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“Stinking” sewage plant wafts back onto CVRD agenda
T he Curtis Road Residents Association will press the Courtenay-Comox Sewage Commission again next week, this time on policy issues related to their decades-long battle to eliminate unpleasant odours from the system’s sewage treatment plant.
And they have new information that British Columbia’s Local Government Act does not prohibit municipalities from including voting members on commissions who represent non-participating constituents in a service or function.
Last month, residents told the commission that recent efforts to control the odours haven’t been successful and asked that the plant’s bioreactors be covered and that a new equalization basin currently under construction be relocated. They said the EQ basin has created visual pollution and will likely intensify the odour problems.
At the next commission meeting on May 14, the residents will ask for a commitment on odour standards, a specific odour reporting system and for action on their request for Area B voting representation on the commission.
Jenny Steel, spokesperson for the residents association, told Decafnation that a second presentation was necessary because “10 minutes is not long enough to address 34 years of abuse.” Delegations to the commission are limited to 10 minutes.
Since the treatment plant opened in 1985, it has emanated strong sewer smells that, due to geography, flow constantly through the Curtis Road neighborhood.
The odours are so bad that the Cape Lazo properties have lost monetary value and residents have been unable to stay in their homes during times when the stink has become unbearable.
Past inaction to address the problem by the sewage commission resulted in a lawsuit, which was won by the Curtis Road residents, that compelled the commision to fix the problem and to compensate homeowners.
But the odour problems continue, partly because past commissions haven’t taken the residents concerns seriously enough, according to the Curtis Road residents. And that’s a governance issue they feel could be addressed by having Area B representation on the commission.
As long as the treatment plant remains in Area B — and there is no plan to ever move it — rural residents believe they should have a voice on the decision-making body.
This same governance issue has surfaced before, most recently over the controversy to patch the Courtenay-Comox sewerage system with a new pumping station in the Croteau Beach neighborhood, which also lies within Area B.
Croteau Beach and Curtis Road residents say that if Courtenay and Comox want to locate infrastructure outside their municipal boundaries, then democratic principles dictate those outer areas should have representation at the decision-making table.
When the governance arose at last month’s sewage commission meeting, Comox Director Ken Grant said he believes the Local Government Act — the provincial document governing municipalities — prohibited Area B representation, because those rural residents don’t participate in the sewerage service. Area B residents can’t connect to the sewerage system and they do not pay for it.
Steel believes Grant misled the commission because her research and conversations with CVRD staff indicate that changes made to the Local Government Act in 2000 gave municipalities the necessary flexibility to include non-participating voting members on commissions.
She made a Freedom of Information request to the CVRD for the Act’s sections that support Grant’s claim.
It was a bylaw (No. 650) approved by the former Comox Strathcona Regional District board — since split into two boards for the Comox Valley and the Strathcona regions — that established the sewage commission. The CVRD board could change that bylaw.
Steel said the Curtis Road Residents Association might take the issue of Area B representation on the sewage commission to the CVRD board, or they might make presentations at both Courtenay and Comox municipal council meetings.
But first, they are waiting to hear the sewage commission’s response to their April presentation at the upcoming May meeting.
YEAR-OLD REPORT ON GOVERNANCE GAVE NO RECOMMENDATIONS
Last year, the Comox Valley Regional District commissioned a consultant to study governance options for administration and operation of the regional water supply and sewage conveyance and treatment services.
But the report from Leftside Partners Inc. presented to the CVRD board last September made no recommendations. It only suggested some considerations for such a change and encouraged elected officials to discuss it.
Chief Administrative Officer Russell Dyson described the background for the study in a March 2018 memo to the board:
“Since June 2017, a ‘utilities commission’ concept has been considered to possibly resolve some concerns related to efficiency, accountability and effectiveness for the decision-making processes related to water and sewer services. The proposed project scope, which is described in more detail further in this report, would focus its attention on the water supply system (function no. 300) and sewage treatment service (function no. 335), recognizing that a change in the governance framework may impact just the water service, or the sewer service, or both, depending on the governance project findings and the will of the service participants.”
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