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The Week: CVRD pledges $750,000 to watershed; trouble in the town

Sep 27, 2019 | Commentary

By George Le Masurier

This was a busy week around the world and at home. A teenager crossed the Atlantic to admonish world leaders for not recognizing they have led us into a climate catastrophe, which set off a week of climate activism. The US House plans to impeach President Trump. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh came out the winner in Trudeau’s blackface head-shaker.

And back at home, our cadre of reporters and informats have, perhaps, inched us closer to understanding why Comox Council bounced their long-time CAO. It gets real interesting.

But first, how about we start off with some good news.

At its most recent meeting, the Comox Valley Water Committee unanimously agreed to contribute $750,000 toward the purchase of 226 acres of wetlands and riparian areas in the Comox Lake Watershed.

That’s a major positive step toward protecting the drinking water supply for more than 45,000 residents — and growing — of the Comox Valley.

The Comox Lake Watershed has been used for industrial resource extraction since the 1870’s when these unceded lands within the K’omoks First Nation Territory were transferred to Robert Dunsmuir as part of the E and N land Grant. Logging and Mining have shaped the landscape and climate change is now rearing its head as a real threat to water quality and quantity in the watershed.

The protection of sub watersheds and intact forested riparian areas has been identified in the Comox Lake Watershed Protection Plan as a way to abate risk and treat the cause not the symptoms of water quality issues in the Valley’s drinking water supply. Issues that have led to the need for a $110 million for a water treatment plant.

The water committee committed funds for this effort in response to a request from the Cumberland Forest Society, which has already, on its own, purchased and protected with conservation covenants 270 acres of forest lands. It is currently in negotiations with Hancock Timber Resource Group for another 226 acres that surround Perseverance Creek, all the way from Allen Lake to Comox Lake Road.

The Cumberland Forest Society had already secured approximately 50 percent of the funds it expects to need for the purchase. The recent financial commitment positions the society to enter final negotiations.

This purchase will contribute to a total of 1,200 connected acres under protection, or soon to be under protection, within the south end of the Comox Lake Watershed. That’s a great start to protecting this important watershed.
There is widespread community support for this effort and now our elected officials have demonstrated the political will to get it done. Congratulations to them.

Since our last report about the how and why Comox Council fired Chief Administrative Officer Richard Kanigan, several people close to the situation have phoned and written Decafnation with unsolicited new information. And two of these sources might provide some insight into what’s going on inside town hall.

Their information raises the question whether the mayor and council have had a good grasp of what’s going on beneath the surface.

First, a person has told Decafnation that before Kanigan got the boot, a woman employed by the town had made a complaint. We don’t know the substance of the complaint or who made it, nor do we know that it has any direct connection to Kanigan’s departure. We don’t know the status of this complaint or whether it has been dealt with.

All that we do know is that former Executive Coordinator Twyla Slonski suddenly left her job this summer and resurfaced as the deputy city clerk in Port Alberni.

Second, it seems our reporting last week about low morale among some town employees hit a nerve in the public works department. According to a town employee, 10 other employees have quit the department due to what they felt was management by intimidation.

Our source says all the top brass at the town had been told about the situation and that it was considered serious enough that at one point the town brought in a grief counsellor.

When a new public works manager recently came on board, he listened to employees and suspended the foreman at the center of the allegations. But due to a lack of documentation, the union requested his reinstatement, and he was brought back for a couple of days. But, according to our source, the foreman then left the job again quickly. Employees were told that he’s “on leave.”

We report this incident only to point out that another legal case could be brewing against the town, and that situations involving employees may not have been dealt with swiftly and decisively. And, apparently this isn’t the fault of administrators alone.

In fact, our source says, a public works employee had a conversation with a town councillor about the matter and later a letter was sent to the mayor and council. The source says neither the mayor or any council members have replied.

Add these incidents to the big lawsuit over stormwater pollution and erosion and the implications of the town’s mishandling of the Mack Laing trust agreement and a picture starts to develop.

As a commentor on last week’s report observed, if the mayor and council are at odds with their CAO, and incidents within the town start to make them look bad, it won’t be the elected officials who take the fall.

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