The Week: Does the Comox Valley need a regional park service … and quickly?

The Week: Does the Comox Valley need a regional park service … and quickly?

Low-lying fog on the Puntledge River seen from the popular Bevan Swing swimming area  |  George Le Masurier photo

The Week: Does the Comox Valley need a regional park service … and quickly?

By George Le Masurier

This week we’re talking about regional parks and zeroing in on what 3L Developments Inc. actually paid for their Puntledge Triangle land. We’re being curious about an interesting twist in the school trustee by-election on Saturday and a missed opportunity for the Town of Comox. And what happened to Ronna-Rae Leonard?

Meanwhile, it’s opening weekend up at Mt. Washington.

 

Does the Comox Valley need a regional parks service? Given all the recent attention to popular recreation areas along both sides of the Puntledge River, it seems that we do. And it’s probably inevitable.

We reported this week on a new society that hopes to save the Bevan Trails area from imminent logging by Hancock Forest Management. There’s also a public interest in preserving the current state of the Puntledge Triangle and its access to Stotan Falls.

These two areas — both located in Electoral Area C — certainly warrant public acquisition. The Puntledge River runs through the heart of the Comox Valley and we already have several parks along the river’s lower reaches.

But here’s the problem: There is no Comox Valley regional park service. So it’s currently up to rural taxpayers to fund the purchase of any land for parks in Electoral Areas A, B or C. Because the three Comox Valley municipalities do not contribute to the rural parks fund, its funds are limited.

Other regional districts on the Island have regional park services. For example, consider this language from the Regional District of Nanaimo:

“A regional park function was established in the RDN in 1989. In 1995, the Regional Board adopted a Parks System Plan to guide the development of Regional Parks. The vision back then was of a park system that “secures, protects and stewards lands within the Region that maintain livability, provide environmental and natural resource protection and accommodate outdoor recreational pursuits”.

“Then, in 1998, the Board approved a plan for acquiring up to nine regional park sites over the next seven years. The sites were intended to serve a variety of outdoor activities, and protect a range of habitats and natural features.”

A regional park function makes sense for us, too. And we might already have one.

Area C Director Edwin Grieve believes the Comox Valley Regional District has an inactive regional park service bylaw. He told Decafnation this week that regional directors adopted a bylaw in the 1990s but it lapsed because they couldn’t decide which projects to fund. The bylaw could be re-activated because the regional board has never rescinded it.

Regional district staff plan to present a report on this topic at the board’s Dec. 15 meeting.

It’s fair to say that those people living in the densest and highest populated areas of our community are just as likely — some would argue more likely — to use parks and other recreational sites in our rural areas. Shouldn’t they contribute to the purchase and maintenance of regional parks?

Of course, this is going to spark a whole new community conversation. But it’s one we must have if we’re going to consider preserving large areas like the Puntledge Triangle or Bevan Trails.

Is it possible for local governments to make all of this happen in time to preserve either of the areas currently on the chopping block? Stay tuned.

 

Speaking of 3L Developments Inc., In last week’s commentary, we speculated that the company had paid around $1.5 million for the four parcels comprising their proposed Riverwood subdivision. We were wrong.

According to new information from two separate sources, tax records show the company paid almost $3.7 million. The sales mostly occurred in 2006. One of the parcels shows a sale as late as 2012 but that could be the result of an internal transfer of titles, according to one source.

BC Assessment records show the properties were valued for tax purposes at $4.646 million in 2019 and at $4.222 million in 2020, a drop of $424,000.

 

There’s an interesting twist to Dec. 12’s general voting in the Area C school trustee by-election.

When voters go to the polls on Saturday, Dec. 12 they might not recognize the name of one candidate: Cristi May.

Cristi May-Sacht is definitely among the six candidates seeking election. But not Cristi May.

According to our source, May-Sacht was told her name was too long to fit on the physical ballot so it was shortened. That’s a curious decision.

What happens if May-Sacht falls just a few votes short of winning? Could she demand a new election with her proper name on the ballot?

 

The Town of Comox has missed an excellent opportunity to resolve their Mack Laing Trust problem; specifically, what to do with the famous ornithologist’s heritage home, called Shakesides.

The BC Government has set aside $90 million to provide fully-funded $1 million grants for local government projects that support economic resilience during the pandemic. The idea is to create immediate job opportunities for those negatively impacted by COVID public health orders. Eligible projects have to begin by the end of next year and complete within two years.

The government specified four key categories of shovel-ready projects that would qualify. One of those is Unique Heritage Infrastructure.

Restoring Shakesides in accordance with the Laing Trust agreement would have surely qualified. There’s already a comprehensive business plan for the project and more than 30 volunteer skilled craftspeople and businesses, including Lacasse Construction, are ready to go.

But the only application submitted by the town was to construct a new marine services building on the waterfront.

The town needs to deal with its failure to resolve this outstanding issue. Two years ago, the Town Council couldn’t get back to the BC Supreme Court fast enough for a ruling on their petition to vary the trust agreement and demolish Shakesides. Now they’re doing nothing.

Why? Probably because a few early Supreme Court orders went against them. A Justice ruled that the Mack Laing Heritage Society could participate in the court hearings and present their mountain of evidence, some of which looks very bad for the town.

So, after spending nearly $300,000 of your tax money on legal fees, the town realized there was a high probability the court would deny their application. The court could also order an independent financial audit of how the town handled the financial aspects of the Mack Laing Trust agreement.

No surprise then that the Town Council is avoiding a trip back to court.

That’s what makes this missed opportunity so sad. A $1 million grant from the province to fund a Shakesides restoration project along with the Heritage Society’s volunteers might have made this 38-year-old lingering problem go away. And it could have healed a few community wounds.

 

Courtenay-Comox voters might have noticed an interesting change in Premier John Horgan’s new government. Absent from the list is MLA Ronna-Rae Leonard.

She lost her position as the government’s Parliamentary Secretary for Seniors’ Services and Long-Term Care to Mable Elmore, an 11-year MLA for Vancouver-Kensington. No reason was given for the change.

This article was updated to correct the general voting date to Saturday, Dec. 12.

 

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New Comox Valley society hopes to preserve Bevan Trails forest along Puntledge River

New Comox Valley society hopes to preserve Bevan Trails forest along Puntledge River

Jen Alton and Graham Hilliar at the Bevan Swing area of the 7.5 hectares slated to be logged along the Puntledge River  |  George Le Masurier photos

New Comox Valley society hopes to preserve Bevan Trails forest along Puntledge River

By George Le Masurier

Comox Valley friends Jen Alton and Graham Hilliar grew up hiking and swimming in what they knew as the Bevan Trails.

They, along with many other residents, thought of the trails and swimming holes that follow both sides of the river from BC Hydro’s Comox Lake Dam down to its Diversion Dam as a park.

After all, the whole area was well maintained and even had park-like directional markers and a large “you are here” sign and map at the trailhead.

BC Hydro has maintained the recreation area with directional signs

So it was a shock for them to learn recently that the area is not a park. In fact, although BC Hydro holds title to the property, it does not own the rights to the timber that grows there.

The big 100-year-old cedar and fir tree forests that line the Puntledge River, shading wetlands and providing refuge for wildlife, belong to Hancock Forest Management, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Hancock Timber Resource Group, a multinational company.

And Hancock has plans to log the area as soon as possible.

The two friends and newcomer Devin Burton hope to prevent that. They have formed the Puntledge River Forest Protection Society to raise awareness about the pending logging operation and to encourage the Comox Valley Regional District, the province and BC Hydro to work with Hancock to preserve the area.

“We don’t think many local people know that even though BC Hydro has maintained it like a park, it’s not a park,” Alton told Decafnation on a tour of the property this week.

“So we’ve kind of kicked the hornets’ nest,” she said.

The new society started a petition on Change.org that already has more than 4,100 signatures and they have created a Facebook page. The trio has also officially joined the Comox Valley Conservation Partnership to inform and learn from their like-minded stewardship peers.

More importantly, the society has talked with Hanock’s local representatives, who agreed to continue to have internal discussions about their plan to harvest logs from about 7.5 hectares of the property that includes the popular swimming area known as the Bevan Swing.

And while Hancock wouldn’t commit to cancelling or even delaying their harvest plans, they did commit to having another discussion with the society in the near future.

But Hancock doesn’t want to wait long. Had the group not spoken up, the area might have already been logged.

Hancock acquired the property in 1995 from other private owners and in 2016 logged a portion of the property furthest away from the river and the trails. The area they plan to log next impacts the core of the recreation area.

Hilliar says Hancock has told the group they would be amenable to selling the timber rights.

“This important wildlife corridor and popular recreational area is worth protecting,” said Hilliar. “We are informing the community of the planned logging within the Bevan Trails network and encouraging local and provincial governments along with bc hydro to come up with a solution to protect this area.”

The trailhead map, where the society has added a “NOTICE” informing users of the intent to harvest logs from the property

SOCIETY HAS POLITICAL SUPPORT

Courtenay Councillor Doug Hillian recently raised the issue during an unrelated BC Hydro presentation to the regional district board, of which he is also a director.

“I am a user of the trails and appreciate the recreational and environmental values,” he told Decafnation this week. “While I also recognize the dilemma of trying to protect all the special places in the Valley given our limited resources.”

And other regional directors have expressed support for the group’s goals.

Electoral Area A Director Daniel Arbour said that while provincial Riparian Area Regulations protect the core of our rivers and waterways, preserving wider buffers and natural corridors for recreational opportunities is a long-standing regional priority.

“Rivers such as the Trent, Puntledge, Tsable, Tsolum, Oyster, and many others still offer opportunities to invest for the long term,” he said. “Partnerships such as the recent investment in Perseverance Creek and Kus-kus-sum exemplify how good outcomes can be achieved. For the Bevan area, growing the partnership with BC Hydro and Hancock would appear promising.”

Tim Ennis, the executive director of the Comox Valley Lands Trust (CVLT) and project manager for the Kus-kus-sum restoration project, thinks the Puntledge River Forest project is a worthy one.

“The CVLT, like most people in the Valley, were taken by surprise when we learned that BC Hydro did not own the trees,” he told Decafnation. “I think we all agreed that BC Hydro’s excellent management of the land from what seems like a park perspective, meant that it was protected notwithstanding the obvious use for hydroelectric generation.”

Ennis added that the CV Lands Trust recognizes that there are “very high conservation values” on the land that is “certainly worthy of protection in perpetuity.”

“These stand in addition to recreational and presumably heritage values,” he said.

Area C Director Edwin Grieve said the acquisition of land or timber rights is made difficult because the whole Puntledge corridor until it gets to the City of Courtenay, is in Area C.

“The Electoral Area-only parks function does not receive any contribution from the municipalities and as such has limited funds,” he told Decafnation via email on Dec. 3. “There is some appetite now at the CVRD to explore a region-wide park acquisition service much like they have in RDN, Cowichan RD and Capital RD. Other jurisdictions have been very successful in acquiring and developing parks and greenways. The “rails with trails” projects along the E&N right of way, for example, would not be possible without the economies of scale a broader service brings.”

Graham Hilliar estimates that many of the trees on the property are nearly 100 years old

A UNIQUE CASE

How the timber rights got separated from the land title represents a unique situation that dates back more than a century to Cumberland’s coal mining origins.

One of the conditions for the then-colony of Vancouver Island to join the Canadian Dominion was to build a railroad, the current technology of the times for moving goods and people.

James Dunsmuir agreed to build a railroad from Victoria to Campbell River (the last leg was never finished) and took the Island’s east coast coal-rich lands as payment. Dunsmuir then built the Comox Dam to generate electricity for his mining operations.

Eventually, the mine sold the dam to a predecessor of BC Hydro but retained the mineral and timber rights. Since then, resource rights have been sold and resold to a number of private companies.

BC Hydro’s website adds to the historical record.

“In 1912 Canadian Collieries (Dunsmuir) Ltd. developed the hydroelectric potential of Comox Lake and the Puntledge River to provide electricity for the operation of its coal mines in the Cumberland area.

“The BC Power Commission, BC Hydro’s predecessor, acquired the Puntledge hydroelectric development in 1953. By 1955 the company had rebuilt the diversion dam, penstocks and powerhouse to quadruple the systems electrical output to the local community. Additional improvements included upgrading the dam in 1982.

“Following the expansion of the Puntledge hydroelectric system in the 1950s, BC Hydro, in partnership with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, initiated several fish enhancements on the Puntledge River. Today, 98 per cent of the young salmon pass the diversion dam safely.”

 

BC HYDRO’S MANAGEMENT

The Crown Corporation of BC Hydro has maintained and improved the land along the Puntledge River as a prime recreation area for hikers, bikers and swimmers. It manages similar recreation areas at the John Hart Dam and the Strathcona Dam among others.

On its website, BC Hydro describes the recreation area.

“The Puntledge River corridor has trails to suit everyone. There are several trail loops to follow, depending on your time and fitness level. If you are not a frequent hiker or mountain biker, you should increase the time estimates we have provided.

“The hiking trails on BC Hydro property were constructed to be accessible for sport wheelchairs. For safety reasons and to limit damage, some trails are closed to mountain bikes and horses.

“Please observe trail rules. BC Hydro’s trails were built to connect with the network within Comox-Strathcona Regional District’s Nymph Falls Nature Park.

Hancock plans to harvest logs in the area circled on this map

WHAT’S NEXT

The Puntledge River Forest Protection Society plans to make a presentation at either a meeting of the Comox Valley Regional District board or at the Electoral Areas Services Commission.

They are also hoping to get a purchase price estimate from Hancock Forest Management to help local and provincial governments to assess the priority of preserving the Bevan Trails area.

In the meantime, they are waiting for responses from MLA Ronna-Rae Leonard and MP Gordon Johns to their pleas for support.

And they are encouraging people to sign their petition here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SHORT HISTORY OF THE BEVAN TOWNSITE AREA

 

The following article is from Robin L.A. Shaw’s website that features many short histories of the Comox Valley.

 

Bevan Townsite is the ruins of a coal mining community. Bevan, and the areas around it, like Cumberland, were once the site of a huge coal mining operation.

It had eight different mine shafts in the area and #7 shaft here in Bevan in 1902. Its workers consisted of Black, Chinese, Japanese and White men and boys. It was very racially discriminating and it is known for a large amount of mining deaths. No. 7 mine closed in 1921. Other mines in the area operated from around that time until the 1950`s.

They began building houses in about 1911 and the small town grew quickly. It consisted of a post office, a store, a large hotel and over 100 homes. Some of the houses that used to be here actually got brought into Cumberland and the surrounding area. Many are still around to this day.

The town was here until about the 1950’s when the mines stopped operating. Then, when everything was closed, and the houses were gone, they turned the hotel into a home for mentally-challenged adults, until the 1980, when that too, was closed. Now the area is the site of Lake Trail Guest House, which is like a Bread and Breakfast.

There is a lot to see along its many trails. There is a nice portion of river that has beautiful clear water, perfect for swimming. With small bridges along the path that make it a lovely walk. They even have a horse hitch for you riders.

Along the trails you will find many cement foundations, bricks, and I even found a chimney once. You have the chance to stumble upon old glass bottles, coins and many other things left behind from when this was a small town. At one point I found a hole that goes right underground and into one of these buildings, it was a little creepy in there. (Update…its boarded up). It was very dark and smelled like rotting wood. Good for a day hike or a short walk.

 

 

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School trustee candidates for Dec. 12 Area C by-election speak at digital forum

School trustee candidates for Dec. 12 Area C by-election speak at digital forum

The 2020 COVID virus pandemic played a role in the Area C school trustee candidates forum  |  Image from the Comox Valley Schools Facebook page

School trustee candidates for Dec. 12 Area C by-election speak at digital forum

By George Le Masurier

In the Comox Valley’s first digital-only local government election forum last night, six Electoral Area C candidates made their pitch for the Dec. 12 District 71 trustee by-election.

The six candidates — Randi Baldwin, Kandice Bielert, Monica Parkin, Terence Purden, Cristi May-Sacht and Rob Thompson — answered questions about accountability, the district’s Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity program, how schools should handle the stress and mental concerns caused by the pandemic and how they would handle public criticisms of board decisions.

Jenn Fisher and Brooke Finlayson, members of the District Parent Advisory Council, organized the forum in response to requests from Area C parents. Fisher, the DPAC secretary, introduced the forum and Finlayson, DPAC vice-chair, asked questions submitted by parents.

In a statement to Decafnation after the forum, District 71 School Board Chair Sheila McDonnell thanked the DPAC organizers and all the candidates for showing such interest in education.

“We are pleased to have this interest in School District 71 and encourage eligible residents of Area C to get out to vote,” she said. “We look forward to having a successful candidate join us in working to support student success in the Valley.”

Finlayson told Decafnation that the forum’s questions were submitted by parents, community, and partner groups to help voters in their decision making.

“DPAC’s mandate is to provide opportunities for parent education, and although it is not only parents who vote, all community members have a vested interest in education,” she said. “We appreciate the candidate’s willingness to participate and to answer the questions asked of them. We have received positive feedback that last night’s forum was helpful.”

 

THE QUESTIONS

As it has for most of 2020, the COVID pandemic shaded most of the candidates’ opening statements and it returned repeatedly in their response throughout the evening.

And while candidates expressed differences in style, there were few clear disagreements over district policies.

The exception came when the candidates were asked for their opinions on the district’s Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity program (SOGI), which is a provincially mandated part of the curriculum.

Purden said the SOGI policy was “written for lawyers.” And Thompson said he doesn’t support “100 percent of 100 percent of the policy,” but added that would also be true of any particular program.

Baldwin and Bielert noted that the SOGI program is part of the Ministry of Education’s curriculum, so they support it. They also would monitor feedback from students and teachers, to see how it’s working, whether it’s effective and if everyone is comfortable.

Parkin said there’s “always room for change” and that “how we treat one person should be how we treat everyone.” She said the program is mandated so the district is obligated to support it. “We should leave our biases aside,” she said.

May-Sacht said she’s “thankful the program is finally here” because people naturally “fear the unknown.” She supported “educating parents and students with dignity and respect.”

 

OTHER QUESTIONS

On the question of trustee accountability, most candidates emphasized the importance of listening carefully to constituents and teachers and share that feedback with the full board.

Parkin equated accountability with integrity and honesty. May-Sacht said accountability meant taking responsibility for your actions and doing what you say you will do.

Baldwin said trustees are accountable to everyone in the chain, from students to the Education Minister.

Bielert said it meant not just giving lip service to parents and PACs.

Thompson said it requires trustees to stay up-to-date all the time and to speak with great intent.

On the question of how to ensure Area C parents stay engaged with schools, all of the candidates’ responses revolved around communication.

Baldwin the keys to parental engagement was communication, listening and attending PAC meetings.

Bielert said the needs and concerns of parents on issues like SOGI and bullying should have a larger voice at the board to validate them.

Parkin said she would address issues unique to Area C, such as busing and the age of schools in the area. Parents need to be heard on those issues and trustees should be tuned into them. They should be as visible and available as possible.

May-Scaht said the trustees should participate in the schools’ PACs and engage parents differently, using Zoom and social media.

On the question of how they would handle conflicts with the public when they think a board decision is unfair, the candidates expressed different approaches but generally agreed that more careful listening was needed.

Thompson referred to his long history as an educator at the secondary and post-secondary levels and of his experience in handling corners. He said the objective is always to find a consensus where everyone can operate safely.

Parkin said she would endeavor to find the roots of a complaint. Before responding to a parent, she would go back and ask more questions to get to the deeper reasons for their concerns.

May-Sacht said the trustee is just one person that is part of a larger team. And they may not be able to change a board decision, but she would allow people to vent, and answer them honestly, getting more information when necessary.

Purden said he would listen carefully.

Baldwin would respectfully listen and take the feedback to the board, but said that a trustee can’t change a board decision.

Bielert would listen to hear if the person felt they were part of a process. She said board decisions stand, but sometimes decisions need to be reviewed.

On the question of how to ease the stress and possible mental health concerns during these disruptive times, the candidates had a variety of suggestions.

May-Sacht suggested opening lines of communication and focusing on what everyone can do, such as share love and encourage positivity at home. She urged people to be physically active.

Purden said the board should keep people up to date so there’s no confusion or fear.

Baldwin focused on communication and the importance of trustees leading by example. Fear is the problem, she said, because it makes it hard to function, but it can be alleviated with information.

Bielert said trustees can be supportive and positive and ensure safety measures in the schools.

Thompson returned to the listening theme. He said it demonstrates the intent to trust and encourages trust. He suggested the concept of appreciative enquiry, or looking for the right things and to always circle back with people.

Parkin said her first objective is to make sure everyone in the schools are physically and emotionally safe. And that they feel valued whoever they are at their core.

 

WHEN, WHERE TO VOTE

Advance voting begins tomorrow, Wednesday, Dec. 2, from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm at the Merville Hall, 1245 Fenwick Road, Merville. And it continues on Thursday, Dec.10, from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm at the School District Office, 607 Cumberland Road, Courtenay.

General Voting takes place on Saturday, Dec.12, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at NAVIGATE school, formerly called NIDES and prior to that, referred to as Tsolum School, 2505 Smith Road, Courtenay.

 

 

 

 

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BREAKING: Kus-kus-sum purchase funds complete, thanks to province

BREAKING: Kus-kus-sum purchase funds complete, thanks to province

Kus-kus-sum site in the foreground  |  Rick Wards photo courtesy of Project Watershed

BREAKING: Kus-kus-sum purchase funds complete, thanks to province

By George Le Masurier

Thanks to additional $650,000 grant from the BC Government announced today, the Kus-kus-sum project now has the funds to complete its purchase of the old Fields Sawmill property and begin restoration work.

“In fact, our final payment to Interfor … is now in the mail,” Tim Ennis, Project Watershed’s senior project manager told Decafnation today.

Today’s new funding complements the province’s 2019 commitment of $1 million to the Project Watershed Society’s plan to return the abandoned site into its original saltmarsh with side-channels and riparian habitats.

Ennis praised the BC government for its support of what he said is one of the most important salmon habitat restoration projects on the BC coast.

“This recent investment unlocks our ability to move forward with the transformation of an industrial site in the heart of one of B.C.’s most important estuaries back to natural saltmarsh and other habitats,” Ennis said in a news release today. “The benefits of this project will be felt for generations to come.”

But he also emphasized that today’s good news just completes the acquisition phase of the project.

Photo by Bonner Photography

“While we have now succeeded in raising the funds to secure title to the land … we need to keep our foot on the pedal with our fundraising efforts,” he said. “The costs of restoration of the land is another large component of the overall project cost.”

With the title of the land secured, Project Watershed can now refocus on raising funds for restoration. “Without the title, we didn’t really have a project,” he said.

 

PROJECT COMING TOGETHER

Last week, the K’omoks First Nations, Project Watershed and the City of Courtenay jointly approved a revised memorandum of understanding for co-managing the property. An official agreement will follow next year.

There are a number of details yet to be completed regarding the actual transfer of title from Interfor to KFN and the City. Ennis said each of the parties involved is working hard on those now.

“The MOU is an important part of that. I am hopeful that these will be concluded before the winter holiday season and that title transfer will happen in 2020,” he told Decafnation today. “But these details are very important and it is equally important to get them right.”

Ennis praised community support for the project and the “professionalism and vision” of the project team.

He also said Kus-kus-sum captured the attention of the province because “this project is in the right place at the right time and is being done for the right reasons.”

 

RECONCILIATION PROJECT

The project site is named Kus-kus-sum in recognition of the historic First Nation ancestral burial site once located in the area.

“Restoring the cultural and historically significant site of Kus-kus-sum is a vision K’omoks First Nation shares with Project Watershed and the City of Courtenay, and we appreciate the B.C. government for providing the additional bridge funding to aid in this restoration,” K’omoks First Nation Chief Nicole Rempel said.

Katrine Conroy, the BC Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development said the province is “committed to reconciliation” with KFN.

“Purchasing this site will support the restoration of an environmentally and culturally significant estuary to benefit the entire Courtenay-Comox community,” she said.

Ennis said Project Watershed will now look to the federal government for support.

“We are hopeful that the government of Canada will look at this success, and in consideration of their jurisdictional responsibilities to wild salmon, migratory birds, First Nations reconciliation, and international biodiversity conventions, be inspired to come to the table as partners with the local community, the K’omoks Nation, the City of Courtenay, Project Watershed and others,” he said. “Strong local community support for this project has been, and will continue to be a key ingredient in our recipe for success.”

 

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The Week: Strong CV women in charge.  What did 3L pay? Plus, CVEDS bungles, Comox raises

The Week: Strong CV women in charge. What did 3L pay? Plus, CVEDS bungles, Comox raises

“You realize that our mistrust of the future makes it hard to give up the past.” — Chuck Palahniuk, Survivor  |  George Le Masurier photo

The Week: Strong CV women in charge. What did 3L pay? Plus, CVEDS bungles, Comox raises

By George Le Masurier

This week we’re all about 3L Developments (again), more head-shaking activity from the CV Economic Development Society (again) and ditto (again) for the Comox Town Council.

But first, let’s congratulate Jesse Ketler and Arzeena Hamir on their re-election as chair and co-chair of the Comox Valley Regional District board. Two strong women at the helm. We’re in good hands.

And kudos to another strong woman who joined the CVRD board this week. Courtenay Councillor Melanie McCollum replaced David Frisch as one of the city’s four regional directors.

 

Decafnation has received information that back in 2007, 3L Developments Inc. might have paid somewhere around $1.5 million to purchase the four parcels of land totalling nearly 500 acres in what’s being called the Puntledge Triangle.

We have not verified that number, nor have we seen any official documents that list the 2007 sale price.

But for the last 13 years, the company has tried to persuade the regional district to abandon its Regional Growth Strategy and rezone the properties for a dense urban-style subdivision.

Those four parcels today have an assessed value of $4.222 million. We got those numbers directly from the BC Assessment website.

If the sale price is even close to accurate, then 3L has enjoyed a significant increase in value. Of course, it’s nothing near the profit the company would have realized if the regional district had approved a rezoning.

Did 3L ever really plan to develop the property itself? Or, was its end-plan only to get the parcels rezoned, which would have made the land much more valuable, and then flip the parcels to some other developer?

We’ll never know.

Instead, the debate now shifts to whether the regional district should attempt to purchase the property from 3L Developments. Buying the property for parkland and securing public access to Stotan Falls would certainly win popularity points with the general public. But taking on more parkland is expensive.

There’s no indication yet that regional directors have any interest in negotiating a purchase.

And who knows how they feel after hearing company spokesperson Rob Buchan’s sales pitch to them this week. Buchan said 3L prefers to sell the land to the regional district. But, if you don’t buy the property, he intimated the company would clear-cut the trees and turn the site into a gravel pit. We’ll turn your jewel into a blight.

Not exactly a feel-good proposition.

But the company is certainly entitled to do those things. And if their only interest is self-interest, then that’s probably what will happen.

 

Does the CV Economic Development Society need to fold its tent? Representatives of the three electoral areas, Courtenay, Comox and the regional district will start seeking an answer to that question on Jan. 19.

Regional directors had planned for the full board to assess the future of CVEDS over the next year. But the Comox Town Council decided unanimously to derail that plan and trigger a quicker statutory service review.

What’s the difference? First, a smaller group will negotiate whether there’s any common ground to save the 32-year-old society; and, second, if Comox doesn’t like the outcome of the review, then they can officially withdraw from the service.

Given the Economic Development Society’s recent missteps, the outcome may already be a foregone conclusion. The directors from Courtenay and Electoral Areas A and B are not happy. While the directors from Comox and Area C would preserve the society in its present form if they could. That’s a 3-2 straight-up vote.

And CVEDS has not helped its chances for survival recently. Consider that:

1) CVEDS staff planned a three-day seafood festival during the second pandemic wave in November without the knowledge of its own board of directors or the CVRD or the Comox Valley Regional District. The North Island Public Health department had to step in and when hoteliers got uncomfortable, the event was shut down.

Bringing in guests and featured chefs from the Lower Mainland and Ontario had the potential to create a COVID super-spreader event.

2) The society’s board of directors have not seen or approved any financial statements for 11 months. This not only contravenes the Societies Act, but it’s also an affront to Comox Valley taxpayers who fund the organization.

3) The society has not held an Annual General Meeting for 17 months. Again, in conflict with the Societies Act.

4) CVEDS signed a new two-year contract with the regional district in late July, and then quickly forgot most of it. The society is already in contravention of the agreement and has missed several contractual deadlines.

And then there’s this:

5) On March 12, the local hotels and assorted other accommodation facilities that voluntarily contribute funds to the Municipal and Regional District Tax program (MRDT) — often called the “hotel tax” — decided at their annual budget meeting to help fund mountain biking in Cumberland.

The MRDT group voted to donate $10,000 per year for three years to support the United Riders of Cumberland (UROC) that maintains the biking trails in the Cumberland Forest and organizes events.

The hoteliers also agreed to donate an additional $5,000 per year for three years as prize money for those events to increase participation and potential overnight stays in the Valley.

But several months later, UROC hadn’t received any money. After Cumberland Mayor Leslie Baird phoned some of the hoteliers about the funds it was discovered that CVEDS staff had apparently and unilaterally decided to withdraw the donations.

This infuriated the hoteliers because, well, it’s their money and they get to decide how to spend it.

Does this sound like a well-run organization, one that deserves to continue receiving more than a million dollars a year of local taxpayers’ money?

If you have strong feelings about that one way or the other, you might want to let your representative in Comox, Courtenay or the three electoral areas know before Jan. 19.

 

Finally, this week, the Comox town councillors think they might be underpaid.

At its Nov. 18 meeting, the council voted to undertake a review of remuneration for the mayor and council. Keep in mind that one of the first things this council did after taking office in 2018 was to vote themselves a 14 percent pay increase.

We’re in the middle of a pandemic. People have lost jobs. Businesses have closed or lost significant profitability. If this second wave of COVID infections continues to surge, the province might impose even more negative economic impacts.

It’s possible this council might be tone-deaf.

But it is true that Comox council salaries are a little below the average of comparable municipalities. Of course, chasing the average just raises the average. You never get there. It’s like a dog chasing its tail.

That said, however, we have no argument with compensating elected officials fairly. The good ones put in long hours.

Maybe it’s just the optics that feel wrong about this. Comox councillors obviously want to raise their salaries early next year because municipal elections loom the following year. And from a political perspective, it’s better if voters forget about two wage hikes during one term in office before the polls open in 2022.

The citizens advisory group that will study and recommend whether Comox councillors deserve a second raise will comprise just three people, including one former councillor. We think a larger, more representative group of Comox taxpayers might be more objective.

And who will choose and appoint this (nudge, nudge, wink, wink) neutral group? Why the town’s chief administrative officer, of course, who is employed at the pleasure of the mayor and council.

 

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