Beech Street shelved: better solutions under review

Beech Street shelved: better solutions under review

For nearly three years, a group of rural Comox Valley citizens has warned the Courtenay-Comox Sewage Commission about the environmental and financial risks of building a sewage pump station on a small Croteau Beach lot.

They’ve spent their own money on independent hydrology and financial experts to support their concerns, and have pointed commissioners toward less expensive and more effective alternatives.

But the commission — primarily the Town of Comox delegates — has consistently turned a deaf ear.

However, all the commissioners heard the message contained in five separate reports on Oct. 24 that collectively validated most of the citizens’ concerns about the project. The message was clear: Beech Street is too expensive and poses too many risks.

So they quickly and unanimously supported a staff recommendation to shelve the Comox No. 2 pump station in favor of three new alternative solutions.

That left several Comox commissioners scrambling to explain why they’ve spent so many taxpayers dollars and staff time on a project they never thoroughly vetted before purchasing real estate, and how they neglected to undertake the studies recommended by their 2011 Sewage Master Plan.

Those studies have now been completed, including a lengthy report from Opus International Consultants that evaluates the 12-year-old plan to decommission the section of sewer pipe on Balmoral Beach, below the Willemar Bluffs. It was feared that wave action and other forces might cause it to fail and create an environmental crisis.

But a separate study by Northwest Hydraulic Consultants reports that the pipe is in better condition than previously thought.

So, with less urgency to remove the Balmoral Beach pipe, Opus has recommended the commission take another 12 months starting in January 2018 to analyze and investigate three better solutions than the ill-considered plan to build a new pump station on Beech Street.

Comox Valley Regional District staff will report back to the commission in January 2019 and make recommendations to restart the project.

The citizens left the Oct. 24 meeting feeling vindicated, but still frustrated by regional district policies that can deny residents affected by infrastructure projects the right to be represented at the decision-making table.

Four new options

Opus consultants have recommended removing the main Courtenay-Comox sewer pipe from intertidal zones due to multiple and significant environmental risks, and relocating it to an overland route — the inland side of Dyke Road — from the Courtenay No. 1 pump station through Comox enroute to the wastewater treatment plant on Brent Road.

They proposed four overland options.

Option 1 would utilize stronger pumps at the Courtenay No. 1 and Comox Jane Place pump stations to move sanitary flows up the Glacier View and Lazo Road hills before gravity takes over and draws sewage down to the Brent Road plant.

Option 2 is the sewage commission’s original plan to build a new pump station at Beech Street. But Opus says this option creates a single point of failure for the entire system, among multiple other concerns, including the highest ongoing operating costs.

The serious disadvantages with Option 2 are the reason Opus has recommended three less expensive and less problematic solutions. So it’s curious why this option was left on the table, other than for comparison purposes and, perhaps, for purely political reasons.

Option 3 also includes a new pump station in Comox, but at a lower elevation, such as the town’s Marina Park. But it also creates a single point of system failure.

Option 4 mirrors the first option, using stronger pumps to move sewage over Glacier View Hill, but would tunnel under Lazo Road Hill, rather than pump sewage over it to the Brent Road treatment plant.

However, the report doesn’t consider how the tunnel option might impact aquifers along the route, and the wells that tap into them, or how the tunneled pipe would be monitored for leaks and accessed for emergency repairs and maintenance.

Why not Beech Street?

Kris La Rose, the CVRD’s manager of sewerage and water operations, summarized the key findings of the five reports for sewage commissioners.

Estimated costs for the Beech Street pump station had jumped by about 50 percent to nearly $20 million. And it was already more expensive than the top options recommended by the CVRD’s Advisory Committee three years ago.

The Opus report included operating costs in its analysis, which citizens have maintained the commission should have considered all along, and that puts Beech Street costs far above all other options.

A complicated tie-in between the main sewer pipe in the foreshore and the new pipe to a Beech Street pump station could only be done by a few specialized and expensive technicians around the world. And short working times due to tidal action made the tie-in fraught with environmental risk.

The small size of the Beech Street property put restrictions on pump station design and construction, and made the CVRD’s guarantees about no odour, noise or vibration beyond the property lines seem questionable.

Opus also pointed a new concern that hadn’t been raised before. The new pump station would have been connected in series, rather than parallel configuration, so a pump failure at any site could shut down the entire system.

The hydrology report indicated significant risks to neighborhood wells.

And, finally, a nearby active eagle’s nest would have required some mitigation.

How sewage commissioners reacted

Comox Councillor Ken Grant tried to deflect blame away from the sewage commission, which he claimed was saddled with a piece of property and bad original information.

He also appeared skepticall of staff’s recommendation to take 12 months to analyze other alternatives to the Beech Street pump station.

“My experience with how government works, is that whatever you say, we can times two,” he said. 

Grant also proposed asking a utilities commission to review the consultants reports because he said they were so technical that he couldn’t understand them.

“We’re managing by crisis,” he said. “And when you do things by crisis, you make bad decisions.”

Courtenay councillor Erik Eriksson suggested staff take this one-year opportunity to consider a bigger sewer project that serves more residents. He specifically suggested a new treatment plant south of Courtenay to serve Union Bay, Royston and possibly Cumberland. He said it would take more pressure off the existing Courtenay-Comox sewerage system.

Comox Councillor Maureen Swift lamented the time and money spent over the several years on the Comox No. 2 pump station project, but she added that the goal was to make the right decision.

Courtenay Councillor Bob Wells reminded the Comox delegates that their municipality has dragged its feet on sewer projects. He mentioned delays in getting the Hudson and Greenwood sewer lines operational.

Area B director Rod Nicol, who was just recently granted a non-voting seat at the sewage commission, said there are too many red flags about the Beech Street project to seriously consider it any longer. But, he added, since it hasn’t been definitively taken off the list of possible options, he should retain his seat on the commission through the January 2019 meeting.

The only response to his request came from Commission Chair Barbara Price, of Comox, who said, “We can talk about that later.”

No Comox Valley-wide solution

The Opus report represents good progress in CVRD sewerage planning. It presents the sewage commission with an opportunity to study three better options than its Beech Street proposal, all of which move the main sewer pipe out of the K’omoks Estuary and Comox Bay and onto an overland route.

The scope of the report does not extend beyond removing pipes from Balmoral Beach and the estuary foreshore, and moving sewage over a longer term to the Brent Road treatment plant, which are all good and necessary goals.

But that still leaves the Royston-Union Bay area to the south of Courtenay and the Saratoga-Miracle Beach area to the north, and the Village of Cumberland, without any long-term strategy for wastewater management.

It’s a better patchwork solution, but it’s still a patch.

To address the broader community’s long-term needs, a Comox Valley-wide solution should at least be envisioned as part of the review of the three Opus options. At the least, any changes in realignment to the Courtenay-Comox sewerage system today must be compatible with requirements for the entire Valley tomorrow.

Almost all of the problems with the Beech Street pump station proposal that were identified in the five reports to the Courtenay-Comox Sewage Commission this week had already been raised by citizens from the affected Croteau Beach neighborhood years ago.

Had the commission listened to the citizens and took their concerns seriously, they could have saved two years and a lot of taxpayer money.

 

Will common sense prevail in the Comox Valley?

Will common sense prevail in the Comox Valley?

That the Courtenay-Comox Sewage Commission shelved its multi-million dollar sewerage project this summer comes as no surprise.

For nearly two years, Comox Valley citizens have implored the commission and regional district engineers to consider less expensive and more effective solutions for moving raw sewage from Courtenay and Comox to a treatment plant on Brent Road, on the Comox peninsula.

And to do it on a site or sites that present no risk to people’s drinking water.

But the commission, strong-armed by the representatives from Comox Council and aided by a misinformed CFB Comox delegate, pressed ahead anyway to build a new pump station in Area B, which has no representation on the commission.

Like so many of the commission’s sewer plans in the past, this one seemed destined for another lawsuit costly to Courtenay and Comox taxpayers.

But faced with a cost estimate nearly double the original budget — $12 million to $22 million — and the spectre of adverse impacts to private wells in the neighborhood of the proposed site, the regional district’s engineers saw red flags and took the summer to reconsider.

Courtenay Councillor Erik Eriksson

For more reasonable thinkers, like Erik Eriksson, a Courtenay representative on the commission, this pause in a misguided project provides an opportunity for the regional district to go back to the drawing board and come up with a new overall plan that encompasses the whole Comox Valley, and that takes citizen and environmental concerns seriously.

Let’s review the facts:

The commission proposed building a Comox No. 2 pump station — at a cost of $12 million — to redirect its raw sewage from a deteriorating pipe that runs along the base of the Willemar Bluffs. The current pumps at existing Courtenay and Comox pump stations are inadequate to move the sewage up and over the Comox peninsula to the Brent Road treatment plant.

But the commission’s own Advisory Committee said building a new pump station was the least desirable option of several it considered. The committee recommended rebuilding the existing pump station in Courtenay as the most preferred solution.

The regional district’s own initial financial analysis showed upgrading the Courtenay No. 1 pump station was the best and most cost-effective option in the long run. Email documentation shows the Town of Comox disliked this report.

But an independent analysis confirmed that the CVRD could save taxpayers between $7 million and $12 million in the long-term if it upgraded the pumps at Courtenay immediately.

The commission’s long-term plan is to upgrade the pumps at Courtenay No. 1 in just a few years anyway. So why spend millions unnecessarily now?

In the alternative, the Advisory Committee noted, upgrading the existing pump station at Jane Place in Comox, would also cost less in the long run.

Either of those options would eliminate the need for a second pump station and eliminate the vulnerable section under the Willemar Bluffs. Plus, in both of these options, raw sewage would not threaten any drinking water supplies. Courtenay and Comox residents enjoy piped water, not vulnerable private wells.

And Eriksson, a potential candidate for mayor of Courtenay, has a third option that could also resolve issues created by the failed South Sewer referendum earlier this year.

Eriksson proposes building a new state-of-the-art treatment plant in the south Courtenay area that would handle all wastewater from west of the Courtenay River. That would take enough pressure off the existing Courtenay and Comox pump stations to render the proposed Comox No. 2 pump unnecessary.

And it would also solve the problem of failing septic systems in the Royston and Union Bay areas and provide the infrastructure for new development.

It would also provide a solution for the Village of Cumberland, which shamefully continues to pollute the Trent River watershed and estuary.

The new treatment plant could treat the water to such a high standard to use its effluent for agriculture and other reclamation purposes, including reinjection into groundwater. In an increasing number of communities around the world, wastewater is cleaned to potable standards and even flowed back into drinking water systems.

There are probably other farsighted options, too, rather than spend $22 million — at least! — on a pump station inherent with risks to humans and potentially expensive lawsuits that serves only a narrow purpose.

If there’s any justice and common sense left in this world, next month the engineers for the Courtenay-Comox Sewage Commission will recommend a more visionary, comprehensive sewerage strategy for the entire Comox Valley.

 

Shocker for homeowners: no protection for private wells

Shocker for homeowners: no protection for private wells

If you get drinking water from a private well British Columbia, the provincial government provides no protection from any activities that might foul your water quality.

Sylvia Burrosa, the regional hydrologist for the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations (FLNRO), delivered that piece of bad news for thousands of Comox Valley residents at a June 6 meeting with Beech Street residents.

Beech Street residents fear that construction and operation of a sewage pump station in the rural neighborhood poses a high risk to their mostly shallow wells. And a hydrology analysis by GW Solutions commissioned by the residents supports that concern.

Several of the residents recently met with representatives of FLNRO, the Vancouver Island Health Authority and Kris LaRose, the Comox Valley Regional District’s senior manager of water/wastewater services, at the health department’s Courtenay office.

Burrosa said there are no protections for individual wells under the B.C. Drinking Water Protection Act (DWPA). It only addresses threats to drinking water that affect two or more households connected to the same system.

In other words, someone or some entity, such as a regional district, can pollute or dry up your water supply, and you’ll get no help from the province’s water protection law.

That should concern everyone with a private well. But it especially concerns Beech Street residents because LaRose admitted the construction will impact residents’ water supplies.

LaRose said the degree of impact on the wells will be determined by the method of construction of the pump station that will move sewage from Courtenay and Comox households to the treatment plant at a higher elevation.

If they dewater the site to place the pumps below ground there’s a high risk it will dry out neighborhood wells during the entire 18 months of construction.

If they use a pile driving method, rather than dewater, there is an unknown risk of having a permanent object in the aquifers from which the wells draw water. The piles could cause groundwater flows to change direction, making the wells useless.

Given the failed history of regional district engineers to predict outcomes of previous sewage planning (Willemar Bluff erosion, treatment plant odors), and the subsequent successful lawsuits, the Beech Street residents have good reason to worry.

Burrosa also noted that provincial regulations require pipelines carrying sewage to be no closer than 30 metres of wells. Rural residents know that their wells must be 30 metres from their septic fields.

LaRose said the CVRD had to double-wrap the new sewage pipe from HMCS Quadra for this reason. This appears to mean the CVRD would have to do the same for the pipes in the Beech Street neighborhood, which would significantly add to the cost of construction.

None of the health authority or FLNRO representatives could answer questions about the legality of a sewage facility within 30 metres of wells, or whether the forcemain must stay 30 metres from wells along the four (4) kilometres route from Beech Street to the Brent Road treatment plant.

Engineers for the Courtenay/Comox Sewage Commission are waiting for results from an assessment of the forcemain sewer pipe and a new hydrogeology report before they can estimate the cost of constructing the new pump station. Any of those items could raise red flags that derail the project.

But given the risks during construction and the promise of no noise, vibration or odor from the pump station, another lawsuit over Courtenay/Comox sewage planning seems likely.

 

Sewer commission passes on chance to follow own plan

Sewer commission passes on chance to follow own plan

Given yet another opportunity to follow its own Master Plan this week, the Courtenay/Comox Sewer Commission chose to ignore it. Again.

A letter from two residents of the Area B neighborhood most affected by the proposed construction of a multi-million dollar pump station requested a minor restructuring of the commission’s membership.

But the residents were really questioning the commission’s governance of matters outside of its existing mandate. A matter that the commission’s 2011 Sewer Master Plan said should have been addressed six years ago, but which they have disregarded.

In their letter, David Battle and Lorraine Aitken asked that the Area B director be added to the commission on a limited basis. He or she would participate and vote only “on issues relating to any existing or proposed infrastructure in Area B.”

It’s a reasonable request. If the elected officials of Courtenay and Comox propose to build infrastructure outside of their municipal boundaries, then the elected representative of those in the affected area should have a voice and a vote.

Democracy is based on the idea that all citizens will have a voice in government — their own or their elected representative’s — on matters that concern them. But residents of Area B have been denied representation.

The Courtenay/Comox Sewer Commission comprises members only from Courtenay, Comox and CFB Comox. But where it places sewer pipes, pump stations and treatment facilities affect people outside of those jurisdictions.

The commission’s 2011 Sewer Master Plan anticipated this problem, and is absolutely clear about the appropriate resolution.

The Master Plan says that before the commission embarks on any of the plan’s identified projects, it should create a governance structure for areas outside of the City of Courtenay and the Town of Comox.

Presumably that would entail giving fair representation — voice and vote — to people in areas affected by the commission’s actions.

It’s no surprise that commission members haven’t undertaken even a simple review of governance structure in the six years since the Master Plan was adopted. The commission has consistently neglected those parts of the plan that seemed troublesome, expensive or that might have prevented them for doing whatever they want.

For example, the Master Plan calls for the commission to review and revise the plan every three years. It wasn’t done in 2014, as it should have been, and still hasn’t been done. Other plan initiatives have also been ignored.

The commission and Comox Valley Regional District engineering staff have a long history of ignoring the advice and concerns of the community on sewerage issues. The regional district has been successfully sued twice over engineering mistakes that citizens warned against.

And history is repeating itself. The Sewer Commission has bungled the proposed Comox #2 pump station project from the beginning. It planned the project and purchased the property in secret. It intentionally withheld announcement of its plan and property purchase until after the 2014 municipal elections.

And the commission continues to treat legitimate citizen concerns with disdain, adopting a confrontational posture, rather than trying to find a win-win solution.

The letter from Aitken and Battle presented the commission with an opportunity to change course, and resolve the Comox #2 pump station outrage before the situation devolves into new lawsuits.

The commission should have treated the residents’ letter with respect, and fulfilled its obligations under the Sewer Master Plan, by undertaking a review of its governance structure and decision-making framework that would address Aitken’s and Battle’s concerns.

Instead, they deferred the matter to their June strategic planning workshop. That could be seen as a positive step.

But without advance work to develop possible options and process requirements, legal opinions and geopolitical analysis, nothing definitive can come from the June session. At best, the commissioners will ask that this same work be done and they’ll discuss it again. Later.

To those already suspect of the Courtenay/Comox Sewer Commission’s intentions, this looks like an insincere stalling tactic, perhaps to avoid immediate legal action.

It would be lovely if it were not, and the commission finally recognized the legitimacy of the neighborhood’s concerns and the better and less expensive options available to them.

 

Simply making statements doesn’t mean they are true

Simply making statements doesn’t mean they are true

Andrew Gower, a partner and branch manager of Wedler Engineering LLP’s Courtenay office recently wrote a letter to the editor about the proposed Comox No. 2 pump station. I wrote this letter in response. Neither were printed in the newspaper due to their length, but both can be found on the Comox Valley Record’s website.

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Taking a page from Donald Trump’s playbook, Andrew Gower has made statements in a letter to the editor about sewerage system planning at the Comox Valley Regional District as if they were true, but that in reality have no basis in fact.

He also channels Trump when he attacks people who have concerns about the CVRD’s sewerage planning. And his letter does not disclose that his employer, Wedler Engineering LLP, has done work for both the CVRD and Comox. This creates a direct financial interest that undermines his letter’s objectivity.

But let’s deconstruct Gower’s statements.

Gower suggests the risk of a force main rupture along the Willemar Bluffs will be eliminated by building a new pump station at Beech Street in Area B. This seems true, but doesn’t tell the whole story.

It’s the removal of a pipeline full of raw sewage from the foreshore that eliminates the risk, not the building of the proposed Comox No. 2 pump station. There are several other options that would also eliminate the Willemar Bluffs pipeline.

Two of those options were studied and found to be less expensive in the long-run than the current plan. They are: upgrading the Comox Jane Place pump station, and upgrading the Courtenay No. 1 pump station now, rather than in 12 years.

Gower paraphrases CVRD engineer Kris LaRose as saying all the Courtenay/Comox force main sewer pipes have considerable remaining life. That is LaRose’s hope, but it’s not a fact.

The CVRD started this project without having studied the condition of the force main pipes. They have launched an assessment project that will conclude in June, but it will not provide sufficient data to verify the long-term viability of the pipes.

That’s because the current study will only examine the pipeline exterior for existing leaks. It will not show the inside condition of the pipe, so engineers will get little information about when or where the pipe might burst in the future.

Next, Gower says, “… the risks posed by the … pump station are very small,” and he refers to a hydro-geological report. But that report was prepared for a rejected site on the beach access at the bottom of Croteau Road. It’s been misused to apply to the Beech Street site.

Before the CVRD hired him, this same hydro-geologist prepared a report on the Beech Street location that identified a “high risk to the permeable aquifer lenses” of the area. This report said a leak or failure of the pump station would jeopardize drinking water quality.

But at least Gower admits there is some risk to the neighborhood. The Engineers Canada Code of Ethics requires engineers to “Hold paramount the safety, health and welfare of the public and the protection of the environment ….”

Gower says there’s only a “miniscule” risk that a modern pump station would fail. But you only have to Google “sewer-pump-station-failures” to see that the statement is not true. Just last last week, a pump station in the village of Richmond, Ont. dumped raw sewage into the Jock River after the station failed due to high volumes of rain.

The issue of risk is critical given that the CVRD has said the pump station project will not proceed if the risks to the health of all cannot be “guaranteed,” which is a threshold neither Gower nor the regional district’s engineers can possibly meet.

And even if the risks were “very small,” the results of a failure would be catastrophic. And all the risks would be assumed by people who don’t benefit from the pump station.

The fact is, even the best engineers and their plans are not infallible. The engineers who planned the Courtenay/Comox sewerage system in the mid-1980s promised that a pipeline dug into the foreshore below Willemar Bluffs would not accelerate erosion, despite warnings from residents and environmentalists.

The engineers were wrong, and a class action lawsuit proved it.

Those same engineers promised that the Courtenay/Comox treatment plant on Brent Road would not emit any noxious odours. Wrong again. And another successful lawsuit against the Courtenay/Comox Sewage Commission.

More than 30 years and millions of taxpayer dollars later, the odour problem still isn’t fixed, though there are hopes for improvements to be made this year.

Gower attempts to state as fact that the DND representative on the Courtenay/Comox Sewage Commission “would have looked at the facts and evidence presented, and considered all options carefully.” But that is not the case.

The legal representative of the neighborhood has documents that indicate the DND representative was not aware of the social implications of his vote, and had no prior knowledge of such key points as whether a recommended study had been done on the integrity of the force main from Goose Spit to the Jane Place station.

He had not been fully briefed by his predecessor or commission chair Barbara Price before the pivotal vote, in which he cast the deciding “yes” vote, and all three Courtenay directors voted “no.”

Gower then claims that “all currently legislated procedures and processes were followed.” Again, this is an opinion, not a fact. This has not been established by the CVRD with reference to provincial and municipal legislation, and only a court of law can reach this conclusion.

Gower accuses those asking questions of using “hyperbolic language” and “bullying” and — showing he’s willing to go over the top — of destroying democracy itself.

Civic engagement is the cornerstone of democracy. Governments exist only at the will of the people, who must speak out and vote and hold elected officials accountable. The suppression of these rights — which I suggest are civic responsibilities — results in despotism and tyrannical rule.

Gower states that the critics’ “points are not valid.” How would he know? He has not met with residents of the Beech Street neighborhood or others who are concerned that the regional district is missing an opportunity to create a better sewerage system for the entire Comox Valley.

He doesn’t seem to understand that this is about more than a pump station in Area B. It’s about governance, environmental risks and ending the patchwork delivery of wastewater services, which has and will continue to cause inter-jurisdictional fights.

In summary, Gower makes statements without evidence and without all the information. His guarantees are meaningless. And his direct financial interest makes his objectivity suspect.

By way of background, the Engineers Code of Ethics says to “… endeavor to interpret engineering issues to the public in an objective and truthful manner.”

George Le Masurier is an Area B resident who supports a Valley-wide shared sewerage service that addresses population growth, new technology and climate change and takes in more service areas and more ratepayers so the burden — and benefits — can be shared more widely.

 

Valley faces a watershed moment

Valley faces a watershed moment

Comox Councillor Barbara Price has offered up misleading statements to defend changes to an antiquated sewerage system that serves only Comox and Courtenay residents.

Price chairs the Comox Valley Sewage Commission, which is itself a misnomer. The Sewage Commission does not serve or represent the Comox Valley. It represents the sole interests of the Town of Comox, the City of Courtenay and CFB Comox.

A nearly equal amount of the Comox Valley’s population resides outside these two municipalities and relies on septic systems and wells for their water and sewage treatment. The Village of Cumberland manages its own wastewater.

So Price stretches the truth when she writes that the Comox Valley Regional District is “… planning and managing sewage operations for the region.” That’s a true statement only if you narrowly define ‘region’ as Courtenay and Comox. But Price attempts to give the impression of a broader interest.

The irony of Price’s fake fact is that a Valley-wide sewerage system is exactly what the CVRD should be doing. Instead of furthering the patchwork delivery of wastewater services, which creates inter-jurisdictional fights, the Comox Valley should have a 21st Century model for comprehensive and fair delivery of wastewater collection and treatment.

The issue of the moment is the Courtenay-Comox Sewage Commission’s plan to build a large pump station on Beech Street, which resides in Area B, not within the municipal boundaries of either the Town of Comox or the City of Courtenay.

On that point, Price also misleads readers when she suggests that the commission followed “proper processes” in selecting the Beech Street site, which she also calls the “preferred location.”

A proper process to site such an important public facility would have been transparent. As is required in the Town of Comox, several possible locations would have been identified and the public would have had input before the commission authorized purchase of any property. A fair process would have given a vote to the Area B director who represents people most directly affected by the facility.

But the sewage commission did all of this work in secret. By shutting out the public, and delaying announcement of the property purchase until after the 2014 municipal elections, the commission showed a callous disregard for public sentiment and open governance.

The Beech Street location was not the preferred location of the commission’s own Advisory Committee — formed after the property purchase was announced and comprising elected officials, staff and Beech Street neighbors. The committee gave its top recommendation to upgrading the existing pump station in Courtenay, and for good reason.

Two separate financial analyses — one by the regional district itself and another by a qualified citizen — showed that upgrading the Courtenay No. 1 pump station was less expensive. The independent report predicted savings of $7 million to $12 million in the long-term.

In her op-ed column Price writes that the Comox No. 2 pump station will only be built if it “can be built safely, without harm to neighbours and their necessities (such as well-water access.” CVRD Engineer Kris La Rose made a similar promise in a meeting with Beech Street neighbors last summer. He promised the new pump station would not create any odour or noise discernible beyond the facility’s property line.

Those are bold promises. But can the public have any faith in their veracity? The Courtenay/Comox Sewage Commission made similar promises to residents of the Willemar Bluffs about property erosion and to the Curtis/Brent road residents about odours.

Both sets of residents successfully sued the regional district because the commission’s promises were proved untrue. More than 30 years later, odours from the treatment plant still drift through the neighborhood, which remains skeptical of yet another plan in 2017 to fix the problem.

The Comox Valley faces a watershed moment. Elected officials can choose to invest in patchwork infrastructure that shackles us for decades to deteriorating and outdated technology, or they can create a 21st Century model: a Valley-wide shared service that addresses population growth, new technology and climate change and takes in more service areas and more ratepayers so the burden — and benefits — can be shared more widely.

If not now, then when?

Does the Comox Valley have visionary leaders who see the big picture and consider the long-term? Do we have leaders willing to debate the merits of building a world-class Valley-wide sewerage system with tertiary treatment and resource recovery?

Or, do we have leaders stuck in the past, afraid to think of the greater good because it would be a long, hard sell to voters?

Other North American cities already clean their wastewater to point of reinjecting it into groundwater supplies and, in some cases, directly back into public drinking water systems. They use the byproducts of treatment to fuel their plants, and provide suitable water for agriculture irrigation.

Why can’t the Comox Valley take such a forward-thinking approach?

 

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