The Week: local bag bans support nation, global effort; these politicians go low

The Week: local bag bans support nation, global effort; these politicians go low

We’ve got an eye on you  /  George Le Masurier photo

By George Le Masurier

The City of Courtenay is poised to pass a single-use plastic bag ban next week that will go into effect next March 31. The city joins the Village of Cumberland, which already approved a bag ban in March to go into effect next January.

Still to come, perhaps, is similar action from the Comox Valley Regional District and the Town of Comox, which is still waiting for a report from its staff.

Although Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau announced a nationwide ban “as early as” 2021, the same year a bag ban goes into effect in the European Union, it is important for small communities like the Comox Valley to keep banning the bags in their jurisdictions.

And it’s important for consumers to embrace this change now. Everyone can start using reusable bags, and refusing plastic whenever possible. Don’t buy plastic water bottles. Buy sodas or juices that come in cans, not plastic containers.

Trudeau’s announcement is only a promise. He might not win the next election, or he might not follow through. He’s ditched campaign promises before, notably electoral reform.

So, congrats to Cumberland and Courtenay, and what are you — Comox and CVRD — waiting for? The public tide has already turned against plastics. And for good reason.

Less than 10 percent of all plastics are recycled. Think about that, about all the plastic wrapping you see and consume in grocery and other retail stores. The rest plugs up our landfills and pollutes our waterways, eventually breaking down into tiny bits that get eaten by fish, birds and other animals. That plastic makes it way into our own bodies through the food chain.


How low will they go?

It’s been obvious for some time that Comox Councillors Ken Grant and Maureen Swift, along with Mayor Russ Arnott, care little about giving a fair hearing to legitimate public concerns.

Now, it appears, they are willing to disrespect their own elected official colleagues to carry out petty vendettas.

It was clear to everyone at this week’s sewage commission meeting that the three Courtenay directors wanted to wait until the next meeting when CFB Representative, Major Delta Guerard, was present.

But Grant and Arnott made a motion anyway, one they opposed, just so they could defeat it. Clever political maneuver, but a knife in the back of their colleagues around the table.

The meeting showed how low Arnott, Grant and Swift are willing to sink.

It’s not a coincidence the trio votes against every request for Area B representation on the Courtenay-Comox Sewage Commission. They also vote in a block to support all attempts to locate sewer infrastructure in somebody else’s backyard.

It would be more useful if Comox commissioners came up with valid reasons to deny Area B representation. To date, they’ve claimed that it was against the Local Government Act — which it wasn’t — and then that our previous Area B director had lied to the commission — which he hadn’t.

Now, the best Arnott can muster is that it’s an “emotional” issue.

There’s a reason the Town of Comox faces the potential for two costly defeats in BC Supreme Court over the next six months, but Arnott, Grant and Swift just don’t get it.

Comox shellfish contaminated

Did you know the entire Comox Harbour area is permanently closed for shellfish harvesting? Sanitary contamination of the area means that consumption of shellfish here presents a serious health hazard. There have already been two emergency notices issued by the DFO about illness from contaminated shellfish.

Probable sources of the fecal contamination include the Town of Comox’s stormwater management system, marinas and boaters and pets and wildlife.

That makes Comox an ironic choice to host the BC Seafood Festival, which is highly supported by fish farms and other aquaculture industry interests.


Creating smoke-free public parks

Congrats to Courtenay Councillor Melanie McCollum for proposing a citywide ban on smoking tobacco, cannabis and vaping products in public parks.

Other BC communities, such as Duncan, Metro Vancouver and North Vancouver, have already taken this step.

McCollum points out the danger of wildfires from carelessly discarded of lighted products, but the health risks of second-hand smoke and hampering the ability of people to enjoy a smoke-free outdoors experience also justify her proposal.



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More Commentary

The Week: bizarre backstory; great news on sewage planning

Good morning. We’re writing about the tragic backstory of a water valve, the state of happiness in Comox, new (and thankfully) long-term sewerage plans and the strength of women like Jody Wilson-Raybould speaking truth to power

Comox manipulates sewage commission vote, residents cry foul on ‘repugnant’ tactic

Comox manipulates sewage commission vote, residents cry foul on ‘repugnant’ tactic

Sewage treatment plant seen from Curtis Road  /  George Le Masurier photo

By George Le Masurier

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.

It was a deliberate attempt to defeat a proposal to allow non-voting representation for Area B on the Courtenay-Comox Sewage Commission, and was made possible because CFB representative Major Delta Guerard did not show up to cast a deciding seventh vote.

It is not known which way Major Guerard would have voted, or why she didn’t attend the meeting.

Courtenay directors had declined to make the motion, saying they preferred to wait for a future meeting when the full commission was present.

The vote ended in a 3-3 tie, with Courtenay directors voting in favor and the three Comox directors voting against the motion they manipulated to the board table. A tie vote constitutes a defeated motion, and the issue cannot be reconsidered at future meetings.

An unidentified audience member called the Comox directors’ tactic “repugnant” as she was leaving the boardroom.

The controversial sequence of events arose because Electoral Area B Director Arzeena Hamir had requested a voting position on the sewage commission.

In a March 15 letter to the commission, Hamir argued that the treatment plant for Courtenay and Comox sewage resides in Area B and offers no benefit to Area B residents. In fact, she wrote, the plant presents ongoing negative environmental, social and economic impacts for Curtis Road residents that live just down wind from the plant.

They have been locked in a 35-year struggle with the Courtenay-Comox Sewage Commission to eliminate noxious odours that lowered the value of their homes and at certain times of the year made them uninhabitable.

Curtis Road Residents Association spokesperson Jenny Steel told Decafnation after the meeting that her group would now take their request for Area B representation to the full Comox Valley Regional District board, and to individual municipal councils.

After the meeting, Hamir told Decafnation that she was disappointed with the results of the vote.

“The residents of Area B have had to make huge sacrifices for the benefit of the region and deserve a voice at the table,” she said. “And while residents of Area B are able to delegate to the Sewage Commission, there is never an opportunity for them to rebut incorrect statements the way a director at the table would have. Again, super disappointed.”

Steel said it was “undemocratic and irresponsible” for Grant and Arnott to move a motion they planned to vote against.

“Comox commissioners knew that the vote was tied and should have waited until all commissioners were at the table,” she told Decafnation. “Staff and Courtenay commissioners seem genuinely to want to build a good neighbour relationship – it’s frustrating that Comox don’t seem to want to come on board.”


Arnott: giving politicians a bad name

During the course of debate on the issue, Comox Mayor Arnott took a swipe at himself and his colleagues.

“Maybe we need less (sic) politicians and more professionals on the commission,” he said. “When you add more politicians to anything, it’s not a good idea.”

That got laughs from Grant and Comox Director Maureen Swift, but the Courtenay directors didn’t appear to find it amusing.

Courtenay Director Will Cole-Hamilton responded succinctly.

“If we follow the logic that all politicians are bad, we should all just go home,” he said.

Arnott also tried to argue that Area B representation was not a valid idea.

“This is an emotional issue we’re dealing with,” he said.

Courtenay Director Doug Hillian contested that statement.

“If these are valid concerns (noxious odours, etc.) raised by residents and we direct staff to expend time and energy to address them, then these two positions don’t jibe,” he said.

Cole-Hamilton added that the commission was responding “to a real thing. This is not emotional.”

Hillian said giving the Area B director a seat at the commission table, but without voting power, was actually an enhancement of the democratic process.

“They’re asking for some type of formal voice, to take part in the back and forth among directors, and it doesn’t cost us anything,” he said. “This is an opportunity for trust to be rebuilt.”

Curtis Road residents have continually complained about often unbearable odours since the plant opened in 1985, and have successfully sued the regional district for its inaction once before.

Cole-Hamilton said giving Area B a voice without a vote was a reasonable compromise until the staff makes recommendations this fall on last year’s broader governance review.

Arnott may have been referring to his own emotional involvement in this issue.

The Comox Town Council has been at odds with other Area B neighborhoods for years, such as the Croteau Beach area over a pump station — now deemed unnecessary — preservation of McDonald Woods and over attempts at annexation of the area into municipal boundaries.

Mary Lang, a Croteau Beach resident and Area B representative on the CVRD’s Liquid Waste Management Plan Public Advisory Committee, told Decafnation after the meeting that it’s inevitable some residents get emotional over issues.

“When citizens are disenfranchised from decisions that have the potential to impact their homes, and are solely relegated to 10-minute presentations that they are supposed to feel honoured to have been granted…they might come across as emotional,” she said.


Rural residents react

Jenny Steel told Decafnation last night that Curtis Road residents will continue pressing for representation on the commission.

“We’ll be asking for a permanent seat on the sewage commission with voting rights for any decisions impacting odour, visual and noise stigma in Electoral Area B – we think that’s fair,” she said. “We’ve already emailed in requests for delegations to the CVRD board on June 25th and with Comox Council on the 19th.

“We feel it’s important to explain to Comox Council why a seat on the commission is a democratic and practical solution to this 35-year old problem.”

Steel said if Comox commissioners want to communicate through delegations, “then that’s what we’ll do.”

“It’s obvious that they don’t understand the effort required and frustration involved in bringing our issues to their attention. Nor do they understand the abysmal failures of the status quo,” she said.

Within the last year, other Area B residents have asked for representation on the sewage commission due to concerns about a new sewage pump station to serve Courtenay and Comox but located in the Croteau Beach neighborhood.

Comox Valley Regional District engineers, who manage the system for Courtenay and Comox, eventually backed off that plan — which had been strongly supported by Comox directors — because it proved too costly and risky for Croteau Beach drinking water wells and for other technical reasons.

Lorraine Aitken, a Croteau Beach resident and an alternate Area B representative on the CVRD’s Liquid Waste Management Plan public committee, said another Arnott comment — suggesting that Courtenay and Comox take back the management of the sewage function from the CVRD — is a perfect example of emotion over reason.

“Has it occurred to him that the treatment plant is in Area B? The pipes to the plant are in Area B?” she said. “Perhaps he has plans to move the whole operation to the Comox Golf course or the Filberg Lodge, where emotions would never be an issue.”

Aitken also took exception to Arnott’s comment that during his brief six months at the table he has seen numerous delegations and feels that citizens are being well represented.

“If the sewage commission had been doing their jobs properly for the past 35 years, citizens wouldn’t have to keep coming back over and over again,” she said. “If Maureen Swift and Ken Grant (who have been paid to sit at the commission table for many years) had done their jobs properly — read reports, master plans, asked questions, consulted with the public in good faith — they would have solved the problems that bring the residents of Area B back to the commission to point out what the commissioners missed, what they misunderstood, how they screwed up again because they didn’t listen to the residents of Area B in the first place.”


What’s next

CVRD staff are reviewing an outside consultant’s review of governance issues, particularly as they relate to the region’s water and sewer commissions. They plan to present a report of their review and recommendations in the fall.

Meanwhile, construction of a new equalization basin at the treatment plant will move ahead this summer, along with an odour level study, an analysis of odour standards across Canada and preparation of cost estimates to cover the plant’s bioreactors to further reduce noxious odours.


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More sewage | Top Feature

Mistrust still evident between residents, sewage commission

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

“Stinking” sewage plant wafts back onto CVRD agenda

The 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

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.

Cumberland gets $5.7 million for sewage plant upgrade

Village of Cumberland sewage lagoons will soon get an upgrade  | Photo by George Le Masurier By George Le Masurier he Village of Cumberland is well on its way to completing an overdue upgrade to its wastewater...

Long-term wastewater planning underway at CVRD

Critical long-term wastewater infrastructure questions are being asked at the CVRD, among them: Should sewer pipes come out of the K’omoks Estuary? What level of treatment do we want, and how will we meet the long-term growth of the Comox Valley? And, should we be planning to recover our wastewater resource?

The Week: Strange attitude in Comox and perils of logging in watersheds

The Week: Strange attitude in Comox and perils of logging in watersheds

George Le Masurier photo

By George Le Masurier

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.

Read the full story here, and the original story here

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.



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.



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.



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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More Commentary | News

The Week: bizarre backstory; great news on sewage planning

Good morning. We’re writing about the tragic backstory of a water valve, the state of happiness in Comox, new (and thankfully) long-term sewerage plans and the strength of women like Jody Wilson-Raybould speaking truth to power

Town of Comox now faces $250,000 Supreme Court lawsuit over pollution

Town of Comox now faces $250,000 Supreme Court lawsuit over pollution

One of the few remaining daylight sections of Golf Creek at the Comox Golf Course  /  George Le Masurier

By George Le Masurier

What started as a simple request three years ago for the Town of Comox to help defray a homeowner’s expense to remediate a creek bank has since uncovered a litany of town-related problems and, as of last week, turned into a BC Supreme Court case valued at nearly a quarter-million dollars.

As reported by Decafnation in January, Norine and Ken McDonald launched a BC Small Claims Court action in June of 2016 to recover some of the $30,000 they spent to shore up a portion of Golf Creek that flows through their Jane Place property.

They took the legal action after discovering the erosion was caused by excessive municipal stormwater flowing into the creek, and because the town refused to take responsibility for the damage.

For three years, the McDonalds and the Town of Comox have been locked in a legal battle to settle the matter. The McDonalds have requested meetings to negotiate a resolution, and have been turned down. The town has responded by trying to have the case dismissed, and were denied in court.

FURTHER READING: Stormwater: it’s killing our water

But in the process of preparing their case against the town, the McDonalds have learned that Golf Creek is not only plagued by high volumes of stormwater flowing into the creek, but that the water is highly polluted with heavy metals and fecal coliform counts up to 230 times higher than the provincial water quality standards. E Coli counts have exceeded provincial maximums by 500 percent.

For the McDonalds, the toxic water in their backyard created a new financial problem.

According to section 5-13 of the rules of the Real Estate Council of BC (enforced under the BC Real Estate Act), a homeowner must disclose a material latent defect that renders the property “dangerous or potentially dangerous to the occupants” or “a defect that would involve great expense to remedy.”

“Now that we are aware of the pollution problem, we are obligated to disclose that problem to any prospective future buyer as well,” Ken McDonald told Decafnation. “That disclosure will certainly impact property value.”

So the McDonalds recently asked the court to amend the compensation they are seeking to nearly $250,000, the value of the portion of their property affected by the Creek (about 29 percent), and to move their case to the BC Supreme Court.

On Friday, May 31, Civil Court Judge Hutcheson granted the McDonald’s request.

This ruling escalates the financial risk for Town of Comox taxpayers.

In a letter to the town and to the attention of Mayor Russ Arnott, the McDonalds lawyer wrote that “… other property owners and occupants in the Town of Comox may have suffered similar damages, and are considering the potential for a class action lawsuit to hold the town accountable….”

McDonald also believes the case might have province-wide significance for other property owners near urban streams.



The McDonalds’ house at the end of the Jane Place cul de sac was originally built by John and Christine Robertsen in 1991. The Robertsens commissioned BBT Hardy Engineering to do a geotechnical study to determine the feasibility of building on property that included the Golf Creek ravine, and were issued a building permit and final occupancy permit by the town even though no erosion control measures were undertaken, as recommended in the study.

In 1992, the town commissioned a study by KPA Engineering that recommended four erosion control options — including a detention pond on the Comox Golf Course — to protect properties along Golf Creek. None were implemented, according to documents supplied by Ken McDonald.

Ken McDonald stands in front of his $30,000 geotextile wall to prevent further erosion from Golf Creek. The Town of Comox’s refusal to help him pay for the remediation has turned into a nearly $250,000 BC Supreme Court lawsuit

Seven years later, a 1999 a KPA Engineering study gave Golf Creek the highest environmental sensitivity rating in their investigation and recommended remedial action and water quality monitoring. Neither were implemented, accord to McDonald’s documents.

From 1991 to 2005, Town of Comox population grew by 70 percent, increasing stormwater flows into Golf Creek.

In 2005, the Robertsens communicated concerns about increased erosion of their property, and the town denied responsibility. The Robertsens then paid for a second geotechnical study — this one by Lewkowich Engineering — that repeated the need for “some preventative measures.” None were implemented.

A 2013 assessment by McElhanney Engineering raised concerns about increased stormwater volumes and recommended the town “mitigate the impacts of discharging stormwater into sensitive receiving environments.” The town did not implement the recommendations in the McElhanney report, according to McDonald.

When the Robertsens decided to sell their house in 2014, they commissioned a third geotechnical study, which reaffirmed the need for creek bank remediation.

After purchasing the house, the McDonalds hired a contractor to do the creek bank remediation, and were told by the town that erosion damage was entirely their own responsibility.

McDonald says he did not realize Golf Creek was no longer a natural waterway until June 2016 when a downstream neighbor mentioned his erosion problems and the old engineering reports indicating the creek was a key component of the town’s stormwater management system. The neighbor told McDonald that the town had installed a five meter-long rock wall along his creek bank.

So the McDonalds started a BC Small Claims Court action to recover some of the cost of remediating their own section of the creek.

Two years into that legal action, McDonald had the water quality in the creek tested. The test results showed fecal coliform levels nearing that of raw sewage and concentrations of heavy metals, including mercury, that exceeded provincial guidelines.

In many cases, the level of contaminants exceeded government guidelines by more than 1,000 percent.

Last month, McDonald had the creek’s water retested. While the fecal coliform tested down to 150 times provincial standards, the results showed the more dangerous E Coli levels at 2,000 Fecal Coliform Units per 100 ml. BC and Health Canada guidelines put the maximum safe level for human recreational contact with E Coli in a single sample at 400 FCU/100 ml.

E Coli in Golf Creek registered 500 percent over the BC maximum.

McDonald said the provincial environment ministry has also recently tested the creek’s water, but has not yet released their results.


Attempts to meet with Town Council

McDonald says that litigation is not his preferred approach to resolving the issue, but that repeated attempts to meet with town staff and the mayor and council have been rebuffed by the town.

Prior to last fall’s municipal election, McDonald filed an application to the court requesting postponement of a trial date so that he could present his case to the new mayor and council. The town opposed the postponement, but it was granted. No meeting has taken place.

In October, before the election, McDonald asked candidate Russ Arnott if council would entertain a meeting. Arnott declined in an email message.

“I did bring it up with Richard (Kanigan, the town’s Chief Administrative Officer) and was advised it was in the hands of their insurance people and that it best not to engage at this particular time,” Arnott replied to McDonald via email.

McDonald said two subsequent informal encounters with Arnott met with the same response.


What’s next

The McDonalds are now in the process of preparing their case for the Supreme Court.

“Our object is to solve a major environmental problem that has destroyed the fresh water streams in Comox and is contaminating our marine environment,” McDonald told Decafnation. “There are practical solutions to the problem. What is needed is an administration and a council that acknowledges that there is a problem and is willing to change their stormwater management practices.”

Decafnation briefed Comox Mayor Russ Arnott and CAO Richard Kanigan on the content of this story prior to publication, but neither responded to an invitation to comment or provide additional information.









FECAL COLIFORM — Microscopic organisms that live in the intestines of warm-blooded animals. They also live in the waste material, or feces, excreted from the intestinal tract. Although not necessarily agents of disease, fecal coliform bacteria may indicate the presence of disease-carrying organisms, which live in the same environment as the fecal coliform bacteria. Swimming in waters with high levels of fecal coliform bacteria increases the chance of developing illness (fever, nausea or stomach cramps) from pathogens entering the body through the mouth, nose, ears, or cuts in the skin. Diseases and illnesses that can be contracted in water with high fecal coliform counts include typhoid fever, hepatitis, gastroenteritis, dysentery and ear infections. Read more here and here




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More Environment | Latest Feature | Stormwater

Stormwater systems shift slowly toward green infrastructure

Stormwater management plans in the Comox Valley have historically treated rainwater as waste, something to be collected and disposed of quickly, usually into previously clean streams or directly into the ocean. Clearly a new approach is needed.

Golf Creek: A case study in stormwater planning gone wrong

The second in a series about stormwater begins the Tale of Three Creeks: Golf, Brooklyn and Morrison. Golf Creek is dead, Brooklyn Creek is threatened and Morrison Creek is thriving, with an effort to protect its pristine and intact headwaters

The Week: violations at Seniors Village, applause for Wendy Morin, solving homelessness

The Week: violations at Seniors Village, applause for Wendy Morin, solving homelessness

George Le Masurier photo

By George Le Masurier

This week, Decafnation reported a story that other Comox Valley media have been afraid to tackle: the endemic problems of regulatory non-compliance at Comox Valley Seniors Village, and the failure of Island Health to properly supervise this privately-owned long-term care facility.

Three residents died as an indirect result of a recent norovirus outbreak at Seniors Village and the facility, which was lacking supervisors in senior management positions at the time, did not follow required cleaning protocols during and after the event.

It took a small group of family members of Seniors Village residents to raise awareness of the outbreak, even to Island Health, and demand corrective action.

Privatization in the healthcare industry too often results in extreme cost-cutting to boost profits for shareholders and puts patients and residents at risk. There are some good private operators, although nonprofit organizations, such as Glacier View Lodge and The Views at St. Joseph are better suited to provide reliably quality care for loved ones.

Island Health needs to either take over Seniors Village, as the family members have requested, or step up its regulatory supervision of the facility.

They could start down that road by discontinuing the ludicrous practice of telling care facilities when they plan to do inspections. Inspections should be a surprise in order to see the facility in its everyday state without the advantage of several weeks to shine things up.


Did Russ Arnott not read the letter from KFN?

Many weeks ago, K’omoks First Nation Chief Nicole Rempel wrote a letter to Comox Mayor Russ Arnott and council members expressing disappointment and concern that the town had made plans for replacing Mack Laing’s heritage house with a viewing platform without any prior consultation.

But the council has apparently ignored Chief Rempel’s concerns.

At a recent meeting, council members went ahead and approved revisions to the town’s plan for a viewing platform at the site, which is sacred First Nations ground, including middens, without including KFN in the redesign process.

Mayor Arnott was quoted as saying that presenting the finished redesign to KFN would be acting as “friendly neighbours and showing what we’re doing.”

Did he not read the letter? KFN wants prior consultation. They want to be involved in what the town hopes to do with Mack Laing’s house, called Shakesides. They do not want to be disrespected by being shown a redesign as a fait accompli.

KFN doesn’t want to be ‘friendly neighbors.’ They want to be active participants.

We anticipate that due to the mayor’s and council’s blind spot that another letter from KFN may be forthcoming.


Applause, please, for Courtenay Councillor Wendy Morin

When the Youth Environmental Action (YEA) group made a presentation to the Comox Valley Regional District board about climate change and the need for urgent action, they received an unusual response from several directors.

We won’t name them, but these directors responded to the presentation by nitpicking the students’ PowerPoint slides. They made all kinds of suggestions about how to improve the readability and attractiveness of their slides, without so much as mentioning the content.

Thankfully, Courtenay Councillor and CVRD Director Wendy Morin took the microphone and admonished her colleagues. When have we ever critiqued a delegations PowerPoint slides before, Morin asked?

Her question got the board back on track to consider the students’ important message.


What it would take to solve homelessness?

Jill Severn, a friend of Decafnation and a pioneer in the US micro-housing solution for homelessness, recently wrote an article about the real causes of this problem. We’re reprinting excerpts of her article today, most of which applies equally to Canada.

As long as we are only talking about how to “respond” to homelessness, we are caught in a trap, because our society is churning out more homeless people faster than we can provide even the most elemental humanitarian responses to their suffering. Somehow, we need to tackle the challenge of how to prevent homelessness.

The big picture of prevention would start with a lot more housing and a lot less poverty.

That would require a reversal of decades of cuts to federal housing programs, and a national shift toward a dramatic reduction in income inequality, starting with a higher minimum wage and significant investments in free, effective job training and safety net programs.

And beyond that, there’s a long list of very specific unmet needs that target intergenerational poverty. For example, we need:

— universal early childhood education, starting with visiting nurses who help new parents bond with their babies and understand what babies and toddlers need to thrive;

— a child welfare system that is fully funded, with social workers who are well paid and not overworked to the point of burnout;

— public schools where all adult relationships with students are based on deep caring, cultural competence, respect, and high expectations;

— easy-to-access mental health services for people of every age, without stigma; addiction treatment on demand, and robust harm reduction programs for people who aren’t ready for treatment;

— criminal justice reforms that focus on rehabilitation, and expand rather than foreclose future employment opportunities;

— an end to racism, gender discrimination, and homophobia;

— a spiritual renewal based not on dogma, but on the simple, universal value of loving our neighbors – all of them – not just in theory but in practice.

Achieving these goals would result in a better educated, healthier and more prosperous society. And that’s the only kind of 21st century society in which homelessness will not be a chronic problem.

To create that society, we need to do more than sit at the bottom of a cliff talking about how to help the ever-growing number of our neighbors who have fallen off.

And we need to have realistic expectations about how much of this problem can be solved at the local, regional, or even state level. The scale of growing homelessness – which is the most extreme result of the hopelessness that poverty engenders – requires a national response from a functional, purposeful federal government that makes reducing poverty a top priority.

Our local measures do make a difference. Even if the city and its local partners cannot solve the problem of homelessness, we can (and already do) make an immense difference in the lives of those who are helped to find housing and reclaim their lives.

And even those who remain homeless benefit from the services, meals, and shelter provided by the city, and by our local network of nonprofits, faith communities, and big-hearted volunteers.





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