Vanier grad Jonathan Page builds cannabis science hub in Comox

Vanier grad Jonathan Page builds cannabis science hub in Comox

Jon Page in his Vancouver headquarters of Anandia Labs — submitted photo

Vanier grad Jonathan Page builds cannabis science hub in Comox

BY GEORGE LE MASURIER

These days, when he’s in a reflective mood, Jon Page looks up from the cannabis plants in his Vancouver laboratory, and wonders if he subconsciously saw it coming. “It” being the frenzied corporate rush to capitalize on Canada’s legalization of recreational cannabis that has made him wealthy.

He certainly didn’t see it coming as a young boy growing up with his twin brother, Nick, on Headquarters Road, where they dug around under logs for interesting plants to feed his as yet unrecognized drive for scientific discovery. And not even when he earned his PhD in botany at UBC in 1998.

Nor did he see it coming when he studied how chimpanzees use plants as medicine in Tanzania, or when he did post-doctoral studies of alkaloids in opium and cannabinoids in cannabis in Germany.

Page did not even see it in 2009 — consciously, at least — when he became the first scientist in the world to sequence the 30,000 genes in the cannabis genome.

He might have caught a glimpse of it when he and chemist John Coleman opened their own cannabis testing and research laboratory in 2013, called Anandia Labs, which grew under his leadership to a company valued at more than $60 million in just four years.

And it still wasn’t a clear vision in his mind when he picked Comox to construct the world’s first-ever facility focused solely on the breeding and genetics of cannabis.

But the cannabis gold-rush did come for him.

Three months ago, Edmonton-based producer Aurora Cannabis acquired Anandia for about $115 million in stock.

And yet, the excitement Page feels about legalization and his new role as Aurora’s chief science officer overseeing multiple cannabis labs around the world, is not rooted in monetary rewards. For him, legalization means he can finally pursue cannabis research without reproach or limitations.

What Aurora really acquired was Jonathan Page, PhD., Canada’s leading cannabis scientist.

In an article in BC Business magazine earlier this year, molecular geneticist Tim Hughes, a professor at the University of Toronto and Page’s co-researcher in the cannabis genome sequencing project, called Page “the man in Canada when it comes to cannabis.”

Early years in the Comox Valley

Jon and Nick Page were born in Victoria in 1969, but grew up on a large Headquarters Road property with their parents, Dave and Linda. They attended Tsolum Elementary, where Jon and a friend won an award for a science project.

Both brothers had an academic focus at Courtenay Junior and G.P. Vanier, from which they graduated in 1987. They always received top grades, and always made the honour role. Jon recorded one of the province’s top mark in Biology 12.

Jonathan Page, PhD

It was his parents’ interest in farming and growing plants that fueled Jon’s youthful exploration of the natural world, and it has stayed with him.

“We studied plants in an unfocused sort of way as kids,” Page told Decafnation. “We’d peel the bark off trees, turn over logs for mushrooms.”

One possible trigger for this interest came in the 1980s, when the Pages were 10-year-olds, and the Comox Valley had unexpectedly become the Canadian epicentre of the magic mushroom phenomena. The Headquarters Road and Tsolum River area was at the heart of the action.

“Long-hairs from Montreal and other places were camped in vans alongside most of the back roads,” Page said. “They snuck onto farmers’ fields to pick them (mushrooms). It got quite nasty.”

But the scene piqued Jon’s curiosity about why plants in their backyard were so important to people from all over the country. Since then, he’s been interested in plants used by people for a purpose, and the cultural and chemical stories behind them.

A serious focus on cannabis

After high school, Page earned a BSc degree in plant biology. As a 21-year-old undergrad, he was awarded a grant to study plant use by chimpanzees in Tanzania, and the resulting paper he published put him on the science world’s radar.

By the time Page completed a PhD in botany in 1998 at UBC, his papers had been published in several academic journals. And that helped him get a five-year National Sciences and Engineering Research Council grant to do post-doctoral studies in Germany on alkaloids in cannabis and opium.

Page returned to Canada in 2003 to run his own lab at the National Research Council’s Plant Biotechnology Institute in Saskatoon, where he worked on cannabinoid biochemistry and discovered several of the enzymes involved in producing cannabinoids like THC. The Page Lab published several seminal papers on this subject between 2008 and 2012.

Sequencing cannabis DNA

The big idea to sequence the cannabis genome came via email from a molecular biology professor at the University of Toronto that he did not yet know. Tim Hughes, who now holds the John W. Billes Chair of Medical Research, had the idea and was directed to Page as the person who could do it.

Page at his Vancouver Anandia Labs

But finding a legal place to obtain cannabis DNA proved difficult in 2009. At the NRC, Page was only allowed to study hemp. And the Saskatchewan Prairie Plant Systems, a source of plants for science, wouldn’t give him access.

Finally, a friend in Vancouver, who worked with an authorized medical marijuana patient, donated leaves from a popular strain called purple (or pink) kush, a plant known to have THC levels in the 16 percent to 18 percent range.

The sequencing took weeks and the computer analysis of that data took months, followed by more time to write the research paper, which their team published in 2011. Page had already established his reputation as a leading cannabis scientist at the NRC, but the success of the genome sequencing project put him out in front of cannabis science in Canada.

By 2013, Page had tired of the work at NRC and was frustrated with general cutbacks in research funding by the Stephen Harper government, and its refusal to support cannabis research in particular.

So Page quit the NRC, took an adjunct professor position at UBC, and teamed up with chemist John Coleman to co-found Anandia Labs in November of 2013.

“Thanks to the Harper Conservatives, I took the leap into business,” he said.

Page says Anandia — the name comes a cannabinoid called anandamide, a Sanskrit word that means “bliss” — on two pillars:

Testing — In the heady days of medical marijuana, Health Canada required producers to conduct quality assurance tests for potency, pesticide residues, toxins, moulds and other microbiological contaminants that could pose health risks for consumers.

Breeding and genetics — The pure science of discovering how a plant works in order to create improvements, such as resistance to disease and growth properties, and could generate revenue from intellectual property rights.

Comox Innovation Centre

“Where we are with cannabis today is where we were 100 years ago with tomatoes,” says Greg Baute, who, like Page, earned his PhD at UBC and will run the Comox facility as the director of breeding and genetics. “In 1918, we knew more about corn than we do about cannabis today.

“But, until now, there has been no breeding effort at the scale Jon Page has started.”

Plant Director of Breeding and Genetics Greg Baute, left, and Anandia Project Coordinator Nick Page, right, on site at the Comox Innovation Centre at Military Row and Knight Road

Baute said the facility will employ about 15 PhD- or MSc-level employees, about two-thirds of which will work on genetics and the other third on the operations and horticulture side.

The new 31,500 square-foot phase-one facility in Comox will do all of Anandia’s breeding and genetics, and provide feed stocks for more medical strains of cannabis exclusively for Aurora, but the science will ultimately benefit the whole industry.

The $20 million first phase includes a 21,000 square-foot greenhouse and a 10,500 square-foot office situated on seven acres on Military Road, near the Knight Road roundabout. Future phases will expand both the greenhouses and the labs.

For strict sanitary and disease control, there will be no public access and no public tours of the facility. Employees entering the greenhouses will have to strip down in change rooms and wear only approved uniforms to prevent introducing diseases or bugs into a tightly controlled environment.

Baute said the centre will focus on disease resistance and preventing mould, powdery mildew and other diseases and pathogens common in commercial cultivation.

The building’s plans reveal a complex network of seven independently controlled zones, each fitted with its own air scrubbers to filter out pollen and contaminants. The system is designed with ion and carbon filters to remove odour, and to not spread mildew outside the facility.

“It’s a threat,” Boute said. “Because the greenhouse provides the ideal environment for them to grow.”

Brother Nick says cannabis is an evolving new industry that, until recently, was focused on the production side.

“The science side of cannabis was missing,” Nick Page told Decafnation. “The goal of the Innovation Centre is to be a hub for cannabis science.”

Nick is the project coordinator for Anandia’s Comox facility. He is coordinating the planning, design, technical details and construction of the Comox facility. He has a masters degree in plant ecology, and works as an environmental biologist in Victoria, focused on urban ecology and integrating urban projects into ecological landscapes.

The centre will also focus on plant architecture; the size and shape of plants. It’s an unlikely, but critical area of interest.

Modern greenhouses used by licensed producers such as Aurora in Edmonton and Medicine Hat and Montreal span up to 1.5 million square feet, and use robotics to space plants as they grow larger, and move them from grow areas to processing sites. Robots maximize every square inch of grow space.

Why Comox?

Jon Page could have built his new breeding and genetics centre anywhere. In fact, he first considered the Delta and Richmond areas of the lower mainland. But when he discovered both municipalities would require zoning changes and public hearings to allow cannabis facilities, he looked elsewhere.

“Getting a development permit for warehouse space in the Lower Mainland where people are more suspicious of cannabis businesses would take way too long in the furious race to market that exists in the cannabis world,” he said.

Nick Page and Greg Baute go over building plans with their construction foreman from Heatherbrae Builders, of Nanaimo

Through Comox Valley realtor Jamie Edwards — a friend of people Page knew from growing up here — he discovered the Town of Comox had already zoned land for cannabis uses.

“Whoever in the town decided to include cannabis in the airport industrial area zoning as acceptable uses was thinking way ahead of the potential of this industry,” Nick Page said. “It was the key to bringing us here.”

Jon Page says Comox wasn’t a goal destination, just because he grew up here. But the zoning, an airport with direct flights to Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton, the quality of life and affordable housing all factored into the decision.

Page said the ski hill, the mountain biking in Cumberland and other amenities will help Anandia Labs recruit the highly educated 20- and 30-year-olds he needs for the Comox Innovation Centre. And they are all well-paid jobs.

Centre Director Baute said he might not have accepted the position if it had been located in Vancouver.

“People don’t want to move to Vancouver anymore because the housing is expensive and the commutes are long,” Baute said.

And there was an additional positive factor in Page’s decision to pick Comox.

“More than a hometown connection, the Comox Valley is just more of a cannabis-friendly community,” Page said.

What’s next

Canada was the first country to authorize the medical use of marijuana, back in 2001. And Page was the first scientist to sequence the cannabis genome in 2011.

But despite these cutting-edge milestones, Canadian scientists were not allowed to stray far from narrowly-focused studies and enquiries than reflected current social norms. Canada is leading a lot of the medical science in cannabis, and Aurora’s labs will study that.

“Medical usage is not just stoners getting access to pot.” he said. “There are real benefits in neuropathic pain without the addictive properties of opiates, and help for anxiety, sleeplessness, MS and chronic pain.”

Legalization has changed that. It has bolted Canada to the forefront of cannabis research. It has given scientists like Page the freedom to probe the questions that its illegal status has raised but could not answer.

Did Page anticipate that would happen, or that the cannabis industry would explode at such a fast rate?

“Not consciously, but I must have seen it, or known it was important work,” he said. “I’m just a lab guy who saw an opportunity.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SOME RANDOM FACTS ABOUT CANNABIS

CANNABIS — A member of the Cannabaceae family. Science is uncertain whether there are two species — cannabis sativa and cannabis indica — or three — adding cannabis ruderalis — or whether there’s only one: cannabis sativa. Indigenous to Central Asia.

CBD — A cannabinoid, like THC, but one that blocks or neutralizes the psychoactive effects of THC. This occurs when the CBD levels match or exceed THC levels in the plant. Being studied for therapeutic uses.

FLOWERS — The female cannabis plant produces flowers, which scientists need to research and develop. If a male plant pollinates the female plants, it will produce seeds, not flowers. So keeping male plants and pollen out of the facility is a top priority Except in breeding, where scientists rub the flower with pollen from a male plant to grow seedlings with unique characteristics.

GOLD RUSH — There are more than 60 publicly traded cannabis companies in Canada, and nearly 100 licensed cannabis producers — nearly a quarter of them in BC. They are all anxious to dominate the market. But while the focus four years ago was on cultivation, growing and production, it’s about retail and consumers today. And the focus is already shifting again toward being first to market with edible cannabis products. And the future focus will be on micro cultivation licenses to draw today’s lingering illicit growers into the legal system.

GROWING — The Cannabis Act allows adults to grow up to four plants per household. You may not sell the cannabis you grow at home.

HEMP — Jon Page discovered the single genetic switch that differentiates hemp, which has no THC, from cannabis, which does. Hemp plants are of the same species as cannabis, but while he was working at the NRC in Saskatoon he discovered hemp lacks a single gene that produces an enzyme that produces THC.

POPULAR — Before Oct. 17, 2018, cannabis was arguably the most popular illegal drug in Canada, and probably remains so around the world.

PREVIOUSLY LEGAL — Cannabis used to be legal and quite common. Before the early 1900s, cannabis was used in many medicinal tinctures. It wasn’t even listed on labels. The Opium Act of 1908 made cannabis illegal in Canada. It was effectively banned in the US buy the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937.

TERPENES — The chemical found in the trichomes of the cannabis plant, and which give cannabis its unique odour.

THC — A cannabinoid unique to cannabis plants that producess a psychoactive reaction. Technical name is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol. It is found in the plant’s trichomes, tiny hairs on the flower and leaves of the plant. It is thought to be the plant’s defense against things that come to eat it. The plant’s seeds are key to its survival as a species, to propagate itself. The seeds are rich in fat and protein and are sought after, but the sticky, resinous THC is not palatable, and deters predators.

TRAVELING — It is illegal to take cannabis across the Canadian border, whether leaving or coming into the country.

 

 

 

 

 

CVRD trades water for hatchery, for treatment plant land

CVRD trades water for hatchery, for treatment plant land

CVRD trades water for hatchery, for treatment plant land

BY GEORGE LE MASURIER

The Comox Valley Regional District issued this press release today.

The Comox Valley Regional District (CVRD) and the Courtenay and District Fish & Game Protective Association (Fish & Game Association) have reached an agreement that will see the CVRD acquire a key piece of land and statutory rights-of-way needed for the construction of key infrastructure for the new Comox Valley Water Treatment Project. In exchange, the CVRD will provide the raw water needed for the Fish & Game Association’s proposed hatchery project.

“This land acquisition marks a significant milestone for the Comox Valley Water Treatment Project following the recent federal-provincial grant funding announcement,” said Bob Wells, Chair of the Comox Valley Water Committee. “This agreement is a win-win for the community, enabling construction of key infrastructure for the project while providing the Fish & Game Association with the means to move its environmentally significant hatchery project forward.”

“Our plan is to produce 100,000 Coho annually once our hatchery is operational; half for the Trent River and half for the Puntledge River to provide sports fishing opportunities for the Comox Valley long into the future. Access to the cool water from the depths of the lake is crucial to this program” said Wayne White, Chair of the Conservation Committee for Courtenay and District Fish & Game Protective Association.

Fish & Game Association members clip the adipose fins from Trent River Coho fry before they are released. This mark lets anglers know these are hatchery fish, which can be kept where regulations allow.

The agreement provides a location for the raw water pump station, marine pipeline, and raw water pipeline for the Comox Valley’s new water system. In lieu of receiving money for the property and rights-of-way, the Fish & Game Association will receive raw water from the pump station for their proposed hatchery project and fire protection system, as well as an emergency access point to their campground and boat launch area.

“We are members of the  Comox Valley community and are pleased to assist in the stewardship of the watershed while promoting conservation practices that will benefit the community,” said Fred Bates, President, Courtenay and District Fish & Game Protective Association.

The Courtenay and District Fish & Game Protective Association has been a long-term partner on the Comox Valley Water Treatment Project. The Fish & Game Association hosted CVRD water testing equipment on its property for over eight years, which has been critical in developing the specifications for the new water treatment plant. The CVRD is pleased to continue this partnership by providing raw water to the new hatchery. After 20 years, the Fish & Game Association will assume responsibility for the cost of raw water and any maintenance or replacement of infrastructure required to supply the hatchery and fire hydrants with water.

The CVRD Water Committee approved the agreement in principle in July 2018. The necessary legal agreement is now executed, which allows the CVRD to complete the necessary surveys to officially transfer the parcel of land and register the rights-of-ways.

The Comox Valley Regional District is a federation of three electoral areas and three municipalities providing sustainable services for residents and visitors to the area. The members of the regional district work collaboratively on services for the benefit of the diverse urban and rural areas of the Comox Valley.

 

Brooklyn Creek: it’s surviving, but faces old and new threats from upstream development

Brooklyn Creek: it’s surviving, but faces old and new threats from upstream development

Brooklyn Creek Watershed Society President Robert Deane at the mouth of the stream     Photo by George Le Masurier

Brooklyn Creek: it’s surviving, but faces old and new threats from upstream development

BY GEORGE LE MASURIER

This is the third in a series of articles

The Comox Valley is fortunate to have several waterways in its urban environment that support salmon and other fish. But it also has many that are either dead or an aquatic life support.

Brooklyn Creek in Comox had an usually big run of salmon two years ago, but it normally can only manage to sustain a smattering of fish. But it does still have fish, primarily thanks to an active group of stream keeper volunteers, who have grand plans to revitalize the creek with a pathway from Comox Bay to Courtenay.

They face difficult challenges from multiple jurisdictional governance, an uncertain future of the creeks’ great asset and a powerful developer operating in its headwaters.

The problems for Brooklyn Creek begin at its headwaters

Until about 30 years ago, most of the rainwater that fell in the natural forest at the top of Ryan Road Hill was soaked into the ground, about 50 percent. Some evaporated back into the atmosphere, about 40 percent.

And about 10 percent trickled down the surface of the southeast slope toward Comox Harbour, forming many tiny tributaries that eventually came together as Brooklyn Creek.

It would have taken days, perhaps weeks, for a drop of surface water in the creek to travel from the top of the hill to Comox Harbour. The water that had soaked into the ground wouldn’t have reached the harbour for years.

But then the Crown Isle golf course and residential community was built by the Silverado Corporation, followed by the Cascadia Mall and other commercial development further up the slope. With the trees and natural vegetation replaced by impervious surfaces, the hydrology changed.

Map of Brooklyn CreekNow, only about 30 percent of the rain evaporates, and only 15 percent or less soaks into the ground. That leaves more than 55 percent of the rainfall to runoff from streets and roofs and cause flooding, if it isn’t somehow managed.

So Crown Isle captures this excess rainfall through storm drains opening into large underground pipes, and dumps it all into Brooklyn Creek. Lower down the slope to Comox Harbour, the Town of Comox does the same thing.

There are, in fact, 24 stormwater pipes emptying into Brooklyn Creek today, carrying water contaminated with oil and heavy metals left by automobiles, pesticides, herbicides and animal feces.

And the pipes gush toxic water at such a high volume and fast rate after rainfalls that, without the efforts of the Brooklyn Creek Watershed Society, the stream today would be dead.

That it can still sustain a small spawn of fish today is a miracle.

Brooklyn Creek Watershed Society

“That the stream can sometimes support salmon and trout in an urban environment is just magic,” Robert Deane, president of the Brooklyn Creek Watershed Society, told Decafnation. The group was formerly known as the Brooklyn Creek Stream Keepers.

But it’s more than magic, it’s long hours of hard work by a dedicated group of volunteers. For the last 12 years, society volunteers have done in-stream work on the lower creek section within the Town of Comox to create new fish habitat.

The volunteers have replaced what was destroyed by erosion from raging flows after rainfalls or by unwitting property owners along the creek who engaged in “stream cleaning.” They hauled in logs every year to create fish passages, rock dams, pools and riffles to mimic naturally occurring spawning grounds.

They have slowly rerouted the walking paths that follow the creek from its mouth up to Noel Avenue, near the private elementary school, to move them away from the creek and allow more natural vegetation to cover its banks. Fish need shade and cool water temperatures.

They do an annual smolt count to monitor the health of the creek for wildlife.

And they launched a new program this year on Earth Day to tackle the invasive species, such as English Ivy, that are crowding out natural vegetation. The stream keepers spent two days hacking away invasive growth and only cleared 50 metres of the stream. But their work filled a two-ton truck, donated by the Town of Comox to haul away the debris.

“The town has been a good partner,” Deane said. “Our aims and the town’s aims are aligned.”

To curtail flooding and downstream erosion of creekside properties, the town spent nearly $2 million in the early 2000s to install a flow diverter near Pritchard Road with a threshold gate. After heavy rainfalls, as much as 70 percent of the stormwater gets diverted into a pipe that discharges directly into Comox Harbor near Filberg Park.

But both Deane and another stream keeper, Larry Jefferson, suspect it’s not working as well as it used to, taking flow out of the creek that it needs in the drier summer months to sustain life.

“The diverter requires maintenance, and it soon will have to be rehabilitated,” Jefferson said.

The stream keepers apply for grants every year to support their projects and the town usually matches them. Combined, they have spent over $100,000 in the last 10 years, he said.

All of this work on the bottom end has made the creek more resilient to the upstream issues in Courtenay and Area B.

A multi-jurisdictional dilemma

Most people think of Brooklyn Creek as a stream that flows through Comox. That’s probably because the Comox section is mostly visible and offers a creekside pathway down through Mack Laing Park to its mouth into the harbour.

But Brooklyn Creek actually starts in Courtenay at Crown Isle and then travels through Area B on the northwest side of Anderton Road and across Birkdale Farm, before crossing Guthrie Road into Comox.

Brooklyn's three jurisdictionsAll three local governments don’t necessarily have the same attitude toward the creek, or urban creeks in general. And that makes it hard to create a common 100-year plan for the entire watershed.

In August, the Partnership for Water Sustainability in B.C. (PWSBC), released a Ecological Accounting Process (EAP) report that showed the monetary value of Brooklyn Creek to the Town of Comox in terms of its stormwater conveyance system — to oversimplify, what the town would have to spend if the creek didn’t exist.

Tim Pringle, chair of the EAP initiative for PWSBC, says application of the EAP provides local governments with a way to select solutions for drainage infrastructure that draw from both nature’s assets and engineered works.

“This would accomplish two desired outcomes: protect watershed health (hydrological functions); and achieve a balanced approach  to funding life-cycle costs,” he said.

The Brooklyn Creek EAP report praises the cooperation between the town and the watershed society, and notes that Courtenay and the CVRD do not have Brooklyn Creek management plans.

“It’s the first EAP in B.C. for a natural asset that resides in multiple jurisdictions,” Vanessa Scott, a member of the watershed society, told Decafnation. “It was a pilot project showing the way forward for municipalities to adapt to climate change.”

The EAP report measures the creek’s value in terms of property values, green space, stormwater conveyance, volunteers hours and grant funding. It was presented to Comox Council in August.

But when the council was asked at the end of the presentation to create a Brooklyn Creekshed plan, no council member would make the motion, Scott said. The council instead asked staff to make a recommendation sometime this fall.

The main problem, as Deane sees it, is that the problems created for the creek by Crown Isle and other headwaters developments don’t impact anyone in Courtenay. All the impacts are felt by downstream property owners in Area B and Comox.

“I would like to have some Crown Isle residents, or just Courtenay residents, join our group,” Deane said.

Scott says people should not assume their local governments are looking after their streams.

“The lack of a management plan for upper and middle Brooklyn Creek threatens all the work done in Comox,” she said. “Comox is a stakeholder in Courtenay development, but there’s no multi-party management plan.”

Birkdale Farm

Guy SimGuy Sim runs a dairy farm on about 190 acres, most of it bordered by Guthrie, Knight and Anderton roads. It’s a family farm started by his grandparents, George and Mabel Laban, in 1920. His father, Alex Sim, took it over in 1950 and passed it on to Guy in 1970.

The farm acts as a giant sponge that soaks up some of the creek’s water into the ground, and provides the riparian vegetation around the creek that fish need.

Brooklyn Creek cuts a Z-shaped swath across the main farmland, flooding portions of his field many times every year. It didn’t used to flood so often.

The creek used to only flood after an rare heavy rain. Now — after the development of Crown Isle — it takes much less rain to cause flooding. Sim said even a half-inch of rain causes flows in the creek to breach its banks.

In one spot where a farm road for moving equipment crosses the creek, there used to be two 36-inch culverts that handled peak flows. Sims added a third 36-inch culvert to handle the increase in creek volume coming from the deforestation of Crown Isle and Lannan Forest, and they still overflow.

The flooding kills his grass if the water lingers more than a day or two, and after a flood swans and ducks fly in to eat the submerged grass when it’s easy to pull up.

He needs the grass to feed herd of about 230 Ayrshire cows. He has to purchase additional feed to get through the winter.

And when it floods, Sim can’t let his cow graze in those areas because their hooves would tear up the soggy ground. Nor can he move his equipment in such soft ground.

And it’s not just flooding that causes Sim hardships. Garbage like plastics and other debris get into the creek and spill out onto his grazing land.

Sim has fought with local governments for years, He’s asked for a pond where the creek enters at the northwestern portion of this property, something a consultant report recommended many years ago. But it was never done.

Facing new threats

Despite the Crown Isle development and the loss in 2008 of the Lannan Forest, a 40-acre parcel of second-growth trees adjacent to Longland’s Golf Course, which is a secondary headwaters of Brooklyn Creek, the stream is surviving, if barely.

But there are new threats on the horizon.

Silverado has purchased Longlands property. The Crown Isle developer says they have no plans to redevelop the par-three golf course, but a future development there would pile additional pressure on the creek.

And Guy Sim is nearing retirement age, but he has no family to take over the farm. The Brooklyn Creek Watershed Society worries about what might happen to this prime land in the Agricultural Land Reserve if Sim decides to sell.

Sim himself doesn’t know what he will do when that time comes.

“I’m working on a plan,” he told Decafnation.

Chris Hilliar, a former Comox officer with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, said Sim’s farm is “the best thing Brooklyn Creeks has going for it.”

“It would be a travesty if that place is ever developed,” he said.

Looking ahead

Robert Deane, president of the Brooklyn Watershed Society, says there is a vision that could save Brooklyn Creek from dying the “death by a thousand cuts” that has killed other urban streams, like Golf Creek.

Deane and others envision extending the walking trail along the creek all the way through Sim’s farm, along the right of way next to Idien’s Way and into Crown Isle.

When the Comox Valley Regional District installed the new Hudson trunk sewer line, from Crown Isle along Parry Place and Idien’s Way, the steam keepers convinced them to set it off to the side of the road and create a right of way for an eventual trail. The creek follows the same route.

“That may seem contrary to the objective of keeping the creek natural,” Deane said. “But if people use the pathway and see the creek, then they will own it and be supportive.”

“The Tsolum River was brought back life,” Deane said. “All we have to do is give them good, clean water, and the fish will do the rest.”

 

“Brooklyn Creek is a small creekshed whose hydrology and ecological services have been altered and degraded by decades of land use impacts,” — Tim Pringle in the preface to Assessing the Worth of Ecological Services Using the Ecological Accounting Process for Watershed Assessment: Brooklyn Creek Demonstration Application in the Comox Valley.

 

 

WHAT IS THE ECOLOGICAL ACCOUNTING PROCESS (EAP)?

Ecological Accounting Process — “The EAP approach begins by first recognizing the importance of a stream in a natural state and then asking: how can we maintain those ecological values while allowing the stream to be used for drainage,” says Jim Dumont, Engineering Applications Authority with the Partnership for Water Sustainability in BC.

“If communities are to truly benefit from use of nature’s assets to provide vital community infrastructure services, then two issues must first be recognized as  being impediments to changes in practice.”

“The first issue is the widespread lack of understanding of the relationship between flow-duration and stream (watershed) health.”

“The second issue is the widespread application of a standard of practice that has led to the current situation of degraded streams, and that has little connection to real-world hydrology.”

 

 

HOW YOU CAN CONTRIBUTE

JOIN — You can join the Brooklyn Creek Watershed Society or donate to them.

DONATE — The Comox Valley Conservation Partnership accepts members and donations. The CVCP was formed in 2008, after concern was raised that there was no regional plan in the Comox Valley to prioritize and protect sensitive ecosystems on private land.  The CVCP brings together local community-based groups and other stakeholders to support their projects and provide a voice for the value of conservation in our natural areas.  The CVCP is administered by a program coordinator under the direction of the Comox Valley Lands Trust

 

 

STORMWATER GLOSSARY

HYDROLOGIC CYCLE — The endless circulation of water. From the beginning of time when water first appeared, it has been constant in quantity and continuously in motions. The same water molecules have been transferred time and time again from the oceans and the land into the atmosphere by evaporation, dropped on the land as precipitation and transferred back to the sea by rivers and ground water.

LOW-IMPACT DEVELOPMENT(LID) — The systems and practices that use or mimic natural processes that result in the infiltration, evapotranspiration or use of stormwater in order to protect water quality and associated aquatic habitat.

RAIN GARDEN — A miniature wetland in a residential setting, lower than the adjacent grade to collect rainwater from roofs, driveways or streets, thus allowing infiltration into the ground.

RIPARIAN AREAS REGULATION — Riparian areas link water to land. They border streams, lakes, and wetlands. The blend of streambed, water, trees, shrubs and grasses in a riparian area provides fish habitat, and directly influences it. Read more here

STREAMSIDE PROTECTION REGULATION — A fish protection act preceding the Riparian Areas Regulation. Read more here

RUNOFF — Excessive rain or snowmelt that produces overland flow to creeks and ditches. Runoff is visible flow of water in rivers, creeks and lakes as the water stored in the basin drains out.

TRANSPIRATION — Water vapour emitted from a plant. Every day an actively growing plant transpires five to 10 times as much water as it can hold at once.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No word yet on the promised new long-term care beds

No word yet on the promised new long-term care beds

Photo by George Le Masurier

No word yet on the promised new long-term care beds

BY GEORGE LE MASURIER

As a strike by care workers at two Comox Valley assisted living facilities enters its sixth day, many people are wondering what happened to the 151 additional long-term care beds promised by Island Health last year?

The critical shortage of long-term care and respite beds in the Comox Valley continues to cause problems for at home caregivers, many of whom are exhausted and in crisis. And it causes overcapacity issues at the Comox Valley Hospital, where patient s who need long-term care are stuck in acute care beds.

The contract award for new beds is already three months late and, according to an Island Health spokesperson, no announcement is imminent.

Island Health issued a Request for Proposal for 70 new long-term care beds over three years ago, but cancelled it a year later, and issued a new RFP this year. The health authority said it would award contracts by Aug. 31 of this year.

When it missed that deadline, Island Health said the contracts would be announced later in the fall. Now, three months later, the contracts have still not been awarded.

Asked what is holding up the awarding of contracts, Island Health spokesperson Meribeth Burton said, “Awarding a long-term care contract is a complex, multi-stage process. We want to ensure we are thoughtful in our decision because this facility will serve the community for decades to come.”

Island Health could give no date when the awards would be announced.

“We understand the community needs these additional resources and is anxious to learn when the contract will be awarded. We will be able share more details with the community once a project development agreement is finalized with a proponent,” she said. “We don’t have a firm date, but we will let you know as soon as we can.”

Burton said Island Health still pins the timeline for opening the new long term care beds at 2020.

In the meantime, 21 long-term care patients were relocated back to the former St. Joe’s Hospital, which reopened and renovated its third floor to create an additional and temporary long-term care facility. St. Joe’s already operates The Views for about 120 long-term patients. The new facility in the old hospital is called Mountain View.

The move was planned in part to relieve overcapacity issue at the Comox Valley Hospital.

The Week: No new snow, no new bridges and no new beds

The Week: No new snow, no new bridges and no new beds

No vicious circles or circular reasoning here. Just a set of points on a place all equal distance from its core, the centre. Photo by George Le Masurier

The Week: No new snow, no new bridges and no new beds

BY GEORGE LE MASURIER

This article has been updated to correct information about School District 71 school buses

Every homeowner knows that when you delay repairs to your house, they just get worse and more expensive to fix with the longer you wait. Courtenay City Council learned that lesson this week about the Fifth Street Bridge.

Back in 2015, City Council decided to save money by recoating the bridge rather than undertake more costly renovations. At that time, the recoating and some deck repairs were estimated to cost $2.2 million. But council discovered this week that price had ballooned to $6.3 million and is still not underway.

The nearly 60-year-old bridge could be nearing the end of its life span. Although structural engineers say lifestimes of 100 years are achievable with appropriate maintenance planning and if durable materials were used in construction.

This crossing of the Courtenay River is the only bridge for which the city is responsible. The 17th Street and North Connector bridges fall under provincial jurisdiction.

Don’t expect seat belts in Comox Valley school buses in the near future. In a statement to a local media query, School District 71 said it was aware of a CBC series on school bus safety that found seat belts could have prevented thousands of injuries and many deaths.

Transport Canada, however, doesn’t think seat belts are necessary in school buses. “Transport Canada has declared school buses are already designed to protect children in a crash,” according to the SD71 statement reported by The GOAT.

The CBC reported that Transport Canada’s position against seat belts is “based largely on a 1984 study.” And the CBC investigation shows that “government officials have known for years that seat belts save lives and prevent injuries on school buses — information the department has kept hidden from the public.”

Let’s hope there’s no reason to question Transport Canada while they pull their heads out of the sand.

If voters decide against proportional representation in the electoral reform referendum that concludes at 4.30 p.m. today, some fingers might get pointed at the mainstream media, including the Comox Valley Record.

An analysis of major media coverage of the referendum by Fair Vote Canada, an organization the supports proportional representation, found most newspapers tilted coverage against reform, if they covered it at all.

The Comox Valley Record, one of many newspaper owned by Black Press, refused to print any pro-PR columns written by Pat Carl, the publicist for Fair Vote Comox Valley, although it printed anti-PR material sent by the Black Press head office.

And, The Record also found itself in violation of campaign advertising regulations by printing a full-page advertorial written by Kevin Anderson without a proper authorization statement on file. After Megan Ardyche, Fair Vote’s volunteer coordinator, complained to Elections BC, Anderson was registered retroactively as a third-party advertiser.

In a letter to Fair Vote supports, Ardyche wondered why the newspaper didn’t know the legalities of election advertising. Good question.

Decafnation received a kind note from Gwyn Sproule this week in which she praised women newly elected to local governments.

“It certainly is a joy to sit at the regional district board table and see so many young professional women entering local politics. I applaud them. It’s tough to be in politics as well as manage a family.” Well said.

While we have been enjoying some unseasonably warm and dry late-fall weather in the Comox Valley, some of us are a little worried about the upcoming ski season. Mt. Washington has delayed its originally opening date — today! — because there just isn’t any snow on the mountain.

Temperatures have dropped this week, however, and the mountain has made snow on the lower runs. But the ski hill says it needs a good three-foot base to open, and that may take awhile.

Why has Island Health delayed announcing contract awards to build the promised 151 new long-term care beds in the Comox Valley. Long-term care patients take up acute care beds in the Comox Valley Hospital, one of the factors in its ongoing overcapacity problems. And exhausted caregivers at home need help.

Island Health says it will still meet the 2020 deadline for having the beds open, but that’s looking like an overly-optimistic statement with every passing day.

Despite our enquiries, Island Health won’t say specifically why they’ve missed the Aug. 31 date to get the project underway. Do any insiders out there have a better read on the situation?