When Royston and Union Bay voters overwhelmingly rejected the South Sewer Project on Saturday, they added their voices to a broadening concern about the Comox Valley Regional District’s sewerage strategy.
Consider: Some years ago, residents of the Saratoga-Miracle Beach area rejected a CVRD proposal for a system to replace private septic systems. The Village of Cumberland recently opted out of CVRD sewer planning. The SSP referendum went down, hard.
Also, a coalition of 10 Valley environmental groups, a group of affected residents and hundreds of individuals are pressing the CVRD sewage commission to halt plans for an unnecessary pump station on Beech Street. A large number of those folks turned out to a CVRD open house this week to express that view, and nearly a thousand people have signed their petition.
Such widespread resistance should mean something to the CVRD and the sewage commission.
So how will the CVRD respond, and where do we go from here?
Right now, people have lost confidence in the CVRD over sewerage. It’s credibility has been sullied by a history of bad decisions, citizen lawsuits and secretive negotiations — and by an approach that’s out of step with the response of other communities to a changing climate.
The South Sewer Project (SSP) failed for a number of reasons, but the result makes it clear that Valley voters don’t want a patchwork of sewerage systems.
Perhaps the decisive 79% (no) to 29% (yes) rejection of the SSP will jar the CVRD and its sewage commission into some fresh thinking. The failed referendum at least presses the pause button, and creates space for a new strategy to emerge.
That new strategy should encompass the entire Comox Valley. It should include the ideas of people outside the hunkered down CVRD office. It should not exclude people, or force infrastructure on neighborhoods that won’t benefit. It should be collaborative, transparent and inclusive.
It should be driven by a vision that the Valley can lead the province in sustainable wastewater management.
If the CVRD does that, it can win community support for a Valley-wide, state-of-the-art, all-overland sewerage system.
Of course, a single Comox Valley governing body could make this happen more quickly. Amalgamation could prevent a single region of the Valley — for example, the Town of Comox or Cumberland — from blocking solutions that benefit the greater Comox Valley. But that’s another topic.
For now, the CVRD has a new window of opportunity to accurately read the public mood and respond positivity.