A lagoon at the Comox Valley wastewater treatment plant on Brent Road / George Le Masurier photo
Rural Comox residents want less odour, more compensation
This article has been updated following the April 16 Sewage Commission meeting. It was originally published April 15.
Curtis Road residents want Comox, Courtenay and other users of a wastewater treatment plant in their neighborhood to pay them under a Host Community Compensation agreement.
Speaking for the Curtis Road Residents Association at Tuesday’s Courtenay-Comox Sewage Commission meeting, Jenny Steel said neighbors of the treatment plant have endured 35 years of noxious odors and numerous failed promises to eliminate the smells. The plant opened in 1984.
“And the plant still stinks,” she told commissioners from the two municipalities and CFB Comox.
There are 49 properties between the treatment plant and the Strait of Georgia at Cape Lazo. Many of them were established in the 1930s and still belong to the same families. But the location puts residents in the path of daily off-shore breezes, which pick up odors from the open treatment facilities and blows them through Curtis Road homes.
In a 17-page history of the odor problems sent to commissioners last week, Steel said residents find the stink is so strong that it wakes them up at night. When the sewer smell gets really bad — usually when there’s no wind from the southeast to blow the odors back toward the plant — residents are forced out of their homes because it’s “sickening.”
Previous Sewage Commissions ignored the problem and refused to finance additional remedies, so the residents sued, and won. The Sewage Commission compensated homeowners for reduced property values and rental incomes. There are carriage houses and secondary residences on some properties.
“But the problem hasn’t gone away,” Steel said. “It’s a little better now than last year, and it will probably be a little better next year … but it’s still there.”
British Columbia has no odor control standards. Only the provinces of Ontario and Manitoba have established standards.
An air quality study completed in 2016 showed that odors from the Brent Road plant exceeded the Ontario standards up to two kilometers away and that at some Curtis Road homes they exceeded the metric by 10 times.
The sewerage system and treatment plant serves only residents of Courtenay, Comox, K’omoks First Nation and CFB Comox. It is managed for them by the Comox Valley Regional District. There is no representation on the Sewage Commission from Area B.
After Steel presented a history of the problem, the commission voted to request a staff report before responding to the residents’ demands.
The residents want the Sewer Commission to immediately and completely cover its bioreactors to control the odours emitted during the biological process of removing pollutants from the wastewater. They estimate the cost at around $3 million, although the CVRD puts it over $5 million.
Steel also asked the commission to reassess the need for a new equalization basin, or to at least relocate it on the treatment plant’s 35-acre site in the Cape Lazo area.
The removal of trees in about 25 percent of the forested buffer area between the plant and Curtis Road to build the new EQ basin has made the plant visible from residents’ properties, and further reduced their value.
In an email to Decafnation, Steel said the Sewer Commission did not consider the visual stigma created by this new EQ basin “and its effect on our home prices as well as the potential additional odour source.”
The plant uses EQ basins a few times each year when high tides coincide with an increased volume of liquid entering the plant due to heavy rainfalls, according to Liquid Waste and Water Manager Kris LaRose.
He said that because treated wastewater flows by gravity from the plant to the outfall in the Strait of Georgia off Point Holmes, they must store partially treated wastewater for “several hours on a handful of days” during the late fall and early winter.
The Curtis Road residents also want the Sewer Commission to sign a Host Community Benefit Agreement to compensate homeowners until the odour problem is resolved and a visual screen is restored.
In an email to Decafnation, Steel described a Host Community agreement.
“The concept … is to balance the impacts a local community may experience in hosting a waste management facility against the advantages received by the users of the facilities from other communities,” she said.
Steel pointed to the $9 million agreement between the Comox-Strathcona Solid Waste Committee and the Village of Cumberland in 2013 for hosting the North Island landfill within their municipal boundaries.
The Capital Regional District also signed a Host Community Compensation agreement with Esquimalt for locating that region’s new sewage treatment plant.
Steel said she was happy with today’s meeting.
“I was delighted that we had a packed house,” she told Decafnation. “The sewage commission members were engaged and respectful, plus it seemed that most had read our report.
“We’ll obviously know more when we receive their response next month.”
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