t appear to be the dominant mindset among Comox Valley municipal staff and elected officials. They’re fixated on keeping taxes as low as possible.

A meeting this week of the Comox Strathcona Waste Management board’s special committee to explore the benefits of converting municipal waste to energy (WTE) provided a case in point.

According to a consultant’s report, which compared three different WTE technologies, if the north Island continues to bury its garbage in the Pigeon Lake landfill, we will produce 821,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) over the next 40-year period.

The worst (highest) CO2e emissions from any of the three reviewed WTE technologies was only 179,000 tonnes.

And one of the technologies would achieve a net reduction of CO2e by -777,000 tonnes.

In other words, by implementing WTE technology, the entire north Island could reduce its greenhouse gas emissions from solid waste by at least 80 percent, and possibly by roughly 200 percent.

So it should boggle the mind of anyone concerned about climate change that those facts weren’t the main topic of discussion.

Instead, the committee members and staff spent two hours debating the confusing cost comparisons in the consultant’s report. And the report was confusing, if not seriously flawed.

It’s important to have an accurate comparison between the cost of the existing landfill operation and any new WTE technology. Elected officials need that data to make informed decisions, and seek federal and provincial funding.

And the public wants cost information, too. Of course.

But, holy cow, the environmental benefits of any WTE solution for disposing of household and commercial garbage are overwhelming and undeniable.

It should have been the main topic of discussion, had the consultant’s report not obfuscated the monetary issues.

Landfills account for 20 percent of Canada’s methane emissions, which are 25 times more potent in accelerating global warming than other greenhouse gases. It may be the single largest impact that regional districts can have on the national GHG reduction target.

That’s why the recommendation by Comox Valley Regional District staff was so shocking, and out of step with the mission of the WTE committee.

Staff recommended the committee discontinue looking at WTE solutions until 2022, primarily because landfilling was portrayed as the least expensive option.

But until CVRD staff prepare more accurate cost comparisons, that’s not a proven fact.

In either case, the recommendation sends the message that although landfilling may pollute more and accelerate global warming, it will keep our taxes lower.

And that, unfortunately, appears to be a common mindset among too many within Comox Valley municipal governments.

We expect our elected officials to spend our tax dollars wisely, and make prudent decisions. But there’s a new paradigm that injects environmental factors into the definition of prudence.

And that’s the kind of thinking that will save this planet from the disastrous effects of climate change.

CVRD internal tension builds over waste to energy report

CVRD internal tension builds over waste to energy report

Related topic: Did the waste-to-energy committee discussion miss the point? 

The tension between staff and elected officials of the Comox Strathcona Waste Management board (CSWM) ramped up another notch this week.

The friction has increased since directors openly criticized Comox Valley Regional District staff at a full CSWM board meeting two weeks ago. They accused staff of manipulating the wording of an engineering contract to disregard the will of publicly elected officials.

At that same meeting, CSWM directors also accused staff of giving more weight in their recommendations to the views of a staff advisory board than to the elected board.

This breakdown of trust and struggle for power erupted again this week when directors rejected a staff recommendation to set aside the committee’s interest in technologies that convert solid waste into energy.

A select committee of the CSWM board has been exploring the latest technologies that transform undiverted municipal solid waste into energy or recyclable materials, rather than burying it in a landfill.

The committee’s chair, Area B Director Rod Nichol, said the committee’s goal is to extend the useful life of the Pigeon Lake landfill and to not squander the inherent energy contained in undiverted waste.

And to dispose of solid waste in a manner more friendly to the environment.

But when consulting firm Morrisson Herschfield tabled its evaluation of three companies that offer varying WTE technologies, it quickly became obvious that staff and elected officials were at odds again.

Directors privately wondered if they had received the full consultant’s report, or whether they got a version amended by the staff advisory committee.

Marc Rutten, the CVRD’s General Manager of Engineering Services, recommended that the CSWM board stop its consideration of WTE technologies, and take it up again in 2022 as part of the 10-year update of its 2012 Solid Waste Management Plan.

That didn’t sit well with directors who instead ordered staff to use the consultant’s data to provide a more accurate cost comparison between the status quo of burying undiverted waste in a landfill and two of the different WTE technologies.

Rutten based his recommendation on the consultant’s conclusion that continuing to bury undiverted waste was less expensive and less risky than any of the three WTE technologies.

But directors questioned the validity of the consultant’s report, saying it didn’t give a true “apples to apples” comparison of costs.

The report only compared the cost of the CSWM landfilling operations to the costs of the three WTE technologies. It didn’t take into account the CSWM’s cost of source-separating recyclables and organic composting, which is already included in most processes that convert waste to energy.

Campbell River Director Charlie Cornfield was adamant that the cost comparison was flawed, and other directors agreed they didn’t have enough information to make a decision about whether to pursue one of the WTE solutions.

Directors asked staff to prepare a more detailed analysis of what would change for the CSWM operation with the implementation of each technology, what wouldn’t change, and what that would cost.

They also want a breakdown of the cost of each of the CSWM current operations, such as source-separating materials, composting organics, education programs, dealing with hazardous refuse, etc.

Director Roger Kishi of Cumberland urged the committee to eliminate incineration technology as a third WTE option.

Incineration involves direct burning of undiverted waste. It’s a technology commonly used in Europe and at B.C.’s only WTE facility in Burnaby.

And while the emissions from incinerating waste are minimal, according to the consultant, Kishi said the public could never support the optics of a tall smokestack.

After more than two hours of debate, one thing became obvious: The consultant’s terms of reference conflicted with the elected officials goals and weren’t adequate for them to assess cost comparisons between the status quo of landfilling and new technologies that convert that waste into energy.

It’s important for the CSWM committee to fully understand the cost of undertaking any new technology. And to do that the committee must have accurate comparisons if it hopes to convince the CSWM board, the public and the provincial government that moving to a WTE solution makes sense for taxpayers and the environment.


A lament for Strathcona Park

A lament for Strathcona Park

Time to hold mines and loggers accountable

By Susanne Lawson

Strathcona Park is a good example of what can go wrong when resources and money are the primary consideration.  

Almost a century ago, people saw the beauty of the area as an equivalent to Banff.  Elk Valley was bounded by Buttle Lake and Campbell Lake with Myra Falls at the end of it. The valley was full of giant forest, elk, wildlife and the lakes teemed with trout.

The trout fishing was the reason Strathcona Park Lodge (est. 1911) exists today. Jim Boulding and his wife Myrna established a beautiful lodge on the lake and lived a good life, just outside the park boundaries. They raised a big family and fought for the preservation of the beauty and intrinsic values of the park.

It is unfortunate that the B.C. government didn’t see that value.  

When I visited recently, Myrna explained to me that the original lodge used to be 140 feet below where we now stood. It is hard to comprehend the vast degradation the park underwent in those past years and the heart-breaking processes that the Bouldings watched take place.  

Aerial view of the John Hart Dam

In 1948, the B.C. Power Commission decided to dam the north end of Upper Campbell Lake to generate power for a growing Campbell River region. This caused the Elk Valley to flood. Upper Campbell Lake and the Elk Valley became one huge dammed Buttle Lake, where water levels rose 18 feet. That left a shoreline of dead trees and stumps, and 10 to 20 feet of gravel in the dead zone between high and low waters.

A pulp mill was built near Campbell River in 1952 to take advantage of the new, inexpensive source of power.

The power station at the John Hart dam is being upgraded for seismic purposes.

The flushing of the water to adjust the power flows also flushed out spawning salmon from the Campbell River. No fish ladders were Installed, so trout ceased going out and salmon ceased coming in.

The logging of the valley was part of the damming process, and so, then why not just take what old growth was valuable in the process? Along with that, fires from the ever present slash burning got out of control and the area burned.  

Well, as if that wasn’t enough, the government decided in 1965 to issue mining permits within the park, not just small ones but mile-deep monstrosities with huge factories to break up the ore with noisy rolling balls and chemicals like cyanide to break it down. The tailings were dumped into ponds that were always overflowing into the lakes until the trout became poisonous, at least their livers were officially announced dangerous to consume.

Hikers into the park could hear the giant fans deep within the earth going 24/7 to ensure those miners down there survived, despite the ore dust they inhaled. Then, more mines were given the go ahead and places like Cream Lake on top of the mountains there and other areas were being drilled for ore.  

That is when the protests started in the 1980s. Swans that inhabited the upper end of the now dammed Buttle Lake were found dead with oil on their feathers, something that perhaps helped, along with public outcry, to stop the incursion of more mines.  

Two status of parks ensued, Class A and Class B. Heaven help you if you want to enjoy a class B park. Watch out for mine shafts and ore trucks.  

Logging continues all around the park and you would be hard pressed to find any old growth forest left within eyesight, although there is lots of fresh logging.

Many years ago, the B.C. government awarded CP Rail the E&N Rail Grant for the northeast side of Strathcona Park, and at one time, the border between the park and the grant  ran through the northeast corner of Buttle Lake. This was a time when it looked as if the rail line would continue up island and possibly into Strathcona Park, which was envisioned as another Banff.

Eventually a select number of logging companies in the early 1950s we4re allowed to purchase parts of the grant and these companies logged around the borders of the park and on the shores of Buttle Lake with in the grat area. Today, this entire region is owned by Timberwest who purchased the land from the smaller companies.

The people of BC. gave up park land in order to have a perpetual railroad in operation on Vancouver Island only the logging companies conveniently forgot about that part of the bargain.

How come the people get nothing out of these deals?  

Westmin Mines, commonly known as the Myra Falls Mine, has changed hands numerous times wince Westmin first developed it in 1965. It was recently sold to Nyrstar, and then closed for several years. Nystar is now getting the mine up and running.

The giant pulp mill will never operate again due to the lack of demand for newsprint and other paper products. There was an attempt to turn the old mill into an LNG facility, but with a glut of liquid natural gas all over the world, that idea went the way of the dodo.  

Isn’t it about time to hold these corporations accountable? And time for a new paradigm … for the sake of our children and the future?

Susanne Lawson has lived in Clayoquot Sound for 50 years. She is a resident of Tofino, B.C. 

University of Victoria graduate student Catherine Gilbert contributed factual information for this commentary.


No boil-water advisories in Cumberland

No boil-water advisories in Cumberland

Photo: A view of Allen Lake, in the Perseverance Creek watershed. Courtesy of the Village of Cumberland.

While Courtenay and Comox residents suffer through another boil-water advisory this week, clear and drinkable water flows freely in the Village of Cumberland.

For Cumberland Mayor Leslie Baird that fact alone justifies her council’s decision to not join the Courtenay-Comox water system. But she also likes to point out that the village will save millions of dollars for its taxpayers.

Because while those other Comox Valley elected officials search for the financing to build a $110 million water filtration plant, Cumberland has already received a $4.9 million grant to fund the $6 million first stage of its long-term water quality and supply system improvement plan.

Joining the Courtenay-Comox system would have cost Cumberland taxpayers $26.7 million upfront and annual operating costs of $600,000.

Bringing their own system up to current provincial standards will cost $6 million now (80 percent funded by the provincial Clean Water, Wastewater fund), another $6.5 million for further improvements through 2066, and annual operating costs of $255,000.

It was a clear-cut financial decision, Mayor Baird said, and it provides the village with water security for the next 50 years.

How the water system works

Cumberland Manager of Operations Rob Crisfield said the village’s water supply comes from five lakes in two separate watersheds — Allen Lake in the Perseverance Creek watershed, and Hamilton, Stevens and Henderson lakes and Pond. No. 2 in the Cumberland Creek watershed.

The five lakes in two watersheds that comprise the Cumberland water supply. The village has a license for future use of Vanwest Lakes.

A deep well drilled in Coal Creek Historic Park opened in 2013. It adds a groundwater supply to the watersheds’ surface water sources.

The system operates on nine water licenses, some issued as early as 1897, and serves Cumberland and everyone in the Royston water service area. The village owns all of the land around the lakes, but not all of the land in the watersheds.

That means the system is less susceptible to harmful logging practices in terms of the turbidity issue that plagues the Courtenay-Comox system. Cumberland has not issued any boil-water advisories.

However, some of the infrastructure in the hills above the village is more than 100 years old. While it’s been maintained well, many upgrades are necessary and underway.

Henderson Lake has the lowest elevation of the four lakes in the Cumberland Creek watershed, so its outflow makes the connection to the village’s water supply. It merges with a line from Allen Lake.

Where water lines from the two watersheds come together, the water is treated with chlorine. It then descends down to Cumberland via a single, one kilometer long 300 mm diameter pipe, before splitting again into two main trunk lines servicing different parts of the village.

What’s happening now

The village is installing a second “twinned” 300 mm pipe so it can regulate the flow from each watershed based on the amount of water stored in the lakes. That work should finish in mid-December.

Future work will include adding a new facility that will provides both UV and chlorine treatment. It will also switch from chlorine gas to sodium hypochlorite, which poses fewer risks for operators.

The village will also construct two new reservoirs to increase water storage capacity. One will go out to tender in the spring, along with the new UV treatment facility. The second reservoir will be built by the year 2040.

Sediment washing into Comox Lake through Perseverance Creek after a major rain event in 2014

Crisfield said the village will repair and replace some of its dams, most importantly the Pond No. 2 dam, which failed in December of 1972, causing a washout of the Henderson Lake dam. Both the Henderson dam and No. 2 dam were rebuilt in 1973, with a spillway out of Cumberland Creek watershed and into Perseverance Creek.

It was this spillway that undercut a kilometer-long 50-foot high bank during a major rain event in 2014. The ensuing slide washed sentiment, including clay particles, into Perseverance Creek and ultimately into Comox Lake, the source of drinking water for Courtenay and Comox. Following the slide, a the Comox Valley Regional District issued a boil-water advisory for Courtenay-Comox residents that lasted 49 days.

Crisfield said other dams will get either seismic stabilization, such as Stevens Lake did in 2014, or be completely rebuilt over time to meet the Canadian Dam Safety Guidelines in future years.

How residents benefit

When all the projects are completed, Cumberland and Royston will have a secure supply of water through 2066 that meets B.C. Drinking Water Guidelines. The more reliable and controllable system will reduce risks to human life, the water supply and the environment from a major earthquake.

The village was able to lift its moratorium on development in 2014 after opening the Coal Creek deep groundwater well.

It will surprise some that Cumberland is the fastest growing community in the Comox Valley. According to the 2016 Census statistics, the village grew by 5.6 percent to 3,600 residents. That beats Courtenay, Comox and all three regional districts, which each grew by 4.7 percent.

It’s even more surprising that during that same period of growth, Cumberland has reduced its demand for water by 41 percent, according to the June 2016 study by Koers & Associates Engineering Ltd. Cumberland residents used 49 percent less water and Royston residents used 17 percent less.

The lower water usage resulted from a new rate structure and the installation of water meters at all residential and commercial connections. People just naturally used less water. And the meters revealed many service leaks, which have been repaired.

Crisfield said once all these surface supply improvements are in place, Cumberland will have improved redundancy and reliability on water delivery, improved water quality and greater flexibility in how they can operate the supply system.

What’s next
  • The biggest challenge confronting Cumberland is how to rebuild the Pond No. 2 dam; specifically where to direct its spillway. If it goes toward Cumberland Creek, it could affect water quality in the village’s system. If it goes into Perseverance Creek, it could erode more sediment into Comox Lake. Crisfield hopes that a study underway by Tetra Tech consulting engineers, of Nanaimo, will find a solution to that problem.
  • Meanwhile, Crisfield is interested in the possibility of generating hydroelectricity by adding turbines into the system’s water lines. Due to the large elevation drop, there may be sufficient pressure to power the water treatment operations.


Wild salmon on brink of disaster

Wild salmon on brink of disaster

Bears starving, sea lice out of control

PHOTO: One of the fish boats leaving the occupation site with the Kayactivists following. Susanne Lawson photo


By Susanne Lawson

NOV. 16 — I am sitting in a boat near a Marine Harvest fish farm in the Broughton Archipelago. I walk outside and the air stinks of acrid, penned Atlantic salmon and feed pellets that are continuously sprayed into the pens. The sound of the sprayers never ceases. It is depressing to see these fish leaping in the air trapped in these stinking pens. Salmon should never be in pens.

This farm has been occupied by local First Nations for almost three months now. There are multiple First Nations involved, very dedicated people.

There is a camp in the woods of kayakers standing by to help. They call themselves Kyactivists. There is another camp of people at a land-based house nearby that was built by Marine Harvest, which First Nations occupied. Marine Harvest has several land-based houses for workers, leased quite permanently (it seems) for comfort and ease of access.

These are public lands, public waters.

At the farm, five pens are empty as the protest has so far prevented more Atlantic salmon from being restocked and four are full of approximately eight-month-old fish. Marine Harvest does not have permits to restock at this time, yet are determined to go ahead.

There are about 4 to 5 boats belonging to supporters of the protest with people aboard them, providing support, transportation and warmth. The weather has been stormy, cold and wet.

First Nations people — Chiefs and their families — have maintained a presence here since August. Two young women, Molina Dawson and Karissa Glendale, in their early 20s, of the Musgmagw and Namgis First Nations, are living on the floats.

Chief Ernest Alfred and other hereditary First Nations of Alert Bay occupied Swanson Island fish farm and Wicklow fish farms this fall. Marine Harvest came in and stocked the pens in front of the Chiefs who were occupying the farm in full traditional regalia.

Seven people have set up a camp in the woods nearby, treating the area with great respect and understanding; one of them doing his doctorate in law and jurisdiction. It is a sweet space with big trees and a creek bubbling nearby.

Marine Harvest has gone to court seeking an injunction to have everyone removed. The judge has given both parties until Dec. 14th to present their case and in the meantime the First Nations agreed to remove their occupation and buildings. Marine Harvest wants to go ahead and restock the empty pens with Atlantic salmon smolts, despite First Nations objections.

The Namgis First Nations in Alert Bay

Things are at a standstill right now. Sad that nothing is preventing more Atlantic salmon and diseases to continue to prevail in B.C. waters, especially after such a concerted effort to bring about positive change to such a destructive process as fish farming. So much and so many are losing … commercial fishermen, sports fishing, families dependent on the wild salmon resource, bears, eagles, trout, marine life like seals, sea lions, and so much more.

It is impossible to weigh the values of what wild salmon have provided for the coast. Wild salmon are on the brink of disaster. Wild stocks are crashing. Alaska has closed all Chinook fishing. Bears and more have been starving on the coast. Sea lice are out of control all over the world where these farms exist and have been found on emaciated trout, ling cod, herring and more.

An application for 18 hectares of pesticide use has been made for Clayoquot Sound waters by another fish farm company, Cermaq, owned by Mitsubishi and operated out of Norway. We are all losing while others are profiting from our loss.

How far does this go? Until our amazing wild salmon are extinct? I hope for sanity to prevail. If this doesn’t turn around now, the irreplaceable loss of our wild salmon migration and all it nourishes will be one of the greatest regrets of this century.

Susanne Lawson and her late First Nations husband, Steve, have lived in Clayoquot Sound for more than 50 years. They have actively protected salmon, bears and natural habitat from mining and old growth logging. She’s an artist and writer.