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.