Second update: Work on the project resumed on Wednesday, June 29.
This article was updated at 10 a.m. after receiving information from the Town of Comox regarding the work stoppage.
Work stopped almost as soon as it began on the Cape Lazo shoreline stabilization project because the Town of Comox failed to get all the necessary permits. Workers started to dig a two-metre deep trench on Monday, June 20 and shut down operations late Thursday of the same week.
According to the town, the project received notice on Thursday, June 23 at approx. 4:55 p.m. to stop works ‘beyond the natural boundary’ until an appropriate permit was in place. As this limited general construction, staff elected to stop all works until the permit from Ministry of Forestry, Lands & Natural Resource Operations was obtained.
The town voluntarily stopped work above the natural boundary but the remainder, or the bulk of the project, was issued a Stop Work Order.
The town has now applied for permission to do what Mayor Paul Ives says is “a small portion of work to be done outside the road allowance.” The necessary permit also requires consultation with the K’omoks First Nations.
The town is attempting to slow the erosion of the large, vegetated back shore dune that comprises the Cape Lazo shoreline. It’s known as a Coastal Sand Ecosystem (CSE), and is part of the of the Quadra Sands glacial deposition that includes Willemar Bluffs, Goose Spit and the Tree Island complex.
The one segment of shoreline in the Comox area that still contains a remnant natural back shore dune is currently being destroyed by the Town of Comox, who have decided to armour that last remaining segment with rip rap.
According to Tim Ennis, executive director of the Comox Valley Land Trust, CSEs are rare in the Georgia Basin-Puget Sound-Salish Sea region.
“Erosion and redeposition of sand within an active dune complex is a common phenomenon on an annual cycle, but sand deposition is typically net-positive over the long term,” Ennis wrote in an email to members of the Land Trust and Project Watershed.
“Wind blown dunes are particularly rare in the Georgia Basin, with only two known occurrences of remnant, semi-stabilized dunes remaining extant: Savary Island and Cape Lazo (Point Holmes),” he said.
To many people, the accelerated erosion at Cape Lazo comes as no surprise. It stems back to a decision by the Comox Valley Regional District’s Sewer Commission in the mid-1980s to bury a sewer pipe beneath the Willemar Bluffs. That disturbed the shoreline, causing property owners to sue the CVRD, which resulted in the placement of rip rap (large, sharp-edge rocks) to slow the erosion.
But after the construction of the sewer pipe and placement of rip-rap below the Willemar Bluffs, other beaches began to erode. Homeowners to the north of the bluffs began to lose shoreline. So those residents installed rip-rap to save their property.
And that moved the accelerated erosion action further up the shoreline to the popular tourist beach at Cape Lazo/Point Holmes. Increasingly large chunks of land disappeared with more intense winter storms.
To fix that problem, the Town of Comox has chosen to spend about $1.6 million to add rip rap from where the homeowners stopped to just south of the Point Holmes boat launch.
Accelerated erosion of Comox Valley shorelines has only occurred where the CVRD buried sewer pipes or tried to remediate the effect of the pipes. It doesn’t seem like a coincidence.
“The one segment of shoreline in the Comox area that still contains a remnant natural back shore dune is currently being destroyed by the Town of Comox, who have decided to armour that last remaining segment with rip rap,” Ennis says.
The town had other options.
Judy Morrison, a former Alberta Land Surveyor with a Calgary engineering firm, and a Lazo Road resident, has advocated a soft shoreline restoration, as opposed to the hard stabilization project chosen by the town. She says a “green shore” would cost about $600,000 less and be more effective.
“The town’s solution means that the residents of the Comox Valley, as they walk
along this stretch of beach, are now going to see 640 metres of rip rap, instead of limited green growth,” she says.
Ennis says the town’s rip rap project “will likely function for only a short period of time,” due to the increasing severity and frequency of winter storms. A provincial report recommends flood construction levels of five metres or more for the east coast of Vancouver Island.
Based on experience, it’s possible the new rip-rap will shift erosion further up the shoreline, and may accelerate erosion of the bluffs at the end of the CFB Comox runway, which stand above the sewer outfall into the Strait of Georgia.
It’s also likely that the impacts of climate change on shorelines will eventually threaten the sewer pipe buried beneath the Cape Lazo beach, not far from where the town is digging.
Meanwhile, the rip rap project has stalled. Mayor Ives believes the missing permissions will be granted shortly. More will be known later this week.
Hamilton Mack Laing has probably turned over in his grave more than once since his death in 1982.
Because if the famous Canadian naturalist, photographer and writer suddenly came alive today, he’d be shocked and angry at how the Town of Comox has fumbled his gift of property and cash.
When Laing died in 1982, he left the town, among other personal items, his waterfront property, his home named Shakesides, and the residue cash from his estate “for the improvement and development of my home as a natural history museum.”
Thirty-four years later, the Town of Comox has done little to satisfy the last wishes of this important literary and ornithological person. It’s shameful how the town has claimed Laing’s celebrity, but ignored his desires for a legacy.
The residue cash from Laing’s estate was $45,000, a sizable sum in 1982. His will specified that 25 percent should be used for capital improvements to his home and the remaining 75 percent should be invested to help fund the ongoing operating expenses of a natural history museum.
… an analysis of the fund by Kent Moeller, CPA, of Moeller Matthews in Campbell River, shows the trust fund should be worth $481,548 today.
But the town ignored the terms of Laing’s gift as specified in his Last Will.
The town did not spend $11,250 on capital improvements to his home. Instead, it rented the dwelling starting in 1982 , shortly after Laing died, at a curiously low rate. It’s done minimal maintenance on the house.
Nor did the town immediately invest the remaining $33,750. The town only started investing Laing’s fund in 2001, so for almost 19 years the money earned no interest.
The town has not created a natural history museum, but has profited from sales of prints of Laing’s drawings and paintings, and his collection of original Allen Brooks paintings.
This is no way to respect a noted North American naturalist.
For the last few years, members of the Comox Town Council have discussed what to do with the Shakesides house, and Laing’s original home, called Baybrook, which he sold to the Stubbs family and was later acquired by the town. The town demolished Baybrook last year, and is considering a similar fate for Shakesides.
The justification is, of course, that restoring Shakesides into a usable public facility would cost too much and, the town claims, and there’s only $76,672 in the Laing Trust Fund.
But an analysis of the fund by Kent Moeller, CPA, of Moeller Matthews in Campbell River, shows the trust fund should be worth $481,548 today. He used figures released by the town and conservatively calculated interest rates.
Moeller suggests that if the town had immediately invested all of Laing’s bequeathed cash plus the rental income, it would have nearly a half-million dollars in the trust fund.
Moellar’s analysis changes the nature of the town’s recent discussions about what to do with Shakesides and how to honor one of its legendary former residents. It’s a different argument when you’re talking about $481,548, rather than $76,672.
Shakesides could be renovated for about $150,000, according to a quote from a Comox Valley builder, and the remaining funds could continue to grow and help pay operating expenses of a natural history museum as Laing specified in his will.
There’s a solid justification for the view that the town owes the Laing Trust Fund $404,876.
The view from Shakesides
At least he got a plaque
But just as important as the fate of Shakeside’s and actuarial debate over what should be the trust fund’s present value, are the ethical considerations.
What responsibility does the Town of Comox have to follow through on the last wishes of any person who leaves a municipality cash, property or other items of significant value?
While the failure to follow through originated with the elected councillors and staff of the Town of Comox in 1982, the gift was to the town itself, not to any temporary combination of individual staff or elected representatives. That makes the town responsible, and all elected officials since 1982.
If the town had good reasons not to follow through on Laing’s last wishes, was it appropriate for them to keep the residue cash on their general ledger? Was any of the money spent improperly, for purposes that do not qualify under the terms of the trust? Moeller notes that $15,600 of unidentified capital expenses were taken from the account.
If the town decided not to respect Laing’s last wishes, should it have transferred the funds to some other community organization willing to take on the transformation of Shakesides to a natural history museum?
The Town of Comox must address these questions in its deliberations about the fate of Shakesides.
Laing was not only a prominent Comox resident, he was a generous one. He gave the Town of Comox his home, his property — now valued at over $1.6 million — and his collection of artwork, which he hoped would be used to create a natural history museum.
It’s wrong that his gift has been handled so carelessly. It’s time to atone.
When Royston and Union Bay voters overwhelmingly rejected the South Sewer Project on Saturday, they added their voices to a broadening concern about the Comox Valley Regional District’s sewerage strategy.
Consider: Some years ago, residents of the Saratoga-Miracle Beach area rejected a CVRD proposal for a system to replace private septic systems. The Village of Cumberland recently opted out of CVRD sewer planning. The SSP referendum went down, hard.
Also, a coalition of 10 Valley environmental groups, a group of affected residents and hundreds of individuals are pressing the CVRD sewage commission to halt plans for an unnecessary pump station on Beech Street. A large number of those folks turned out to a CVRD open house this week to express that view, and nearly a thousand people have signed their petition.
Such widespread resistance should mean something to the CVRD and the sewage commission.
So how will the CVRD respond, and where do we go from here?
Right now, people have lost confidence in the CVRD over sewerage. It’s credibility has been sullied by a history of bad decisions, citizen lawsuits and secretive negotiations — and by an approach that’s out of step with the response of other communities to a changing climate.
The South Sewer Project (SSP) failed for a number of reasons, but the result makes it clear that Valley voters don’t want a patchwork of sewerage systems.
Perhaps the decisive 79% (no) to 29% (yes) rejection of the SSP will jar the CVRD and its sewage commission into some fresh thinking. The failed referendum at least presses the pause button, and creates space for a new strategy to emerge.
That new strategy should encompass the entire Comox Valley. It should include the ideas of people outside the hunkered down CVRD office. It should not exclude people, or force infrastructure on neighborhoods that won’t benefit. It should be collaborative, transparent and inclusive.
It should be driven by a vision that the Valley can lead the province in sustainable wastewater management.
If the CVRD does that, it can win community support for a Valley-wide, state-of-the-art, all-overland sewerage system.
Of course, a single Comox Valley governing body could make this happen more quickly. Amalgamation could prevent a single region of the Valley — for example, the Town of Comox or Cumberland — from blocking solutions that benefit the greater Comox Valley. But that’s another topic.
For now, the CVRD has a new window of opportunity to accurately read the public mood and respond positivity.
A crowd of roughly 75 citizens peppered Comox Valley Regional District Senior Engineer Marc Rutten Jan. 17 with questions and angry statements at an open house about the HMCS Sewer Project.
At times the meeting threatened to spin out of control as residents shouted critical responses to Rutten’s remarks without being called on to speak.
A majority of the attendees appeared to reside in the Hawkins Road and Croteau Beach neighborhoods, where a new force main sewer pipe from the sea cadet facility on Goose Spit will wind through local roads enroute to connecting with Courtenay-Comox sewage pipes.
The route assumes the eventual construction of a new Comox #2 pump station to be built on a Beech Street lot, which is outside the Comox town boundary. If that pump station does not get built, then the Quadra pipe will have gone out of its way by a considerable distance, and at a much greater expense.
The Quadra route’s assumption of a new Comox pump station rankled many of those grilling Rutten during his presentation and follow-up question period. And that led to questions and critical statements about the Courtenay-Comox sewerage system, which is operated by the regional district.
Many residents argued that upgrading the Courtenay #1 pump station now, which has to be done in a few years anyway, would be cheaper in the long run.
“Why not take the longer view,” asked one resident.
Rutten tried to separate the two issues. He said that regardless of whether the Comox #2 pump station is built, the sewer pipe from Quadra would still need to be replaced.
Numerous residents responded by saying that was true, but the route of the pipe would be different, and it would not run through their neighborhood and close to many residents’ shallow wells.
They accused Rutten of being disingenuous and the Sewage Commission — made up of three Courtenay directors, three from Comox and a single CFB Comox representative — of bullying the neighborhood through a lack of communication and disrespect for their concerns.
The citizens also criticized Rutten for not considering other sewerage options for HMCS Quadra. Most of the year, fewer than 50 people work onsite. During peaks weeks of the summer, there can be nearly 1,000 cadets and staff, at the facility.
In response to a question about whether his engineering department considered other sewage treatment options, such as an onsite facility, Rutten said they did not.
He said there had been “no consideration of other options” than the one proposed.
The system designed by CVRD engineers will cost $1.78 million. Federal tax dollars will pay for the proposed system through the Department of National Defense budget.
But one of British Columbia’s most innovative designers of septic systems for residential and commercial properties, Jim Ripley of Turtle Tanks in Kelowna, has estimated the cost of a small bore sewer system for HMCS Quadra at around $250,000.
Ripley has not provided the CVRD with an official estimate nor did he have access to all of the HMCS Quadra data. He was roughly estimating the cost on numbers of users only at the request of Decafnation.
A small bore sewerage system would consist of a large septic tank and a small pump to move effluent through a small two-inch diameter pressure pipe into the Courtenay-Comox system. The small bore pipe could be slipped through the existing Quadra pipe, even though it is outdated for carrying wastewater directly.
Rutten called this option “not feasible,” but said he had no supporting data for his statement.
Small bore systems are used around the world, including Canada, to service entire villages. Ripley suggested a small bore system might also be applicable to connect Royston and Union Bay homeowners to the Courtenay-Comox system at a significantly lower cost.
Rutten started the meeting by explaining that HMCS Quadra sewage currently flows to the Comox Jane Place pump station via the town’s old outfall pipe. It was originally laid across Comox Bay in the mid-1960s and used to discharge the town’s sewage until the current Courtenay-Comox system became operational in 1985.
Many residents of Royston and Union Bay will vote tomorrow on whether to fund a new sewerage system to service their communities. This seemingly isolated decision will have a profound and long-term impact on the entire Comox Valley.
If voters approve this referendum, known as the South Sewer Project (SSP), they will create the Valley’s third separate sewerage system. The other two are the Courtenay-Comox system, also managed through the Comox Valley Regional District, and the system serving the Village of Cumberland.
On its website, the CVRD lists a fourth sewerage system for the Saratoga-Miracle Beach as a future initiative. In 2006, however, voters rejected the CVRD’s proposal for a wastewater management system for that area.
If the SSP moves ahead, it will lay more pipe in our estuaries and Baynes Sound, and commit the Valley to an uncoordinated sewerage system, perhaps forever. It will make it more difficult to achieve the ideal solution: a state-of-the-art Comox Valley-wide, all-overland sewerage system.
Of course, such an achievement would require Comox Valley jurisdictions to work together for the greater good. While that may not seem likely at the moment, it’s possible.
When the 13 municipalities and three electoral areas that comprise the Capital Regional District couldn’t agree on where to locate its new sewage treatment plant, Peter Fassbender, the minister for Community, Sport and Cultural Development, stepped in and formed a panel of experts to make the decision.
It’s not likely Fassbender would take a similar directive action here, but a nudge in the right direction could help.
Some people believe that such a major Valley-wide initiative could only happen if the municipalities amalgamate. Without allegiances to any individual community, a single governing body could focus on the entire Comox Valley.
But amalgamation presents a set of obstacles no less onerous than a Valley-wide sewerage system.
In the meantime, many failing septic systems in the Union Bay-Royston and Saratoga-Miracle Beach areas trickle untreated liquid waste into our waterways, and the Cumberland system adversely affects the Trent River watershed. The Courtenay-Comox system runs raw sewage through old pipes buried along the K’omoks estuary foreshore and pumps lightly treated wastewater into the Strait of Georgia.
So there’s an immediate benefit, albeit small, to approving the SSP. That plant would at least employ some of the modern technologies for sewage treatment. Its effluent would reach reclaimed water status, but would not be cleaned of pharmaceuticals or nitrates.
But does that advantage warrant spending tens of millions of dollars, putting miles of new pipe in our sensitive marine environment and most likely delaying the ultimate sewerage solution for many more decades?
Whatever voters decide tomorrow will have long-term consequences for all of us.