The Week: We’re back but CV pathologists are gone — and, face mask deniers beware

The Week: We’re back but CV pathologists are gone — and, face mask deniers beware

Even young owls are wise enough to know the North Island is losing medical services  |  George Le Masurier photo

The Week: We’re back but CV pathologists are gone — and, face mask deniers beware

By George Le Masurier

If you start hearing complaints from people about how long their biopsy results have taken, don’t be surprised. Island Health finally got its wish and forced out Comox Valley general pathologists, Dr. Chris Bellamy and Dr. Wayne Dunn.

The pair of well-respected doctors resigned on Aug. 21, leaving the Comox Valley without any onsite pathologists. This means a serious degradation of health care services available locally.

Island Health is determined to remove medical services from the North Island and centralize them in Victoria. They took away onsite clinical pathology services from the Campbell River Hospital several years ago to the dismay of that community’s doctors and other health care professionals who have protested and demanded reinstatement.

The Comox Strathcona Regional Hospital Board has joined that fight. But pleas to the North Island MLAs for help have gone unanswered.

Watch for more on this story next week.

Congratulations — again — to the Cumberland Community Forest Society for completing their largest single land purchase. In early September, the CCFS closed the deal to preserve an additional 225 acres. This means more forested land that was threatened by logging interests can forever be enjoyed by hikers and mountain bikers. Future generations will look back on what the society has achieved with admiration for their foresight and perseverance.

It’s hard to take the criticism of Premier John Horgan’s Oct. 24 election call too seriously. Yes, there is a pandemic and there’s no vaccine or proven cure for the COVID virus on the horizon. There may never be either. However, British Columbians are carrying on their lives safely. The infection data shows it. The grocery stores are full. People are buying cars, motor homes, televisions and going in and out of all kinds of stores and coffee shops. Kids are back to school. So it shouldn’t be difficult to arrange safe polling stations. And listen, if people willingly waited in lines to enter Costco or buy a latte, they should be happy to do the same to vote.

Speaking of masks, why are so many people not wearing them? Most grocery shoppers we see wear masks. But at other stores, the percentage of non-maskers ranks significantly higher. True, some of these people might have forgotten their mask at home — seems like we need multiple masks these days, tucked away in our cars and coats — but what’s up with the other people who just don’t seem to care? We don’t promote or condone mask-shaming, but, sweet mercy, those people look like the fools.

The breaking news today that US President Trump and his wife have both tested positive for the virus feels like karmic destiny: what goes around, comes around. We hope for his speedy recovery, as we would for anyone with COVID. But isn’t it tempting to think maybe he should suffer a little? Trump has downplayed the virus while more than 200,000 of his constituents died and millions of other lives have been permanently altered, either directly through as yet unknown long-term medical complications or via the collapsed economy. Trump has refused to wear a mask and mocked his opponent, Joe Biden, for doing so. We shudder to imagine how he’s going to spin this irony on Twitter.

 

 

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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

No CV economic recovery plan yet, lack of destination marketing raises concerns

No CV economic recovery plan yet, lack of destination marketing raises concerns

Goose Spit at twilight: is this the calm before another pandemic storm?

No CV economic recovery plan yet, lack of destination marketing raises concerns

By George Le Masurier

Almost seven months ago, the BC government ordered a lockdown of all but essential businesses and asked residents to stay home in hopes of flattening the curve of new COVID-19 virus infections.

By the time in-province travel restrictions were eased in June as part of BC’s Restart Plan some Comox Valley businesses had permanently closed their doors. Some were already struggling and the loss of several months revenue had sealed their fate. Others simply saw future difficulties that they no longer had the enthusiasm to endure.

On April 9, just weeks after the initial lockdown, the Comox Valley Regional District initiated the formation of an ad hoc Economic Recovery Task Force (ERTF).

Five elected officials and representatives from K’omoks First Nation (KFN), CFB Comox and the Comox Valley Economic Development Society vowed to create business case action plans for each industry sector “to help the Comox Valley business community and sectors recover and adapt, during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.”

As of this week, the ERTF has not announced any action plans.

“We’re behind the eight-ball compared to some areas”

Courtenay Mayor Bob Wells, who co-chairs the ERTF with KFN Chief Nicole Rempel, told Decafnation that the task force’s major action to date has been to collect information and recommendations from each sector of the local business community via a short survey. The responses would then be used to create the business case action plans.

On Sept. 9, Wells said the information gathering from various business sectors hadn’t been completed and wouldn’t be for several more months.

“We’re behind the eight-ball compared to some areas,” he said. “But we’re still building this ship as it’s sailing.”

The delay has irked some hospitality-related business owners, such as Old House Hotel and Spa manager David Rooper. He had hoped there would be a PR and communication plan in place by now, complete with messaging on the Comox Valley’s efforts to support its key industries.

“Exactly what good is a report or action plan months from now, unless the pandemic accelerates,” Rooper told Decafnation.

 

A LACK OF COMMUNICATION

Other business sectors have echoed concerns about a lack of communication from the task force.

“It’s very puzzling,” said Comox Valley Airport Market Development Manager Erin Neely.

She was told a transportation sector task force was going to meet regularly, perhaps weekly. But the group met only once, and she hasn’t heard from the destination marketing arm of the Comox Valley Economic Development Society since the pandemic began.

“I don’t know how they’re going to do a recovery plan without any meetings,” she told Decafnation. “I’m confused.”

The tourism sector has similar concerns.

An April 9 mass email from the CVEDS office to the Comox Valley’s tourism sector, said the ERTF was “… establishing a new Tourism Response and Recovery Task Force to help guide the critical planning, supports and programs needed to assist our local tourism and hospitality sector.”

“The buck stops at the regional district …They oversee CVEDS.”

The email said the group would include anyone from the existing Destination Marketing Advisory Committee (DMAC) and “will likely” meet weekly or bi-weekly in the early stages.

But DMAC members say this group has never met, leaving hospitality businesses out of the loop and troubled by the lack of communication to stakeholders.

Electoral Area B Director Arzeena Hamir isn’t sure whether the tourism task force has had a meeting.

“I got an invitation (to a meeting) but when I got to the Zoom waiting room, they wouldn’t let me in,” she told Decafnation. “I’m not sure what happened there and nobody at CVEDS has returned my emails about it.”

Adding to its communication issues, the ERTF has so far refused to make the minutes of its meetings available to the public.

Task Force Co-Chair Wells released some minutes of ERTF meetings during an August presentation to the regional district board, but meeting agendas and minutes are not posted on the CVRD or CVEDS websites.

“I’m not sure how public that is,” Wells said, referring to the task force’s list of recommendations from individual businesses as well as minutes of its meetings.

 

WHERE’S THE MONEY?

Of greater concern to local tourism-dependent businesses, including the Comox Valley Airport, is the disappearance of the Destination Marketing Advisory Committee, which has not met since March 12.

This has meant no promotion to help area hotels and restaurants recover losses incurred during the initial three-month lockdown, even though the DMAC has industry and public funds in its coffers that are supposed to be spent on marketing the Comox Valley.

When BC Medical Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced a program for “Smart and Safe Travel” within the province in late June, other communities, such as Campbell River and Tofino, began actively promoting their regions.

The Comox Valley Record recently published advertising luring people to downtown Parksville.

But Comox Valley hotels and tourist destinations, such as Mt. Washington and Crown Isle, have been left to do their own marketing.

“It’s a conversation that needs to be had,”

To promote tourism in the Comox Valley, the Economic Development Society’s destination marketing committee receives about $300,000 annually, in a normal year, from the two percent Municipal Regional District Tax, commonly called the hotel tax.

CVEDS also collects about $200,000 in matching funds from Destination BC, and additional funding from provincial and federal governments for tourism marketing, as well as about $250,000 for marketing from the CVRD.

The Destination Marketing Advisory Committee plans advertising and communication plans with input from stakeholders, such as hotels and restaurants.

When the pandemic hit, the province said hospitality businesses that pay into the hotel tax could defer their contributions until Sept. 30, 2020, although the tax was not forgiven. They still had to collect and submit the full amount by the end of this month.

But marketing funds contributed by properties that did not defer their contributions were distributed as usual to the sanctioned Destination Marketing Office, which is Comox Valley Economic Development Society.

So the destination marketing division of CVEDS should have an additional sizable pool of new money in October. The province distributes hotel tax funds to marketing agencies during the third week of every month.

“So where’s the money?,” Rooper said. “What’s it being spent on? Why aren’t we spending it right now to market the Comox Valley?”

At the Comox Valley Airport, Neely said she would “love to see the shoulder season marketed.”

Crown Isle Resort General Manager Bill Kelly thinks the decision whether to spend money now to promote the off-season or to save it for a bigger push in 2021 should be made by the members of the DMAC.

“It’s a conversation that needs to be had,” he told Decafnation.

 

WHO’S IN CHARGE?

The last official Destination Marketing Advisory Committee meeting occurred on March 12, six days before the pandemic lockdown.

In an email response to a request for an interview in August, DMAC Chair Bill Anglin referred Decafnation to ERTF co-chairs Wells and Rempel.

“As far as the DMAC is concerned given the current situation with COVID-19, it has (to) be repurposed for the time being and its members have been supporting the mandate of the Economic Recovery Task Force,” Anglin wrote.

That was news to Wells who said the ERTF has nothing to do with destination marketing and that it has given no direction to the DMAC.

Comox Valley Regional District Board Chair Jesse Ketler, who is also a member of the ERTF, said the task force has no direct control over decisions made by the DMAC including what to do with past funds or whether to hold a meeting or not.

“That is not to say that we are not working together, as some of the hoteliers on DMAC are also part of the tourism industry subcommittee and we, ERTF steering committee, will help make industry decisions based on their recommendations in the near future,” she told Decafnation.

Businesses shouldn’t expect property tax forgiveness

Ketler believes the DMAC went into a temporary holding pattern when the province implemented its initial travel restrictions.

Anglin did not say who directed him to “repurpose” the DMAC or exactly what that means.

And he stopped responding to Decafnation when asked follow-up questions about how DMAC members were supporting the ERTF mandate and why the DMAC stopped meeting.

None of this makes sense to stakeholders on the DMAC. They say the DMAC was a functioning group and wonder why any economic recovery plan wouldn’t want it to continue marketing the Comox Valley as a destination for in-province travel?

Airport Development Manager Erin Neely is concerned about the money collected from Destination BC and other sources, including local accommodation businesses, prior to the pandemic.

“I don’t know where that stands, and there’s nobody to enquire with,” she told Decafnation. “But from a development perspective, I’d love to see the shoulder seasons marketed.”

Neely would normally work with Lara Greasly, who was CVEDS destination marketing officer before leaving for a job at the Town of Comox. As a backup, Neely would work with Tansy Pauls. But she has left, too, for a job at the Comox Valley Chamber of Commerce.

Without a functioning destination marketing office locally, Neely says she’s waiting for an update from the Economic Recovery Task Force.

“I think the buck stops at the regional district,” she said. “They oversee CVEDS.”

 

WHAT CAN THE ERTF DO?

CVRD Chair Jesse Ketler said the ERTF was formed in the spirit of putting directors diverse opinions on the future of the Comox Valley Economic Development Society aside and focusing on how to provide help for businesses and people.

“Eventually the handouts from provincial and federal governments will stop. Hopefully, before that time, we’ll know what is needed and we’ll have the direction from the industry-prepared reports of how to help people,” she said.

Wells said the ERTF has two roles. One is to advocate for Comox Valley businesses through letters to senior governments and via meetings with MPs and MLAs. The other is to follow up on the business case actions plans that are eventually coming.

“The ERTF doesn’t have any authority or power to enforce anything,” he said. “It will be up to the individual municipalities to do that, to change policy.”

But Wells did caution that there will be no forgiveness on property taxes because that comprises 90 percent of municipal revenue and by BC law local governments cannot run deficits.

He said the ERTF would be looking at the recommendations from each sector soon “to see if there were some quick wins” before the action plans rollout.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WHO’S RUNNING 
THE TASK FORCE?

Co-Chairs:
Hegus (Chief) Councillor Nicole Rempel, K’omoks First Nation
Courtenay Mayor Bob Wells

Members:
Cumberland Mayor Leslie Baird
Comox (then) Acting Mayor Ken Grant
CVRD Chair Jesse Ketler
Electoral Services Commission Chair Edwin Grieve
Andrea Dawe of CFB Comox
CVEDS Chair Deana Simkin

 

 

CV HOTEL STAYS UP,
LONGER DESPITE CVEDS

Prior to the pandemic lockdown in mid-March, 2020 was shaping up to be the best year ever in the hospitality industry. 

After COVID wiped out April and May, tourists started coming back in June and in greater numbers during July. In August, local hotels had a record-setting month, reaching an occupancy rate of 90 percent, while the provincial average was about 30 percent to 50 percent occupancy. 

Vancouver Island generally is showing occupancy rates in the high 30 percentile.

Despite the pandemic, 2020 overall Comox Valley occupancy levels for the year to date are roughly 60 percent. And the average length of stay has increased over last year due to people choosing to stay in one location rather than travelling around.

The overall year to date occupancy rate at the same time last year was only slightly higher at 74 per cent.

 

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3L Developments is back, and again asking to amend the Regional Growth Strategy

3L Developments is back, and again asking to amend the Regional Growth Strategy

Photo Caption

3L Developments is back, and again asking to amend the Regional Growth Strategy

By George Le Masurier

The 3L Development company is once again seeking to amend the Regional Growth Strategy.

3L Developments, an ownership group led by founder Dave Dutcyvich, has tried for 13 years to develop nearly 1,000 homes on its 500-plus acres situated between Browns River to the north and the Puntledge River to the south. The Inland Island Highway borders the property to the west.

The CVRD has denied 3L’s past requests for development permits because the site doesn’t fit into the CVRD’s Regional Growth Strategy (RGS), which only recognizes three areas as settlement nodes for growth outside of municipal boundaries, the Saratoga area, Mt. Washington and Union Bay.

The CVRD’s denials have triggered a series of confrontations with the CVRD staff and at least one director and triggered multiple legal actions against the regional district. Its proposals have incited community protests and, in response, the company has shut off access to the popular Stotan Falls recreational area.

As a result, the regional district last year realigned its policies with all other British Columbia regional districts to consider RGS amendments only when they are proposed by a government body.

But although private landowners can no longer propose Comox Valley RGS amendments, government bodies, such as the Electoral Services Committee (EASC), can do so on behalf of a private landowner.

This week, 3L representative Rob Buchan asked the Electoral Services Committee to support an amendment to the Regional Growth Strategy (RGS) and refer it to the full CVRD board that would clear the way for a revised version of their development plan, called Riverwood.

The Electoral Services Committee comprises directors for electoral areas A, B and C.

A long discussion at the EASC on June 15 culminated in a motion by Area B Director Arzeena Hamir, and seconded by Area A Director Daniel Arbour, to deny the application.

But this motion failed (only Hamir voted to deny the application) after Area C Director Edwin Grieve implored his colleagues to consider a long-term vision and move the application forward by seeking input from other agencies and First Nations.

Arbour then moved and Hamir seconded a successful motion to ask appropriate agencies, including fire departments, to provide feedback on the new 3L application.

This motion passed unanimously.

 

WHAT THEY SAID

Speaking for Dutcyvich, new 3L representative Buchan said the discussion over Riverwood has gone on over a decade and that his mission is to find a solution that ensures “public access and preserves the land.”

“The reality of where the owner (Dutcyvich) is at,” Buchan said, “is that he will liquidate his economic interest whatever way he can, which would make it more difficult to acquire the greenways in the future.”

Buchan said the assemblage of five separate land titles under one ownership is currently an advantage for the regional district to deal with this issue given the public’s interest in acquiring the land for parks, greenways and access to Stotan Falls.

“If this (3L’s current application for an RGS amendment) doesn’t go through, that will be more difficult to achieve,” he said. “It won’t be nearly as easy in the future.”

Director Hamir said the substance of the application didn’t “tick the boxes” for her to fully consider how the new Riverwood plan would meet the requirements of the Regional Growth Strategy.

Director Arbour initially said he would vote for Hamir’s motion to deny the application. But later, in deference to Area C Director Edwin Grieve, where Riverwood is located, changed his mind.

“But from what I saw today, we must first do a good job of meeting the goals of the Regional Growth Strategy before opening these settlement nodes.”

And Arbour took exception to a suggestion that his or other directors’ vote might be based on ownership or a possible sale.

“My vote would not be influenced by who owns a property because at the end of the day we’re talking about the Regional Growth Strategy,” he said. “That argument rings shallow for me.”

Director Grieve, who chairs the EASC, said Dutcyvich has invested a lot of time on the Riverwood project and suggested that he was at the point of wanting it resolved.

Grieve asked Arbour and Hamir to refer the application to other agencies and keep the process moving forward.

“If the proponents (3L) have the patience to move at the speed of government, which is moving even slower now during this pandemic, then we should put it out for feedback,” he said.

 

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT

The three electoral area directors eventually chose to consider the 3L application, rather than outright denying it. They will refer it to a list of agencies that includes the K’omoks First Nation and two other First Nations, provincial agencies, local governments, the school district and two public advisory groups.

The Electoral Services Committee will then consider the feedback from those entities, comment on the new information and decide how to proceed.

The committee could ultimately refer the application to the full CVRD board, which would, in turn, consider whether to initiate a Regional Growth Strategy amendment process.

Or, the committee could deny the amendment application and close the file.

 

SUMMARY OF 3L’S APPLICATION

3L Developments has revised its original plan to develop their Riverwood lands. They now want to develop 780 housing units (335 single detached units each with provision for a secondary suite, 54 townhouse units and 56 multi-family units), 1,400 square meters of neighbourhood commercial floor area, 97 hectares of open space or parkland and a 10-acre parcel for K’omoks First Nation.

The new proposal triggers the need for an amendment to the Regional Growth Strategy (RGS) because the properties are regulated by two Official Community Plans and designated by both as Rural Area and Rural Settlement Area/Settlement Expansion, respectively.

3L Developments Inc. is proposing to repeal the existing OCP designation on a portion of the lands and to amend the OCP designation on the remaining lands to a Settlement Node and Rural Settlement Area designation. This requires an RGS amendment.
CVRD staff recommended the EASC refer the applications to external agencies and First Nations for comment and detailed feedback and create an opportunity to acquire any additional information.

 

BACKGROUND TO 3L’S PROPOSAL

3L Developments first proposed a new, self-contained community that they named Riverwood on 500-plus acres between the Browns and Puntledge rivers in 2007.

The CVRD rejected that first application at a time when the district was developing the Regional Growth Strategy. In subsequent legal action started by 3L, the CVRD was later told by the BC Supreme Court to give the proposal fuller consideration.

After reconsidering the 3L application in 2018 by what’s called the ‘standard process’ — which takes longer and gathers more feedback from a wider array of affected parties than the ‘expedited process’ — the CVRD board voted in 2018 to again deny 3L’s application. 3L then started another legal action to have that decision overturned by the courts, but it was unsuccessful.

At that time, the CVRD was the only regional district in the province to allow developers or other private parties to apply for RGS amendments. In all other regional districts, only another government entity could apply to amend the RGS.

In 2018, the CVRD amended its Regional Growth Strategy to match other districts in the amendment proposal process.

The revised RGS now states that amendments can be proposed by a member municipality, the Electoral Services Committee or the full CVRD board, and they can do so on behalf of an external agency or a landowner.

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CVRD commission takes “historic” step toward Comox Valley-wide wastewater system

CVRD commission takes “historic” step toward Comox Valley-wide wastewater system

The Union Bay community rests on the verge of a major development explosion  |  George Le Masurier photo

CVRD commission takes “historic” step toward Comox Valley-wide wastewater system

By George Le Masurier

As the Comox Valley closes in on selecting a new overland route for conveying Courtenay and Comox wastewater to the treatment plant in Cape Lazo, and potentially upgrading the level of treatment it receives there, elected officials are also considering a first step toward using existing infrastructure for a more inclusive community-wide sewerage system.

The Comox Valley Regional District is currently in the final stages of developing a new, long-term Liquid Waste Management Plan (LWMP) for the existing infrastructure that will provide important ecological and financial benefits.

But at present that infrastructure only serves a portion of the Comox Valley.

New Liquid Waste Management Plan process to restart this summer

Despite its misnomer, the Comox Valley Sewage Commission that governs the Comox Valley Water Pollution Control Centre — commonly known as the Brent Road treatment plant — and the infrastructure to convey it there, only serves households in Courtenay, Comox, K’omoks First Nation and CFB Comox.

It is not a Valley-wide service.

Approximately a third of Comox Valley households rely on private, individual septic systems, which vary in age and effectiveness.

Over the next several decades, Union Bay Estates plans to develop nearly 3,000 new homes in a project already underway

In fast-growing areas, such as Union Bay — one of four designated settlement nodes in the Regional Growth Strategy — and Royston, areas where sewage and other wastewater is currently handled by septic systems, there is a compelling need to provide better and more reliable wastewater treatment.

Many of these private septic systems are old and some are failing. Homeowners can spend $30,000 or more to replace a poor system, so it’s often put off as long as possible.

But systems that are not functioning properly have the potential to pollute. Previous CVRD studies have shown that failing septic systems in Royston and Union Bay have contributed to fecal coliform contamination of Baynes Sound.

But now a new plan to be led by Darry Monteith, the CVRD’s Manager of Liquid Waste Planning in its Engineering Services branch, would shut down those private septic systems over time by connecting households to the existing Courtenay-Comox infrastructure.

The possibility of this new approach was made possible when Courtenay and Comox sewage commissioners reversed historical thinking to entertain the possibility of opening their closed-system to other areas of the Comox Valley.

Many, including Electoral Area A Director Daniel Arbour, see the decision as a historical moment.

Union Bay opens new water treatment plant

“This is a significant milestone for the sewage commission and the Regional Growth Strategy,” Arbour told Decafnation. “It’s a big step toward a Comox Valley-wide solution. Moving from septic systems to a community system feels momentous.”

Arbour said the important aspect of the decision is that the framework is now in place for connecting the Royston and Union Bay area to the sewerage system “so that if grants are available and the cost per household is reasonable, this proposal has a chance to be successful.”

Sewage commission Chair David Frisch, a Courtenay City councillor, told Decafnation that this new approach would be “a step toward Valley-wide collaboration in local government, an opportunity for Area A residents to benefit from sewer collection and treatment, a way to ensure sewer doesn’t leach into Baynes Sound and a partnership with KFN to support reconciliation and First Nation Rights.”

 

WHY THIS IS IMPORTANT

Since at least 2006, Island Health has consistently recommended a community sewerage system for the Royston-Union Bay area due to poor septic system performance and the number of complaints received.

A 2015 study by Payne Engineering Geology conducted after a dry winter found that up to 50 percent of the areas’ septic systems were failing, particularly in the Union Bay community. And the study suggested the rate would be higher during wet winter months.

By comparison, an earlier study by the same engineers found zero failures of private systems in the Cape Lazo area.

The large reservoir tank at the new Union Bay-Langley Lake water treatment plant on Mcleod Road that will improve access to drinking water and enable future developments.

The Payne study identified six main reasons that septic systems were failing:

1) small lots, many less than 2000 square metres;
2) a shallow winter water table, shallower than 45 cm (18 inches) in some areas;
3) inappropriate designs including, in some cases, drain field trenches set deeper than the water table;
4) undersized septic tanks and drain fields;
5) lack of maintenance; and,
6) ageing systems in need of repair or upgrade (some systems are about 50 years old).

Over the last 18 years, the CVRD has put forward three previous proposals to resolve these problems. All of them have failed over financial issues. And all of them would have created new infrastructure exclusive to the South Courtenay area, essentially creating two independent sewerage systems in the Comox Valley.

In 2002, residents rejected a plan they deemed too costly. In 2006, residents passed a referendum to construct a new system, but that initiative collapsed when necessary grant funding didn’t come through. In 2016, residents again rejected a South Sewer Project proposal because it was too expensive.

 

HOW CHANGE OCCURRED

It took three failed attempts, but the reality finally became clear: a stand-alone system for CVRD’s most southern communities was neither feasible or viable. New thinking was needed.

In early 2018, the South Sewer Select Committee, comprising electoral area A and C directors and K’omoks First Nation representation, pressed the sewage commission to analyze the possibility of receiving and treating wastewater from the Union Bay and Royston areas into their existing system. Former Electoral A Director Bruce Jolliffe brought the request forward.

In April of 2018, the commission, apparently warm to the idea, asked staff to study the impact that this new approach would have on their system.

New Area A Director Daniel Arbour (elected in October 2018 to replace Jolliffe, who retired) told Decafnation that serious behind-the-scenes discussions on this approach got underway in mid-2019.

Over the next six months, elected officials and KFN representatives talked through topics that ranged from what expenses Area A residents would pay to how K’omoks First Nation and Union Bay Estates would be engaged.

In February of 2020, the CVRD engineering staff reported back to the sewage commission with its analysis.

The report showed that the impact of adding wastewater from Union Bay and Royston would have minimal impact on existing infrastructure over the next decade.

That analysis concluded adding wastewater flows from the southern areas of the regional district would initially add only about three percent to four percent more wastewater flowing through the system and an estimated 10 percent to 12 percent more when Union Bay Estates and potential K’omoks First Nation developments in the southern area get fully underway.

The report also showed that the addition of wastewater flows from Area A would reduce the financial burden on all participants.

Arbour said everyone at the table could envision some benefit for their constituents.

He said Courtenay and Comox saw financial benefits. KFN saw the potential to connect any development they pursued on properties they own in the area. And Union Bay Estates, which plans nearly 3,000 new homes in the area, saw that the new sewer proposal could reduce their cost of future development.

On Feb. 11 the sewage commission passed a motion in-camera that stated, among other things, that the commission was open to receiving and treating the southern area’s wastewater if it proved feasible. The minutes of this meeting have since been made public.

 

AN IDEA PREVIOUSLY REJECTED

Connecting households in other areas to the existing Courtenay-Comox system is not a new idea. It has been proposed before.

In fact, it was on the table prior to the unsuccessful 2016 South Sewer Project proposal but was eliminated from consideration early. At the time, the elected officials who govern their closed system weren’t interested in the southern area issues. CFB Comox has one seat on the commission, Courtenay has three and Comox has three.

That meant the only option in 2016 was to once again propose some version of stand-alone wastewater treatment for the Royston-Union Bay area. But concerns about a sewer outfall into the oyster-growing waters of Baynes Sounds necessitated a long and expensive pipe crossing the Estuary and Comox sand bar to reach the Brent Road treatment plant.

That pushed costs beyond the reach of most residents. And it was one of the factors that caused the Village of Cumberland to pull out of the South Sewer Project and pursue plans to upgrade its own existing wastewater system, which is currently underway.

 

IS THE NEW PLAN AFFORDABLE?

It is not yet known how much this new approach will cost, nor how much each homeowner would have to pay to connect.

Over the summer, CVRD staff will gather financial data, explore the feasibility of grants and plan a public consultation process that might occur in the fall.

Director Arbour says whether the CVRD and KFN can obtain federal and provincial infrastructure grants will be key to making the proposal viable. And to that end, he’s thankful that everyone has managed to see a long-term benefit.

A sign pointing up Mcleod Road in Union Bay

He says the price will have to be less than the 2016 proposal, which pegged an individual homeowner’s cost from $25,000 and up, which was as much or more than the cost of installing a new private septic system.

“Whatever it comes in at, it has to make financial sense to individual residents. What is the public appetite and what value do they see for their money?” Arbour said. “It has to be affordable. That will ultimately define success.”

Arbour says he won’t over-promote the idea. If the numbers aren’t well below the last proposal for a stand-alone treatment plant, then he could let the idea sit for now.

“But the framework will still be in place to connect Area A households, which resolves environmental issues and addresses future development issues in this fast-growing part of the Comox Valley,” Arbour said.

From a strictly optimistic perspective and if significant grants were solidified in the next 12 months, Arbour believes the project could begin in a year or two.

Arbour praised K’omoks First Nation leadership during the discussions about the plan.

KFN already owns land in the area and could potentially own significant parcels in the former Sage Hills development area depending on the ongoing treaty negotiations with the provincial government.

 

OTHER ISSUES

Including more of the Comox Valley in the Courtenay-Comox wastewater system raises other issues, such as how the function will be governed.

The commission has historically been composed of only Courtenay and Comox elected officials because the system primarily serves them. KFN has been a customer without representation on the commission. CFB Comox is also a customer but has a seat on the commission due to some early investment by the Department of National Defence.

Accepting southern area wastewater — the cost of which would be paid by residents — would likely entail voting representation for the Electoral Area A director and KFN.

KFN was offered a non-voting seat on the board last fall. At the same time, following a staff report on governance, the Electoral Area B director was offered a non-voting seat at the commission table when dealing with issues affecting Area B residents.

And another issue for the proposal is how to best acquire public approval.

Sewage commissioners could choose to have staff write a new Liquid Waste Management Plan, a task that could delay construction for two years or more. Or it could proceed through an Electoral Assent Process, such as a public referendum that could take place early in 2021.

The Electoral Services Commission, comprising directors from areas A, B and C, will decide which public approval process to follow.

If the CVRD proceeds via an Electoral Assent Process and it is successful, construction could begin in 2022 and complete in 2023.

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New Courtenay-Comox sewage master plan process to restart after virus lockdown delays

By George Le Masurier

More than a year ago, the Comox-Courtenay Sewer Commission launched a major initiative to develop a new master plan for conveying sewage to the Brent Road treatment plant, as well as envisioning future demand for advanced levels of treatment and the ability to reuse the wastewater and other resources.

The new plan — officially termed a Liquid Waste Management Plan — was designed to address the immediate issue of preventing the failure of the large sewer pipes that run along the beach below the Willemar Bluffs, by moving the entire conveyance system onto an overland route.

Kris La Rose, the Comox Valley Regional District’s senior manager of water and wastewater services, who is leading the project, his staff and a joint Public and Technical Advisory Committee spent more than six months discussing how best to reconfigure the system. At its March 22, 2019 meeting, the committees settled on a recommended short-list of three options, which were then the basis of consultations with the K’omoks First Nation.

It was expected these options, among other recommendations in the new LWMP, would be finalized this summer. But this spring’s COVID-19 virus security measures prevented public consultations planned for May and June.

With the loosening of provincial lockdown requirements, La Rose will seek commission approval next month to resume public consultations during a six-week period starting in August.

And that will push the regional district staff’s final recommendations on conveyance routes and treatment levels to the Courtenay-Comox Sewage Commission into November.

 

A BACKGROUND REFRESHER

Back in 2014, the sewage commission surprised the public with the now-discarded plan to prevent failure of the Willemar Bluff beach pipe by building a new pump station on Beech Street in the Croteau Beach area, located in Area B, not the Town of Comox.

Croteau Beach residents raised concerns about negative impacts on their groundwater wells and the propriety of forcing sewerage infrastructure on a neighbourhood that neither benefits from it or has a legislative voice on its governance. There was no public input prior to the plan’s announcement.

They also presented an independent financial analysis that showed the regional district had less expensive options.

As planning proceeded, and La Rose was appointed to a new position with authority over the project, it was discovered that the regional district’s original cost estimates were low by at least half and that other red flags had emerged.

La Rose recommended abandoning the original plan for a highly consultative process to develop a long-term plan that would consider a broader range of issues and visions.

The provincial LWMP process recommended by La Rose included forming Technical and Public advisory committees (TAC and PAC), who would also meet jointly and make recommendations with a single voice.

 

WHAT ARE THE OPTIONS?

The joint TAC-PAC recommendations are for three options.

First, a system to pump sewage directly from the Courtenay No. 1 pump station on Dyke Road over Comox Road hill, through Comox and along Lazo Road to the Brent Road treatment plant. 

Second, the advisory committee collapsed three variations of conveying wastewater to the treatment plant via tunnels into one option. In one variation, the sewer pipe would tunnel through Lazo Road hill. In another, it would tunnel through both Comox Road hill and Lazo Road hill. And using a gravity tunnel from Comox to the treatment plant will also be considered. While tunnelling is considered one option, all three tunnelling variations will be studied separately.

Third on the shortlist is to consider the three variations of the tunnelling option but as implemented into two phases.

Earlier this year, the sewage commission unanimously approved the recommendations of its Technical and Public advisory committee.

La Rose says the TAC and PAC committees also recommended three options for treatment levels at the Brent Road treatment plant. They include continuing with secondary treatment, adding filtration for all but peak wet weather flows or filtration for all flows. All three options would include disinfection in the form of UV light.

This article was updated on June 15 to correct the three conveyance route shortlist options. 

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