George Le Masurier photo
The Week: Strange attitude in Comox and perils of logging in watersheds
There’s a classic ironic saying — “We’re from the government, and we’re here to help you” — that seems to describe the Town of Comox’s aloof and often confrontational attitude toward some of its constituency. It’s a peculiar mindset that the town has developed in recent times.
There’s no better example than the story of Ken McDonald and Golf Creek, which Decafnation first reported back in January when it was a simple Small Claims Court case. This week, we broke the news on Tuesday that a civil court judge granted an escalation of the law to the BC Supreme Court and multiplied the amount of damages tenfold.
The town could have settled this matter for $25,000 or less three years ago just by taking a helpful and sympathetic approach to a resident’s problem. But instead of trying to assist this taxpayer, the town basically told him to buzz off, and then actually added to his financial burden by paying high-priced lawyers to fight him in court.
By the time this case is resolved, the town will have spent tens of thousands more of taxpayers’ money than if they had empathy for one of their own citizens and helped him out. And the bill will grow to hundreds of thousands more if the town loses the case.
The good news out of this example of the town’s pitiful proclivity for bullying people is that this citizen has the means to fight back. And because of McDonald’s refusal to just let it go, some of the town’s other sins have come to light: flushing toxic stormwater into the harbor, repeatedly ignoring warnings from more than one professional consultant, failing to monitor water quality in the creeks it abuses and more.
It’s hard to ignore the irony of Comox hosting a week-long seafood festival that starts today, knowing that the town bears a huge responsibility for the pollution of Comox Bay that has killed aquatic life and closes the area to shellfish harvesting.
Comox is also embroiled in another legal case that could also cost its taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars, this one over the mishandling of the Mack Laing Trust and the fate of his heritage home, Shakesides. Instead of sitting down face-to-face and working out a solution, the town again has taken a confrontational approach, spending large amounts of money on lawyers to prevent Mack Laing’s supporters from having a voice in court.
There are good examples of local governments — in Cumberland and Courtenay — that when faced with citizen-based problems, municipal staff and elected officials actually try to resolve them in a win-win manner, rather than attempt to beat a citizen into submission. But Comox is apparently not that kind of town.
DECODING POLITICAL SPEAK
One of the frustrating aspects of the Town of Comox’s current legal battles is that elected officials refuse to talk about them. Mayor Russ Arnott is famous for hiding behind the words, “It’s before the courts, so I can’t talk about it.”
Literally, that’s not true. Elected officials have the freedom to talk about court cases, and defendants and prosecutors do it all the time. There is no law against this.
What Arnott really means is that he’s afraid to say something that could hurt the town’s legal case.
Municipal insurance companies have a big thumb on freedom of speech. So instead of transparency, we usually get silence based on a fear of liability.
BIKING IN COURTENAY
Here’s some good news: the City of Courtenay has received $227,655 from the provincial BikeBC program to expand its cycling network on both sides of the river. The grant amounts to about half of the cost of projects on Fitzgerald Avenue and the Hobson Neighborhood.
Courtenay is really pushing toward a cycle-friendly community.
For its next step, we humbly suggest some kind of infrastructure — overpasses?, physically separated lanes? — that would allow students of Vanier and Isfeld secondary schools to cycle more safety from their homes on the west side of the river.
LOGGING AND WATER TREATMENT
There is an excellent recent story in the online publication, The Narwhal, about how clearcut logging is driving a water crisis in some interior communities.
While the story focuses on the Okanagan region, there’s a similar story about logging in the Comox Lake Watershed, the drinking water source for most Comox Valley residents. And the results of this practice are similar.
Due to upstream logging, large quantities of sediment flow into Peachland Creek and eventually wash into Okanagan Lake. That has forced the town of Peachland to spend $24 million on a new water treatment plant to filter out the fine sediments, disinfect it with chlorine and ultraviolet light.
Sound familiar? That’s exactly what’s happening in the Comox Lake Watershed. Because the BC government allows logging in the watershed, sediment flows into all the little creeks and streams, and into the bigger rivers, such as the Cruikshank, causing turbidity.
The Comox Valley’s $110 million price tag for water treatment is more than four times higher than Peachland’s.
Why doesn’t the province only permit selective logging in watersheds? Why does the province prioritize logging over drinking water? And one wonders how much of the watershed the Comox Valley could have purchased for the cost of its water treatment plant.
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