This article has been updated to include a statement from NDP MLA Ronna-Rae Leonard.
There’s a new water controversy bubbling up in the Comox Valley, and once again the province has dumped another problem on local elected officials.
The B.C. government has approved a controversial groundwater licence for a water extraction and bottling operation on a two hectare property on Sackville Road in the Merville area. They did it despite a strong objection from the Comox Valley Regional District and without public consultation or regard for community concerns.
“The province does this all the time,” said Area B Director Rod Nichol. “We have to clean up the mess and look like the bad guys.”
Nichol compared the water extraction issue to the recent Raven Coal Mine battle and myriad less high-profile issues, such as highway development.
About 200 people attended the CVRD’s Electoral Areas Services Committee meeting Monday (March 5) to protest and urge the CVRD to deny the water extraction applicants a necessary zoning change. The property is current zoned rural residential and would need to be zoned light industrial.
Instead, the committee unanimously endorsed a staff recommendation to refer the rezoning application to various agencies, CVRD committees and K’omoks First Nations. The intent is to build a baseline of data about the source of water (aquifer 408) and how a water bottling operation might impact agriculture and other existing users and potential long-term effects on the surrounding watershed.
NDP MLA Ronna-Rae Leonard emailed this statement to Decafnation:
“I can understand the concerns of Merville residents, as water is a precious resource for any community. My understanding is the ministry performed a detailed technical review of the proposal and noted no concerns about aquifer capacity. I’ve also been reassured that existing well users would get priority in a drought. The project still needs CVRD zoning approval though, and as the local MLA I will be monitoring the situation closely.”
Christopher Scott MacKenzie told the committee that he originally drilled a well for domestic purposes. But after his wife, Regula Heynck, insisted on testing and discovering the water had high pH levels (alkaline), the couple envisioned a viable family business.
MacKenzie claimed the alkaline water has health benefits and is “something the community needs … it’s really unique”
A protester disrupted MacKenzie with concerns about how neighbors’ drinking supplies might go dry. He replied that dry wells would be “hit and miss,” and that people “would just have to understand it.”
MacKenzie and Heynck have recently moved to the Valley from Ringenberg, Germany, and took out a building permit to locate a $14,613 mobile home on the property.
MacKenzie is the son of the late Keith MacKenzie, who served as president of the Courtenay Fish and Game Club after retiring as carpentry foreman from Candian Forces Base, Comox. His tours of duty included a stop in Germany.
The core issue
The province has already approved a groundwater licence that enables MacKenzie/Heynck to extract 10,000 litres per day or 3.65 million litres per year. But the CVRD must approve a rezoning application to permit “water and beverage bottling” as a principal use on the property.
Alana Mullaly, the CVRD manager of planning services, said the province has jurisdiction on what happens below grade. The CVRD has jurisdiction over what can happen above grade.
She said denying the rezoning application would not cancel the provincial groundwater license.
Without a zoning change, MacKenzie/Heynck cannot conduct water bottling operations as the principal use of the property.
But it’s unclear whether a denial of the rezoning application would mean only that they could not construct a bottling facility on the property or that they could not operate a commercial enterprise from the property even without a physical structure.
The CVRD opposed the water extraction application made to Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (FLNRORD) on the basis that it was inconsistent with the Rural Comox Valley Official Community Plan Bylaw No. 337, 2014, and the zoning bylaw.
There are environmentally sensitive areas surrounding the property, including many farms and Agricultural Land Reserve areas that rely on groundwater.
Area C Director Edwin Grieve warned that aquifers eventually get pumped down and he wondered what effect that would have on the water supply for nearby farms. He noted that climate changes have caused Portuguese Creek to dry up in the summer.
Grieve said the applicant deserved due process and that the gathering of more information is important.
But Grieve also said earlier that “we could save the applicant a lot of time and money and deny it now.”
CVRD staff will refer the rezoning application to a number of agencies, First Nations and its own relevant committees. Not date was set for staff to report to the CVRD board.
If the application passes through the Area C Advisory Planning Commission, then the CVRD would hold public hearings.
In the meantime, people can express their views on the proposal to Tanya Dunlop, senior authorizations technologist, at email@example.com.
Editor’s Note: This obituary was submitted by the family
Ruth Jessie Masters was a war veteran, avid hiker, historian, naturalist, environmentalist, protester but maybe most importantly she was one of ours – born and raised in the Comox Valley. She was born at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Comox on May 7, 1920. She passed away peacefully at the new North Island Hospital in Courtenay on November 7, 2017. She was 97 years old.
Ruth lived almost her entire life in her own home, which she built on her parents’ property in Courtenay. She served in the Canadian Air Force as a clerk in England during World War II and was promoted to Sergeant. In Courtenay she worked as a legal secretary from 1952 until 1992. Ruth was an avid hiker throughout most of her life. She made her first hike up Mt. Becher with her family in 1933 when she was just 13 and five years later climbed Comox Glacier and became one of the first members of the Comox District Mountaineering Club.
Ruth was a dedicated local historian. She never forgot her time spent oversees during the War and she never forgot the many who did not return. She spent countless hours researching names on the local Cairn and then lobbied the provincial government to name lakes and mountains in the area for many of the soldiers who served in both the first and second world wars. Her detailed compendium, “Lest We Forget” is on display in the Courtenay Museum.
Ruth also compiled other local history books that are on display at the Courtenay and Cumberland Museums – ‘Courtenay’, ‘Forbidden Plateau’, and ‘Ginger Goodwin’, each one leather-bound and engraved by Ruth. They are all probably best thought of as loving gifts from Ruth to the people of the Comox Valley.
Ruth was an environmentalist before the word was invented. She was passionate about the need to protect wildlife and the natural world. She always spoke up for those without a voice and always fought to protect the natural beauty of her homeland, especially Strathcona Park and the Comox Valley.
Ruth was known to put her body between bears and trophy hunters. She was on the beaches in Tofino in 1989 to clean up after the infamous Exxon Valdez oil spill. She carved up road-kill and drove them in her little red truck to wildlife rescue centres for food in both Parksville and the Comox Valley.
She could always be counted on to help out with blockades, protests and rallies to protect the environment. When mining threatened Strathcona Park she blew “Oh Canada” on her faithful harmonica at almost every arrest during the three-month standoff at Buttle Lake in the middle of the winter in 1988. She was a ‘master’ sign-maker, making directional signs for alpine trails and protest signs for her numerous causes.
Working side by side with her good friend Melda Buchanan around 1990, Ruth played a key role in lobbying to add forestland to Seal Bay Park. On a rainy, windy day in December 1994, along with Carol Neufeld and Fran Johnson, Ruth put her body in front of chainsaws to protect the trees in what we now all take for granted as MacDonald Wood Park in Comox. She donated 18 acres of her own land in Courtenay for the Masters Greenway and Wildlife Corridor.
Ruth ‘walked her talk’ and that is why so many remember her. She set an example for all of us for how to live on the Earth and leave it in better shape. Growing up ‘church-mouse poor’, as she would say, she always lived a modest life but was generous to a fault, giving to environmental organizations, wildlife protection groups, the SPCA, the NDP and many, many more.
Ruth was predeceased by her father, William Edward Masters, her mother Jessie Smith, and her only brother Bill. She is survived by her nephew James Edward Masters, distant relatives in Victoria and Ontario, and her God-daughter Lorrainne Dixon.
Lorrainne was tasked with making health care decisions in Ruth’s declining years and did an admirable job. Ruth was always firm that she wanted to live out her final years in her own home. As her health declined this was not always easy but Lorrainne held firm in respecting Ruth’s wishes and ensuring that Ruth was safe in her home.
Although she had few living relatives, Ruth built a huge family around her in the Comox Valley and in her declining years a small inner circle of that family helped Ruth stay in her own home.
Thanks must also be expressed to Ruth’s primary care giver – Yolanda Corke. Yolanda was Ruth’s daily lifeline, checking on her early each morning and afternoon and calling on volunteers when extra help was needed. More than anyone Yolanda provided the day-to-day care that allowed Ruth to remain in her home in her final years. Yolanda was at Ruth’s side when she passed away in hospital.
There will be a Celebration of Life for Ruth from 1 pm to 4:30 pm on Sunday December 10 at the Florence Filberg Centre – Conference Hall in Courtenay at 411 Anderton Avenue. Doors will open at 12:30. Donations may be made to the Ruth Masters Hero Spoon Award online at foundation.nic.bc.ca or by mail to North Island College Foundation, 2300 Ryan Road, Courtenay, BC, V9N 8N6, or to a charity of your choice.