On Lazo, Comox shows no accountability

On Lazo, Comox shows no accountability

By Judy Morrison

I attended the recent Town of Comox Open House where one of the featured topics was the Lazo Road shoreline. I have learned much since that date. I now know a lot more about shores and water and and their “systems.” I have also learned more about people, and most of that has been good.

And I learned something about accountability.

I learned that the Town of Comox, when they annexed the Lazo Road shoreline, were given ownership of the foreshore. They can develop or reconstruct it with no accountability to the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources Operations.

I learned that because the project is under 1,000 metres in length, the town is not accountable to the Ministry of Environment for the project’s design or the completed work.

I learned that Mayor Paul Ives seems to rule with an iron fist, and that when I am denied an opportunity to speak at a council meeting, no councillor or administrator disputes the decision. Neither council nor staff hold him accountable.

I learned that our Town Council isn’t accountable to its electorate. Under the guise of a road improvement, a major shoreline reconstruction can occur without accountability under the Municipal Government Act. Regardless of requests from me and a number of other Valley residents, council has not held a public hearing on the subject.

We elect councillors to make good decisions. But on the Lazo Road project, they failed to question the pre-packaged solution  given to them by staff. Councillors should know that, “If you give an engineer a hammer, all they see is nails.” Mea culpa? No, lack of accountability. Each member of council can do the same research I did, and am still doing, to learn about the Comox environs.

I learned that town staff are not accountable to the council. Letters from the Comox Valley Land Trust and from other individuals were sent to town staff questioning the design for the Lazo Road shoreline project. It appears that those letters were never shared with council.

I was told via email in May 2015 that when the project drawings were done, “ … I [the town’s engineer] am thinking an open house of some sort may be beneficial to the locals in the area including Cape Lazo Recreation Association, so that the design can be discussed in detail with the design team to get a better understanding of the design and to answer any concerns/questions the residents may have.”

Would have been a good idea, but it didn’t happen. Accountability.

I am used to a municipal parks department that would jump at an opportunity to integrate any part of the Comox Valley shoreline into its parks system, in a natural state. To my knowledge, that was never suggested for the Lazo Road shoreline since its annexation into the Town of Comox in 2006. Accountability.

And we, the voters, aren’t innocent either. We are accountable for the Town Council we have in place right now. I guess we deserve them. But I also suspect that we have learned something, too.

Judy M. Morrison is a professional land surveyor. She lives on Lazo Road.

It’s Canada Day, 10 reasons to celebrate

It’s Canada Day, 10 reasons to celebrate

Ah, Canada Day. God save the Queen … and after Brexit, maybe the whole damn United Kingdom.

There’ll be parades today, hot dogs, kids on bikes, a shrill seven notes from an overabundance of bagpipers marching slowly, steadily toward you, like the Scottish Walking Dead, and bright red maple leaves flying everywhere.

In American backyards, on their July holiday, people light up a couple thousand dollars’ worth of high-octane fireworks happily sold to them by American Indians. Ironic?

But at 149 years old, Canadians deserve to celebrate. Here’s my list of the Top Ten most unique things about Canada.

10 — 5-pin bowling
A truly Canadian sport. Balls without holes. Pins on string. And three rolls. A less dramatic version of real bowling, which involves 10 pins and an adult ball. If the Coen Brothers had made the movie “The Big Lebowski” in Canada, it would have been called “Little Lebowski.”

9. — Quantum Computing
Canada leads the world in the use of subatomic particles to process complex calculations more quickly. If you want to know more about quantum computing, ask our Prime Minister

8 — Dinosaur bones
When archeologists get together, it’s never in Hilda, Alberta. But that’s where you’ll find the world’s largest bed of horned dinosaur bones. Thousands of bones clumped together suggests several horned dino herds drowned in the fast rising waters of a tropical storm.

As an aside, a super-majority of Canadians accept the concept of evolution. Even more of us believe Bigfoot is real.

7 — Legalized same-sex marriage
While other nations floundered with the most important civil rights struggle of this century — same-sex marriage — Canada figured it out in 2005. It took the U.S. another decade.

6 — Caesars
Canadians are not boring and we will not abide a blah-meh Bloody Mary. We add Worcestershire and tabasco, maybe lime and a stalk of celery, or, if you’re lucky, a fat dill pickle.

5 — Mike Myers
We could name a long list of famous Canadian comedians, but why not single out Myers, the mastermind behind the Austin Powers vs. Dr. Evil trilogy of movies? Scottie, Noooo. On the other hand, we also gave Justin Bieber to the world.

4 — Election spending limits
When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Citizens United, it opened a Pandora’s Box of shady campaign financing practices south of the border. But Canada has spending limits on federal elections that restrict political donations and third party advertisements. Thank goodness.

3 — Neptune
Not the planet. But the University of Victoria research project hailed as one of humankind’s most ambitious scientific endeavors. With Ocean Networks Canada in 2007, UVic created a large-scale underwater observatory. More than 800 km of power cables and fibre optics span the northern region of the Juan de Fuca tectonic plate, collecting data down to 2,660m, allowing ocean scientists around the world to do long-term research via the Internet.

2 — Variable gravity
Forget the latest fad diet. There’s only one sure way to lose weight in this life: move to Hudson Bay. Due to the Bay area’s unique geology, gravity exerts less force here. A 150-pound person willing to put up with extreme cold and sleep year-round with those colorful blankets will enjoy about a one-tenth of an ounce more spring in their step.

Scientists don’t all agree why a part of Canada has less gravity, but it’s likely either due to mantle rocks flowing down toward the Earth’s core, or because glaciers pushed them aside during the Ice Age. Or maybe it’s magic.

1 — Ketchup Chips
You can’t get them anywhere else. And they turn your finger tips red. And that reminds us of the big maple leaf in our flag.

Happy birthday, Canada

Work stopped on Comox rip rap project

Work stopped on Comox rip rap project

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.

Laing’s last wishes deserve more respect

Laing’s last wishes deserve more respect

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.

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.

How will the CVRD respond to failed sewer referendum?

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.