Another environmental dilemma: Do biosolids pose a public health risk?

Another environmental dilemma: Do biosolids pose a public health risk?

Creating Coal Hills Class A compost at the CVRD  |  Comox Valley Regional District photo

Another environmental dilemma: Do biosolids pose a public health risk?

By George Le Masurier

Members of the Comox Valley Electoral Areas Services Commission came face-to-face with yet another environmental dilemma this week: sewage sludge.

Sewage sludge is the concentrated residue of everything Comox Valley residents flush down their toilets or pour into their sinks after the wastewater has been separated, treated and piped into the Strait of Georgia.

Unlike most other regional districts, the Comox Valley Regional District treats its sewage sludge to a level that qualifies it as a Class A compost, according to provincial Ministry of Environment regulations. That means the sludge has met certain Organic Matter Recycling Regulation (OMRR) levels of pathogens and other contaminants, such as heavy metals.

The CVRD then sells the compost to local homeowners as Skyrocket and to companies outside of the Comox Valley for large scale land applications for agriculture, forestry and other industries.

Most other BC regional districts either dispose of their sludge in landfills or treat it to Class B (raw biosolids) or to Class A biosolids products (sterilized sludge). Only Ladysmith, Kelowna and Vernon produce a Class A compost equivalent to the CVRD.

But is the treated sludge safe to use in gardens that grow food for human consumption or to be spread on open land?

The CVRD says it is, and staff point to studies embraced by the BC Ministry of Environment.

But after a large-scale land application of Class B treated sludge from the Powell River sewage treatment plant on a Hamm Road property in the Black Creek area earlier this year, a Campbell River environment group has challenged the safety of biosolids.

In a presentation to the Electoral Areas Services Commission Monday, Philippe Lucas said land applications of biosolids are dangerous because they pose a health risk to humans and legal liabilities for the regional district.

Lucas, a PhD student at the University of Victoria and a former Victoria city councillor and Capital Regional District director, represented the Campbell River Environmental Committee.

“After years of debate, academic studies examining the impact of sewage sludge on the local marine environment confirmed what many of us have long suspected: sewage is unquestionably harming the health of our oceans and subsequently threatening human health as well,” he told the commission.

The Capital Regional District recently stopped dumping raw sewage into the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

“So why would it be any safer to expose our local farms, fields and or forests?” Lucas said.

In a letter to the commission, Leroy McFarlane, president of the Campbell River Environment Committee, said even Class A sludges pose health risks.

“If you walk through Canadian Tire, be aware that every liquid on their shelves could potentially find its way into the sewer system and therefore show up in biosolids,” McFarlane wrote. “A similar walk-through London Drugs will remind you that pharmaceuticals and chemicals sold there might also become a part of biosolids being applied to fields and gardens and show up in our food supply and enter our water and in some cases become airborne.”

Lucas said that some European countries have banned the use of biosolids. And he said that some grocers, including Thrifty Foods, refuse to carry products grown on land fertilized with biosolids.

He said First Nations bands, the Sierra Club of BC and others, including the Island Organic Producers Association (IOPA), all oppose land applications of biosolids.

The IOPA certifies organic farms on Vancouver Island. It has certified about a half-dozen farms in the Comox Valley as organic growers. It is supported by local businesses such as Seeds Food Market in Cumberland, Edible Island Whole Foods Market, the Atlas Cafe, Locals Restaurant and Buckerfields.

The commission took no action, but directors suggested the CVRD staff review the science and assess the legal liabilities.

Area A Director Daniel Arbour noted the difference in the CVRD product versus the Hamm Road application but said the discussion would be informative for the public.

“My view is that the skyrocket product is a highly processed composted material, and staff report low levels of contaminants. Granted it is not pure and free of pharmaceuticals, but we need to report on levels so people understand the level of risk, which could prove minimal compared to alternatives,” Area A Director Daniel Arbour told Decafnation after the meeting.



The Lucas presentation focused on Class B and Class A biosolids, as did the studies his presentation relied on.

The BC Ministry of Environment website doesn’t clearly differentiate between Class B and A biosolids and the Class A compost product produced by the CVRD. It appears to lump all biosolids together and labels them safe.

“Biosolids are the stabilized products that are recovered at the end of the wastewater treatment process. Biosolids are rich in nutrients that may be beneficially used to improve soil conditions and provide nutrition for plants. Because of the biological components of biosolids, proper management is important to control the impact on the environment and human health,” the website says.

The website has links to multiple studies that support its statement.

But the CVRD has “invested heavily … to produce a product that has unrestricted use, and is a valuable source of recycled nutrients,” Kris La Rose, senior manager of water/wastewater services, told Decafnation.

And in a report to the EASC in April of this year, CVRD Chief Administrative Officer Russell Dyson noted the numerous standards and regulations that the regional district’s biosolids must meet.

“In comparison to other nutrient sources available to agricultural producers, such as manure or chemical fertilizers, land application of biosolids has a more stringent regulatory framework, while providing a similar soil amendment,” he said. An attachment to his report included a comparison of regulatory, product composition and environmental considerations for biosolids, manure and chemical fertilizers.

The regional district Skyrocket page on its website suggests the product is safe for use in landscaping, flower gardens and lawns. It does not mention using the product in vegetable gardens

Area B Director Arzeena Hamir, who operates a certified organic farm, told Decafnation after the meeting that she “could not and would not” use biosolids as fertilizer on the food products she sells.

That’s not the case in the United States, she said, where certified organic growers are allowed to use biosolids.

“This is a big societal question we have to address,” she told Decafnation.



Mike Imrie, the CVRD’s manager of wastewater services, said the district sells between 7,000 and 7,500 cubic yards of Skyrocker per year, while the wastewater treatment plant generates about 1,375 to 1,500 tonnes of dry biosolids annually.

Every week a total of 800 yards is placed in one of five bunkers, which ends up as 160 yards of finished product for sale, after composting, screening and curing. The loss in volume comes about from evaporation, and screening out of oversize amendment, which is recycled back into the next batch.

“All of our Biosolids are used in the composting process and none are disposed of in any other way.” Imrie told Decafnation.

The wet biosolids are mixed with an amendment product, which is usually chipped and ground green waste from the landfill, Imrie says. Every four kilograms of wet biosolids is mixed with six kilograms of amendment.

The Class A composting process exposes the sludge to high temperatures for extended periods. The result is a higher level of sterilization of the end product and a higher extent of oxidation of contaminants of emerging concern.

La Rose says the regional district is keeping up with worldwide research on the presence of pharmaceuticals in biosolids.

“So far the conclusions are that pharmaceuticals that are present in our wastewater are more likely to be discharged in the liquid, and the pharmaceuticals that remain in the biosolids are more likely to be broken down during the composting process,” La Rose said.

He said they are following best practices known now that recycling nutrients and organic matter through composting the biosolids is the best way to recycle them.

“It’s interesting to note that there is increased discussion in Europe to allow biosolids from smaller communities with less industry to be used on organic farms,” he said. “The reason for this is that organic farms can only use rock phosphate or compost, and rock phosphate interestingly enough also contains heavy metals. It’s also of concern that our world supply of phosphorus is diminishing, so we need to recycle as much as we can.”



During his presentation on behalf of the Campbell River Environment Committee, Lucas said regional districts have four other options for disposing of biosolids.

He said there are technologies to remove heavy metals, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and pharmaceuticals, but other regional districts have found this too expensive.

Biosolids can be turned into energy through gasification. Also, biosolids can be shipped to cement kilns on the Lower Mainland for use as fuel (the Capital Regional District has been doing this).

Finally, he said, biosolids can be shipped to a biochar facility in Prince George where the carbon is sequestered and turned into a high-value end product.

But the list of alternatives didn’t resolve the issue for Area A Director Arbour.

“The question of what to do with such material is a good one, and I am not convinced that burning carbon is the best alternative either,” he said.











Biosolids are residual products from sewage treatment processes that have been treated to reduce pathogens and vectors. They are primarily used as a fertilizer to promote grass growth on rangeland, for forest fertilization and for site reclamation at sites like gravel pits and mines. Biosolids are not sewage sludge.

The land application of biosolids does not pose a risk to human health or the environment when they are applied in accordance with all of the requirements in the Organic Matter Recycling Regulation. Biosolids should be handled in the same manner as animal manure; efforts should be taken to minimize the risk of accidental ingestion or body entry. The primary method of reducing risk is to limit direct exposure to biosolids.

— BC Ministry of Environment



On July 2, the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) concluded that there may be public health risks from using processed sewage sludge as a commercial fertilizer. Approximately 60 percent of an estimated 5.6 million tons of dry sludge is used or disposed of annually in the United States.

Sludge also includes traces of household chemicals poured down drains, detergents from washing machines, heavy metals from industry, synthetic hormones from birth control pills, pesticides, and dioxins, a group of compounds that have been linked to cancer.

— University of Georgia research


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Contemplation in action — a friend remembers Father Charles Brandt

Contemplation in action — a friend remembers Father Charles Brandt

Photo Caption

Contemplation in action — a friend remembers Father Charles Brandt


Father Charles Brandt occasionally liked to quote his fellow monk Thich Nhat Hanh. The Buddhist teacher once was asked what we needed to do to save our world. “What we most need to do,” he replied, “is to hear within us the sounds of the Earth crying.”

How do we then respond to this call of the Earth’s cry, the people’s groaning? In this unprecedented moment of history — a worldwide pandemic coupled with increasing forest fires, floods, superstorms and mass migration of the Climate Emergency —doing nothing can no longer be an option.

Charles Brandt has left us many hints. His gifts and example of contemplation amidst action may well be an essential guide for us in echoing and raising our own voices.

“Where does contemplation lead one? Since it finds the Ground of Love in all reality, it leads to one’s sisters and brothers — it creates social consciousness, it leads to a deeper unity and love with and for the earth. Contemplation leads to transformation.”  ~ Father Charles Brandt

It’s been two months now since Father Charles Brandt died — just three months ago, I last saw him alive. He was in good spirits as we sat on the porch of the hermitage overlooking his beloved Oyster River. “There is hardly a portion of her banks from the estuary to the snows that I have not travelled by foot,” he wrote in 1972. “Her music, her rhythm is a background to my life and work.” I was just a teenager then.

My father, Mac Witzel, befriended Charles upon his arrival to Vancouver Island in 1964. Or maybe it was the other way around. Charles had become a member of the newly formed Hermits of St. John the Baptist who lived alongside the Tsolum River. As we now know, not long afterwards the river was terribly poisoned by the copper mine up on Mount Washington.

Antelope Canyon, Utah | Father Charles Brandt photo

The group of hermits were quite poor and lived in roughhewn cabins — true to 60’s I think. Many local people were initially dubious of them, these non-conformists. Who were these monks struggling in the woods? Shouldn’t they pray in a monastery?

The hermits disbanded within a few years and most of them moved away. Charles was one of the exceptions. A wealthy benefactor helped Charles obtain 27 acres of land by the Oyster River which had been logged a couple of decades earlier.

His cabin was loaded onto a flatbed trailer and moved to its new site. My father was foreman of the local BC Highways Department and helped during the process. At one point the posts on the bridge across the Tsolum River blocked the cabin’s passage. They were cut shorter to let it through — “No one ever knew,” Charles later admitted.


During those years as a youngster, I barely saw or knew of Fr. Charles Brandt. He was a hermit after-all. Our friendship really began years later during the 1980s at a weekend meditation retreat that he led on Spirituality and the Environment.

“Follow your bliss” he said while conveying the comparative religious thought of Joseph Campbell. In explaining deep ecology, social ecology, integral ecology and cosmology Fr. Charles spoke about Fritjof Capra, Simone Weil, Thomas Berry and Brian Swimme.

The retreat eventually helped me to make a decision to leave my well-paying job on the booms of the Port Alice pulp mill. For eight months I went to live and work with the poor in the mountains of Mexico. “What can privileged people do to help?” I asked the local Padre. “First, pray,” he said. “Secondly, don’t use more than you need to — thirdly, defend the human rights of the poor.”

Work was at the base community level with campesino farmers, health workers, and other local organizers. We discussed Liberation Theology during training workshops about helping with people’s nutritional needs or even pouring concrete together. We promoted alternative methods of cooking by building solar ovens or efficient “rocket stoves” with local carpenters.

According to the World Health Organization an estimated 2.4 billion people, generally among the world’s poorest, rely on biomass like wood or dung for their heating or cooking needs. Solid fuel dependency exacerbates deforestation and climate change. Breathing interior smoke is responsible for the deaths of an estimated 1.6 million people annually. More than half of these deaths occur among children under five years of age.


Over the next 30 years I cherished occasional visits with Charles when I travelled to Comox Valley. My wife Francis once said to me when I was feeling down, “why don’t you call Charles?” Another time he described to me verbatim, the Buddhist eight-fold path. This was the essence of Charles Brandt —clearheaded sage wisdom magnified by his caring soul and quiet calm presence.

Charles loved the world and its creatures. He was an expert birder and had assisted setting up the renowned bird recording lab at Cornell University in the late 1940s. He believed that the poor and disparaged of the earth included all these creatures and we need to reaffirm the dignity of the poor, human and non-human.

The strong connection Charles made with many people who knew and loved him was this — a common care for the earth and its people — oneness with the Sacramental Commons, as Charles put it. Yet in spite of this steadfast believe and his gentleness, Charles was never one to suffer fools gladly. Although he rarely displayed it, his critique could be quick and sharp. His vocation was clearly prophetic — somewhat like his mentor the Trappist monk Thomas Merton, who once wrote — “Nothing has ever been said about God that hasn’t already been said better by the wind in the pine trees.”

Such was the person of Father Charles Brandt.


Now on that crisp fall September day a few months ago, here I was sitting with Father Charles and a mutual friend, Willa Cannon. As a retired nurse, Willa with her husband Jim helped Charles in a myriad of ways. Their earlier work together with the Tsolum River Restoration Society had bonded their goodwill.

The annual meeting of the Brandt Oyster River Hermitage Society had been delayed for months because of COVID 19 protocols. Though we had the support of at least a dozen friends, Charles called for the meeting to be small — only three of us. We began with making clarifications about the direction of the Society. Charles wanted to put more emphasis on contemplative prayer and he spoke of the need to be conscious that “Only the Sense of the Sacred can Save Us.”

It was agreed to add this to our vision. It follows as thus: 

The Brandt Oyster River Hermitage Society seeks to fulfil the explicit wishes of Father Charles Brandt, that: The forest and house of the Hermitage is to be preserved as a peaceful centre for contemplating the spiritual foundations of ecology and nature as a sacred commons, and as a home for a designated Catholic hermit or other contemplative person dedicated to the environment and a life of contemplative prayer, who shares this vision.

The human community and the natural world will go forward into the future as a single sacred community or we will perish in the desert. Only the sense of the sacred can save us.


We then briefly discussed the land conservancy for the forest and hermitage that had been put in place with the Comox Valley Land Trust in January 2019. In this regards, Charles expressed his gratitude for the work of two of our early directors, biologists Kathryn Jones and Loys Maingon. Then Charles affirmed the person called to be the new contemplative resident at the hermitage — Karen Nichols, a Benedictine Oblate.

Charles told us how Karen had helped years before archiving the library of Bernard de Aguiar upon his death. Bernard had been an assistant to Thomas Merton before becoming one of the original Hermits of St. John. He later became a potter on Hornby Island. Karen’s mother had been a conservationist and passed that value onto her. Her mandate will be to archive Charles’ extensive files and continue on — in Karen’s words — for the hermitage to be “a place of prayer and meditation and of conservation awareness”.

As our meeting closed Charles reached across the table to shake my hand. I reminded him we weren’t supposed to. He grinned and attempted an elbow bump but the table blocked us. With folded hands, I bowed to Charles, and then he to me. Without a word, each of us knew — the Sacred in me recognizes the Sacred in you.

These were my final moments with frater Charles A.E. Brandt.


Only 10 days later Charles fell at the hermitage. He emailed people for help, if you can imagine that. A neighbour came over along with another friend who is a retired doctor, Bruce Wood. During many of Charles’ last 19 days in the hospital, Willa Cannon was often with him. Not long before losing consciousness he reached out and took Willa’s little hands and engulfed them with-in his. The last embrace of a dying man — he gave of himself, as always. Father Charles Brandt was true to his Christian faith to the last.

Bruce Witzel wrote this article on behalf of the Brandt Oyster River Hermitage Society in the hope to continue on with the work and gifts Charles has left us. He is a co-director and chairperson of the society.












The Comox Valley Land Trust (CVLT) holds a conservation covenant over 27-acres of wild land on the banks of the Oyster River. The land was the home of spiritual leader and conservationist Father Charles Brandt, 95, who asked the CVLT to protect the mature forest and riparian areas for future generations. Father Charles died earlier this fall.


Father Charles Brandt, or “Father Charles,” had lived in his hermitage on the 27-acres bordering the Oyster River since 1970. As the first ordained Catholic priest-hermit in two centuries, he asked the CVLT to hold conservation covenant over the property to safeguard the values of conservation and ecological stewardship.

“The covenant will ensure that these mature forests and riparian areas, as well as the plants and wildlife that call them home, are protected for future generations in perpetuity,” says Tim Ennis, executive director of CVLT.

Father Charles donated the land to the CVRD as parkland (allowing pedestrian-only public access). A registered society will lease back the hermitage building for use by a contemplative individual to carry on in the priest-hermit’s tradition.

“We must fall in love with the Earth, and we only save what we love,” says Father Charles. “It is my deep love of contemplation and communion with the natural world that has led me to act in its defense.”

Funding required to complete the project was generously provided by Judy Hager (in memory of Bob Hager), the Oyster River Enhancement Society, members of the Tsolum River Restoration Society, and other local community members. 

— adapted from the Comox Valley Lands Trust website


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Cycling has boomed during the pandemic, but do we have the infrastructure to make it safe?

Cycling has boomed during the pandemic, but do we have the infrastructure to make it safe?

Victoria has the best cycling infrastructure in BC  |  Adrian Williams photo, Upsplash

Cycling has boomed during the pandemic, but do we have the infrastructure to make it safe?

By Gavin MacRae

Maybe it’s a close call at an intersection, a stretch of winding road thick with distracted rush-hour drivers, or a painted bike lane that dies into a busy turning lane. Whatever it is, it feels sketchy, dissuades you from getting around by bike, and certainly doesn’t meet the CleanBC mandate for active transportation being “safe, easy, and convenient.”

Safe, easy, and convenient is what you get with proper, modern cycling infrastructure. Without it, “people are driving places that normally they could easily walk or bike. That tells you that the streets don’t feel safe,” says Kay Teschke, professor emeritus at the UBC’s School of Population and Public Health. “People feel they have to encase themselves in a metal box to go ridiculously short distances.”

And with the COVID-19 pandemic prompting more people to choose pedal power over public transit and ridesharing services, cycling infrastructure is more important than ever.

So what infrastructure is safest for bikes (and e-bikes and mobility scooters), and how do you get it?

Is it safe?

Unsurprisingly, cyclists generally choose to ride routes that aren’t shared with motor vehicles. Research co-authored by Teschke found that cyclists and potential cyclists in Vancouver preferred to ride off-street bike paths or physically separated bike routes, and avoided riding on major streets or rural roads alongside moving traffic.

A second study by Teschke and others bears out this wisdom. Surveying 690 adults injured in cycling accidents in Toronto and Vancouver revealed that the type of cycling infrastructure can affect the risk of cycling injury up to 10-fold.

Off-street bike paths and dedicated, protected bike lanes alongside streets offered the safest ways to get around. The least safe routes were major streets without bike lanes and with parked cars, and major streets with “sharrows” – signs painted on the asphalt urging cars to share the road. Major streets with painted bike lanes stuffed between moving and parked cars were also risky, as were routes with major intersections, construction and train tracks.

“People need to ask: Would you ride [the route] with your 5- to 15-year-old?”

Speed, of course, was a huge factor as well. Intersections with traffic speeds over 30km/hr were more dangerous.

Cyclists’ perception of risks were usually correct, but the exception was multi-use paths – although preferred routes, they’re not particularly safe. However, Teschke says installing good night-lighting, reducing obstacles such as bollards, and straightening out unnecessarily curved pathways can go a long way to reduce the risk of injury.

The study found that just over three-quarters of the trips that resulted in injury were on weekdays, most were less than five kilometres long, and nearly three-quarters were collisions with motor vehicles, route features, people, or animals.

The take-home: if a cycling route doesn’t feel safe, that’s often because it isn’t.

“People need to ask: Would you ride [the route] with your 5- to 15-year-old?” Teschke says.

Another way to gauge the safety of cycling routes is with rider counts. Tell-tales signs of high-risk routes are a high percentage of male riders or the absence of parents with kids.

“If you’ve got cycling infrastructure that no one’s using, or if the predominant group who’s using it are adult males, you know that’s not safe cycling infrastructure,” Teschke says.

A special case is “paths to nowhere” – routes that can be safe but don’t see much traffic because they don’t connect to a larger cycling network that gets people where they need to go. This can be a problem for cities trying to grow their riding networks incrementally, Teschke says.

“If cycling infrastructure is not connected, every time there’s a break in the great infrastructure, that’s a no-go for many many people.” is another tool to track cycling trouble spots. The free website lets users report and track collisions, near misses, hazards, bike thefts, and new cycling infrastructure on a global map.

Data from the exercise tracking service Strava is included, which helps to pinpoint where routes are risky or inconvenient enough to cause riders to detour. was founded by former UVic researcher Dr. Trisalyn Nelson and is maintained by a team of Canadian and American academics.

Comox Valley Cycling Coalition


So the bicycle commute to work or school, or trips to the grocery store could be safer. Now what?

A good start is to see if there is a cycling advocacy organization representing your community, and join it, says Colin Stein, executive director of the BC Cycling Coalition, an umbrella organization for nearly two dozen such groups. Cycling organizations, whether formal or not, can speak with a larger voice to command greater attention from local elected officials and staff, Stein says.

“One of the groups’ agenda items often is problem areas – gaps in routes, danger that needs to be addressed. People will pour on the anecdotes and bring photos and correlate with data from ICBC to show that this is a priority…. [Municipalities] rely on feedback from the cycling groups because it represents some of the richest data they can get … they take it seriously.”

A phone call, email, or letter to a mayor, councillor or to transportation planning staff should include three elements: a clear description of the problem, the requested change, and an inquiry as to what the next steps are.

Even with strength in numbers, there’s no magic formula to advocate for cycling infrastructure, but Teschke and Stein say it boils down to winning over municipal politicians and the staff in charge of transportation planning.

Both elected officials and staff are usually sincere in their pursuit of expanding active transportation, Stein says, and diplomacy and respect are the rule.

(Victoria is considered the clear leader in cycling infrastructure in BC, with the highest percentage of trips by bike in all of Canada. It’s such a cycling utopia that Teschke urges transportation planners from elsewhere in BC to visit in person and talk to the crack team in Victoria’s transportation planning department.)

A phone call, email, or letter to a mayor, councillor, or to transportation planning staff should include three elements, Stein says a clear description of the problem, the requested change, and an inquiry as to what the next steps are.

“Despite the cynicism that many people may find with their local government, elected officials and staff are there to make things better,” Stein says.

And good cycling infrastructure makes things better in many ways. Regular bike riders enjoy huge physical and mental health benefits, including a significant reduction in the likelihood of developing cancer, heart disease and diabetes – saving the Canadian health care system many millions of dollars each year.

Every trip by bike also displaces car traffic, air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and microplastic pollution from car tires.

Cycling infrastructure has economic benefits as well, with people travelling by bike shopping more frequently and spending more at local businesses, while proximity to cycling paths has been shown to boost property values.

According to a 2004 study from Norway’s Institute of Transport Economics, every dollar spent on cycling infrastructure can yield a 400-500 percent return.

The myriad benefits can build a solid case that overcomes cost considerations, Stein says.

“Stay on that argument – link it into equity issues, accessibility issues, environmental issues and even economic development issues …. Raise these issues to the forefront and say it’s not good enough to say ‘we don’t have enough money,’ because there are all these other factors we have to consider. That’s what can kill the financial argument [against cycling infrastructure].”

Cities and towns do get financial help from the province through the Active Transportation Infrastructure Grants program, which matches spending with municipalities for chosen “shovel ready” cycling infrastructure projects. In 2020-21 the grants totalled $9 million for 23 projects throughout BC.

That’s great, Teschke says, but at less than $2 per British Columbian, “The province needs to step up and put up a lot more money.”
Teschke suggests that considering 2.5 percent of trips in BC are made by bike, 2.5 percent of the province’s transportation budget might make a suitable baseline for cycling infrastructure spending.

Moving forward, Stein says it’s up to the province to take a far greater role. Planning and funding cycling infrastructure holistically would avoid a fragmented patchwork of safe bike routes separated by Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure roads that lack accommodations for cyclists.

“When you have municipalities with very limited funds, they can only build within their jurisdictions. That’s when you get the bike lane to nowhere, you get the big gaps, and that’s what turns people off cycling. So really the leader needs to be the province.”

But Stein says that in many jurisdictions in BC, politicians, planners, and engineers now understand the shifts that need to be made in favour of active transportation, and have the willingness to plan and build accordingly.

“After decades of struggle, this is starting to become a more popular – dare I say populist – issue, especially with e-bikes being such a game-changer for so many people,” Stein says. “So don’t hold back – write those letters, make those phone calls, send those emails. It really does make a difference.”

For more information: BC Cycling Coalition 










— Promote the integration of cycling into the local and regional transportation network by upgrading the existing road and highway network, developing an interconnected system of cycling routes, and ensure all new developments provide safe and convenient cycling infrastructure.

— Promote cycling education for children and adults and cycling safety and awareness among cyclists as well as non-cycling road users.

— Promote the integration of cycling with other non-automotive modes of transportation, such as public transit, rail and regional bus transportation, walking and innovative low impact transportation systems (electric bicycles and scooters, etc.)




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New Comox Valley society hopes to preserve Bevan Trails forest along Puntledge River

New Comox Valley society hopes to preserve Bevan Trails forest along Puntledge River

Jen Alton and Graham Hilliar at the Bevan Swing area of the 7.5 hectares slated to be logged along the Puntledge River  |  George Le Masurier photos

New Comox Valley society hopes to preserve Bevan Trails forest along Puntledge River

By George Le Masurier

Comox Valley friends Jen Alton and Graham Hilliar grew up hiking and swimming in what they knew as the Bevan Trails.

They, along with many other residents, thought of the trails and swimming holes that follow both sides of the river from BC Hydro’s Comox Lake Dam down to its Diversion Dam as a park.

After all, the whole area was well maintained and even had park-like directional markers and a large “you are here” sign and map at the trailhead.

BC Hydro has maintained the recreation area with directional signs

So it was a shock for them to learn recently that the area is not a park. In fact, although BC Hydro holds title to the property, it does not own the rights to the timber that grows there.

The big 100-year-old cedar and fir tree forests that line the Puntledge River, shading wetlands and providing refuge for wildlife, belong to Hancock Forest Management, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Hancock Timber Resource Group, a multinational company.

And Hancock has plans to log the area as soon as possible.

The two friends and newcomer Devin Burton hope to prevent that. They have formed the Puntledge River Forest Protection Society to raise awareness about the pending logging operation and to encourage the Comox Valley Regional District, the province and BC Hydro to work with Hancock to preserve the area.

“We don’t think many local people know that even though BC Hydro has maintained it like a park, it’s not a park,” Alton told Decafnation on a tour of the property this week.

“So we’ve kind of kicked the hornets’ nest,” she said.

The new society started a petition on that already has more than 4,100 signatures and they have created a Facebook page. The trio has also officially joined the Comox Valley Conservation Partnership to inform and learn from their like-minded stewardship peers.

More importantly, the society has talked with Hanock’s local representatives, who agreed to continue to have internal discussions about their plan to harvest logs from about 7.5 hectares of the property that includes the popular swimming area known as the Bevan Swing.

And while Hancock wouldn’t commit to cancelling or even delaying their harvest plans, they did commit to having another discussion with the society in the near future.

But Hancock doesn’t want to wait long. Had the group not spoken up, the area might have already been logged.

Hancock acquired the property in 1995 from other private owners and in 2016 logged a portion of the property furthest away from the river and the trails. The area they plan to log next impacts the core of the recreation area.

Hilliar says Hancock has told the group they would be amenable to selling the timber rights.

“This important wildlife corridor and popular recreational area is worth protecting,” said Hilliar. “We are informing the community of the planned logging within the Bevan Trails network and encouraging local and provincial governments along with bc hydro to come up with a solution to protect this area.”

The trailhead map, where the society has added a “NOTICE” informing users of the intent to harvest logs from the property


Courtenay Councillor Doug Hillian recently raised the issue during an unrelated BC Hydro presentation to the regional district board, of which he is also a director.

“I am a user of the trails and appreciate the recreational and environmental values,” he told Decafnation this week. “While I also recognize the dilemma of trying to protect all the special places in the Valley given our limited resources.”

And other regional directors have expressed support for the group’s goals.

Electoral Area A Director Daniel Arbour said that while provincial Riparian Area Regulations protect the core of our rivers and waterways, preserving wider buffers and natural corridors for recreational opportunities is a long-standing regional priority.

“Rivers such as the Trent, Puntledge, Tsable, Tsolum, Oyster, and many others still offer opportunities to invest for the long term,” he said. “Partnerships such as the recent investment in Perseverance Creek and Kus-kus-sum exemplify how good outcomes can be achieved. For the Bevan area, growing the partnership with BC Hydro and Hancock would appear promising.”

Tim Ennis, the executive director of the Comox Valley Lands Trust (CVLT) and project manager for the Kus-kus-sum restoration project, thinks the Puntledge River Forest project is a worthy one.

“The CVLT, like most people in the Valley, were taken by surprise when we learned that BC Hydro did not own the trees,” he told Decafnation. “I think we all agreed that BC Hydro’s excellent management of the land from what seems like a park perspective, meant that it was protected notwithstanding the obvious use for hydroelectric generation.”

Ennis added that the CV Lands Trust recognizes that there are “very high conservation values” on the land that is “certainly worthy of protection in perpetuity.”

“These stand in addition to recreational and presumably heritage values,” he said.

Area C Director Edwin Grieve said the acquisition of land or timber rights is made difficult because the whole Puntledge corridor until it gets to the City of Courtenay, is in Area C.

“The Electoral Area-only parks function does not receive any contribution from the municipalities and as such has limited funds,” he told Decafnation via email on Dec. 3. “There is some appetite now at the CVRD to explore a region-wide park acquisition service much like they have in RDN, Cowichan RD and Capital RD. Other jurisdictions have been very successful in acquiring and developing parks and greenways. The “rails with trails” projects along the E&N right of way, for example, would not be possible without the economies of scale a broader service brings.”

Graham Hilliar estimates that many of the trees on the property are nearly 100 years old


How the timber rights got separated from the land title represents a unique situation that dates back more than a century to Cumberland’s coal mining origins.

One of the conditions for the then-colony of Vancouver Island to join the Canadian Dominion was to build a railroad, the current technology of the times for moving goods and people.

James Dunsmuir agreed to build a railroad from Victoria to Campbell River (the last leg was never finished) and took the Island’s east coast coal-rich lands as payment. Dunsmuir then built the Comox Dam to generate electricity for his mining operations.

Eventually, the mine sold the dam to a predecessor of BC Hydro but retained the mineral and timber rights. Since then, resource rights have been sold and resold to a number of private companies.

BC Hydro’s website adds to the historical record.

“In 1912 Canadian Collieries (Dunsmuir) Ltd. developed the hydroelectric potential of Comox Lake and the Puntledge River to provide electricity for the operation of its coal mines in the Cumberland area.

“The BC Power Commission, BC Hydro’s predecessor, acquired the Puntledge hydroelectric development in 1953. By 1955 the company had rebuilt the diversion dam, penstocks and powerhouse to quadruple the systems electrical output to the local community. Additional improvements included upgrading the dam in 1982.

“Following the expansion of the Puntledge hydroelectric system in the 1950s, BC Hydro, in partnership with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, initiated several fish enhancements on the Puntledge River. Today, 98 per cent of the young salmon pass the diversion dam safely.”



The Crown Corporation of BC Hydro has maintained and improved the land along the Puntledge River as a prime recreation area for hikers, bikers and swimmers. It manages similar recreation areas at the John Hart Dam and the Strathcona Dam among others.

On its website, BC Hydro describes the recreation area.

“The Puntledge River corridor has trails to suit everyone. There are several trail loops to follow, depending on your time and fitness level. If you are not a frequent hiker or mountain biker, you should increase the time estimates we have provided.

“The hiking trails on BC Hydro property were constructed to be accessible for sport wheelchairs. For safety reasons and to limit damage, some trails are closed to mountain bikes and horses.

“Please observe trail rules. BC Hydro’s trails were built to connect with the network within Comox-Strathcona Regional District’s Nymph Falls Nature Park.

Hancock plans to harvest logs in the area circled on this map


The Puntledge River Forest Protection Society plans to make a presentation at either a meeting of the Comox Valley Regional District board or at the Electoral Areas Services Commission.

They are also hoping to get a purchase price estimate from Hancock Forest Management to help local and provincial governments to assess the priority of preserving the Bevan Trails area.

In the meantime, they are waiting for responses from MLA Ronna-Rae Leonard and MP Gordon Johns to their pleas for support.

And they are encouraging people to sign their petition here.











The following article is from Robin L.A. Shaw’s website that features many short histories of the Comox Valley.


Bevan Townsite is the ruins of a coal mining community. Bevan, and the areas around it, like Cumberland, were once the site of a huge coal mining operation.

It had eight different mine shafts in the area and #7 shaft here in Bevan in 1902. Its workers consisted of Black, Chinese, Japanese and White men and boys. It was very racially discriminating and it is known for a large amount of mining deaths. No. 7 mine closed in 1921. Other mines in the area operated from around that time until the 1950`s.

They began building houses in about 1911 and the small town grew quickly. It consisted of a post office, a store, a large hotel and over 100 homes. Some of the houses that used to be here actually got brought into Cumberland and the surrounding area. Many are still around to this day.

The town was here until about the 1950’s when the mines stopped operating. Then, when everything was closed, and the houses were gone, they turned the hotel into a home for mentally-challenged adults, until the 1980, when that too, was closed. Now the area is the site of Lake Trail Guest House, which is like a Bread and Breakfast.

There is a lot to see along its many trails. There is a nice portion of river that has beautiful clear water, perfect for swimming. With small bridges along the path that make it a lovely walk. They even have a horse hitch for you riders.

Along the trails you will find many cement foundations, bricks, and I even found a chimney once. You have the chance to stumble upon old glass bottles, coins and many other things left behind from when this was a small town. At one point I found a hole that goes right underground and into one of these buildings, it was a little creepy in there. (Update…its boarded up). It was very dark and smelled like rotting wood. Good for a day hike or a short walk.




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Scientists using satellite data to detect pollution from international shipping industry

Scientists using satellite data to detect pollution from international shipping industry

Photo Caption

Scientists using satellite data to detect pollution from international shipping industry

By Universe Today

All hands have to be on deck if the world is going to tackle degradation, and one of the biggest emitters is also one of the least well known – international shipping.

A 2018 study estimated that pollution emitted from cargo ships resulted in 400,000 annual premature deaths from lung cancer and heart disease. Many of those deaths resulted from the sulfur dioxide the ships were belching into the air.

Since the beginning of the year, the shipping industry has capped sulfur dioxide at 0.5 percent of emissions, compared to 3.5 percent previously. While the long term benefits of that emissions cap will take some time to appear, there’s another pollutant that could potentially be tackled in the near future: nitrogen dioxide.

Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) is one of the emissions from diesel engines and has been strictly capped in the automotive market for a number of years. While the shipping industry so far has escaped regulation, there is a strong possibility that restrictions may be coming in the near future.

Regulations in themselves are great, but they are useless if not enforced, and the open ocean is a notoriously difficult place to enforce them.

That difficult task might have just gotten easier, as scientists at the European Space Agency realized they can use satellite data they are already collecting to track the nitrogen dioxide emissions of individual ships on the open ocean.

Scientists use a satellite called Copernicus Sentinel-5P, which is primarily used to monitor air pollution. Launched in 2017, it has monitored things such as nitrous oxide emissions over Siberian gas pipelines and China’s industrial cities. But this is the first time it has turned its attention to the open ocean.

Part of the reason for that is a particular difficulty when monitoring the ocean from space – sunglint.

If you’ve ever been to an ocean or lake where there is a trail of sunlight leading directly to the sun, that is sunglint. In satellite imagery, this phenomena shows up as a lightening of the water, throwing off readings of interesting atmospheric data points such as cloud cover and ship emissions.

Detecting pollution from individual ships from space

Ship Technology – Tracking and tracing polluting ships

A Satellite’s View of Ship Pollution

Recently observers developed a way to solve that problem by correlating the image with elevation calculations. Originally this technique was used for detecting snow and ice, but the team modified it to easily differentiate ship emissions from both clouds and sun glare.

To do this, they need ship location data to correlate their observations. While ships are required to use location transponders on the open ocean, some, including those trying to avoid emissions controls, might simply turn their transponders off.

That lack of transparency has deeper roots than will be solved with satellite technology, but it could potentially pose a problem to the emissions readings.

Another potential problem is that, while the satellites are able to track individual ships, that is true only for the largest ships, or convoys of smaller ships.

Smaller ships can still evade detection due simply to their size. The researchers hope to eliminate this technical challenge with future launches of more capable satellites, such as the Copernicus Anthropogenic Carbon Dioxide Monitoring Satellites.

The development of those satellites and analysis of their data will also require all hands on deck, but this is yet another example of how space technology can help solve practical problems here on Earth.

Fraser Cain, a Comox Valley native, is the publisher and founder of Universe Today, one of the world’s leading websites on outer space. It is headquartered in the Comox Valley.




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BREAKING: Kus-kus-sum purchase funds complete, thanks to province

BREAKING: Kus-kus-sum purchase funds complete, thanks to province

Kus-kus-sum site in the foreground  |  Rick Wards photo courtesy of Project Watershed

BREAKING: Kus-kus-sum purchase funds complete, thanks to province

By George Le Masurier

Thanks to additional $650,000 grant from the BC Government announced today, the Kus-kus-sum project now has the funds to complete its purchase of the old Fields Sawmill property and begin restoration work.

“In fact, our final payment to Interfor … is now in the mail,” Tim Ennis, Project Watershed’s senior project manager told Decafnation today.

Today’s new funding complements the province’s 2019 commitment of $1 million to the Project Watershed Society’s plan to return the abandoned site into its original saltmarsh with side-channels and riparian habitats.

Ennis praised the BC government for its support of what he said is one of the most important salmon habitat restoration projects on the BC coast.

“This recent investment unlocks our ability to move forward with the transformation of an industrial site in the heart of one of B.C.’s most important estuaries back to natural saltmarsh and other habitats,” Ennis said in a news release today. “The benefits of this project will be felt for generations to come.”

But he also emphasized that today’s good news just completes the acquisition phase of the project.

Photo by Bonner Photography

“While we have now succeeded in raising the funds to secure title to the land … we need to keep our foot on the pedal with our fundraising efforts,” he said. “The costs of restoration of the land is another large component of the overall project cost.”

With the title of the land secured, Project Watershed can now refocus on raising funds for restoration. “Without the title, we didn’t really have a project,” he said.



Last week, the K’omoks First Nations, Project Watershed and the City of Courtenay jointly approved a revised memorandum of understanding for co-managing the property. An official agreement will follow next year.

There are a number of details yet to be completed regarding the actual transfer of title from Interfor to KFN and the City. Ennis said each of the parties involved is working hard on those now.

“The MOU is an important part of that. I am hopeful that these will be concluded before the winter holiday season and that title transfer will happen in 2020,” he told Decafnation today. “But these details are very important and it is equally important to get them right.”

Ennis praised community support for the project and the “professionalism and vision” of the project team.

He also said Kus-kus-sum captured the attention of the province because “this project is in the right place at the right time and is being done for the right reasons.”



The project site is named Kus-kus-sum in recognition of the historic First Nation ancestral burial site once located in the area.

“Restoring the cultural and historically significant site of Kus-kus-sum is a vision K’omoks First Nation shares with Project Watershed and the City of Courtenay, and we appreciate the B.C. government for providing the additional bridge funding to aid in this restoration,” K’omoks First Nation Chief Nicole Rempel said.

Katrine Conroy, the BC Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development said the province is “committed to reconciliation” with KFN.

“Purchasing this site will support the restoration of an environmentally and culturally significant estuary to benefit the entire Courtenay-Comox community,” she said.

Ennis said Project Watershed will now look to the federal government for support.

“We are hopeful that the government of Canada will look at this success, and in consideration of their jurisdictional responsibilities to wild salmon, migratory birds, First Nations reconciliation, and international biodiversity conventions, be inspired to come to the table as partners with the local community, the K’omoks Nation, the City of Courtenay, Project Watershed and others,” he said. “Strong local community support for this project has been, and will continue to be a key ingredient in our recipe for success.”



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Ocean farming: more food, less land, reduced GHG emissions

The climate crisis will force us to produce more food on less land while cutting greenhouse gas emissions. For Bren Smith, director of the non-profit group Greenwave, this transition means expanding our definition of farming to include the ocean