Simply making statements doesn’t mean they are true

Simply making statements doesn’t mean they are true

Andrew Gower, a partner and branch manager of Wedler Engineering LLP’s Courtenay office recently wrote a letter to the editor about the proposed Comox No. 2 pump station. I wrote this letter in response. Neither were printed in the newspaper due to their length, but both can be found on the Comox Valley Record’s website.


Taking a page from Donald Trump’s playbook, Andrew Gower has made statements in a letter to the editor about sewerage system planning at the Comox Valley Regional District as if they were true, but that in reality have no basis in fact.

He also channels Trump when he attacks people who have concerns about the CVRD’s sewerage planning. And his letter does not disclose that his employer, Wedler Engineering LLP, has done work for both the CVRD and Comox. This creates a direct financial interest that undermines his letter’s objectivity.

But let’s deconstruct Gower’s statements.

Gower suggests the risk of a force main rupture along the Willemar Bluffs will be eliminated by building a new pump station at Beech Street in Area B. This seems true, but doesn’t tell the whole story.

It’s the removal of a pipeline full of raw sewage from the foreshore that eliminates the risk, not the building of the proposed Comox No. 2 pump station. There are several other options that would also eliminate the Willemar Bluffs pipeline.

Two of those options were studied and found to be less expensive in the long-run than the current plan. They are: upgrading the Comox Jane Place pump station, and upgrading the Courtenay No. 1 pump station now, rather than in 12 years.

Gower paraphrases CVRD engineer Kris LaRose as saying all the Courtenay/Comox force main sewer pipes have considerable remaining life. That is LaRose’s hope, but it’s not a fact.

The CVRD started this project without having studied the condition of the force main pipes. They have launched an assessment project that will conclude in June, but it will not provide sufficient data to verify the long-term viability of the pipes.

That’s because the current study will only examine the pipeline exterior for existing leaks. It will not show the inside condition of the pipe, so engineers will get little information about when or where the pipe might burst in the future.

Next, Gower says, “… the risks posed by the … pump station are very small,” and he refers to a hydro-geological report. But that report was prepared for a rejected site on the beach access at the bottom of Croteau Road. It’s been misused to apply to the Beech Street site.

Before the CVRD hired him, this same hydro-geologist prepared a report on the Beech Street location that identified a “high risk to the permeable aquifer lenses” of the area. This report said a leak or failure of the pump station would jeopardize drinking water quality.

But at least Gower admits there is some risk to the neighborhood. The Engineers Canada Code of Ethics requires engineers to “Hold paramount the safety, health and welfare of the public and the protection of the environment ….”

Gower says there’s only a “miniscule” risk that a modern pump station would fail. But you only have to Google “sewer-pump-station-failures” to see that the statement is not true. Just last last week, a pump station in the village of Richmond, Ont. dumped raw sewage into the Jock River after the station failed due to high volumes of rain.

The issue of risk is critical given that the CVRD has said the pump station project will not proceed if the risks to the health of all cannot be “guaranteed,” which is a threshold neither Gower nor the regional district’s engineers can possibly meet.

And even if the risks were “very small,” the results of a failure would be catastrophic. And all the risks would be assumed by people who don’t benefit from the pump station.

The fact is, even the best engineers and their plans are not infallible. The engineers who planned the Courtenay/Comox sewerage system in the mid-1980s promised that a pipeline dug into the foreshore below Willemar Bluffs would not accelerate erosion, despite warnings from residents and environmentalists.

The engineers were wrong, and a class action lawsuit proved it.

Those same engineers promised that the Courtenay/Comox treatment plant on Brent Road would not emit any noxious odours. Wrong again. And another successful lawsuit against the Courtenay/Comox Sewage Commission.

More than 30 years and millions of taxpayer dollars later, the odour problem still isn’t fixed, though there are hopes for improvements to be made this year.

Gower attempts to state as fact that the DND representative on the Courtenay/Comox Sewage Commission “would have looked at the facts and evidence presented, and considered all options carefully.” But that is not the case.

The legal representative of the neighborhood has documents that indicate the DND representative was not aware of the social implications of his vote, and had no prior knowledge of such key points as whether a recommended study had been done on the integrity of the force main from Goose Spit to the Jane Place station.

He had not been fully briefed by his predecessor or commission chair Barbara Price before the pivotal vote, in which he cast the deciding “yes” vote, and all three Courtenay directors voted “no.”

Gower then claims that “all currently legislated procedures and processes were followed.” Again, this is an opinion, not a fact. This has not been established by the CVRD with reference to provincial and municipal legislation, and only a court of law can reach this conclusion.

Gower accuses those asking questions of using “hyperbolic language” and “bullying” and — showing he’s willing to go over the top — of destroying democracy itself.

Civic engagement is the cornerstone of democracy. Governments exist only at the will of the people, who must speak out and vote and hold elected officials accountable. The suppression of these rights — which I suggest are civic responsibilities — results in despotism and tyrannical rule.

Gower states that the critics’ “points are not valid.” How would he know? He has not met with residents of the Beech Street neighborhood or others who are concerned that the regional district is missing an opportunity to create a better sewerage system for the entire Comox Valley.

He doesn’t seem to understand that this is about more than a pump station in Area B. It’s about governance, environmental risks and ending the patchwork delivery of wastewater services, which has and will continue to cause inter-jurisdictional fights.

In summary, Gower makes statements without evidence and without all the information. His guarantees are meaningless. And his direct financial interest makes his objectivity suspect.

By way of background, the Engineers Code of Ethics says to “… endeavor to interpret engineering issues to the public in an objective and truthful manner.”

George Le Masurier is an Area B resident who supports a Valley-wide shared sewerage service that addresses population growth, new technology and climate change and takes in more service areas and more ratepayers so the burden — and benefits — can be shared more widely.


I’m running on May 9, and I’m no GOOBER, by golly

I’m running on May 9, and I’m no GOOBER, by golly

Those of us who study elections seriously have stumbled upon an alarming discovery about British Columbia politics: spending too much time in Victoria reduces your intelligence to the rough equivalent of a kumquat.

You’ve probably noticed this, too.

A candidate carrying a clipboard rings your doorbell and engages you in thoughtful conversation about the issues that affect you the most. Based on their doorstep brilliance, you elect them and off they go to Victoria where, after about two weeks, their ability to maintain rational thought basically resembles an obscure and bad-tasting fruit.

The problem is that all of our province’s major issues, like fully funding basic education, preventing further environmental disasters and when will we have enough medical marijuana stores, are kept in a big storage locker hidden somewhere in the Capital Region.

That means our politicians have to go there to work on them. But due to the rare Geographic Onset Of Brain Erasure and Restore Syndrome (GOOBERS), the problems just get worse.

That’s why those of us who take elections seriously have concluded after much deep thinking that we need to elect someone who refuses to go to Victoria, and why, at the last minute, I have decided to offer myself as a write-in candidate.

I don’t seek any applause, heartfelt personal thank-you notes or unsolicited friendly letters-to-the-editor. Although large envelopes filled with cash would be nice.

I’m just in it for the issues. And speaking of that, here’s where I stand as of 11:45 a.m. this morning, April 10, 2017:

Taxes and Budget deficits – Against ‘em.
The environment – For it.
Education —Hire more teachers for public schools because it will take a really smart new generation to fix all the messes we made.
Plush jobs for all my friends – No problemo.
War – Normally opposed, but I could justify a small offensive on the price of beer.

People have asked me whether I intend to run as a Green, NDP or Liberal because, you know, after the old conservative SoCreds glossed themselves as “Liberals,” nobody’s really quite sure what party designation means any more.

So I’ve worked up some of my own campaign slogans:

Politicians are like diapers, they both should be changed often, and usually for the same reason.

I’ll be tough on crime, so don’t steal. That’s the government’s job.

WARNING: I advise you to support me now because there are only so many really good pork-barrel jobs to go around (actually, both parties have proven this isn’t true, but it’s a good pressure tactic).

Remember, if I get only one vote, I’ll know it wasn’t you.


What was the point of Shakesides’ graffiti?

What was the point of Shakesides’ graffiti?

Vandals spray-painted the historical home of Hamilton Mack Laing, known as Shakesides, this week with what appears to be a lame version of tagging.

Squiggles of red paint were carelessly sprayed on three sides of the building, and a circle with an upside down ’Y’ was painted on plywood covering the building’s front window.

This doesn’t look like the work of any young graffiti artist. Not a serious one, anyway. They would not spray meaningless scribbles at a fast walk around a building and then produce a 50-year-old peace sign.

No, this seems like the work of somebody without spray-painting skills attempting to inflict maximum damage in the shortest amount of time.

Who would do such a thing? I don’t know, maybe someone angry about something? A jerk?

The front stairway into Shakesides

But it is interesting that no other sign, bridge, post or even tree was spray-painted. That creates the impression this was about something else, possibly the political and legal battle over preservation of Laing’s home.

Maybe it was an attempt to show that a building in a secluded location is vulnerable to defacing by graffiti. But that logic doesn’t hold. It doesn’t explain the worldwide tagging of downtown buildings, railway cars, subway walls, etc.

The whole point of graffiti is to be publicly viewed.

Mayor Paul Ives told me the town will remove the scrawls. They pretty much have to after last year ordering parks staff to remove good-looking murals painted on the window boards by turning the plywood panels around.

Unwanted graffiti is a nuisance and the bane of every property owner. Except that, in this case, the murals made the building look better.

But the town hasn’t always been so keen. Someone painted the word FUCK on the front of Shakesides two years ago and the town just ignored it. A citizen eventually painted over the obscenity.

And the town has ignored other graffiti previously sprayed on parts of the Mack Laing Nature Park.

When a person or organization wants to tear down a heritage building, they employ a variety of tricks to gain public support.

The type of graffiti a young graffiti artist might do, from a building in Olympia, WA.

The most commonly used trick is to let the building fall into disrepair. Spend as little as possible to repair rot or leaks, don’t make improvements and board up the windows quickly. Make it look as bad as possible.

The Town of Comox has used this strategy on Shakesides for 35 years.

Maybe the person or persons who committed this recent act of vandalism wanted to help the town along in its plan to demolish the house. Who knows? Sometimes, people just do dumb stuff.


“Wanton cultural vandalism”

“Wanton cultural vandalism”

Fresh out of college in 1982 at the age of 23, Richard Mackie came face-to-face on Newcastle Island with “Torchy” Smith, a B.C. government employee who roamed the province in search of abandoned buildings in provincial parks.

It was his job that when he found one, he burned it down.

Mackie had just taken on his first job: writing a historical report on the Newcastle Island Dance Pavilion. It was the last remaining pavilion of the 10 built by the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) in the early part of the 20th Century.

The pavilions were featured attractions of the CPR’s coastal resorts, whose guests arrived on the company’s Princess Ships of the British Columbia Coast Steamship Service.

The Newcastle Island Pavilion after it’s 19834 restoration. It’s a popular and busy site for weddings and other social gatherings.

Mackie’s 1983 report noted the historical, recreational and aesthetic values of the last pavilion, and it sent Torchy back to the mainland to start some other fire. The pavilion was restored in 1984 and today is a sought-after location for weddings and other events.

Flush with his initial success, Mackie began a noted career of teaching and writing about history, with an emphasis on heritage buildings. He’s authored half-a-dozen books.

“I got the idea from my Newcastle experience,” Mackie told an audience at North Island College on Saturday, “that if I wrote a report, people would always care. They don’t.”

That’s particularly true in the Town of Comox, which Mackie accused of perpetrating “wanton cultural vandalism.”

He referred to the Comox Council’s decision last year to demolish famous naturalist Hamilton Mack Laing’s original Comox Bay home, named Baybrook, and its plan to demolish Laing’s second home, Shakesides.. The nation’s top heritage experts have criticized Comox for demolishing Baybrook and are fighting the town to save Shakesides.

“In the Comox, you can write all the reports you want, but they’ll tear them down,” he said.

Mackie titled his lecture, the last in an NIC Elder College series featuring authors, “Dead Dog or Land of Plenty? Creating and Effacing History in the Comox Valley.”

He discussed many of the region’s “dead dogs,” which have either been torn down or burned down before they could be restored. It’s a long list that includes the Lorne Hotel, the Elk Hotel, the Courtenay Hotel, the Riverside Hotel and the EW Bickle Palace Theatre.

He lamented the loss of these historical buildings because they serve as anchors for a community’s collective memories, like rooms and artifacts in a person’s childhood home.

He noted the contrast between Cumberland, which has preserved many of its historical buildings, and Comox, which has no apparent regard or respect for its history.

He did have praise for the preservation of Courtenay’s Native Sons Hall and the Filberg Lodge.

Mackie said saving heritage buildings can benefit a community in many ways, including financially.

Campbell River boosted its public awareness when it preserved the home of Roderick Haig-Brown, a more well-known figure but less important to the scientific world than Mack Laing.

And that city also supported the restoration of artist Sybil Andrews’ home, which has since become a popular tourist and event location similar to the Newcastle Island Pavilion.

Referring to the area’s moniker as the “land of plenty,” Mackie asked “plenty of what?” The Comox Valley is destroying its ghosts, he said, with a frontier mentality that doesn’t value these buildings.


Richard Mackie is a former Comox Valley resident. He is the author of Mountain Timber: The Comox Logging Company in the Vancouver Island Mountains (Sono Nis Press, 2009), Island Timber: A Social History of the Comox Logging Company, Vancouver Island (Sono Nis Press, 2000), Trading Beyond the Mountains: The British Fur Trade on the Pacific, 1793-1843 (UBC Press, 1997), The Wilderness Profound: Victorian Life on the Gulf of Georgia (Sono Nis Press, 2009) and Hamilton Mack Laing: Hunter-Naturalist (Sono Nis Press, 1985). Mackie lives in Vancouver where he is Reviews Editor of the Ormsby Review.


Social Studies 02.27.2017

Yes, we know it’s now April. So we’re a little behind. We took a vacation, okay. Chill.

The Decafnation has left its sickly, lifeless existence behind

The Decafnation has left its sickly, lifeless existence behind and transported ourselves to an all-inclusive tropical oasis, where we can eat 15 meals a day and the steel drummers outnumber the the guests. We’ve traded our medical masks for scuba masks, and our serious hats for floppy hats.

So, while we enjoy a complimentary sunset and another free umbrella drink at the tiki bar, we suggest you endure the next two weeks of rain, snow and blustery winter nastiness by rereading every single word on the Decafnation website. We’ll be too busy eating to think of you, but have fun. See you on March 19.

Right now, we have to limber up for the fire-walking limbo contest.