AG delays Shakesides court date by nearly five months

AG delays Shakesides court date by nearly five months

File photo of Shakesides  /  George Le Masurier photo

By George Le Masurier

In a surprising new development, the BC Attorney General has requested a delay in the Supreme Court trial that will determine the fate of Shakesides, the heritage home of Comox pioneer Hamilton Mack Laing.

The Town of Comox had hoped to get its petition to alter Laing’s Trust and tear down his house before the court during its June session. The new delay means the case likely won’t be heard until October.

The town has already requested two three-month delays. The first came after the 2018 municipal election and pushed any possible court date to after Feb. 6, 2019. Then, Town Council asked for another three-month “abeyance,” which expires May 22.

Now, the Attorney General’s office is asking for a further delay of about five months.

A letter to the town and the Mack Laing Heritage Society, which is an opposing party to the case, announced the delay, but gave no specific reason or purpose for it.

Members of the Laing society hope it means the Attorney General’s office is less certain about the merits of the town’s application to alter the trust, and have new concerns about how Comox councils and staff have mishandled Laing’s gifts to the community.

It’s also not known what role the K’omoks First Nations intends to play in this controversy, which has pitted the town against voices for heritage preservation, moral obligation and civil law issues surrounding how local governments should handle citizen’s endowments.

Last month, K’omoks Chief Nicole Rempel expressed her disappointment that the Town Council had made plans for the Shakesides site, which is traditional and sacred land for First Nation’s people, “without prior consultation.” Rempel asked for a halt to all planning and other work until “meaningful consultation has taken place.”

But the town proceeded to refine its plan to replace the house with a viewing platform, which it finally approved this week.

According to the new deadlines for the Supreme Court trial, the heritage society has until Aug. 7 to submit any final documents into evidence. They have already submitted more than 500 pages of affidavits and other documents.

The town and the Attorney General then have until Sept. 4 to respond to those documents.

Another issue that might be weighing on the Attorney General’s office is how a judgement in the Shakesides case could affect other municipalities and other charitable purpose trusts across the province.

Have other municipalities mishandled trusts? How has the Attorney General’s office dealt with those issues, if they were aware of them? How widespread is the altering of trusts freely agreed to by generous citizens and local governments?

Because there is no provincial registry of charitable purpose trusts, the Attorney General’s office may not have known about the Laing Trust until the town petitioned to alter it, some 35 years later.

It is part of the Attorney General’s mandate to provide oversight of such trusts.

 

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The Week: dangers for kids, where’s the bylaw, chuck the gas tax … and more

The Week: dangers for kids, where’s the bylaw, chuck the gas tax … and more

Top of the Malahat  /  George Le Masurier photo

By George Le Masurier

PARENTS CONCERNED — What kind of weirdo hangs out of a moving truck to take video of Valley View Elementary school students walking home from school? It happened recently, and it’s not an isolated case. The Courtenay RCMP have received five reports of suspicious behavior around local schools.

Parents of school-age children have a lot to worry about these days. If it’s not adult pervs, then it’s bullying from other students. The digital era has added cyber bullying, sexting and inappropriate sharing on social media to the list of concerns for parents.

Perhaps, more thorough sexual health education programs in our schools — and at home — could help children and teens navigate this new and treacherous landscape.

WHERE’S THE NEW BYLAW? — Rural Comox Valley residents are taking an interest in proposed updates to the zoning bylaw. But they’d like to see the actual bylaw.

The CVRD has held one public open house to explain the proposed changes, and there are two more to come this month, in addition to a public hearing scheduled for August. But residents can only see the bylaw at these meetings. It is not available online.

This has irked some rural residents. They say if people could review the bylaw before going to the open houses, they could prepare questions and converse more intelligently about the proposed changes.

DO YOU VALUE OUR HERITAGE? — The Courtenay Heritage Advisory Commission is looking for some new members. Perhaps they could steal some from Comox … oh, wait, Comox doesn’t have a Heritage Commission, or a Heritage Register and, if the town has its way, no remaining buildings of heritage value.

But if you want to volunteer in Courtenay, contact Tatsuyuki Setta at tsetta@courtenay.ca or call 250-703-4839.

THEOS HAS IDEAS — Picking up on a challenge from Mayor Bob Wells to offer ideas to lower Courtenay taxes, rather than just whining about them, Councillor Mano Theos came armed to this week’s meeting with a few ideas.

Unfortunately, Theos is a little late to impact this year’s financial plan. And he didn’t offer any ideas about how to cut expenses. But he did suggest some revenue-generators that Councillor Doug Hillian’s new select committee on revenue could consider.

If the city has its own economic development officer focused on such matters — as does Cumberland, Campbell River, Powell River and Port Alberni — they might come to fruition sooner.

IT AIN’T OVER UNTIL I SAY SO — The Union Bay Improvement District elected two new members to its board recently, but they can’t assume their positions until the chair of the board calls an annual general meeting. And he’s not doing it, apparently because the chair’s views apparently differ from the new board members.

But there are legal question about how long the old board can continue to serve and make decisions without an AGM.

In short, Union Bay politics appears spiteful and crazy.

CHUCK THE GAS TAX — How does it feel to be leading the nation?

No, our roads have just as many potholes as Ontario and our sports teams aren’t winning anything. But, hey, we have the highest gasoline prices of any other province. Thanks, Alberta.

So, maybe it’s time to review our reliance on the gas tax.

More people are driving electric, hybrid and other highly fuel-efficient vehicles today than ever before. That’s good news for the environment, but it’s causing concern, not just at the pumps for consumers, but at the BC Ministry of Transportation over how to pay for upgrading and even maintaining our roadways.

As the number of fuel-efficient vehicles increases, including those that don’t require any gasoline at all, the provincial gas tax revenue will begin a similar and dramatic decline.

But, as the gas tax revenue decreases, the need to repair the province’s roads and fund new projects will remain the same, or more likely grow with population gains.

The state of Oregon has already ditched the gas tax for a miles-driven funding model. LIcensed vehicles in Oregon have a black box plugged into their data ports that records how far it travels on state roads.

Drivers pay on the basis of their road usage, not for their gasoline consumed.

That idea is spreading to other state and now is gaining traction in Washington DC. It’s something for Canada to consider on a federal and provincial level.

We want to encourage fuel efficiency to improve air quality, reduce greenhouse gases and save our planet, not to mention the dream of ending Alberta’s economic dependence on extracting dirty oil from the tar sands.

But we also need to maintain and improve our roadways.

IMMUNIZE YOUR KIDS — There was another reported case of measles on Vancouver Island this week. It’s alarming how many new infections have occurred here, in BC, Canada and the US lately.

Measles was declared eradicated in 2000. But there have been more reported cases and in a greater number of individual communities in the last few years than for the past 17 years.

The resurgence of a disease that just a decade ago was killing nearly half a million people annually around the world, stresses the importance to remain vigilant about vaccinations. In particular, parents must continue to immunize their children.

That’s alarming because immunization is so easy and accessible, and proven effective.

Health experts estimate that immunizations have prevented more than 100 million cases of contagious diseases in the last 100 years. Vaccines eliminated smallpox, which killed more than 500 million people. Before the whooping cough vaccine was created in 1940, up to 10,000 people were dying every year from the disease in America.

Parents who don’t immunize their children are gambling on more than their own child’s risk of contracting highly communicable diseases. They are putting others at risk, too, including children medically ineligible for immunization and cancer patients on chemotherapy.

In some states, kids can’t attend school without having received the full package of immunizations. BC should adopt that policy.

The reasons for not getting vaccinated are specious. Fighting medical falsehoods is the bane of every public health official’s existence. An English doctor concocted one of the most egregious deceits in the 1990s that linked the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine to autism. Scientific studies have since debunked the link and Britain’s medical association disbarred the doctor from practicing medicine.

Vaccines are one of humankind’s great achievements, eradicating once unstoppable communicable diseases. But the bugs are persistent, and will return if future generations go unvaccinated.

THE BC LIBERALS WANT YOU — BC Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson came to the Comox Valley recently to start the search for a provincial candidate.

Hint for former candidate Jim Benninger: you’re out. Losing by a handful of votes to Ronna-Rae Leonard isn’t good enough for this hard-charging, education-cutting party.

 

“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.

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The snow is falling … but it won’t last

By George Le Masurier now starting falling in the Comox Valley today, and forecasters expect between 5 cm to 20 cm to fall throughout the day. But enjoy the snow while it's here. It will start raining overnight, and...

“Stinking” sewage plant wafts back onto CVRD agenda

“Stinking” sewage plant wafts back onto CVRD agenda

George Le Masurier photos

By George Le Masurier

T he Curtis Road Residents Association will press the Courtenay-Comox Sewage Commission again next week, this time on policy issues related to their decades-long battle to eliminate unpleasant odours from the system’s sewage treatment plant.

And they have new information that British Columbia’s Local Government Act does not prohibit municipalities from including voting members on commissions who represent non-participating constituents in a service or function.

Last month, residents told the commission that recent efforts to control the odours haven’t been successful and asked that the plant’s bioreactors be covered and that a new equalization basin currently under construction be relocated. They said the EQ basin has created visual pollution and will likely intensify the odour problems.

Lower Curtis Road

At the next commission meeting on May 14, the residents will ask for a commitment on odour standards, a specific odour reporting system and for action on their request for Area B voting representation on the commission.

Jenny Steel, spokesperson for the residents association, told Decafnation that a second presentation was necessary because “10 minutes is not long enough to address 34 years of abuse.” Delegations to the commission are limited to 10 minutes.

Since the treatment plant opened in 1985, it has emanated strong sewer smells that, due to geography, flow constantly through the Curtis Road neighborhood.

The odours are so bad that the Cape Lazo properties have lost monetary value and residents have been unable to stay in their homes during times when the stink has become unbearable.

Past inaction to address the problem by the sewage commission resulted in a lawsuit, which was won by the Curtis Road residents, that compelled the commision to fix the problem and to compensate homeowners.

But the odour problems continue, partly because past commissions haven’t taken the residents concerns seriously enough, according to the Curtis Road residents. And that’s a governance issue they feel could be addressed by having Area B representation on the commission.

As long as the treatment plant remains in Area B — and there is no plan to ever move it — rural residents believe they should have a voice on the decision-making body.

This same governance issue has surfaced before, most recently over the controversy to patch the Courtenay-Comox sewerage system with a new pumping station in the Croteau Beach neighborhood, which also lies within Area B.

Croteau Beach and Curtis Road residents say that if Courtenay and Comox want to locate infrastructure outside their municipal boundaries, then democratic principles dictate those outer areas should have representation at the decision-making table.

When the governance arose at last month’s sewage commission meeting, Comox Director Ken Grant said he believes the Local Government Act — the provincial document governing municipalities — prohibited Area B representation, because those rural residents don’t participate in the sewerage service. Area B residents can’t connect to the sewerage system and they do not pay for it.

Steel believes Grant misled the commission because her research and conversations with CVRD staff indicate that changes made to the Local Government Act in 2000 gave municipalities the necessary flexibility to include non-participating voting members on commissions.

She made a Freedom of Information request to the CVRD for the Act’s sections that support Grant’s claim.

It was a bylaw (No. 650) approved by the former Comox Strathcona Regional District board — since split into two boards for the Comox Valley and the Strathcona regions — that established the sewage commission. The CVRD board could change that bylaw.

Steel said the Curtis Road Residents Association might take the issue of Area B representation on the sewage commission to the CVRD board, or they might make presentations at both Courtenay and Comox municipal council meetings.

But first, they are waiting to hear the sewage commission’s response to their April presentation at the upcoming May meeting.

 

 

 

YEAR-OLD REPORT ON GOVERNANCE GAVE NO RECOMMENDATIONS

Last year, the Comox Valley Regional District commissioned a consultant to study governance options for administration and operation of the regional water supply and sewage conveyance and treatment services.

But the report from Leftside Partners Inc. presented to the CVRD board last September made no recommendations. It only suggested some considerations for such a change and encouraged elected officials to discuss it.

Chief Administrative Officer Russell Dyson described the background for the study in a March 2018 memo to the board:

“Since June 2017, a ‘utilities commission’ concept has been considered to possibly resolve some concerns related to efficiency, accountability and effectiveness for the decision-making processes related to water and sewer services. The proposed project scope, which is described in more detail further in this report, would focus its attention on the water supply system (function no. 300) and sewage treatment service (function no. 335), recognizing that a change in the governance framework may impact just the water service, or the sewer service, or both, depending on the governance project findings and the will of the service participants.”

 

 

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The Week: Comox Valley tax rates, plastic bags and pro golfers

The Week: Comox Valley tax rates, plastic bags and pro golfers

George Le Masurier photo

By George Le Masurier

Happy Friday, the first one in May. Golfers hoping to qualify for the Canadian equivalent of the PGA, called the McKenzie Tour, play their final round today at Crown Isle. Big crowds are not expected, but low scores are anticipated from the top 10 who start teeing off around noon.

WHIMPERING ABOUT TAXES— Courtenay City Council recently approved a new financial plan that calls for a 2.75 percent tax increase. They did it not with a bang, but with a mild whimper from Councillor Mano Theos.

During last fall’s municipal elections certain candidates, including Theos, expressed outrage at the city’s high tax rate — which was actually “fake news” because Courtenay’s taxes are in line with neighboring municipalities and lower than some.

But that didn’t stop the handful of members of the Comox Valley Taxpayers Alliance from purchasing big print advertisements criticizing city tax rates.

Nor did it stop candidates like Theos, Tom Grant and Murray Presley and others from jumping on the “Lower Our Taxes!” bandwagon. That has always been the lazy candidates’ campaign slogan.

But where were these people during this year’s budget discussions? They didn’t show up at the meetings where budgets and tax rates were discussed.

It’s easy to say you’re in favor of lower taxes, because who isn’t? But does anyone know the magic formula for lowering taxes without cutting services that would cause broader concern, and hardship?

Courtenay Mayor Bob Wells answered Theos simply and sharply.

“When you say that people want lower taxes, when I look at you Councillor Theos, I want the solution to that as well, not just a comment that it should be lower taxes ….”

SPEAKING OF TAXES — Comox Mayor Russ Arnott proudly stated during last fall’s election campaign that the town’s taxes were on a declining trend. He was wrong, of course, the town’s taxes have been going up like every other municipality.

And the Town of Comox’s new financial plan calls for a 3.3 percent increase. Higher than Courtenay’s, for those keeping score.

CLIMATE EMERGENCY — Comox Valley youth are marching at 1 pm today to, as their poster says, “Protest against climate change.” What they actually mean is they want elected officials to take swifter and bolder action to reduce the human activity that is accelerating climate change.

Adults have asked all local councils to declare climate emergencies. None have complied, so far.

But the United Kingdom is taking the lead. The UK Parliament passed a motion this week declaring a climate and environment emergency. They are the first country to do so.

SLOW ON THE DRAW — It’s nice to see Comox Valley municipalities finally getting around to banning single-use plastic bags, about 15 years after European cities and countries started eliminating them.

Better late than never, right? Except, Cumberland is the only municipality to have passed a ban so far. Comox and Courtenay are still “studying” the issue.

What’s to study? This movement started around 2000 and 127 nations have imposed bans or taxes on single-use plastic bags. New York and California have banned them statewide. So has Hawaii, on a county by county basis.

Maine recently became the first state to officially ban single use styrofoam. Even the staid City of Victoria has implemented a bag ban.

Filmy shopping bags often go airborne and eventually get eaten by wildlife. In marine environments, sea turtles confused plastic bags for jellyfish, their diet staple. Fish eat them. Whales have died as a result of swallowing plastic bags. A whale near the Philippines was found recently with more than 88 pounds of plastic in its stomach.

And do not be fooled by claims about biodegradable plastic bags. New studies have shown these bio-bags survived three years in soil and sea, and were still intact enough to carry normal weights of garbage. Compostable bags fare better, according to the study, disappearing after three months in a marine environment. But they both break down into micro-plastics and get into our food chain.

The solution is to ban all plastic shopping bags. Comox Valley people are capable of using reusable bags as others are doing.

WAR DECLARED ON CANADA — Finally, this week, Filipino president Rodrigo Duterte declared war on Canada.

Why? Because Canada shipped 103 containers of what was supposed to be recycling material, but actually contained Canadian garbage. Duterte — who once suggested gunning down drug dealers in the streets — called for a fight with Canada. “We’ll declare war,” he said.

He gave Canada one week to take the household garbage back or go to war.

The man has a good reason to be angry. The containers were shipped six years ago and have been rotting and stinking up his country since 2013.

After his initial meltdown, Duterte has extended the deadline for war, and soften his retaliation. He’s given us another week, and then he’ll shipped the crap back to us and dump it on “Canada’s beautiful beaches.”

This article has been updated

 

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Has engineered stormwater doomed BC’s waterways?

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Courtenay Councillor Wendy Morin (left) and Comox Councillor Stephanie McGowan listen to Tim Ennis speak about Kus Kus Sum / George Le Masurier photo

By George Le Masurier

As population growth continues unrestrained and subsequent urban development expands the dimension of impervious surfaces, an increasing volume of polluted stormwater runoff will poison British Columbia’s waters, local species and natural ecosystems.

It sounds like a doomsday prediction, and according to the keynote speaker at a recent provincial conference on water stewardship it’s going to take a major change in local government thinking to avert this disaster.

Bill Derry, one of the Pacific Northwest’s best known experts on stormwater management, delivered this keynote message recently to an audience of more than 200 British Columbia streamkeepers, local government engineers and elected officials and others. Derry spoke April 3 at the second Vancouver Island Symposium on water stewardship organized by The Partnership for Water Sustainability in B.C.

“Put the forest back”

Before any development occurred in B.C., soils and natural vegetation in forests soaked up rainwater, filtered it and slowly released it into streams that flow into larger bodies of water. But in cities, where nature has been covered with impermeable surfaces, rainwater flows along streets where it picks up toxic chemicals and carries them unfiltered into water systems through gutters and underground pipes.

To protect or restore water quality in developed areas is a complicated problem, but Derry said the solution is quite simple: “Put the forest back.”

That’s impossible, of course, yet alternatives do exist.

Fifty years ago, Scottish landscape architect Ian McHarg proposed using natural systems in urban planning. His 1969 book Design With Nature was a guide toward what we call green infrastructure today; the use of rain gardens and infiltration galleries.

Getting local government engineers to implement green infrastructure that protects or restores water quality in developed areas will take massive and relentless public pressure on local governments.

“Tweaking current systems and practices isn’t enough,” he said. “Major change is required, and governments can’t do it. They won’t do it unless we push them.”

Derry said government engineers and elected officials are reluctant to shift from managing stormwater with curbs and gutters toward source control — managing rain where it falls — out of fear of lawsuits and insurance liabilities.

And local governments don’t believe people will maintain rain gardens or other green infrastructure on their properties, he said.

“So we have to challenge old ideas at chamber forums and talk to decision-makers,” he said. “Change will only and always comes when motivated people talk to other people.”

Derry was one of several speakers at the conference who spoke of the benefits of designing municipal systems that attempt to mimic nature. Others spoke of studies that show green spaces and urban streams improve people’s mental health, and are aesthetically pleasing.

Jody Watson, supervisor of environmental planning and initiatives for the Capital Regional District, echoed Derry’s message that public pressure can effect change. Watson is also the past chair of the Bowker Creek Initiative, a successful restoration of a major waterway running through three municipalities in the Victoria area.

Because local governments had given up on Bowker Creek, more and more of it was being buried and channelized.

But widespread community pressure raised the creek to the regional district’s No. 3 priority. Consultants had to convince local engineers of the value of restoring and daylighting the creek. Some staff engineers had rigidly opposed daylighting the creek.

“Sometimes you have to just wait for somebody to retire,” Watson said.

Derry urged conference attendees to champion better stormwater practices on several fronts.

— No expansion of urban growth boundaries. Increase urban density and “save the best of the rest,” he said.

— Require government agencies to preserve forests, not just slow down development. “There should be no net loss of forest cover,” he said.

— Ban toxins such as zinc on vehicle tires, copper on brakes, phosphorous and the micro-plastics from single-use bags and water bottles at the local, provincial and federal level.

Deery cautioned his audience not to expect instant results.

“This isn’t something that will happen overnight,” he said. “But we need to amp up the seriousness of the discussions.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

COMOX LAKE, CONSERVATION PARTNERSHIPS AND BROOKLYN CREEK

Comox Valley Regional District Senior Engineer Marc Rutten spoke to the conference about the Comox Lake Watershed Protection Plan. It’s a wide-ranging effort that involves multiple landowners and will address issues of turbidity and hydrological changes from logging activities. The watershed is the only source of drinking water for 50,000 residents.

Tim Ennis, the executive director of the Comox Valley Land Trust, spoke about the Comox Valley Conservation Partnership, one of six such groups in the province. The partnership has a unique focus on local government, and speaks with one voice on conservation issues, growth and urban forest strategies. Ennis also talked about the Kus-Kus-Sum project, which he said is more about reconciliation than restoration. “Ten acres of steel and concrete is a daunting” restoration project. But he called the recovery of the K’omoks Estuary a “fantastic model for success.”

Al Fraser and Marvin Kamenz of the Town of Comox, and Christine Hodgson of the Brooklyn Creek Watershed Society, spoke about the relationship between the town and the streamkeepers. Hodgson said over the last 13 years, the streamkeepers have raised about $300,000 ($100,000 in-kind) for in-stream work to improve fish habitat. The town has roughly matched the group’s fundraising. The streamkeepers also do annual smolt counts and public education for neighboring residents.

 

 

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