George Le Masurier photo
Three new sewage conveyance routes short-listed for study by joint advisory committee
Less than a year after the Comox-Courtenay Sewer Commission abandoned its patchwork plan to prevent leakage from large pipes that run through the K’omoks estuary and along Point Holmes beaches, a new, comprehensive Liquid Waste Management Plan is emerging that considers climate change and moves the entire conveyance system onto an overland route.
Over the last six months, members of a joint Public and Technical Advisory Committee have developed a long list of new options for conveying sewage to the Brent Road treatment plant, as well as envisioning future demand for advanced levels of treatment and the ability to reuse the wastewater and other resources.
The committee narrowed those conveyance options down to a short-list of three at its March 22 meeting. They plan to present their preferred conveyance routes to the Sewer Commission in May or June, or after consultations conclude with the K’omoks First Nation.
All three options involve rerouting the sewerage system’s pipes overland. That means there will be no sewage-carrying pipes left in the estuary. The commission’s previous plan relied on aging pipes located in the estuary, along Comox Harbor and Point Holmes beaches.
And, unlike the previous sewage master plan, none of the short-listed options require a new high risk in-line pump station in the Croteau Beach neighborhood.
Opposition from Croteau residents was a major contributing factor in the development of the new Liquid Waste Management Plan. But they are pleased with the new plans.
“This process has been everything an open community process should be,” Lorraine Aitken, a Croteau Beach resident and committee alternate, told Decafnation. “It is a complete opposite experience from the last plan.”
Kris LaRose, senior manager of water and wastewater services for the Comox Valley Regional District, said the process is following guidelines mandated by the provincial government, which will ultimately review and approve the management plan.
Sewer route short list
The option known as “2A” would pump sewage directly from the Courtenay pump station over Comox Road hill, through Comox and along Lazo Road to the Brent Road treatment plant. This option will require a new pump station in the Town of Comox, within about 300 meters of the existing Jane Place pump station.
The 2A option mitigates the environmental and archaeological risks of having sewage pipes in the estuary and on the Comox peninsula foreshore. This overland route maximizes accessibility to all pipes and structures for maintenance. It involves two large pump stations and the upgrade of Courtenay and Jane Place facilities.
In an option known as “4A,” sewage from Courtenay would be pumped directly to the treatment plant via a northern overland route across the Courtenay flats, rising up and crossing McDonald Road and skirting the northern boundaries of the Town of Comox. Sewage from Comox would continue to pump directly from Jane Place to the treatment plant
The committee collapsed three separate plans for tunnelling under Comox Hill and Lazo Road into a single option on the short list. But all three will be studied separately.
One option proposes tunnelling under both Comox Road hill and Lazo Road hill, and the other two would tunnel under only Lazo Road hill.
The differences among the three tunnelling options revolve around how the Comox Jane Place pump station would tie into the main line and the degree of upgrades required for the Jane Place pumps.
Evaluating the options
All members of the Joint Technical and Public Advisory Committee contacted by Decafnation praised LaRose and facilitator Allison Habkirk, who also served as the committee chair, for creating a successful process.
Habkirk, a three-term mayor and councillor for Central Saanich, is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the School of Public Administration at the University of Victoria, and a registered town planner at her own firm.
The first three committee meetings focused exclusively on goals and the evaluation methodology through which the options were eventually viewed.
“It was a rigorous process with a strong consultation component,” LaRose said.
The group agreed on five metrics: social benefits, environment factors, technical considerations, affordability and economic benefits.
The technical and public members of the committee differed in the weighting to give each of the five metrics, but they compromised at 17 percent for social benefits, 18 percent for environmental, 45 percent on technical, 18 percent on affordability and two percent on economic benefits.
Paul Nash, of Sechelt, is assisting Habkirk and the committee as the management plan’s project coordinator. Nash was the project manager for Schelt’s innovative Water Recovery Center, and is currently consulting with the Village of Cumberland on the renovation of its wastewater treatment facility.
Walt Bayless, an engineer with the global company WSP, which recently acquired the Canadian firm, Opus International, is the consultant on the project.
The short-list of conveyance options going forward for further detailed study are the best possible options from the perspective of environmental protection, according to Tim Ennis, executive director of the Comox Valley Land Trust, who is representing the Comox Valley Conservation Partnership on the committee.
“Conveyance of raw sewage through and within the K’omoks estuary is inherently risky to the health of our marine environment both within the K’omoks estuary itself and to the greater Baynes Sound ecosystem,” Ennis told Decafnation. “While this route represents the current status quo, we are thrilled to see that it will not be included as an option going forward as the system is upgraded to meet future demand.”
Ennis said the Conservation Partnership has been pleased with the “transparent and inclusive democratic process associated with the LWMP.” He particularly noted the broad range of interests represented and the CVRD’s efforts to engage the general public.
“We feel that on the topic of conveyance, the CVRD’s LWMP process finds the right balance between cost-effectiveness, the avoidance of negative social impacts, and environmental protection,” he said.
Courtenay Councillor Will Cole-Hamilton, who represented the city on the LWMP advisory committee said he’s proud to be part of the planning.
“I have been truly impressed by this process,” Cole-Hamilton said. “It brings together such a large and diverse group of people – politicians, community members, KFN leaders, and sewage experts who’ve made this their life’s work.”
Croteau Beach resident Aitken praised the process for its organization and communications.
“They laid out the process at the beginning and they did exactly what they said they would do,” Aitken said. “It was so refreshing.”
If the sewer commission approves the Technical and Public advisory committee’s short list of options, the WSP consultants will study each of them in-depth. Then the committee will review WSP’s findings and make a final recommendation to the sewer commission sometime this fall.
WHAT IS A LIQUID WASTE MANAGEMENT PLAN?
The liquid waste management plan process is used by local governments in BC to develop strategies for managing sewer services. It includes the collection/review of existing information, development of options for future services, identification of a preferred option, completion of required studies and assessments and development of financial and implementation plans. The plan is ultimately submitted to the provincial government for review and consideration for approval.
Public engagement is key to the planning process. Public input will be collected online and through public events, which will be posted on this page. Residents of Courtenay and Comox are encouraged to weigh in with feedback, to help the CVRD develop a plan that works best for the community.
SUBSCRIBE TO OUR NEWSLETTER
The Courtenay-Comox Sewage Commission has taken the first step toward a Comox Valley-wide sewerage system by agreeing to receive and treat wastewater from the fast-growing Royston and Union Bay portions of Electoral Area A.
Delayed by this spring’s COVID-19 virus lockdown, public consultation on the region’s new Liquid Waste Management Plan will begin later this summer
Rural Comox Valley residents have threatened legal action against the Courtenay-Comox Sewage Commission over noxious odours emanating from the treatment plant near their homes on Curtis Road
Curtis Road residents have tried protests and lawsuits to eliminate the problem of noxious odours from the Courtenay-Comox sewage treatment plant. Now, they’re trying a collaborative Good Neighbor Agreement
The Courtenay-Comox Sewage Commission approved five staff recommendations this week that may result in major changes to the utilities’ governance
Work will begin soon on Cumberland’s new wastewater treatment system after the Village received a $7 million grant from federal and provincial governments
The Courtenay-Comox Sewage Commission declined to take another vote this week on adding Area B representation, which left Curtis Road residents and others frustrated
In a move one observer called “repugnant,” Comox Councillor Ken Grant and Comox Mayor Russ Arnott moved a motion at the regional sewer commission Tuesday that they intended to vote against
Letters are flying between the “fed up” Curtis Road residents and the Comox Valley Regional District over odour, drinking water wells and other issues emanating from the Brent Road sewage treatment plant
Plagued by the odours of sewage from Courtenay and Comox residents for 34 years, the residents of Curtis Road returned to the regional sewage commission this week hoping for resolutions to their concerns, which they say now includes a threat to their drinking water wells and a visual blight on their neighborhood