CVRD directors overlook their Regional Growth Strategy to expedite an application by 3L Developments to amend the RGS that would enable a 740-house project on the Browns and Puntlege rivers near Stotan Falls
BREAKING: In another surprising twist to the 3L Developments proposal for Stotan Falls, the July 17 Committee of the Whole vote that defeated a motion to consider the issue via the minor amendment process has been overturned. The motion has now passed on a 5-3 simple majority, and it will be recommended to the entire Comox Valley Regional District board later this month that the 3L application for an amendment to the Regional Growth Strategy be considered by the minor amendment process. When the full board votes, however, a two-thirds majority will be required.
Here is a statement from the CVRD legislative services team:
“In preparing the minutes for yesterday’s (July 17) Committee of the Whole meeting, Regional District staff considered the issue of whether the Committee’s vote on the process for proceeding with the amendment to the RGS proposed by 3L Development required a two-thirds majority or a simple majority vote for the Committee to recommend to the Board that it proceed as a minor amendment. Having reviewed the Regional District’s Procedure Bylaw, the RGS, and the applicable statutes, staff are of the view that there is an arguable issue as to the required vote. In the circumstances, and as the RGS makes clear that the determination of whether an amendment is a minor amendment must be made by the Board, staff have concluded that it is fair and reasonable to resolve the issue in favour of the applicant and have prepared the Minutes to reflect that the motion to proceed with the amendment as a minor amendment was carried on a simple majority vote of 5 to 3. By doing so, the matter will properly be on the agenda for the upcoming Board meeting and the Board will be in a position to fulfill its duty to determine, if the amendment is initiated, on a two-thirds majority basis whether the amendment will proceed as a minor amendment or, in default, as a standard amendment”
The original story follows …
Editor’s note: this article was amended July 23 to provide context for a quote by David Dutcyvich
For Comox Valley Regional District directors Bob Wells and Rod Nichol, expediency justifies circumventing a requirement of the board’s own Regional Growth Strategy.
Wells and Nichol were two of five directors to vote July 17 in favor of considering a proposal by 3L Developments to change the RGS as a minor amendment, rather than through the standard amendment process.
The two directors joined Larry Jangula, Ken Grant and Bruce Jolliffe to support a motion to proceed via the minor amendment process.
Erik Eriksson, Curtis Scoville and Barbara Price voted against the motion.
It was the second time for directors to vote on the issue. On July 10, they defeated the motion with only Grant and Jangula supporting it.
But the board had voted at that time after hearing incorrect information that a future unanimous vote in the minor amendment process would be required for the proposal to pass first reading. In fact, only a majority vote would be required at first reading.
So when the board’s Committee of the Whole reconvened a week later, on July 17, and voted again after discussing the corrected information and another hour of debate on the matter.
What’s surprising about the vote is that the CVRD’s Regional Growth Strategy clearly states the criteria that a proposed amendment must meet in order to be considered through the minor amendment process.
Area B Director Nichol asked CVRD staff to display section 5.2.3(a) of the RGS, which refers to the “criteria under which a proposed amendment to the RGS may be considered a minor amendment:”
It can be minor, if it is not regionally significant, contributes to the goals and objectives of the RGS, contributes to achieving the general principles in the RGS, and is not directly related to enabling a specific proposed development.
Nichol then went through each criterion and explained why, in his opinion, the 3L proposal did not meet any of them. But he voted in favor anyway.
Wells expressed similar difficulty with the criteria.
After the meeting Wells told Decafnation that he voted in favor of the minor amendment process anyway because he was satisfied the board “could still get a fulsome and meaningful” review of the 3L proposal “equivalent to the standard amendment” process.
Wells said his concern was the timeline for responses from other governments required under the standard amendment process, which “from my experience can be significant, and it seemed very unclear there would be any benefit.”
Nichol said the board has “inherited an issue that should have been decided a long time ago.”
“Yes, it did not meet all the requirements, but I firmly believe we can come up with a decision that conforms with the wishes of the people.”
Director Eriksson, who opposed the minor amendment process, said the 3L Developments proposal for 740 houses at Stotan Falls is a significant change to the Regional Growth Strategy.
“I’ve been critical of the RGS in the past,” he said. “But it reflects the aspirations of the public.”
The mayors of each municipality and the electoral area directors signed a protocol on “managing growth in the Comox Valley” in September of 2006. That lead to the development of the RGS, which was adopted in March 2011.
The Regional Growth Strategy is the culmination of considerable public input, negotiation among elected officials and feedback from local government staff through the board’s Technical Advisory and Steering committees.
But five directors, including Wells and Nichol, ignored that work for the sake of moving along consideration of the 3L Developments proposal a little bit quicker.
And 3L Developments has been trying to get CVRD approval for a long time.
It has been 11 years since 3L Development founder Dave Dutcyvich originally proposed to build a self-contained riverfront community on 550 acres between the Browns and Puntledge rivers, north of Courtenay.
His company has offered to donate 260 acres for a public park that includes access to the popular swimming area known as Stotan Falls.
3L spokesman Kabel Atwall said they have grown weary of the delays that have prevented them from going ahead with their project. Atwall said consulting other regional districts, as a standard amendment process requires, could “spin the whole process out of control.”
Dutcyvich also spoke to the board prior to its vote on July 17.
“There’s a lot of money tied up (in the project), and it has to come to an end some time,” he said. “To quote the mayor of Ottawa, ‘I don’t want the red tape, I want the red carpet’.”
Ministry officials explain and justify their Sackville Road groundwater extraction decision, saying no negative effects will result. But Merville residents question the ministry’s data and remain suspicious about negative effects on their wells
EDITOR’s NOTE: This story was updated at 11 a.m. July 17
Provincial government officials who reviewed and approved a groundwater extraction license for a proposed Sackville Road water bottling operation explained their decision-making process to a packed house at the Merville Community Hall last night (July 16).
Representatives of the Nanaimo Branch of the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (FLNRORD) used a PowerPoint presentation to convince the crowd of several hundred people that the extraction of up to 10,000 litres per day from their aquifer won’t result in any negative effects.
The crowd wasn’t buying it.
The audience listened to the presentations with few interruptions and applauded politely for each speaker.
But when the question and answer period began, the mood turned raucous, with catcalls and loud and long cheering for citizens who pressed the ministry officials to defend what was called a “ridiculous” decision.
The ministry issued a groundwater license to Christopher Scott Mackenzie and Regula Heynck, who hope to create a commercial business by selling up to 3.65 million litres of water annually.
The Comox Valley Regional District has not approved the couple’s rezoning application, which is necessary to allow such an operation on the property.
Citizens questioned whether the ministry actually has reliable data about aquifer #408, because the studies it has relied on are 18 years old, and since then accelerated population growth and climate change have altered the facts.
Other citizens called most of the presentation irrelevant because it referred to the effects of the Sackville groundwater extraction on nearby drilled wells. But according to residents, 90 percent of the wells in the area are not drilled, but shallow.
Area C CVRD Director Edwin Grieve, MLA Ronna-Rae Leonard and the Sackville applicants attended the presentation.
How the decision was made
Pat Lapcevic, water protection section head for the ministry’s west coast region, talked through the science behind the extraction approval.
She showed charts of the ministry’s simulations that estimate that current groundwater use in the Merville aquifer is less than 20 percent of its annual recharge, which has been stable over the last 15 years based on data from an observation well located 12 km from the Sackville site.
The aquifer is recharged — a fresh input of water — by precipitation falling on the area and by snowmelt from the Beaufort Mountains.
She said the annual recharge is 34 million metres-cubed, or 34 trillion litres. The current use is estimated at six million metres-cubed, or 18 percent.
Lapcevic said pumping out 10,000 litres per day is “expected” to drawdown water levels in the aquifer by less than three centimetres. It represents less than one percent of the annual recharge.
Daryl Slater, a resource manager in FLNRORD’s Nanaimo office, reminded the audience that his ministry does not make policy, it only implements and monitors policy made by the Ministry of Environment and the BC Legislature.
Ticking off the considerations in reviewing a groundwater license application, Slater said the ministry could find no reason to deny it. They found no negative effects on anyone’s rights or to the wells of nearby users.
Slater said his office consulted with Island Health, local governments, the Ministry of Highways, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and archeology experts.
He said they also consulted with K’omoks First Nations, but would not reveal the content of those consultations, which he called confidential.
But K’omoks First Nations has publicly opposed the water bottling operation and the issuing of a water license, and told the FLNRORD ministry so in 2017 during the consultation process.
In a strong letter to the CVRD, KFN Chief Nicole Rempel explained their opposition.
Citizens wondered what was the point of ministry consultations if both the Comox Valley Regional District and K’omoks First Nation opposed granting a water license, and the ministry approved it anyway.
Citizens contradict FLNRORD
Bunky Hall, whose shallow well is the closest to the Sackville site, challenged ministry “estimations” of the effect of drilled wells on shallow wells.
He said when the Portuguese Creek Restoration Society drilled a well to keep the stream from going dry during the summer, his 16-foot deep shallow well went dry two days later.
When a water delivery service brought him water, they asked what was going on because they had never delivered water to that area before and all of a sudden they were getting multiple requests.
Ministry officials dismissed his experience saying there probably wasn’t any connection between the two events.
Lapcevic responded that shallow wells were sensitive to climate change and maybe it wasn’t the drilled, pumping well that caused his well to go dry.
“Most of what the ministry people presented tonight is irrelevant,” Hall told Decafnation after the meeting. “About 90 percent of the wells in the vicinity (of Sackville Road) are shallow wells. They only talked about the effects on drilled wells.”
The Technical Report summarty states that “the well (WTN 111987) is on the applicant’s property and is flowing artesian at roughly 15 gpm so a pump is not required at this time.”
Neither Slater or Lapcevic explained that if a pump is unnecessary how the aquifer could be confined and not affect shallow wells.
Bruce Gibbons, a member of the Merville Water Guardians and lives on ALR land about 300 metres from the Sackville Road site, said the ministry presented more detailed information than was contained in their original Technical Report.
“It appears they did significant work after the decision was made and after the opposition to their decision arose,” he told Decafnation.
Gibbons was privy to the original Technical Report because he filed an appeal to the FLNRORD decision. The ministry has not revealed the report to anyone else.
Even MLA Ronna-Rae Leonard was unable to get a copy of the original report.
And the ministry has still not responded to a Freedom of Information request for the report filed in March by Merville Organics farmer Arzeena Hamir.
Slater told the audience he didn’t know why the FOI request hadn’t been fulfilled. He said it’s “unfortunate” it takes so long.
Another speaker challenged the ministry’s assumptions about the stability of the aquifer.
She said the climate change is causing the Comox Glacier and other nearby glaciers to melt, which could be artificially inflating the aquifer’s recharge rate and its stability.
Lapcevic said the ministry is not seeing changes so far due to climate change, but the Sackville Road decision was based on the best data at the time.
Wayne Bradley recognized the FLNRORD ministry was bound by legislation in its decision-making process, so he called on MLA Leonard to champion a political movement to amend the Water Sustainability Act.
“We need to recognize that water is a common property,” he said. “Private profit on a sale of community property is not a beneficial use.”
Leonard left the meeting without responding to Bradley, but made a statement earlier that residents “should feel assured that I have posed these questions also.”
She said the Water Sustainability Act is new, and it’s moving water rights issues in the right direction.
“It takes time,” she said. “Be active, make your concerns known.”
FURTHER READING: Water bottling project raises aquifer concerns; Ministry stalls FOI request on Merville water bottling; “Unbelievable accusations” move water bottling to public hearing
Stotan Falls developer tries end run around Regional Growth Strategy
PHOTO: 3L Developments convinced the Comox Valley Record last fall to publish the developers’ opinion article on its front page. It was a breach of journalistic integrity for which the newspaper’s publisher later apologized.
By GRANT GORDON
At 4 p.m. today, July 10, the Comox Valley Regional District Committee of the Whole will hear a presentation by 3L Developments to try get their RiverWood proposal classified as a minor amendment to the Regional Growth Strategy (RGS). Regional district staff have recommended that the 3L proposal be a standard (major) amendment.
If two-thirds of the board’s members vote to override the staff recommendation then their proposal moves ahead to third reading where this inappropriate development could actually come to pass quite easily due to the overwhelming presence of developers’ influence on CVRD board members.
So in case you missed it, a minor amendment classification would allow changing the zoning from ‘two houses per 20 hectares (50 Acres)” over some 400 acres, or 16 total houses, to 740 houses over the same area.
If this proposed amendment doesn’t pass, then 3L’s Riverwood proposal continues ahead as a Standard (Major) Amendment requiring the approval of the all the parties that were part and parcel to approving the RGS Document in the first place: the Provincial Government, the surrounding regional districts, the CV Regional District, local Municipalities and seven First Nations.
Section 5.2 of the Regional Growth Strategy Bylaw # 120, 2010 clearly states that this kind of development in rural areas is well above and beyond all the principals that would constitute a minor amendment: (Pages 108 – 110)
The location is outside of the municipal areas where 90 percent of all growth is to occur and even further out than the reserved ‘municipal expansion’ areas withheld for further growth.
The location is beyond areas with municipal services where water and sewer can be expeditiously supplied.
The location sits astride wildlife corridors where large and small ungulates and carnivores can physically get passed the fenced Inland Island Highway on their way to their prime feeding areas within the Puntledge and Browns rivers and on the dairy farms east of the highway. That’s bears on fish and cougars on deer respectively.
The RGS clearly states that a minor amendment: ” … is not to be of regional significance in terms of scale, impacts or precedence; Contributes to achieving the goals and objectives set out in Part 3; (Regional Policies); and, Contributes to achieving the general principals contained in the growth management strategy Part 4. (Managing Growth) … ”
In my opinion . . . Larry Jangula is for it. Bruce Joliffe (Area A) is against it. Manos Theos is for it. Rod Nichol (Area B) is against it. Erik Eriksson is for it. Curtis Scoville (Area C alt) against. Ken Grant is for it. Gwyn Sproule, Barbara Price and Bob Wells are unknown.
If you think that a 740-house development in an area that has already been excluded from the Urban Sacrifice Zones (Municipal Expansion Areas), with 1,480 vehicles, 740 plus cats and 740 plus dogs and multiple children situated on major game paths is not going to be a major change in the way things have been worked out in the Regional Growth Strategy, then your vision of the Comox Valley is quite a bit different that mine. It is also quite a bit different than the Regional Growth Strategy as interpreted by the CVRD’s planning and legal departments.
Please contact your local representatives to let them know how you feel about this attempt to change the intended Regional Growth Strategy by allowing this proposal to be downgraded to minor amendment status against the wishes of the general public that put so much into developing the RGS and the CVRD staff that are tasked with implementing and overseeing it.
There will be a normal Committee of the Whole (COW) meeting starting at 4 p.m. Tuesday, July 10, 2018 at the Comox Valley Regional District Board room.
Then the COW will reconvene a second meeting to discuss this 3L proposal, which goes against the staff recommendation.
Grant Gordon submitted this for publication as part of Decafnation’s Civic Journalism Project.
PHOTO: 21st Street is in the middle at the bottom, with the car lot on the right side. It crosses Cliffe Avenue and dead-ends at the Courtenay Airpark boundary. Dave Bazett photo
A proposed new bridge would kill the Courtenay Airpark, walkway, Hollyhock Marsh, undermine Kus-kus-sum and add another signal light on Comox Road. So why is the City of Courtenay promoting it? Even mayoralty candidates aren’t sure
The City of Courtenay has floated a proposal to build a third crossing of the Courtenay River at 21st Street to alleviate traffic congestion at the 17th Street and Fifth Street bridges.
The proposal, which is part of a study for the city’s required update of their 2014 Master Transportation Plan, would wipe out the Courtenay Airpark, part of the Airpark walkway, destroy the estuary’s last remaining intact ecosystem at Hollyhock Marsh, undermine the Kus-kus-sum rehabilitation project and create another major signaled intersection on Comox Road at a point that regularly floods during winter storms.
Not to mention that Hollyhock Marsh is protected crown land and is an area under claim by the K’omoks First Nation.
It’s an idea that has left many people shaking their heads.
“I thought it was an April Fools Day joke,” said Dave Bazett, a land surveyor whose office is in the proposal’s path and who owns two aircraft hangared at the airpark.
Project Watershed Technical Director Dan Bowen said the study appears to have been done by someone who doesn’t know anything about the area.
“And, who employs someone to pursue an idea that’s not feasible?” he said.
Bazett pointed his finger at the city, which defined the scope of the transportation plan update for the consultant, including a bridge south of 17th Street and the idea that the airpark and the marsh were expendable.
Even the three announced candidates for Courtenay mayor tried to distance themselves from the proposal.
David Frisch emphasized that the proposal is not a plan, just some consultant’s idea. He said there are more environmentally friendly options.
Bob Wells said he didn’t know how a third crossing got in the plan. He thinks its an option the consultant picked up from previous studies, before Kus-kus-sum became a community project.
Erik Eriksson wondered how many millions of dollars per minute of wait time at the existing bridge intersections the public is willing to pay for. A new crossing would cost tens of millions of dollars.
“So we’re not going to see another bridge in my lifetime,” Eriksson said.
The city has undertaken a required four-year update to its 2014 Master Transportation Plan. It held an open house in March and another in mid-June, and is conducting an online survey.
The study and community feedback will be presented to the Courtenay City Council over the summer. Council members will decide what parts of the study get costed out and eventually make it into the 2018 Master Transportation Plan.
Take the survey here
FURTHER READING: See the study’s open house display boards; The city’s Master Transportation Plan webpage
The 2014 plan also examined options for a third crossing. It rejected crossings at 19th and 26th streets, and suggested Eighth or 11th streets for new bridges. The city eventually costed out an 11th Street bridge at around $35 million, and later dropped the idea.
But traffic congestion at the 17th Street east intersection and at the Fifth Street east intersection has worsened as the Comox Valley has grown. But is it unbearable?
Wait times at the bridges may pale now in comparison to the Langford Crawl in Victoria or to numerous choke points in Vancouver, but without an acceptable long-term solution, motorists’ frustration will magnify.
Why 21st Street won’t fly
Bowen, a former BC Ministry of Highways employee in the Comox Valley, said the third crossing proposal and other proposals in the study to build new roads across the Courtenay Flats farmland “fly in the face” of everything Project Watershed has been trying to achieve.
“We’ve been working on projects over the past 20 years to preserve and protect the remaining flora and fauna habitat along the river and K’omoks estuary,” he said. “This proposal has no regard for the estuary. It’s single-minded and not well-informed.”
Local citizens fought Crown Zellerbach from filling in the marsh back in the 1960s and battled them and the provincial government to save the pristine ecosystem, which is unique in the Comox Valley.
Hollyhock Marsh is the model for Kus-kus-sum, a project to restore of the old Fields sawmill site, and the marsh is it’s connection back to the estuary.
“It’s a non-starter for us (Project Watershed,” Bowen said. “And I would expect for K’omoks First Nation, too.”
Decafnation was unable to reach K’omoks Chief Nicole Rempel for this story.
Bazett, a pilot who uses aircrafts in his land surveying business, considers the 21st Street crossing a “purposeful attack” on the Courtenay Airpark.
Bazett says the city has tried to shut down the airport before and neither the mayor or council members have been supportive.
“This crossing was concocted as an excuse to eliminate the airpark,” he said. “The study didn’t even consider air transportation.”
He doesn’t think the city realizes the economic impact and importance of the airport. It brings pilots and passengers to town and the RCMP and MediVac helicopters use the facility regularly.
“It’s a precious jewel,” he said. “There are few private airparks in the province for both float and land aircraft, and within walking distance of town.”
Bowen said his experience working with the highways ministry taught him there are better options to improve traffic flow.
The primary problem is that there are two northbound lanes of traffic approaching the bridge from the south on Cliffe Avenue and two lanes on the bridge. But whether you turn north or south, you have to merge down to one lane.
It’s the same approaching the bridge from the north on the Island Highway bypass, which is two lanes at Superstore, but merges down to one lane at the bridge.
Bowen believes there should be four lanes of traffic approaching the 17th Street bridge, across the bridge and then all the way to the Shell gas station at the old Island Highway and also part way toward Comox.
The long-term solution, he said, is to twin the 17th Street bridge. The highways ministry purchased extra land on the north side of 17th Street east of Cliffe Avenue to anticipate a widened bridge. That land looks like a park with cherry trees.
The ministry also designed the bypass for four lanes, which is why the shoulders are extra wide through the S-turns.
Bowen agree with Erik Eriksson about also widening the Fifth Street bridge and making it four lanes from the Shell gas station at the bottom of Mission Hill all the way to Cliffe Avenue.
An election issue?
City Councillor Eriksson says the study is flawed in another important way: it only considers Courtenay boundaries.
“Any traffic study has to be regional,” he said. “And Comox people should help pay for any traffic improvements.”
Councillor Frisch wouldn’t rule out a third crossing forever, but he said “city taxpayers are not going to pay $20 million to $30 million for a new bridge.”
The question for him is where to spend the city’s limited funds.
“If we spend it on a bridge now, what’s the lost opportunity to support walkability, cycling, transit and other things,” he said.
City Council candidate Melanie McCollum said the cost of building a bridge across a estuary seems potentially prohibitively high.
“It’s very sensitive habitat. It would also mean building into sediment, which liquefies in an earthquake,” she said. “Of course this is not my area of specialty, but from what I know, building a bridge in an earthquake zone on sediment will incur some very expensive geoengineering.”
McCollum would also like to know if the plan for this bridge had taken into account sea level rise expected in the next 50 to 70 years.
Courtenay Mayor Larry Jangula did not respond to our questions.
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.
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.”