IMAGE: Courtesy of Inhabitat
The B.C. government has stalled a Comox Valley citizen’s Freedom of Information request for a technical study and other information regarding the approval of a water extraction licence in the Merville area
Did the provincial government do an in-depth technical study before issuing a licence for a Merville couple to extract 10,000 litres per day for a water bottling operation?
Or, did they approve the licence without doing a sufficient examination of the aquifer from which the water would be drawn and the number of farmers who depend on that water to grow local produce?
And, is it possible that British Columbia has designed its open government regulations to allow ministries to effectively thwart citizen’s requests for information?
Those questions are being asked this week because the Ministry of Forests, Land, Natural Resources, Operations and Rural Development (FLNRORD), which granted the Merville groundwater licence, has stalled a Freedom of Information (FOI) request for more than a month.
Merville area farmer Arzeena Hamir, owner of Merville Organics, submitted an FOI request in March regarding the recent decision to grant a groundwater license in Merville (File – 20004026, Water License – 500169) for a water extraction and bottling operation.
FURTHER READING: Water bottling project raises aquifer concerns; Farmers: reject Merville water bottling operation
Hamir wanted to know, “How Ministry staff determined that a public consultation did not need to occur; How Ministry staff determined that the aquifer did not need to be studied; The Ministry staff response to the Komox First Nations referral to the application. (Date Range for Record Search: From 07/01/2016 To 12/31/2017).”
More than a month later, Hamir still hasn’t any idea when the ministry will send her the requested information.
On April 26, she received an email from Andrew Bonneau, a senior FOI analyst in the Ministry of Citizen’s Services, saying that she’s not much closer to getting the information.
“The ministry is currently in the process of confirming that there will no longer be any fees for your request based on the new wording,” Bonneau wrote. “I am anticipating on receiving a response from them shortly and once confirmed, they will begin gathering the records and I will be able to provide you with a new due date for your request.
“Depending on the total number of records that are received and/or whether or not any consultations will be required with other public bodies, there may be a need to extend the due date of your request, however, I will inform you if that will be necessary at that time,” he wrote.
In other words, the ministry has no intention of fulfilling Hamir’s request on a timely basis, and it could be another month or two before she gets any of the information.
That’s not acceptable.
Hamir has asked Comox Valley MLA Ronna-Rae Leonard to look into the issue.
“This is insane. It’s taken FLNRORD more than three weeks to tell the FOI office how long it’s now going to take them to produce just one report,” she said. “Then they have another 30 days to provide that report.”
Several Merville area farmers who are concerned about a loss of water for crop irrigation have questioned whether the ministry did a sufficient study of the demands on the aquifer in question before issuing the extraction licence.
Christopher Scott MacKenzie and his wife, Regula Heynck, applied for a licence to extract 10,000 litres per day or 3.65 million litres per year. The Comox Valley Regional District and the K’omoks First Nation opposed the licence application, but the ministry approved it anyway.
There are environmentally sensitive areas surrounding the property, including many farms and Agricultural Land Reserve areas that rely on groundwater.
Area C Direct 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.
The CVRD must approve a rezoning application to permit “water and beverage bottling” as a principal use on the property. CVRD staff are gathering information and will report back to the board of directors in May or June.
The Area C Advisory Planning Commission discussed the rezoning issue at its May 2, 2018 at 7 p.m. at the CVRD board room. There was no public input at this meeting. Full report to follow.
Meanwhile, Hamir wants the information she requested from the ministry quickly so she and other Merville area farmers can review the data on which the water extraction licence was approved.
Hamir said given the public controversy the water licence has created, “it’s hard to believe this report and the other information I requested aren’t readily available on somebody’s desk.”
PHOTO: Merville area residents and others attend a public forum last week about the water bottling proposal
The Mid-Island Farmer’s Institute asks the CVRD to decline a rezoning application and to urge the B.C. government to rescind a water licence for a bottling operation in the Merville area
The Mid-Island Farmers Institute has asked the Comox Valley Regional District board to reject a water bottling facility on Sackville Road in Merville.
The farmers also want the regional district to ask the Ministry of Forestry, Land, Natural Resources, Operations and Rural Development (FLNRORD) to rescind the water licence granted to the Sackville Road property owners, Christopher MacKenzie and Regula Heynck.
The regional district didn’t issue the water licence and has no authority to rescind it. But the CVRD can deny a rezoning application that is necessary to allow water bottling as a principal use on the property.
The provincial agency approved the controversial groundwater licence for a water extraction and bottling operation on a two hectare property in the Merville area despite strong objections from the CVRD and the K’omoks First Nation.
“We believe that this licence was issued without a thorough understanding of the aquifer and the impact that water extraction would have on neighbouring farms and home sites,” board members of the farmers organization wrote in a letter to the regional district board of directors.
“The rezoning application is not in line with the CVRD’s own Official Community Plan and will negatively impact neighbours and road infrastructure,” they said. “The fact that the licence was granted despite objections from the CVRD , objections from the K’omoks First Nation, and the lack of any public consultation brings serious doubt to the legitimacy of such a decision and the operation must not be allowed to go forward.”
FURTHER READING: Water bottling project raises aquifer concerns
MacKenzie told a CVRD committee last month 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”
But farmers in the Merville area believe the bottling facility would draw too much water from the aquifer and affect their crop production. The licence allows MacKenzie/Heynck to extract 10,000 litres per day or 3.65 million litres per year.
The Mid-Island Farmer’s Institute wants the Ministry of FLNRORD to rescind the licence and “declare a moratorium on the issuance of water bottling licences on BC’s aquifers until a full review is conducted on the current and future demand for this water from BC’s farmers.”
The farmers also want the CVRD to “apply for a Water Reservation over the aquifer to ensure that the water is only used for Comox Valley community needs,” which could only be lifted if “the CVRD’s Agriculture Watershed Public Advisory Committee has determined that there is sufficient water for current and future needs of the CVRD community.”
The next CVRD board meeting is Tuesday, April 24. But the matter probably won’t be addressed again until the Electoral Services Committee, which makes recommendations to the board on rural rezoning applications, meets on May 14.
Provincial ministry confirms: province has no legal responsibility for managing urban deer. Comox Valley elected officials ignore problem while Oak Bay and Haida Gwaii take action
[dropcap}Q[/dropcap]uestion: What do the City of Oak Bay and the islands of Haida Gwaii NOT have in common with the Comox Valley?
Answer: They have recognized the problems caused by an excessive quantity of deer and have taken actions to reduce their deer populations.
The Comox Valley has done nothing.
Meanwhile, the federal government will spend $5.7 million over the next three years on a program that will eradicate deer from six islands in Haida Gwaii, and
Oak Bay will spend $40,000 on an experimental program to put some of its urban deer on birth control.
But Comox Valley governments have allowed their urban deer populations to expand, partly because elected officials cling to the erroneous notion that managing the animals is a provincial responsibility.
A Comox Valley Regional District representative has told Decafnation that deer are a provincial problem, and Comox Mayor Paul Ives repeated this misinformation on Facebook recently.
So Decafnation contacted the Ministry of Forest, Lands and Resource Operations and Rural Development. Here’s what they said:
“According to section 2 (1) and 2 (5) of the Wildlife Act, all wildlife is owned by the government, but no right of action or compensation exists against the province for death, personal injury or property damage,” a ministry representative wrote via email.
“So, while the province owns the deer, it has no legal responsibility for managing urban deer populations toward objectives established by local governments.”
But the province encourages local governments to develop detailed deer management plans, and it partners with local governments to facilitate and develop socially acceptable urban deer management solutions.
FURTHER READING: Ottawa spends $5.7 to eradicate deer in Haida Gwii; Oak Bay to issue deer contraceptives
If any Comox Valley municipality developed a deer management strategy the province would provide technical advice, regulatory authority, necessary permits, specialized equipment and other management tools.
And, in 2016, B.C. launched an urban deer management program, which provides $100,000 each year to help fund community-based urban deer management projects.
The funding follows up on the province’s pledge – made at the 2015 Union of BC Municipalities annual convention – to set aside annual funding for urban deer mitigation. The province is helping to fund Oak Bay’s program.
That makes it clear that local governments must initiate strategies to manage its deer populations, and the province will help with resources and funding.
So why are Comox Valley governments ignoring this problem?
Gardeners lose thousands of dollars worth of plants to the voraciously hungry deers, and spend thousands more on fencing and other methods to deter them. Farmers have lost crops. Motorists have collided with deer.
Deer attract dangerous animals. Deer make up about 95 percent of a cougar’s diet, and are lured into the urban area by the easy prey of unwary deer. The area conservation officer reports frequent cougar sightings in the Valley.
Letting the deer population go unchecked raises the risk of spreading Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses. While reported cases of Lyme disease are not as prevalent here as in the Lower Mainland and other areas, a high density of deer means more ticks and a greater risk.
What Oak Bay is doing
The city recently put radio collars on 20 does to track their movements and better understand the deer population. The next step is to administer an immunocontraceptive vaccine, Zonastat-D, either by hand or via a darting rifle.
While the current version of the drug remains effective for up to 22 months, scientists are working on a vaccine that would work for up to seven years.
What’s going on in Haida Gwaii
Deer were introduced to the Haida Gwaii archipelago in 1880 by the B.C. Game Commission. They have since spread to all of the region’s 200 islands.
“The deer don’t have any predators so there’s no real control for their hyper abundance and they’re beginning to damage the ecosystem in an almost irreparable way,” a Parks Canada resource management technical told CBC news.
Professional sharpshooters have been hired to kill the deer and train young islanders to assist in the eradication.
The deer meat will be distributed for hot lunch programs throughout Haida Gwaii.
Who to call
If individual deer are an immediate threat to human safety, the Conservation Officer Service will respond. These instances should be reported to the RAPP line (Report All Poachers and Polluters) 1-877-952-7277 (RAPP) or #7277 on the TELUS Mobility Network.
To encourage local governments to develop deer management programs, call Comox Town Hall (339-2202) , Courtenay City Hall (334-4441) or the Comox Valley Regional District (334-6000).
PHOTO: Peter Vinall, president and co-founder of Sustane Technologies, says the company can convert solid waste that arrives at a landfill into biofuel, through a process that generates zero emissions. Photo courtesy of The Chronicle Herald
Comox Strathcona regional districts take a step closer to new advanced recycling technologies, fewer greenhouse gas emissions and longer landfill life
Using valuable land to bury our garbage is 17th Century thinking,” according to Charlie Cornfield, a Campbell River member of the Comox Strathcona Waste Management Board’s (CSWM) special committee investigating new technologies.
Cornfield made the comment April 5 in support of a series of motions to move the regional district closer to adopting advanced recycling methods that could extend the life of landfills and turn the community’s waste into sources of energy.
The disposition of household and commercial garbage has become a major problem for municipalities around the world, and B.C.’s coastal areas are not immune.
Powell River and the Cowichan Valley already ship their municipal waste by barge to private landfills in Washington state at exorbitant expense.
The Comox Strathcona region must spend about $28 million every six to seven years to open, operate and close up new landfill sites, a frequency that will escalate when the Campbell River landfill closes in 2023 and its waste is trucked to Pigeon Lake. That’s a cost to taxpayers of more than $300,000 per month.
“We can’t afford it (landfills) anymore,” Cornfield said.
FURTHER READING: Should the north Island bury its garbage, or convert it to energy?
New technologies that employ advanced recycling methods could extend the life of CSWM landfill at Pigeon Lake, near Cumberland by 69 to 160 years, while releasing significantly fewer greenhouse gas emissions, according to consultants employed by the regional district.
The CSWM committee voted unanimously this week to invite two technology companies to meet with the board. The two, Sustane Technologies and Waste Treatment Technologies, were the leading contenders from a longer list of responders to a 2017 Request For Information for waste-to-energy technologies.
The committee also voted to ask the Ministry of Environment to explain provincial regulations that appear to restrict when local governments can adopt waste-to-energy solutions.
And the committee also directed staff to monitor the progress of Sustane Technologies first Canadian operation in Nova Scotia and its eight-year-old facility in Spain.
The committee’s actions rejected a recommendation by Chief Administration Officer Russell Dyson to put off further investigation of alternate waste disposal technologies until 2022, when a 10-year update of the solid waste management plan is due.
But there are still outstanding issues.
The 70 percent rule
Ministry of Environment regulations seem to require that local governments achieve a 70 percent diversion rate before getting provincial approval to explore waste-to-energy technologies.
That might mean that 70 percent of all waste arriving at Pigeon Lake from households and commercial sources must be reduced, recycled or reused, but the definitions and details of how the 70 percent figure is calculated are unclear.
The Comox Strathcona operation currently diverts 48 percent of waste, but when the organics composting facility opens next year in Campbell River, that number will jump to nearly 60 percent.
A representative of Morrison Hershfield, a consulting engineering firm hired to assess various new waste disposal technologies, said the ministry’s number “isn’t set in stone.” He said it’s examined on a case-by-case basis.
He said if the regional districts have a plan and is making a good effort toward diverting 70 percent of waste, a move toward newer technologies is likely to get a favorable response from the ministry.
Cornfield believes the 70 percent number was pulled “out of thin air.”
“Where did the 70 percent come from?” Cornfield said. “Our role as a board, as politicians, is to make the case that we’re close enough to move forward.”
Cornfield pointed out that the CSWM operation diverts more than double many other regional districts and that in many countries of the world, such as the U.K., there are no landfills at all.
Buying garbage, he said is a “horrible waste of an asset” that can be reused as energy.
Cost versus greenhouse gases
The Morrison Hershfield consulting study and detailed cost analysis by Comox Valley Regional District staff concluded that “at this time” it is less expensive to continue buying garbage in landfills.
The newer technologies could cost double or triple the amount per tonne spent on landfilling.
The same report, which compared three different WTE technologies, also concluded that if Comox and Strathcona regional districts continue to bury their garbage in the Pigeon Lake landfill, we will produce 821,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) over the next 40-year period.
The worst (highest) CO2e emissions from any of the three reviewed WTE technologies was only 179,000 tonnes.
And one of the technologies would achieve a net reduction of CO2e by -777,000 tonnes. Yes, a minus number, or a positive CO2e impact.
FURTHER READING: WTE discussion missed the GNG point
In other words, by implementing WTE technology, the entire north Island could reduce its greenhouse gas emissions from solid waste by at least 80 percent, and possibly by roughly 200 percent.
Landfills are North America’s third largest source of methane, which is 25 times more detrimental to the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.
Risks of the leading edge
The least expensive and most environment-friendly new technology studied was proposed by Sustane Technologies.
Sustane uses an advanced recycling processes that include production of crude oil from all forms of plastic, which it refines into diesel oil fuel pellets. The company builds a mini-refinery onsite.
The problem is that Sustane’s technology, while lauded by scientists, has not been proven, according to Morrison Hershfield. Their longest-running plant in Spain has not consistently operated at a commercial level over eight years. And the first Canadian facility in Chester, N.S. is not yet operational.
The consultant said Sustane’s technology is interesting and unique, but is still experimental.
“It will mature, but it’s not yet proven,” he said.
FURTHER READING: Garbage bags into fuel
But Cornfield said whether its proven or not doesn’t scare him.
“It takes people willing to take risks, otherwise we’d never develop new technologies,” he said. “We have to break this cycle (of burying garbage in landfills) sometime.”
WTE Committee Chair Rod Nichol, representing Area B, agreed.
“There’s little risk for us,” he said. “If the technology doesn’t work as well as we hoped, we still have the landfill.”
Nichol and Corfield believe that Sustane or WTT would build and operate a plant themselves, and the fees they charge back for processing the region’s waste would be lower than what residents now pay. CVRD staff doesn’t share that belief.
Time to amend the long-term plan
CVRD CAO Dyson said putting off further investigation of new technologies now would give staff time to engage ministries and the public about amending the solid waste management plan, and give WTT or Sustane time to prove their technologies.
The ministry of the Environment approved the CSWM Solid Waste Management Plan in 2013, and an amended plan in 2016 to permit construction of a new engineered landfill at Pigeon Lake that will contain toxic liquids and capture methane gas.
Besides the new landfill at Pigeon Lake, the Solid Waste Management Plan calls for environmentally-mandated closure of all other landfills in the two regional districts; building transfer stations in those communities losing landfills; and, adding a methane burners and an organic composting facility in Campbell River that is scheduled to open next year.
Committee member Roger Kishi of Cumberland said he’s “certain we need to continue down the path to new technologies, but he’s not as certain that the potential companies will cover all the costs of construction and operation.
“If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” he said.
The whole CSWM board must approve the recommended actions by the select committee at its next meeting on April 19.
FURTHER READING: Provincial ban on plastic bags needed