DeMarzo takes on expanded community role at CVRD

By George Le Masurier

The Comox Valley Regional District (CVRD) announced today that Doug DeMarzo will be their new General Manager of Community Services. He will oversee the CVRD’s parks, recreation, fire protection, emergency management divisions.

Doug comes to the role with over 10 years’ experience leading teams in both Victoria and here at the CVRD in the parks and community services setting. Since 2014, he has been managing the parks system and promoting environmental protection and outdoor recreation within the region. 

“Doug has been acting within the role since last spring and demonstrated excellent leadership and strategic value within the role,” CVRD Chief Administrative Officer Russell Dyson said. “We are excited to see Doug within this role and the new ideas he will bring to the organization.”




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Cumberland gets $7 million infrastructure funding for wastewater treatment

Cumberland gets $7 million infrastructure funding for wastewater treatment

Cumberland lagoons will get an upgrade  /  Decafnation file photo

By George Le Masurier

Work will begin soon on Cumberland’s new wastewater treatment system after the Village received a $7 million grant from federal and provincial governments.

The Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program announced this week that Cumberland had been awarded $7,113,010 from the program’s environmental quality stream. That’s about 75 percent of the village’s $9.7 million plan.

Cumberland has been out of compliance with the province’s wastewater treatment standards for many years, and was recently fined $85,000 by the Ministry of the Environment. The village is appealing that fine because over the last three years it has developed a plan to return to compliance and has actively sought funding to implement it.

“The village has worked very hard to find a Made in Cumberland treatment solution that is affordable for our taxpayers, “ Mayor Leslie Baird said.

Cumberland opted out of the South Sewer Project in 2016 for financial reasons. That plan was ultimately rejected by Royston and Union Bay voters because it was too expensive.

Cumberland then proposed a traditional treatment plan, but couldn’t find funding for its $21 million price tag.

The village hired Paul Nash, of Sechelt, to help develop a lower cost alternative that would meet provincial standards.

The now-funded plan will upgrade Cumberland’s existing lagoon-based wastewater treatment system, handle large combine storm-sewer flows and provide capacity for population growth. It uses an innovative features to filter out contaminants, such as pharmaceuticals.

“The final treated water will restore the natural summer “wet” conditions to a drained wetland and facilitate habitat restoration of the area, while providing natural polishing of the water to remove organic contaminants, before distribution to the natural wetlands north of the lagoon, then continuing to the Maple Creek Watershed,” according to a village press release.

Mayor Baird told Decafnation this week that the village has filed a complaint with the BC Ombudsman Office over the out-of-compliance fines. She said one arm of the provincial government was working with the village on their plan and funding it, while another arm was threatening to fine them.

“There were two arms working in silos,” she said. “They had no idea what the other was doing.”

Baird said the appeal is important because many small communities in BC are out of compliance and the fines and the time, travel and cost to appeal them can be a “huge burden” on small towns. Cumberland hopes to set a precedent through its appeal and complaint with the Ombudsman.

With the new funds and the village’s $1.2 million in reserves for the project’s capital costs, there will be little need for additional borrowing. During last October’s municipal elections, Cumberland voters approved borrowing for the project.

That may be good news for villagers who support construction of a new fire hall.

Cumberland doesn’t have the capacity to borrow both the whole wastewater project and a roughly $4 million fire hall.



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Wells will not seek re-election as CVRD board chair

Wells will not seek re-election as CVRD board chair

Decafnation file photo

By George Le Masurier

Courtenay Mayor Bob Wells will not seek re-election as chair of the Comox Valley Regional District, he told Decafnation this week.

The 10-member CVRD board elected Wells last November by drawing his name out of a hat.

He and Area C Director Edwin Grieve each received five votes in two separate elections. Previous Chair Bruce Jolliffee drew Wells name from a hat to settle the matter.

At the time, Wells said he would only serve one year.

“I have a city to run, a business to run, and I have a family,” he said. “I have a finite capacity and nobody’s perfected cloning.”

Wells will not reappoint himself as a City of Courtenay representative to the regional board. He said Wendy Morin and Will Cole-Hamilton will be Courtenay’s full-time regional directors.

Wells believes he was effective in his year at the helm. 

No other director has announced a bid for the chair, although it is expected that Grieve will run again. Other potential candidates include CVRD Vice-Chair Arzeena Hamir and Courtenay Director David Frisch.






Municipal councillors appointed to serve on the CVRD board receive about $13,000 per year in compensation. Electoral area directors receive about $34,000, and the CVRD board chair receives about $33,000.


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Blood-sucking insects, will they spoil our west coast paradise?

Blood-sucking insects, will they spoil our west coast paradise?

Is the horse about to leave barn?  /  Beauty, who used to live on Torrene Road  /  George Le Masurier photo

By George Le Masurier

There are more than 100 trillion mosquitoes cruising around the planet, including swarm annoying folks who live around the Black Creek salt marsh, and all of them are looking to suck your blood.

This week, some residents around Miracle Beach and the salt marsh, told CBC News they were “prisoners in their own homes” and that it was “like an apocalypse.”

One woman said, “We also have cancer-causing [mosquito repellant] that we’re spraying on our children in mass quantities,” she said.

Decafnation isn’t convinced of the wisdom of that, but after reading author Timothy C. Winegard’s description in a New York Times article of what a mosquito actually does, extreme measures don’t seem out of line.

“She gently lands on your ankle and inserts two serrated mandible cutting blades and saws into your skin, while two other retractors open a passage for the proboscis. With this straw she sucks your blood, while a sixth needle pumps in saliva that contains an anticoagulant that prevents blood from clotting. This shortens her feeding time, lessening the likelihood that you splat her across your ankle.”


If you’re lucky, all the mosquito leaves behind is an itchy bump. If you’re not, the little bugger could have infected you with malaria, West Nile, Zika, dengue or Yellow Fever, and you could be dead. Winegard says mosquitoes kill 700,000 people every year and may have killed half of the 108 billion humans who have ever lived.

The Miracle Beach folks are getting a taste of mosquito nastiness that refugees from eastern Canada have endured for centuries.

One of the great things about living on the west coast has always been the absence of insects, especially the blood-sucking kind. But changing climate conditions have encouraged mosquitoes — and probably other species as well — to seek out the O blood types (their favorite) of Canadians chillin’ on the coast.

Welcome to our new reality.

When Comox Valley kids return to classrooms in September, schools are supposed to know who has been immunized and who hasn’t. The province’s new Vaccination Status Reporting Regulation went into effect July 1.

Under the new immunization registry requirements, all parents and guardians must submit their children’s vaccination records before they can enter public schools.

Recent outbreaks of measles in BC should remind us that deadly viruses never completely disappear.

Measles was declared eradicated in 2000. But there has been increasing numbers of confirmed cases recently. The resurgence of a disease that not long ago was killing nearly half a million people annually around the world, stresses the importance to remain vigilant about vaccinations.

In particular, parents must continue to immunize their children.

Health experts estimate that immunizations have prevented more than 103 million cases of contagious diseases in the last 100 years. Vaccines eliminated smallpox, which killed more than 500 million people. Before the whooping cough vaccine was created in 1940, more than 10,000 people were dying every year from the disease in North America.
Parents who don’t immunize their children are gambling on more than their own child’s risk of contracting highly communicable diseases. They are putting others at risk, too, including children medically ineligible for immunization and cancer patients on chemotherapy.

Mike Fournier, a former Fifth Street sports shop owner and one of the driving forces behind the original Comox Valley Search and Rescue team, has contacted Decafnation with an update on the mysterious disappearance of a hiker in Strathcona Park back in 1977. Two weeks ago, we posted a story about that strange occurrence of events and said that the hiker, Duane Bressler, was never found.

But it turns out we didn’t look deep enough into the old Comox District Free Press archives. Fournier contacted us to say the Bressler’s body was eventually found, more than a year after he disappeared. Some hikers in the area of Mt. Septimus and Green Lake provided a tip that led the SAR team to the steep cliffs between Price Creek and Green Lake.

You can read the story here.




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More Commentary | News
Major shift for Courtenay key planning documents; transportation up next

Major shift for Courtenay key planning documents; transportation up next

George Le Masurier photos

By George Le Masurier

There comes a time in the life-span of cities when the need for change builds to an undeniable imperative. This often occurs after a prolonged period of growth that has exposed outdated planning documents and revealed policies that favored sprawl over density and the status quo over bold new visions.

Acknowledging this imbalance means rethinking what it means to plan a livable, sustainable and socially-just city.

It’s arguable whether the City of Courtenay’s decade-plus growth spurt is over or continuing. But there is no doubt that the new city council and municipal staff intend to take on the difficult role of change agents.

Over the next two years, the city has no less than nine major plans under review.

Earlier this year, councillors approved two first-time initiatives, a Cycling Network Plan and an Urban Forest Strategy. In September, they will make final adjustments to the city’s draft Transportation Master Plan, which began development in the fall of 2017.

Ryan O’Grady

The city’s engineering group is also currently working on an Integrated Rainwater Management Plan. They have partnered with the University of Waterloo and consultants Urban Systems to create Courtenay-specific climate-resilient design parameters for sea-level rise projections.

Also coming: an update to the city’s 1980s-vintage Subdivision and Development Servicing Bylaw, continuing work on Municipal Natural Assets Management policies and Parks and Recreation Master Plan that should also go to City Council for adoption this fall.

All of these new, revised or updated planning documents will feed into and shape a major update to the Big Kahuna of municipal planning: Courtenay’s 15-year-old Official Community Plan. Staff began work on that project this week.

Ryan O’Grady, the city’s director of engineering services, told Decafnation that the timing for all of these projects couldn’t be better.

“The goal of these plans is to represent the progressive shifts which have been evident in the City of Courtenay, and throughout the Comox Valley, O’Grady told Decafnation. “Leveraging the expertise of our stakeholders, while facilitating regional collaboration, is a priority for the Engineering Services group. This is something we are striving to achieve in all of our initiatives, ranging from this transportation work to our climate change adaptation and infrastructure resiliency work. Considering innovative alternatives in parallel with the traditional approach of conventional engineered infrastructure is an exciting transition, and one which aligns with Council’s Strategic Priorities.”

Next up: Transportation

The next major planning document City Council will review and update is the Transportation Master Plan. It was last updated in 2014.

The new plan takes a different perspective toward addressing Courtenay traffic issues than previous plans. It focuses more heavily on providing a wide range of alternatives to moving around the community in private vehicles. And it imagines everything from electric to autonomous vehicles.

Courtenay Councillor David Frisch said he’s “excited” to see Courtenay residents supporting multimodal transportation methods, like walking and cycling, mobility scooters and transit.

“I believe this is in step with peoples commitments to healthier living, environmental stewardship, and strong economic growth… All of which are supported by multimodal transportation,” he told Decafnation.

But one thing you will not find in the new draft transportation plan is a recommendation for a third crossing of the Courtenay River.

A previous iteration of the transportation plan released last spring showed a third crossing cutting through the Courtenay Airpark at 21st Street and landing in Hollyhock Marsh, a protected part of the estuary and integral to Project Watershed’s Kus-kus-sum restoration.

That caused a public uproar on several fronts prior to last fall’s municipal elections. The previous City Council responded by directing staff and its transportation consultants, Urban Systems, not to consider a third crossing in future versions of the plan.

What you will find in the new draft plan are several keywords that signal a philosophical shift in transportation planning. These are terms — active transportation, multi-modal, connectivity, accessibility and sustainability — that have become synonymous with the world’s most livable cities.

Even the name of the plan, Connecting Courtenay, suggests a focus that goes beyond roads, stop lights and intersections.

The draft plan embraces these concepts with a shift in priorities toward active transportation — walking and cycling — and toward multi-modal forms of transportation — bike and car sharing, transit and electric vehicles.

“An important aspect of the TMP (Transportation Master Plan) is the recognition that we cannot move people around effectively and efficiently without providing better facilities for pedestrians and cyclists while addressing increased vehicle traffic,” Councillor Melanie McCollum told Decafnation. “The TMP identifies where investments need to be made in the medium and long term to move toward the target of 30 percent sustainable travel modes.”

McCollum said the sustainable travel modes target is approximately double the current figure in Courtenay.

Councillor Wendy Morin says that rather than adding another expensive bridge in the near future, the city must look at other ways to mitigate traffic.

“I’d like to see us focusing on multi-modal infrastructure and promoting pedestrian-friendly corridors in the downtown core, and connecting neighbourhoods,” she told Decafnation. “I’ve received feedback that folks would use less vehicle transportation in downtown and peripheral areas if safety concerns were addressed.”

Morin is advocating for a Sixth Street pedestrian bridge with access for cyclists, but with a focus on pedestrians.

“I’d like to see these pedestrian routes link into trail and park systems as well as connect with river-way access,” she said.

The draft plan is based on a 20-year vision. It includes individual plans for walking, cycling, transit infrastructure, emerging technologies and new mobility issues.

Saving tax dollars

One of the most significant philosophical shifts in the draft transportation plan recognizes that spending more now on less expensive alternate modes of transportation could defer and even eliminate spending on pricier infrastructure.

“Major infrastructure … may be deferred if investments in non-automobile modes of transportation and changes in land use patterns are successful in limiting vehicle volume growth,” the plan states.

The draft plan projects a cost of $145.7 million over a 20- to 25-year implementation period, and almost three-quarters of that total will be spent on streets. New and widened major corridors and connections will cost $94.2 million and and $13.3 million on other roadway projects.

Councillor David Frisch advocates for improved cycling options within the City of Courtenay

While the plan includes major projects for walking, cycling, transit and emerging technologies, they add up to only 26 percent of the total estimated cost, while a few small projects involving streets consume 73.8 percent.

These numbers may change in the final document to City Council. Staff and consultants are considering community input received during the draft review process that could affect the total cost estimate and individual project allocations.

Councillor David Frisch says that points out the value of investing in alternate methods of moving people around the community.

“It is also encouraging to see how affordable pedestrian and cycling infrastructure is compared to infrastructure for car travel,” Frisch told Decafnation. “It is worth noting that the 25-year infrastructure costs for people to walk and ride bikes or scooters is $10M & $24M compared to $100M for people to travel more by car.

“By encouraging our generation to shift to healthier modes of travel, we are saving taxpayers millions of dollars on infrastructure projects, health care costs, and environmental costs … it’s a win-win-win scenario!” he said.


Schools and transportation

The plan reports that 83 percent of commute trips to work or school are made by private vehicle.

Councillor Will Cole-Hamilton notes that all of the Comox Valley’s secondary schools are located on the east side of the river, and that the data shows peak congestion on the 17th Street bridge occurs around the time schools finish for the day.

“Focusing on student needs — sidewalks to schools, making cycling to schools safer, lobbying to coordinate transit routes and times to match school bell times– would not only provide our youth with more safe and healthy options each day, but also help to reduce congestion on our roads and bridges,” he told Decafnation.

Cole-Hamilton hopes the city would work with School District 71 to restart the Safer to Schools program, which promoted walking and cycling among school-aged children.

Earlier this summer, former school trustee Cliff Boldt proposed a local area plan for west Courtenay that included locating a secondary school there. It’s a topic that might arise during revisions to the city’s Official Community Plan.


Cycling Network Plan

Although City Council approved a separate Cycling Network Plan in February, it is being incorporated and will be reviewed as part of the Master Transportation Plan. It got out ahead of the larger plan to take advantage of funding opportunities.

O’Grady said grants for urban cycling projects appeared in late 2018 that required a cycling plan for eligibility. The Comox Valley Cycling Coalition helped the city create a cycling plan that council approved by the grant application deadline.

The city received $228,000 for two cycling projects to construct north-south bicycle lanes on both the west side (Fitzgerald Avenue) and the east side (Hobson Connector).


Asset Management

This draft transportation plan takes on a “realistic” 20-year time frame, according to O’Grady. The future beyond that is too uncertain he said, considering today’s fast-moving technologies toward driverless cars and even visions of car-free urban centers.

During that time period, the plan advises the city to factor in multi-modal transportation designs into every future infrastructure project.

Aligning transportation plan objectives with utility and other projects constitutes better municipal asset management, and ensures more sustainable delivery of city services.

“It’s a holistic approach,” O’Grady said.


Official Community Plan

A municipality’s OCP is a long-term visionary document that guides the city’s land uses, establishes growth nodes and determines zoning. For the city, it’s a document comparable to the Comox Valley Regional District’s Regional Growth Strategy.

Having updated existing planning documents and completed new ones will help the public, city staff and elected officials shape a revised OCP over the next couple of years. The last meaningful update of the city’s OCP was done in 2005, although there have been several subsequent amendents.

Lisa Butler, Courtenay’s manager of engineering strategy, emphasized the importance and interrelationship of the OCP to other planning documents.

“Population growth projections used to inform traffic modeling in the draft 2019 transportation plan came from the current OCP,” she said. “With all of these plans coming together, it’s an exciting time for the city.”


What’s next

O’Grady said staff will present the draft Transportation Master Plan to a committee of the whole meeting of City Council on Sept. 30.









“With population expected to grow by approximately 60 percent over the next 20 years, Courtenay residents want to shift travel choices toward more sustainable modes through land use plans and investments in non-automobile travel modes.”

— From Connecting Courtenay, the city’s draft Transportation Master Plan



Courtenay used the same consulting firm, Urban Systems, employed by the BC government to develop the recently released 577-page provincial Active Transportation Guidelines that will apply to all jurisdictions and the BC Ministry of Transportation. Ryan O’Grady, Courtenay’s director of engineering services, said using the same firm has helped ensure the city’s transportation plan meets the new provincial guidelines.



You will find an entire section on emerging transportation technologies in the city’s new transportation plan, such as autonomous and electric vehicles. And it’s interesting to note that while electric vehicles provide an environmental benefit (no greenhouse gas emissions), they don’t solve or even reduce traffic issues. Regardless of its power source, a vehicle on the road adds to traffic issues.



The city’s draft transportation plan sets a traget of 10 percent of all trips made on bicycle by 2020. That’s up from 4 percent today, but far below world best practices.

In the Netherlands, 27 percent of all trips are made by bicycle, including 25 percent of commute trips to work. In Denmark, 18 percent of all trips are made by bike.



More than 115 people responded to a five-week public consultation blitz over the summer.



Courtenay’s Subdivision and Development Servicing Bylaw was updated in the spring of 2018, but additional updates will follow based on input from the forthcoming Integrated Rainwater Management Plan




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Cumberland workshop steals the spotlight from bullies

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