Comox Valley adds voices to the demand for a federal climate debate

Comox Valley adds voices to the demand for a federal climate debate

Gavin MacRae photo, courtresy of the Watershed Sentinel

Comox Valley adds voices to the demand for a federal climate debate

By Gavin MacRae

Some 30 rallies held Wednesday across Canada – outside CBC studios, offices and in the streets – aim to pressure the public broadcaster to host a debate between federal party leaders on the climate crisis ahead of the coming election.

For the Comox Valley’s part, around 60 people gathered at Marina Park in Comox for a rally organized by Comox Valley Nurses for Health and the Environment.

“As our public broadcaster, the CBC has a moral obligation to make sure that every single person in Canada knows which of our leaders have a real plan to tackle the climate crisis,” read the Facebook event page for the rally.

Speakers included Alex Nataros, a family doctor in Comox; Nalan Goosen, leader of Youth Environment Action; Celia Laval with the Comox Valley Unitarian Fellowship Justice Committee; Mark de Bruijn, nominee for the Green Party candidate for North Island – Powell River; and Rachel Blaney, NDP MP for North Island – Powell River.

In covering climate change, “Canadian media and the CBC need to up their game,” Laval said, summing up the sentiments of the speakers.

Because the climate crisis and ecological collapse are possibly the biggest issues humanity has ever faced, Laval said, “This is not just an election issue, this is the election issue…. We demand CBC hold a debate of the federal leaders.”

Nataros said concerned voters can call or write the CBC or use the hashtag #changethedebate on social media.

Scrutiny of Canadian media’s coverage of the climate crisis – CBC’s in particular – has grown in recent months after the UK paper The Guardian became the first to update their journalist’s style guide to replace the term “climate change” with “climate crisis” or “climate emergency.”

“‘Climate change’ is no longer considered to accurately reflect the seriousness of the situation,” reads the updated guide.

An open letter published on May 28 in The Tyee, by Mount Royal journalism professor Sean Holman, further pressed Canadian media. In it, Holman wrote that media in Canada have repeatedly failed to “apply basic journalism principles to the climate change crisis confronting us.”

An example given by Holman is when on May 6, news of the birth of a royal baby eclipsed the release of a major UN report warning of critical worldwide declines in biodiversity.

After analyzing climate coverage in a database of 569 English language Canadian newspapers and CBC and CTV newscasts, Holman found mainstream media reporting “too often does not reflect the scope and severity” of the climate crisis.

To correct course, Holman’s letter outlined a five-point plan for media to better prioritize, cover, localize and contextualize climate reporting.

Eventually the CBC clarified their position: their journalists have latitude to “sometimes” use the terms “climate crisis” and “climate emergency,” but they will retain “climate change” as the default term. The CBC’s director of journalistic standards described the new terms as having “a whiff of advocacy to them,” garnering criticism on social media.

The discussion appears to have driven change. The CBC launched an “ambitious and comprehensive” climate series they say will appear on television, radio, online and on CBC Kids News, “because Canada’s youth care deeply about this issue.” The Toronto Star also recently published an in depth series detailing impacts of the climate crisis in Canada as well as solutions.

Gavin MacRae is the assistant editor of the Watershed Sentinel magazine, which is a publishing partner of Decafnation. You can also see this story at www.watershedsentinel.ca, or click their icon above

SUBSCRIBE TO OUR NEWSLETTER

Enter your email address to subscribe to the Decafnation newsletter.

More Environment

Has engineered stormwater doomed BC’s waterways?

The Comox Lake Watershed Protection Plan and the Kus Kus Sumrestoration were highlighted at a recent stormwater conference, while the keynote speaker urged public pressure on local governments to adopt green infrastructure

Comox Valley hears “Voices from the Sacrifice Zone’

By Gavin MacRae was a long rap sheet, but speakers from the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment detailed the dangers of fracking to people in the Peace region of BC, this Sunday at the Florence Filberg...

Five anti-fracking activists speak at CV forum

Anti-fracking activists tell Comox Valley audience that the LNG life cycle is worse for the environment than coal, and that BC project serve only export markets that soon may not exist

In Courtenay, a low-carbon solar oasis thrives behind a suburban facade

In Courtenay, a low-carbon solar oasis thrives behind a suburban facade

Stewart Mcintosh ponders the grapevines that grow down both sides of his Courtenay property. He also has fruit and nut trees  /  George Le Masurier photo

In Courtenay, a low-carbon solar oasis thrives behind a suburban facade

By Gavin MacRae

Stewart Mcintosh’s Comox Valley property looks like a million others from the street: an early 1980s rancher with a detached garage and RV trailer in the driveway.

Spend a couple of minutes with Mcintosh – a bearded, exuberant man in his mid-fifties – and he will eagerly show you that looks can be deceiving. His property harvests solar energy three ways, forming the linchpin of his low-carbon lifestyle.

Years ago, two separate motor vehicle accidents left Mcintosh with a brain injury, causing a condition called perseveration – his mind gets on a subject and won’t let it go. He’s learned to leverage perseveration to doggedly see through ideas that most people would dismiss as ambitious but short-lived eureka moments.

“I don’t want to think about depressing stuff that you can’t do anything about, says Mcintosh. “So I think about depressing stuff that you can do something about. I think about a problem, and I think, how could I resolve that with something practical that’s going to make a difference?”

Mcintosh’s thinking has paid off. He enjoys paltry energy bills, bumper crops, and copious wine reserves, with time left over for camping, boating, and travel.

It all started with a his “solar super saver” water heating system.

Mcintosh installed a grid of black hose on his south-facing rooftop, which pre-warms municipal water before it flows into his water heater. In the summer months, the water needs no further heating. It can even get too hot. “What I found was that from 10 am until about six pm, there’s an eight-hour window in the day where the sun gets the water as hot or hotter than what the tank is set at,” he says.

He gets the system up and running around the first week of March, and shuts it down mid-November. On summer mornings, the water can be directed straight from the solar system to a private backyard shower that Mcintosh says is an “unbelievably pleasant way to start the day.”

Materials for the DIY system cost $850, and the project will pay for itself in six-and-a-half years, according to Mcintosh’s meticulous records. After that, he says, “it becomes a passive income for your household. Tax-free income.” Mcintosh holds up his most trivial natural gas bill, with 34¢ in energy charges. “They can’t tax you on savings.”

Mcintosh also gets big savings from his prolific backyard garden. It’s arranged into four quadrants, with individual compost bins feeding the quadrants from a central hub. The fence line acts as a trellis for clusters of wine grapes and two kinds of kiwis.

At summer’s end, Mcintosh makes and freezes soups and stews from the vegetable crop.

Three years running, Mcintosh has harvested over 1000 lbs of grapes to make wine. His crawlspace-turned-wine cellar is near capacity, and visitors to his home often leave with a jug.

Turning to transport and recreation, Mcintosh bought a 55 lb thrust electric outboard with two batteries to propel his canoe. To charge the batteries he mounted a small solar panel to the canoe’s gunwale. When he’s boating, the batteries work independently: one battery is charging while the other powers the motor.

The canoe can cruise at around seven kilometres per hour all day. “My longest day was 12 hours out there between two batteries. That’s a long day on the water,” he says.

To get to the boat launch, Mcintosh hauls his canoe on a custom made trailer he built, behind his 50 cc scooter. “It really blows people away when I’ve got the boat in tow,” he says. “When I’m in traffic, people are doing triple takes.”

The scooter-trailer-canoe combo is insured and meets safety specifications, but Mcintosh has been pulled over several times, while incredulous police officers confirm his paperwork is in order.

Mcintosh in his backyard garden. The black hose on his roof that provides hot water can be seen in the upper right

At the boat launch, Mcintosh says people are drawn to his rig, and that’s part of the reason he built it – to inspire the public by demonstrating that low carbon solutions are workable.

“Some of the guys out there who are a little more obstinate, and some of the deniers, kind of grey-haired, blue-collar kinds of guys, they’re some of the more common individuals that are drawn to my setup. It’s like a magnet.”

The scooter and trailer also get him around town for groceries and running daily errands. Mcintosh is working on a mini dump truck bed for the trailer which will extend its capabilities to hauling building materials and soil.

Mcintosh’s latest upgrade has been to spring for a 20-panel photo-voltaic system that he had professionally installed. At $16,400 all-in, it wasn’t cheap, but Mcintosh did the math and found the only barrier was the initial investment. The panels will pay for themselves in six to 10 years. After that, it’s easy money.

To further leverage the solar panels, Mcintosh is mulling over the purchase of an electric pickup truck. It would complete his coup d’état against his carbon footprint and energy bills (he now drives a truck converted to propane he’s owned since 1988). “If that happens I can plug my vehicle in at home, bypass gas stations, and start adding that kind of saving to my life.”

Mcintosh says that for those with an awareness of climate change, “it’s stressful, and it’s getting more urgent. You can feel it in the general public, and that affects me as well, I feel it. That’s why I’m working on things that help me deal with it, because I’m doing something practical, and I’m proving it in my own life. But it also, I think it helps with some other people too, that they see ‘wow!’ look at that, he’s doing something that actually works…. They realize it’s not a hopeless situation after all.

“There really are things we can do at our own homes and in our daily lives that make a difference.”

Gavin MacRae is the assistant editor of the Watershed Sentinel environmental magazine, which is a publishing partner of Decafnation. You can also see this story at www.watershedsentinel.ca, or click their icon above

 

SUBSCRIBE TO OUR NEWSLETTER

Enter your email address to subscribe to the Decafnation newsletter.

More Environment

Has engineered stormwater doomed BC’s waterways?

The Comox Lake Watershed Protection Plan and the Kus Kus Sumrestoration were highlighted at a recent stormwater conference, while the keynote speaker urged public pressure on local governments to adopt green infrastructure

Comox Valley hears “Voices from the Sacrifice Zone’

By Gavin MacRae was a long rap sheet, but speakers from the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment detailed the dangers of fracking to people in the Peace region of BC, this Sunday at the Florence Filberg...

Five anti-fracking activists speak at CV forum

Anti-fracking activists tell Comox Valley audience that the LNG life cycle is worse for the environment than coal, and that BC project serve only export markets that soon may not exist

Watershed Sentinel: Canadian hemp fibre finally poised for market acceptance

Watershed Sentinel: Canadian hemp fibre finally poised for market acceptance

Photo of hemp marine rigging by Patrice Dufour from FreeImages

Watershed Sentinel: Canadian hemp fibre finally poised for market acceptance

By Gavin MacRae

On a summer backpacking trip through the Amazon 20 years ago, Michael Demone witnessed the destruction of deforestation first-hand. Determined to do something and brimming with youthful optimism, he returned home and opened one of Canada’s first hemp shops.

“It wasn’t a headshop. There were no bongs,” he says. “It was beautiful fabrics, and bicycle chain lubricant, and tree-free papers.”

Back then, hemp was a boutique industry. Demone had trouble sourcing products, and with the shelves near empty, the store eventually closed.

Two decades later, a lot has changed: cannabis is legal, hemp farming has been decriminalized in the United States, and entrepreneurs are clamouring for a grubstake in the “green gold rush” of the Cannabidiol (CBD) market.

But these developments are forerunners to what promises to be the most important advance involving the cannabis sativa plant: hemp for fibre.

 

Hemp to replace cotton

Hemp fibre can, in large part, replace cotton, with big environmental benefits.

Versus US cotton, the ecological footprint of hemp is one-third to a half smaller, depending on how the hemp is cultivated and processed, according to a 2010 analysis by the Stockholm Environment Institute. Even organic cotton has a higher ecological footprint, per ton of fibre, than conventionally cultivated hemp.

“Currently, cotton is king,” says Andrew Riseman, an associate professor at the UBC Faculty of Land and Food Systems. “But cotton takes an enormous amount of water, pesticides, and energy to produce and then to refine, and it doesn’t have the durability or the advantageous characteristics that hemp would have.”

Hemp fibre can also be used to make low-carbon building materials and bio-composites, and can substitute for wood fibre in pulp and paper production.

In Canada we can grow some of the best, longest fibre, specifically in northern Alberta, with long daylight hours

Hemp, or more properly industrial hemp, is easy to confuse with cannabis, because on paper it’s the same plant. In practice, hemp and cannabis look and are grown differently. And hemp won’t get you high – it has only trace amounts of THC, the psychoactive compound found in cannabis. Hemp is bred to produce high fibre yield, high seed yield, or a dual-purpose compromise between the traits.

Until recently, nearly all hemp grown in Canada was grown for food. To farm hemp for fibre, a hurdle remained.

It was “classic chicken and egg,” says Jan Slaski, a long time hemp researcher with InnoTech Alberta, an arm of the Alberta Innovates provincial research institute. Farmers were reluctant to grow hemp without a steady market for fibre, and markets and processing infrastructure couldn’t develop without hemp product.

Hemp yarn photo by S. Schleicher from FreeImages

It’s only in the last few years that the hemp industry has weakened this market catch-22, Slaski says, and now, “It’s a different ballgame.”

A hundred kilometres east of Edmonton, Slaski and his team run a hemp research and processing facility in Vegreville, Alberta, to develop applications for hemp “from seed to final product.” Strong demand now has the facility working extended hours processing hemp for fibre.

Not far from Vegreville, in Bruderheim, Alberta, Canadian Rockies Hemp Corporation is building a similar “decortication” facility to process hemp fibre grown by contracted farmers in the area. The facility will remove the lignin and pectin from the fibre to produce the short, consistent fibres sought for textiles, bio-composites and paper.

With these high value fibres, “cotton can be replaced, a lot of synthetic products can be replaced, tree products can be replaced.” says Aaron Barr, Canadian Rockies Hemp’s CEO. “There’s a lot of different market opportunities, but the key is advancing the technology.”

Countries such as China, Ukraine, Poland, and the Netherlands have a long head start on Canada in the hemp trade, says Barr, but he’s not worried – longer summer daylight at northern latitudes can add four feet of extra growth to hemp plants by summers’ end.

“In Canada we can grow some of the best, longest fibre, specifically in northern Alberta, with long daylight hours. It gives us literally one of the best geographical advantages in the world. CBD, THC, those type of flowering plants will do better in the south. We are fit for fibre.”

As the technology and processing muscle advances, entrepreneurs are taking formerly-cottage-industry hemp applications to commercial scale.

 

Biocomposites & building materials

Take hempcrete, a mixture of hemp biomass and lime used as a building material since ancient times. In modern construction, hempcrete can substitute for concrete in many applications.

Just Biofiber of Airdrie, Alberta, manufactures a construction system of hempcrete blocks that are load bearing, insulating, fire resistant, fast to build with, and that, Just Biofiber says, embody more carbon than is released in their manufacture.

“Instead of cutting down trees we can grow a crop in our fields in 90 days, and build houses that are better quality homes with it,” says Barr. “Healthier homes that last longer. There are unbelievable advantages to it.”

InnoTech’s Vegreville facility supplies fibre to BioComposites Group in Drayton Valley, Alberta. The company produces a diverse array of hemp products, from fibre mats for erosion control and horticultural use to hemp-based bio-composite sheets that can be moulded to form complex shapes such as interior car parts.

Many moulded products now made from oil or natural gas feedstocks such as polypropylene, polyethylene, and glass-reinforced thermoplastics, are candidates for replacement, says BioComposites Group.

The hemp composites are lighter than the products they replace and fully biodegradable when used with organic resins.

Slaski’s first research into hemp was as a fibre source for an Alberta pulp mill. The mill had run out of forest, Lorax style, within a reasonable hauling distance. The research was scrapped, says Slaski, after a new CEO decided the company “was not comfortable dealing with non-woody crops.”

The missed opportunity left Slaski with tantalizing statistics.

“It is safe to assume that hemp can produce about four to five times more fibre per hectare than forest,” Slaski says. “On average, boreal forest produces one-to-two tons per hectare of biomass per year, while fibre-type varieties of hemp produce eight-to-ten tons per hectare.”

That’s with one crop. In warmer climates, two crops a year can be grown.

Apparently, a Maryland, USA company is comfortable with non-woody crops. Fibonacci LLC is investing US$5.8 million in a factory in Kentucky to produce a wood substitute from hemp stalks, according to the trade journal Woodworking Network. The company says their product is 20 per cent harder than red oak, and plans to market it for use in flooring and furniture.

All this is happening with the current state of technology. With further research into genetics and agricultural practices, more applications and products will emerge.

“I think prohibition set us back about a century,” says Riseman. “[Hemp] was the plant that did everything, the workhorse plant. And now we have all these tools that we’ve applied to corn and wheat and cotton, and you see the yield increases and how much more efficient and productive we have become…. [Hemp’s] been bred for low THC or long fibres, no one’s talked about what else we could breed for.”

Hemp is truly versatile, but over-zealous advocates have attributed near super-botanical abilities to the plant. Experts caution that wild claims online about hemp, such as it having “over 50,000 uses,” are “fantastic,” “ridiculous,” and “bro science.”

“One misconception is that hemp doesn’t require fertilizer, water, is pest resistant, is just a miracle crop,” says Slaski. “I would say, yes, hemp can survive on marginal land – survive – but if you want to grow a crop that you want to get paid for, you have to provide inputs, because there are no miracles in hemp.”

We have an opportunity to build an industry of value, with values

After some 80 years of prohibition, hemp cultivation was legalized federally in the United States in late 2018. As one observer put it, “it’s basically the starting gun” for US hemp farming.

The end of US hemp prohibition should be a rising tide that benefits both countries by lifting hemp to its rightful place among other mainstay crops.

Because of this, and despite a 20-year lead in decriminalizing hemp, Canada must position itself as a world leader in hemp fibre to stay in the driver’s seat, Slaski says.

“The US is a larger country, with more money to invest in the opportunity. They will be a serious competitor to our hemp industry.”

Read more at the Watershed Sentinel: Fibreshed: a movement for full-circle local fibre production finds its roots on Vancouver Island

Michael Demone has long since traded his backpacking duds for business attire. He now leads the Canadian Working Group on Industrial Hemp, which he describes as “part advocacy group, part support system” for developing new hemp products.

For Demone, the quickly evolving promise of hemp fibre is “like the Renaissance” and he believes “round two” could herald more than environmental benefits.

“To get philosophical, I think we have an opportunity to build an industry of value, with values. And that means including talks about labour, about Indigenous voices, about women in manufacturing, all of these things, it’s just ready to blow. We need responsible people who will say ‘look, we want to make some money, we want to advance this industry, there are some really significant environmental benefits.’ It’s going to take investment and it’s going to take businesses willing to take some risks.”

Gavin MacRae is the Watershed Sentinel’s assistant editor. The Sentinel is a publishing partner of Decafnation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CANADIAN HEMP REMOVED FROM DEA AUTHORITY

The passing of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (2018 Farm Bill, Section 10113) removed hemp and hemp seeds from the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) schedule of Controlled Substances. This action removed hemp and hemp seeds from DEA authority for products containing THC levels not greater than 0.3 percent. Therefore, DEA no longer has authority to require hemp seed permits for import purposes. Read more

— Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance

SUBSCRIBE TO OUR NEWSLETTER

Enter your email address to subscribe to the Decafnation newsletter.

More Environment

Has engineered stormwater doomed BC’s waterways?

The Comox Lake Watershed Protection Plan and the Kus Kus Sumrestoration were highlighted at a recent stormwater conference, while the keynote speaker urged public pressure on local governments to adopt green infrastructure

Comox Valley hears “Voices from the Sacrifice Zone’

By Gavin MacRae was a long rap sheet, but speakers from the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment detailed the dangers of fracking to people in the Peace region of BC, this Sunday at the Florence Filberg...

Five anti-fracking activists speak at CV forum

Anti-fracking activists tell Comox Valley audience that the LNG life cycle is worse for the environment than coal, and that BC project serve only export markets that soon may not exist

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

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

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.

 

 

SUBSCRIBE TO OUR NEWSLETTER

Enter your email address to subscribe to the Decafnation newsletter.

More Environment

Has engineered stormwater doomed BC’s waterways?

The Comox Lake Watershed Protection Plan and the Kus Kus Sumrestoration were highlighted at a recent stormwater conference, while the keynote speaker urged public pressure on local governments to adopt green infrastructure

Comox Valley hears “Voices from the Sacrifice Zone’

By Gavin MacRae was a long rap sheet, but speakers from the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment detailed the dangers of fracking to people in the Peace region of BC, this Sunday at the Florence Filberg...

Five anti-fracking activists speak at CV forum

Anti-fracking activists tell Comox Valley audience that the LNG life cycle is worse for the environment than coal, and that BC project serve only export markets that soon may not exist

Town of Comox now faces $250,000 Supreme Court lawsuit over pollution

Town of Comox now faces $250,000 Supreme Court lawsuit over pollution

One of the few remaining daylight sections of Golf Creek at the Comox Golf Course  /  George Le Masurier

Town of Comox now faces $250,000 Supreme Court lawsuit over pollution

By George Le Masurier

What started as a simple request three years ago for the Town of Comox to help defray a homeowner’s expense to remediate a creek bank has since uncovered a litany of town-related problems and, as of last week, turned into a BC Supreme Court case valued at nearly a quarter-million dollars.

As reported by Decafnation in January, Norine and Ken McDonald launched a BC Small Claims Court action in June of 2016 to recover some of the $30,000 they spent to shore up a portion of Golf Creek that flows through their Jane Place property.

They took the legal action after discovering the erosion was caused by excessive municipal stormwater flowing into the creek, and because the town refused to take responsibility for the damage.

For three years, the McDonalds and the Town of Comox have been locked in a legal battle to settle the matter. The McDonalds have requested meetings to negotiate a resolution, and have been turned down. The town has responded by trying to have the case dismissed, and were denied in court.

FURTHER READING: Stormwater: it’s killing our water

But in the process of preparing their case against the town, the McDonalds have learned that Golf Creek is not only plagued by high volumes of stormwater flowing into the creek, but that the water is highly polluted with heavy metals and fecal coliform counts up to 230 times higher than the provincial water quality standards. E Coli counts have exceeded provincial maximums by 500 percent.

For the McDonalds, the toxic water in their backyard created a new financial problem.

According to section 5-13 of the rules of the Real Estate Council of BC (enforced under the BC Real Estate Act), a homeowner must disclose a material latent defect that renders the property “dangerous or potentially dangerous to the occupants” or “a defect that would involve great expense to remedy.”

“Now that we are aware of the pollution problem, we are obligated to disclose that problem to any prospective future buyer as well,” Ken McDonald told Decafnation. “That disclosure will certainly impact property value.”

So the McDonalds recently asked the court to amend the compensation they are seeking to nearly $250,000, the value of the portion of their property affected by the Creek (about 29 percent), and to move their case to the BC Supreme Court.

On Friday, May 31, Civil Court Judge Hutcheson granted the McDonald’s request.

This ruling escalates the financial risk for Town of Comox taxpayers.

In a letter to the town and to the attention of Mayor Russ Arnott, the McDonalds lawyer wrote that “… other property owners and occupants in the Town of Comox may have suffered similar damages, and are considering the potential for a class action lawsuit to hold the town accountable….”

McDonald also believes the case might have province-wide significance for other property owners near urban streams.

 

Background

The McDonalds’ house at the end of the Jane Place cul de sac was originally built by John and Christine Robertsen in 1991. The Robertsens commissioned BBT Hardy Engineering to do a geotechnical study to determine the feasibility of building on property that included the Golf Creek ravine, and were issued a building permit and final occupancy permit by the town even though no erosion control measures were undertaken, as recommended in the study.

In 1992, the town commissioned a study by KPA Engineering that recommended four erosion control options — including a detention pond on the Comox Golf Course — to protect properties along Golf Creek. None were implemented, according to documents supplied by Ken McDonald.

Ken McDonald stands in front of his $30,000 geotextile wall to prevent further erosion from Golf Creek. The Town of Comox’s refusal to help him pay for the remediation has turned into a nearly $250,000 BC Supreme Court lawsuit

Seven years later, a 1999 a KPA Engineering study gave Golf Creek the highest environmental sensitivity rating in their investigation and recommended remedial action and water quality monitoring. Neither were implemented, accord to McDonald’s documents.

From 1991 to 2005, Town of Comox population grew by 70 percent, increasing stormwater flows into Golf Creek.

In 2005, the Robertsens communicated concerns about increased erosion of their property, and the town denied responsibility. The Robertsens then paid for a second geotechnical study — this one by Lewkowich Engineering — that repeated the need for “some preventative measures.” None were implemented.

A 2013 assessment by McElhanney Engineering raised concerns about increased stormwater volumes and recommended the town “mitigate the impacts of discharging stormwater into sensitive receiving environments.” The town did not implement the recommendations in the McElhanney report, according to McDonald.

When the Robertsens decided to sell their house in 2014, they commissioned a third geotechnical study, which reaffirmed the need for creek bank remediation.

After purchasing the house, the McDonalds hired a contractor to do the creek bank remediation, and were told by the town that erosion damage was entirely their own responsibility.

McDonald says he did not realize Golf Creek was no longer a natural waterway until June 2016 when a downstream neighbor mentioned his erosion problems and the old engineering reports indicating the creek was a key component of the town’s stormwater management system. The neighbor told McDonald that the town had installed a five meter-long rock wall along his creek bank.

So the McDonalds started a BC Small Claims Court action to recover some of the cost of remediating their own section of the creek.

Two years into that legal action, McDonald had the water quality in the creek tested. The test results showed fecal coliform levels nearing that of raw sewage and concentrations of heavy metals, including mercury, that exceeded provincial guidelines.

In many cases, the level of contaminants exceeded government guidelines by more than 1,000 percent.

Last month, McDonald had the creek’s water retested. While the fecal coliform tested down to 150 times provincial standards, the results showed the more dangerous E Coli levels at 2,000 Fecal Coliform Units per 100 ml. BC and Health Canada guidelines put the maximum safe level for human recreational contact with E Coli in a single sample at 400 FCU/100 ml.

E Coli in Golf Creek registered 500 percent over the BC maximum.

McDonald said the provincial environment ministry has also recently tested the creek’s water, but has not yet released their results.

 

Attempts to meet with Town Council

McDonald says that litigation is not his preferred approach to resolving the issue, but that repeated attempts to meet with town staff and the mayor and council have been rebuffed by the town.

Prior to last fall’s municipal election, McDonald filed an application to the court requesting postponement of a trial date so that he could present his case to the new mayor and council. The town opposed the postponement, but it was granted. No meeting has taken place.

In October, before the election, McDonald asked candidate Russ Arnott if council would entertain a meeting. Arnott declined in an email message.

“I did bring it up with Richard (Kanigan, the town’s Chief Administrative Officer) and was advised it was in the hands of their insurance people and that it best not to engage at this particular time,” Arnott replied to McDonald via email.

McDonald said two subsequent informal encounters with Arnott met with the same response.

 

What’s next

The McDonalds are now in the process of preparing their case for the Supreme Court.

“Our object is to solve a major environmental problem that has destroyed the fresh water streams in Comox and is contaminating our marine environment,” McDonald told Decafnation. “There are practical solutions to the problem. What is needed is an administration and a council that acknowledges that there is a problem and is willing to change their stormwater management practices.”

Decafnation briefed Comox Mayor Russ Arnott and CAO Richard Kanigan on the content of this story prior to publication, but neither responded to an invitation to comment or provide additional information.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WHAT IS FECAL COLIFORM?

FECAL COLIFORM — Microscopic organisms that live in the intestines of warm-blooded animals. They also live in the waste material, or feces, excreted from the intestinal tract. Although not necessarily agents of disease, fecal coliform bacteria may indicate the presence of disease-carrying organisms, which live in the same environment as the fecal coliform bacteria. Swimming in waters with high levels of fecal coliform bacteria increases the chance of developing illness (fever, nausea or stomach cramps) from pathogens entering the body through the mouth, nose, ears, or cuts in the skin. Diseases and illnesses that can be contracted in water with high fecal coliform counts include typhoid fever, hepatitis, gastroenteritis, dysentery and ear infections. Read more here and here

 

 

SUBSCRIBE TO OUR NEWSLETTER

Enter your email address to subscribe to the Decafnation newsletter.

More Environment | Stormwater

No Results Found

The page you requested could not be found. Try refining your search, or use the navigation above to locate the post.

A new Courtenay strategy will guide how the city manages its urban forests

A new Courtenay strategy will guide how the city manages its urban forests

Butchers Road, Comox  /  George Le Masurier photo

A new Courtenay strategy will guide how the city manages its urban forests

By George Le Masurier

Back in the 1980s, it was uncommon for small communities like the City of Courtenay to even think about the value of its urban forests. When the city adopted a tree bylaw in 1989 that regulated the cutting down of trees on public and private lands, Courtenay became something of a leader in urban planning.

The idea of protecting trees as a natural asset, once only the providence of environmentalists, is now a widely accepted best practice of urban planning in flourishing communities.

But the price of being an early adopter was that Courtenay had no overarching policy to guide its decision-making about how to update its tree bylaw.

That gap became obvious during a controversial review and update to the bylaw that began in 2015 and didn’t conclude until 2017. Groups like the Comox Valley Development and Constructions Association pressed for a less restrictive bylaw while other groups favored greater protections.

So the Courtenay planning staff are now in the final throes of developing an Urban Forest Strategy that will guide how the city manages trees on private and public property for the next 30 years.

FURTHER READING: Review the draft Urban Forest Strategy

Comox Valley residents have just two more days to add their input into the strategy through the online survey. It closes on Thursday, May 23.

Many Vancouver Island communities have an Urban Forest strategy or are in the process of developing one.

Cumberland issued an RFP for consulting services to assist in creating its Urban Forest Management Plan, which includes trees on both public and private property within the urban landscape. Comox has a plan, but it applies only to public lands.

Courtenay Policy Planner Nancy Gothard said the Urban Forest Strategy will be a guiding document for the city that states a shared vision, goals and targets, and will inform the decision-making of future councils.

“It’s a ‘plan’ similar to the Downtown Revitalization Plan,” Gothard said. “If it’s adopted by City Council it will guide decisions, but not be adopted as a bylaw.”

 

Courtenay’s urban forest today

Although the city has had a tree bylaw for 30 years, the tree canopy has been declining, especially in the last four years.

In 1996, 38 percent of the city was covered and that remained fairly constant until 2014 when it dropped by two percent, and another two percent by the end of 2016. Another one percent was lost in 2018, leaving the tree canopy now at 33 percent, most of it on privately-owned land.

That’s similar to other communities, such as Campbell River. Comox is considerably lower at 23 percent.

The canopy cover target for the Pacific Northwest ecoregion is 40 percent.

The draft Urban Forest Strategy doesn’t propose a specific target, yet. Gothard said the city is asking the public through the survey what the target should be and will make a specific target recommendation to council.

 

Why have an urban forest?

Recent research generally supports that greener communities enjoy better health and wealth, and are more active and socially bonded. Communities everywhere in the world are looking at the role of trees in providing these benefits.

“As an ecological asset, Courtenay’s urban forest plays a critical role in sustaining localized hydrology, to support creek and fish health,” Gothard said. “We also know that the public loves their neighbourhood forested trails and values trees for the shade, wildlife habitat and beauty they provide.”

Emerging research also indicates that access to nature — and even views of it — assist with boosting immunity, more rapid healing, and reducing the anxiety and stress, ailments of modern life.

“Urban trees and forests clearly require management and care in order to provide these benefits,” she said. “But when invested in, they are proving to be a very good return on investment.”

 

Benefits of trees

According to Canopy.org trees absorb air borne pollutants, which improves health and allergic conditions. They absorb carbon dioxide, and one tree produces enough oxygen for 18 people every day.

A tree is a natural air conditioner. The evaporation from a single tree can produce the cooling effect of ten room-size, residential air conditioners operating 20 hours a day.

Tree windbreaks can reduce residential heating costs by up to 15 percent; while shading and evaporative cooling from trees can cut residential air-conditioning costs by nearly 50 percent.

Homes landscaped with trees sell more quickly and are worth 5 percent to 15 percent more than homes without trees. Where the entire street is tree-lined, homes may be worth 25 percent more.

Trees absorb and block sound, reducing noise pollution by as much as 40 percent.

 

 

 

 

URBAN FOREST STRATEGY BACKGROUND

One year after beginning a comprehensive exploration and community consultation into Courtenay’s urban forest, the draft plan is now available for public feedback and we want to hear from you!

The Urban Forest Strategy will guide how we as a community protect and manage trees on public and private land within the Courtenay boundaries. The drafted Strategy recommends the vision for what our future urban forest will be and a framework for how to get there.

The survey focuses on a few key questions to gather final input on the vision, preferred canopy target, your priorities and willingness to participate in proposed urban forest actions.

All survey participants are welcome and encouraged to consult the draft Urban Forest Strategy, including previous consultation findings, which are available on the City of Courtenay’s website at: www.courtenay.ca/urbanforest

Questions and written feedback may also be directed to City staff at planning@courtenay.ca

Survey closes May 23, 2019. Please encourage your friends and neighbours to participate!

— City of Courtenay website

SUBSCRIBE TO OUR NEWSLETTER

Enter your email address to subscribe to the Decafnation newsletter.

More Environment

Has engineered stormwater doomed BC’s waterways?

The Comox Lake Watershed Protection Plan and the Kus Kus Sumrestoration were highlighted at a recent stormwater conference, while the keynote speaker urged public pressure on local governments to adopt green infrastructure

Comox Valley hears “Voices from the Sacrifice Zone’

By Gavin MacRae was a long rap sheet, but speakers from the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment detailed the dangers of fracking to people in the Peace region of BC, this Sunday at the Florence Filberg...

Five anti-fracking activists speak at CV forum

Anti-fracking activists tell Comox Valley audience that the LNG life cycle is worse for the environment than coal, and that BC project serve only export markets that soon may not exist