Comox passes $250,000 lawsuit over to global insurance firm

Comox passes $250,000 lawsuit over to global insurance firm

Ken McDonald, where Golf Creek flows through his property  /  Decafnation file photo

By Pat Carl

The Town of Comox has handed off Norine and Ken McDonald’s $250,000 lawsuit to one of the world’s largest independent providers of claims management solutions, Crawford and Company.

The Municipal Insurance Agent of BC was handling the town’s case, scheduled for the BC Supreme Court, but earlier this year moved their liability insurance to AON Canada. Now, it’s been passed on to Crawford and Company, which may be best known for handling liability claims with regard to the 2000 E.coli outbreak in Walkerton, Ontario. As of 2018, some of those liability claims are still pending.

Meanwhile, the McDonalds’ stress level builds as the two-year battle over the pollution and excessive stormwater flow in Golf Creek, which runs through their property and has eroded chunks of it.

The McDonalds have decided to take up arms against the Town of Comox because, as McDonald says, “We can’t un-know what we know” about Golf Creek.

They know that Golf Creek, which now, in late summer, is a trickle, will become a torrent during the winter rainy season because it flows through pipes laid by the Town that reach from the Comox Golf Course to Comox Bay. The creek flows under the Comox Mall and the Berwick Retirement Community, and resurfaces again as it passes through seven riparian properties privately owned by Comox residents, including the McDonalds.

When they purchased their home, they knew about the erosion problem caused by stormwater run-off that swells Golf Creek.

The little bit of Golf Creek that remains natural disappears into large stormwater pipes and a torrent of flow during rain storms

“There’s only about three metres, about 10 feet, between our back door and the sheer drop down to Golf Creek” and it’s eroding more with each heavy winter rain event, he says.

Nevertheless, since the town laid the pipes that turned a peaceful meandering creek into a powerful rush of water swelled by 23 separate municipal stormwater pipes, the McDonalds thought the town should pay some of the cost they incurred when they shored up the portion of their property next to Golf Creek.

The town disagreed. The McDonalds took up arms by taking the town to small claims court.

The erosion is one thing. But the pollution in the creek is another.

Once filled with fish and shellfish, Golf Creek is now dead and, in fact, deadly. The McDonalds had the creek waters professionally tested and the tests interpreted by a biochemist who found “high concentrations of nine metal ions, including mercury and copper…an extremely high fecal coliform count,” which translates into “E. coli counts exceeding provincial maximums by 500 percent.”

This information, and the fact, they say, that Comox staff and Town Council have refused to discuss their small claims court filing, drove the McDonalds to upgrade their small claims court filing to an actual suit against the Town for an amount that equals the loss in value of their property affected by Golf Creek.

But what drives the McDonalds to face off against the deep taxpayer pockets of the town is more complicated than personal property loss. According to Ken, “We are speaking for other creatures who can’t speak and for the next generations.”

The Town commissioned numerous reports, one dating back 26 years, suggesting ways to mitigate Golf Creek’s flow rates and volume and to help settle contaminants, all of which were ignored by the town. One report suggested the construction of a retention pond above Comox Golf Club.

“Just dig a hole,” McDonald says, his frustration bubbling to the surface.

The Town has missed other opportunities, he says. For example, the recent rehabilitation of the Comox Mall and the expansion of the Berwick. He wonders why the town didn’t recommend working with developers to daylight portions of Golf Creek, as has been done with Bowker Creek, which runs through portions of Saanich, Victoria, and Oak Bay.

“Why doesn’t Comox vote to suspend legal action and have a conversation with us about how to settle our claim?” McDonald said.

The McDonalds claim they want to talk with council and even asked for a postponement of a trial date to do so. The judge hearing the case agreed, even though the town opposed the postponement and, to date, has not met with the McDonalds.

“Who makes decisions like this?” McDonald said. He wonders who is advising council to steer clear of the McDonalds even though talking with them may be the best way to resolve their suit as well as the issue of Golf Creek and stormwater run-off?

Contacted for comment on this story, neither Mayor Russ Arnott or Town CAO Richard Kanigan responded.

But many municipalities receive advice from the Municipal Insurance Association of BC (MIABC), which provided the Town’s liability insurance up until January 1, 2019.

Up until that time, Comox has had very little incentive to settle claims against it. In fact, because of its membership in the MIABC, it has been disincentivized to settle claims, even ones as small and as reasonable as the McDonalds’ original small claims court filing.

The MIABC rewards municipalities that have few liability claims through its Experience Rating Program. This translates into $190,000 in premium subsidies being applied to Comox’s MIABC liability insurance rate.

Additionally, the MIABC delivers training to member municipalities that directs town staff on how to handle liability claims, which basically counsels staff to not engage with claimants. That training also makes clear that elected councillors should not communicate with claimants.

“It’s very undemocratic the way no one is listening to us,” McDonald said.

If the McDonalds’ suit is heard by a judge and if the suit is decided in the McDonalds’ favour, then a legal precedent is set which could allow other claimants in other BC municipalities to seek reimbursement for their properties and could force municipalities to rehabilitate creeks that they’ve covered over and polluted.

McDonald said he wonders why the Town, the insurance provider and defense counsel want to litigate rather than settle out of court.

Pat Carl, a Comox residents, is a contributor for the Comox Valley Civic Journalism Project. She can be reached at pat.carl0808@gmail.com

 

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Take a hike, see devastation in the Comox Lake watershed

Take a hike, see devastation in the Comox Lake watershed

A cut block on a hillside in the Comox Lake watershed  /  Pat Carl photos

By Pat Carl

When I first moved permanently to the Comox Valley, I met a man who knew the Valley well and many of its paths and trails, those well known and those obscure. He took people on hikes during which he shared his knowledge of the area. I often think of the gift he gave me and others.

One time, a group of us took a hike with him that started at the dam near Comox Lake and ended at Nymph Falls. As I recall, the area during that season was a beautiful and rich emerald green and smelled of softwood pine needles and sap. That was some 15 years ago.

I returned to the dam and lake last weekend with four others. All of us are members of Save Our Forests – Comox Valley, SOFT – CV for short. We were interested in seeing firsthand the extent of the timber harvest currently being conducted by TimberWest throughout the Comox Lake watershed, which is the source of drinking water for most of the Comox Valley.

We traveled some 15 kilometres around Comox Lake and up logging roads along the Cruickshank River, one of the many rivers and streams that feeds into the Lake.

Theoretically, we were prepared for the clear-cutting, but seeing it for ourselves brought home the amount of devastation. Cut block after cut block dotted the sides of steep hills and mountains and came within a hair’s breadth of the Cruickshank. We wondered aloud how TimberWest, with a straight face, could claim, as its website does, to be stewards of its lands that “respect cultural, economic and environmental values.”

I was also struck by the amount of waste that TimberWest’s “stewardship” creates. Weathered and newly created piles of slash waiting to be burned, thick wire ropes lying in the dirt alongside twisted and abandoned metal culverts, logging roads like bleeding veins cutting through the harvested areas, treeless exposed understory with its loose rocks and soil just waiting for a strong winter rain to send it down into the Cruickshank unimpeded, and trees, like the twisted rust-red arbutus beauties, caught up in the clear-cutting onslaught.

What beauty remains in the area is created by the hardwood trees which TimberWest doesn’t consider economically harvest-worthy. The dappling sunshine drifting through what little canopy remains brought to mind what it must have been like before TimberWest became the area’s owner with free rein to log right on top of the watershed that drains into Comox Lake, the source of Courtenay/Comox’s drinking water.

And you wonder why a new water treatment facility is planned for the Comox Valley, costing $126 million to construct and then an estimated $86 yearly operating cost to be shouldered by each Courtenay and Comox household for the next 25 years.

Want to see the devastation yourself? You’ll need to drive a 4×4 vehicle to naviagate the logging roads. And you will need to check TimberWest’s website for current accessibility restrictions. It’s their privately-owned land, after all.

But it’s our watershed and our drinking water.

Pat Carl is a frequent contributor to Decafnation and a participant in the Comox Valley Civic Journalism Project. She can be reached at patcarl0808@gmail.com

 

 

 

GET CONNECTED BY WATER, LEARN ABOUT THE COMOX LAKE WATERSHED PROTECTION PLAN

High quality drinking water is produced by a healthy, properly functioning ecosystem. Clean water is the outcome of watershed-scale and riparian processes that capture, store and release water while simultaneously reducing or removing suspended sediments, bacteria, viruses, parasites and excess nutrients.

Protecting our drinking water requires two important steps: treating the water and protecting the source. The area of land that drains into Comox Lake is approximately 461 square kilometres, and the majority is privately owned. Much of the area is also K’ómoks First Nation (KFN) traditional territories. Balancing interests such as private ownership, traditional use, active logging, recreation, and hydroelectric power generation, while providing drinking water and sustaining critical fish and wildlife habitat, is a long-term endeavour.

Comox Valley Regional District website

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Comox Valley marches to preserve Island’s remaining old growth forests

Comox Valley marches to preserve Island’s remaining old growth forests

Jay Van Oostdam photos

By Pat Carl

Ninety-one-year-old Elke Bibby, with her walker in tow, thought it important enough to come in from Cumberland to join the Day of Action to Save BC Forests.

So did Tallulah Patterson, owner of Little Salmon Child Care located in Courtenay’s Puntledge Park. Seven of her charges accompanied her to the Courtenay courthouse lawn on their bikes and scooters and then marched down Courtenay’s streets to Save BC Forests.

Along the way, cut-outs of local MLA Ronna-Rae Leonard, Minister of Forestry Doug Donaldson and Premier John Horgan made their usual statements defending the provincial government’s decision to sell lots of old growth to the highest industry bidder. In a twist on the childhood game of “Simon Says,” marchers were cued to turn their backs on the politicians’ obfuscations.

When the marchers arrived at the Comox Valley Art Gallery, speakers stood between the two unity totems installed at the gallery entrance.

Galen Armstrong, with Sierra Club BC, looked out over the crowd of more than 100 marchers and commented on its age diversity.

“We need to talk to people of all ages, we need to expand our circle” so that we can stop logging companies from harvesting old growth,” he said.

Youth Environmental Action organizer, Nalan Goosen, said young people believe they are the ones being “most affected by logging old growth” since they will inherit a damaged environment.

Describing that damage was Dr. Loys Maingon, who was arrested at Clayoquot Sound in 1992 for protecting old growth. While he presented statistical and scientific information, he did it in a passionate way that stirred the crowd.

Eartha Muirhead, who is spearheading the anti-old growth logging movement with First Nations at Schmidt Creek, said that “letters and polite emails to our provincial government may no longer be enough. We may need to lay our bodies on the line to save old growth.”

Other speakers included Cumberland Councillor Vickey Brown, who told the crowd that her young son said that “there are places where people just shouldn’t be” like old growth forests.

Will Cole-Hamilton, a Courtenay City Councillor, said that logging old growth is a “destructive practice” that has led to our Island’s “scarred landscape.”

Mark de Bruijn, a local Green Party of Canada candidate, noted that “tweaking provincial regulations is no longer enough. We need a profound overhaul of the system.”

Marchers spontaneously made their own signs, like Megan Trumble. They recited poems like Lorraine’s “Stained Shoes.” They penned and sang their own songs like Joanna Finch’s “We Are One.”

“The energy” at the Day of Action “was electric,” said one participant.

 

 

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Vancouver Island old growth faces a bleak future, say speakers

Vancouver Island old growth faces a bleak future, say speakers

The clear at Avatar Grove, near Port Renfrew  /   Photos by Diane and Jay Van Oostdam

By Pat Carl

A Friday night crowd of 100 listened intently as speakers from Sierra Club BC and the Wilderness Committee illustrated the grim reality of what remains of old growth forest on Vancouver Island.

The shocked audience often sighed audibly as the speakers showed photos of recently clear-cut old growth and pointed out the roads already built to more easily harvest much of the rest.

Vancouver Island’s coastal temperate rainforest is a unique system, according to Mark Worthing of the Sierra Club, one that is disappearing at the astonishing rate of 34 soccer fields per day. Less than 10 percent of the original 3 million hectares of old growth forest still exists on the Island and SW mainland.

“Because of the climate crisis,” Worthing claims, “business as usual isn’t an option. Trees are the tools we need to fight the climate crisis.”

Diane Van Oostdam standing in front of Big Lonely Doug — Height: 70.2 meters/230 feet. Circumference: 11.91 meters/39 feet

Torrance Coste from the Wilderness Committee claims that old growth and even second growth forests are our best “offense and defense’ against climate change. Because the audience members benefit from BC government-owned timber sales, we all are responsible for the demise of old growth forests, according to Coste.

A third speaker, Stacy Harper, a graduate student at Royal Rhodes, is writing about the astonishing gift the Cumberland Forest Society made to its community when it purchased 110 hectares of forest near the township.

“Since Cumberland members have long been involved in the forestry economy, they have a special attachment to those 110 hectares,” Harper said.

he community has altered its relationship with the forest; while once the community harvested the forest, it now protects the forest. In interviewing one community member, Harper was told that when the government ‘owns’ the forest, it can do what it wants. When we own the forest, we can protect it.

Following the presentations, Galen Armstrong, a lead organizer at Sierra Club BC, fielded questions for the speakers. One question echoed the frustration many attendees felt who think assertive direct action is needed to save old growth and second growth forests and to fight climate change.

Both Coste and Worthing explained that their present positions require that they work within the legal and political guidelines provided by their organizations. But in his experience, Coste has found that “civil disobedience is the sound of not being heard,” which resonated with many of those in attendance.

Comox Valley residents Diane and Jay Van Oostdam recently traveled to the Avatar Grove near Port Renfrew. Their photos illustrate the assault on old growth forests in BC.

Pat Carl is a contributor to the Comox Valley Civic Journalism Project

This article has been updated to state Vancouver Island originally had 3 million hectares of old growth forest, not 360,000 hectares.

 

 

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Orca and a dinosaur join Comox Valley youth in climate action march

Orca and a dinosaur join Comox Valley youth in climate action march

Photo by Fireweed 

By Pat Carl

Y outh Environmental Action (YEA) took to the streets of Courtenay on Friday, May 3, to highlight the desperate situation the local community, province, country, and, indeed, the globe faces as the long brewing climate catastrophic comes home to roost.

Homemade placards challenged early afternoon shoppers and drivers with “The Climate is Changing; Why aren’t We?” as well as “It’s Our Future” and “Lower the Voting Age Before It’s Too Late.”

SEE MORE COVERAGE OF THE YOUTH CLIMATE MARCH HERE

The call to attend the march went out through various social media formats and was answered by daycare students with their parents, elementary and high school students coming to the event on city buses, and college students skipping classes as well as older supporters. The estimated 250 students from across the Comox Valley were joined by older supporters swelling their ranks to 300 avid climate activists.

They challenged all levels of government to find their environmental consciences. They had specific questions for Gord Johns, NDP MP, and Ronna-Rae Leonard, NDP MLA who greeted marchers outside of their shared downtown Courtenay office.

Ava Perkins wanted to know when climate sciences were going to be taught in K-12 classrooms.

Ella Oldaker wanted the two government officials and their parties to actively protect old and second growth forests.

Mackai Sharp wanted to know how the federal government intended to protect the West Coast from [offshore] drilling.

Sienna Stephens asked why the herring fishery was continuing unabated in the Strait, when herring are a food source for other marine species.

All good questions, both Johns and Leonard agreed. Johns encouraged youth to “raise the volume” in their quest to lead the world away from climate disaster, while Leonard cautioned everyone to remain constructive and work with lawmakers in making the world a better place.

Older supporters of the march reacted to Leonard by shouting down her mild responses to the student questions as typical NDP pablum. In response, Nalan Goosen, one of the founders of YEA, asked everyone in the crowd to listen respectfully to the politicians’ responses.

One four-year-old, Yma, told this reporter that she was at the march with her mother because “there are too many factories and big buildings” and too few trees.

One seventh grader, Cory McAllister, said he is home schooled but found out about the march on social media and felt he had to support YEA.

An orca and an eight-foot-high dinosaur also joined the march.

In the crowd of older supporters, Pam Monroe, sincerely apologized to the students. She explained, “I worked in Alberta in the oil and gas industry for years. My lifestyle profited,” she said, “at the expense of the environment.”

Pat Carl is a contributor to the Decafnation Civic Journalism Project

 

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