Campbell River Environmental Committee lists its current top priorities

Campbell River Environmental Committee lists its current top priorities

The BC Ministry of Mines continues to market the Quinsam Coal mine site after its bankruptcy in 2019  |  Submitted photo

Campbell River Environmental Committee lists its current top priorities

BY GUEST WRITER

Given the number and variety of government and commercial projects with the potential for negative environmental impacts these days, it’s difficult for any individual to stay informed.

But for the last 40 years, the Campbell River Environmental Committee has taken on the burden of informing the public about current and future environmental risks. And it has promoted environmental awareness among businesses, local government and the general public to make informed decisions.

The CREC’s current priorities include siting of a compost facility near residences, the hazards of biosolids, changes at a gravel pit that may impact Campbell River’s drinking water, provincial marketing of the defunct Quinsam Coal mine whose waste pollutes the Quinsam and Campbell rivers.

They are also concerned about tailings from the Myra Falls mine flowing into Buttle Lake and new activities on the former pulp and paper mill property.

 

 

PROPOSED COMPOST FACILITY

The Comox Valley Regional District has applied to the Ministry of Environment (MOE) to construct a compost facility on land next to the Campbell River Landfill. The application falls under the authority of the Comox Strathcona Waste Management Board (CSWMB). The facility will take organics from the municipalities. BC government guidelines for compost facilities suggest setbacks from residences at 400 to 1000 meters from a residence. The CSWMB considered two sites, one 500 meters from residences and the other less than 300 meters from a residence. The CSWMB made the decision to construct this new facility where a home and family are within 300 meters.

Staff and their consultants are confident that odour (which carries airborne emissions including Volatile Organic Compounds) will be contained. CREC’s research of compost facilities existing in other locations has odour complaints from homeowners living 350 to 500 meters from composting operations.

Another issue in the composting process is possible fires. At this site beside the Campbell River Landfill, the absence of hydrants and a sprinkler system is a concern for fire suppression. This is a heavily forested area. Should a fire reach the crowns of the large trees, it could head to the neighbours or burn northeast to Elk Falls Park. Interesting to note there will be a fee on property taxes for the compost service to homeowners of Courtenay, Comox, Cumberland and Campbell River. Tell your local government and the MOE what you think.

 

 

BIOSOLIDS

CREC is concerned about the practice of spreading biosolids on forestry lands and for closure cover of mines and landfills. Important to note – the disposal of this end product from the municipal sewage system has many applications including to Agricultural Land Reserve farm land and in general is regarded as a fertilizer and a soil builder.

We are especially concerned about the lack of testing for substances found in biosolids such as pharmaceuticals, steroids, hormones and PFAS (Per-and Polyfluorinated Alkyl substances), also known as the “Forever Chemicals”, as documented in the November 15, 2018 EPA study titled, “Office of Inspector General-EPA Unable to Assess the Impact of Hundreds of Unregulated Pollutants in Land-Applied Biosolids on Human Health and the Environment.”

If you walk through a hardware store be aware that every liquid on their shelves could potentially find its way into the sewer system and therefore show up in biosolids. A similar walk-through any drugstore will remind you that pharmaceuticals and chemicals sold there might also become a part of biosolids.

When applied to fields and gardens, biosolids can show up in our food supply, water supply and in some cases become airborne.

CREC has been researching biosolids for the past year and has learned from numerous university and government agencies studies that biosolids can be hazardous to humans, the environment and wildlife.

 

 

UPLAND SAND AND GRAVEL PIT

It is safe to say nearly every community has or will have to deal with an exhausted porous gravel pit. The options are limited; face the costly closure and reclamation or, the most popular option for the owner, fill it with waste and collect landfill tipping fees. The Ministry of Environment permitted a landfill in the gravel pit adjacent to McIvor Lake (which flows to Campbell River’s drinking water intake).

At this point, the City of Campbell River retains zoning control of the site. However, Upland submitted a new mine application to the Ministry of Mines and – if the mine plan is approved- the City’s zoning may cease to apply to the site.

CREC’s focus of concern at this site is the possible effect of the proposed landfill leachate on Campbell River’s drinking water and the associated aquifers. Those aquifers feed local streams including Cold Creek which is the source of the Quinsam River Hatchery’s groundwater for Salmonid incubation. Our second focus is finding a reason for the unexplained higher-than-normal heavy metal concentrations sampled from the bottom of Rico Lake, which flows into McIvor Lake, and is adjacent to the permitted landfill and the mine application.

 

 

QUINSAM COAL

The Quinsam Coal Mine (QC) opened in 1986. Following an extensive public inquiry, the inquiry chairman declared that “the Quinsam River and its watershed are very sensitive to environmental damage” and “A properly designed and implemented mining plan should virtually assure the prevention of the formation of acid waters.”

Operations went from an open pit to an underground coal mine in the early 1990’s. After QC reported elevated sulphate levels in Long Lake, CREC enlisted the expertise of Dr. William Cullen of the Canadian Watershed Network. His research found high levels of arsenic and other metals in the sediment of Long Lake due to seepage from the companies underground 2 South Mine.

As a result, QC was required to collect and treat the seepage.

Acid rock drainage which generates acid leachate enters the groundwater: this leachate problem has no end date. QC declared bankruptcy in 2019. Nearly two years later, the Ministry of Mines continues to market this mine site. The water from this mine site flows into the Quinsam River to the Campbell River. Both rivers are jewels of the community and have high value as commercial and recreational assets.

After 14 years of annual meetings, the public annual Environmental Technical Review Committee meeting for 2020 was canceled by the Ministry of Mines, despite the ease and availability to meet electronically. A skeleton crew remains at the mine, sampling and producing reports which CREC receives.

 

 

MYRA FALLS

The Myra Falls polymetallic mine is “Of interest” to the CREC as it is the only mine in British Columbia situated in a Provincial Park.

With the mine operation start up in 1966, the tailings were dumped directly into Buttle Lake at the mouth of Myra Creek. This practice was halted in 1984. Subsequent mine tailings were stored behind a berm in a tailings pond.

As of January 2021, the berm of this tailing pond was 43 meters high (142 ft or 14 stories in height). The rise (or increase) for the 2021 season April – September will be 5 meters. The plan for this tailings pond is a maximum height of 57 meters (188 ft). At this planned maximum height this berm will be the physical barrier for 1.5 million cubic meters of tailings.

CREC has been advised that the tailings pond is well constructed to safely contain 1.7 million cubic meters. In comparison, the 2014 Mount Polley mine tailings pond breach devastated Hazeltine Creek with 25 million cubic meters flowing into Quesnel Lake. A concern unique to the Myra Falls location is the excessive amount of water flowing off the mountain above the mine; this flow must be controlled and managed.

A high priority and ongoing challenge at this mine is the management of the volume and the quality of water Trafigura (the operators) release into Buttle Lake. An aside – in 1988, a second mine was proposed for Strathcona Park; this time a silver mine at Cream Lake. In response, residents of both Campbell River and Comox Valley formed a blockade and 64 people were arrested. This was the first time in Canadian history anyone was jailed for protecting a park.

 

 

DISCOVERY PARK

Discovery Park occupies the site of the former Catalyst pulp and paper mill. The owners of this site, Rockyview Resources, are looking for income-generating opportunities. The Ministry of Environment approved an expansion to the landfill in 2018.

The recent extensive improvements to Discovery Park’s leachate capture, monitoring wells and treatment system makes this industrial site suitable for an expansion to their existing landfill. This has been an industrial site since 1952 when the pulp and paper mill started. Based on the science and the fact that the drainage is away from residences, CREC does not oppose the application currently before the City for landfill zoning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MORE INFORMATION ABOUT THE CREC

CREC is a non-profit society, which began in the early 1970s, working on environmental issues in the Campbell River area. Our mandate is to collaborate with governments, organizations and the public for the best environmental outcome. Our focus is the water, especially the protection, security and safety of drinking water. Our approach is science-based, factual research. We make effort to leave the emotional content at the door – and work with the best science.

CREC members contribute to community committees providing oversight, advice and planning. CREC is a member of the BC Mining Law Reform Network. In community service, we become involved in a broad range of activities: site visits to industrial operations; writing letters and reports; meeting with all levels of government; working with hydrologists, geoscientists, and forestry professionals.

On the community side, CREC meets with multiple stakeholders in the stewardship and the protection of our watersheds.

We are a non-profit, 100 percent volunteer Society. We are always looking for like-minded individuals to join us in the stewardship of our watersheds. When you have the time or the sudden urge to join us, find CREC online on Facebook or at our website. Or, we can be reach via email at: crenv18@gmail.com

 

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Regional District terminates CVEDS contract, opposing views were too entrenched

Regional District terminates CVEDS contract, opposing views were too entrenched

Decafnation archive photo

Regional District terminates CVEDS contract, opposing views were too entrenched

By George Le Masurier

This story was updated March 2 to include a reaction from Area C Director Edwin Grieve. Comox Councillor Ken Grant and Comox Mayor Russ Arnott did not respond.

After almost a year of public discussions, in-camera meetings and mediated workshops that were often divisive, the Comox Valley Regional District will terminate its contract with the Comox Valley Economic Development Society on Aug. 26.

In an email to CVEDS Chair Deana Simkin sent Feb. 25, board Chair Jesse Ketler said the regional district was invoking Section 22 of the current service agreement signed just seven months ago on July 27. The section provides for early termination of the contract with six months notice.

A press release issued by the regional district this morning made the termination public knowledge.

The 33-year-old Economic Development Society will now almost certainly fold without a contract that provided local public funding in excess of $1.2 million annually in recent years in exchange for economic development and destination marketing services, and management of the Visitor’s Centre.

In this morning press release, Chief Administrative officer Russell Dyson said, “the CVRD with their municipal partners (City of Courtenay and Town of Comox) will continue reviewing the economic development service to provide a path forward on how economic development will be delivered within the region.”

One possible path that Comox Council has already discussed is for the town to hire its own economic development officer, as Cumberland did in 2016. Comox could still continue to participate in regional funding for destination marketing and Visitors Centre management.

Regional directors made the decision to terminate the contract at an in-camera session following the Feb. 9 full board meeting, which had become heated over the Economic Development Society’s 2021 work plan and budget.

The Comox Town Council has been at odds with the majority of regional district directors over how to manage the CVEDS contract and over its fundamentally opposing view about what constitutes economic development.

The board majority comprising directors from Courtenay and Electoral Areas A and B have pressed to make CVEDS more financially accountable and to modernize its view of what drives the local economy.

Comox Director Ken Grant made the Town Council’s position crystal clear at the Feb. 9 meeting.

“With all the angst around this, I don’t see any way how this relationship with CVEDS can continue,” he said. “So it’s time to cut our ties with CVEDS and stop pouring good money after bad.”

He said the society’s 2021 workplan included seven projects specifically requested by the board “that, in my opinion” have nothing to do with economic development. That’s taking us down a road our community really isn’t interested in.”

Those seven items included, among others, efforts to help create broader access to child care to enable women to return or enter the workforce and addressing the need for affordable housing to accommodate employees of local businesses.

Grant said the regional board has been “interjecting our decisions into their board … in an independent governance model you don’t get to tell them how to do their business,” he said. “That’s been the problem from day one.”

 

NOBODY WAS HAPPY

Comox Town Council wasn’t happy with the board’s new vision for economic development. The board majority wasn’t happy with how CVEDS operated, especially its lack of transparency and what it considered an outdated approach.

It appears both sides had become tired of the conflict.

Some observers believe Comox developed its own economic development strategy last year when the differences of opinion looked irreconcilable and they didn’t have the votes to prevail.

Town Chief Administration Officer Jordan Wahl recently spoke about hiring its own economic development officer as Cumberland did after withdrawing from the regional service five years

The town hired Lara Greasley, former CVEDS marketing manager, last year and now there is speculation they might hire CVEDS executive director John Watson.

That would leave Courtenay and the electoral areas to form their own economic development plan.

But there might still be room for a regional-wide destination marketing service and management of the Visitor’s Centre, both of which are currently under contract with Tourism Vancouver Island.

 

REACTION TO THE TERMINATION

Area A Director Daniel Arbour said the ongoing service review will allow the municipalities and rural areas to discuss how to support economic development in each respective community. He said it’s clear there are a variety of needs, some which may be best addressed in each jurisdiction, and some through regional collaboration.

“For Area A, CVEDS has worked primarily on the promotion of the shellfish sector for years. Without CVEDS, as chair of the Baynes Sound Ecosystem Forum, and AVICC local government representative on shellfish issues, I look forward to continue to grow the relationship with the businesses, BC Shellfish Association, and K’omoks First Nation on the promotion of sustainability initiatives in and around Baynes Sound,” he told Decafnation.

“Ultimately, in the years ahead, the most important economic consideration in Area A will be to properly manage growth in and around Union Bay, and to make thoughtful decisions around infrastructure requirements and integrated community planning,” he said.

Area B Director Arzeena Hamir said she has been advocating for more support for the farming sector ever since she was elected in 2018.

“Supporting farmers to increase their incomes per acre and create a vibrant food economy has always been at the forefront of my asks of our Economic Development Service. I hope to continue pushing for that,” she told Decafnation.

“I do also support more childcare places and I do see the direct connection between the vitality of the workforce and the ability of that workforce to return to work without having to worry about who is taking care of their kids,” she said.

Hamir added that she is looking forward to a transformed Economic Development Service.

“It’s been a long haul. We did try to work with CVEDS under the new contract but I felt we weren’t getting the deliverables we agreed to and CVEDS continued to make decisions (like the contract to Tourism Vancouver Island) without even informing the CVRD in advance,” she said.

Area C Director Edwin Grieve thanked the “incredible list” of volunteers who stepped up and donated so much of their time and expertise to serve on the CVEDS board. He noted past presidents Richard Hardy, Ian Whitehead, Justin Rigsby, Deana Simpkin. He also gave recognition to John Watson and Geoff, Lara, Arron and others from the staff that worked magic and doubled every public dollar.

“In this, as in so many Comox Valley endeavours, it was the volunteers, societies and not-for-profits that made this such a great place to live,” he told Decafnation. 

 

WHAT’S NEXT

It was the Comox Council that unanimously voted to request a formal review of the economic development service. That review with a hired consultant began on Jan. 17 but has so far resulted in only one in-camera meeting, which primarily focused on the process and procedures for the review.

The next meeting of the review committee is scheduled for mid-March but does not appear on the regional district’s website because they have closed the meetings to the public.

The review committee comprises representatives from Courtenay, Comox, the three electoral areas and the regional board chair.

 

 

 

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More CVEDS | Latest Feature
Courtenay says it’s satisfied with City Council, different story in Comox, survey finds

Courtenay says it’s satisfied with City Council, different story in Comox, survey finds

The next municipal elections are scheduled for Oct. 15, 2022. That’s just 20 months away.

Courtenay says it’s satisfied with City Council, different story in Comox, survey finds

By George Le Masurier

First of two parts

Comox Valley residents who participated in a Local Government Performance Review say they are generally satisfied with the performance of the Courtenay City Council and the Comox Valley Regional District board of directors. But they are mostly dissatisfied with the Comox Town Council.

With about a year-and-a-half to the next municipal elections, Decafnation conducted the survey over the last few weeks to measure how satisfied voters were with the performance of the councillors, directors and trustees they elected in 2018.

In addition to the distinctly different opinions about the Courtenay and Comox councils, the survey also found that when respondents were satisfied with most of their individual elected officials, they also approved of the whole council’s performance.

For example, the regional board directors in areas A and B received very high approval ratings and those electoral area respondents also expressed a corresponding satisfaction with the regional district board. In electoral area C, however, where most respondents said they were dissatisfied with their regional director, they were also less satisfied with the regional board as a whole.

Twice as many Courtenay residents said they are satisfied with their city council than dissatisfied. That level of satisfaction transcended all age groups

Among the Comox Valley’s 33 elected officials reviewed in the survey, Electoral Area A Director Daniel Arbour received the highest approval rating. Eighty-nine percent of his constituents said they were satisfied or very satisfied with his performance. Courtenay Councillor Doug Hillian had the second-highest rating at 68 percent and Electoral Area B Director Arzeena Hamir was third with a 65 percent approval rating.

Few of the 314 respondents to the survey indicated a strong interest in District 71 school board matters.

When asked how satisfied they were with school board trustees, in most cases the respondents chose the mid-point (neither satisfied nor dissatisfied), a response that usually indicates a lack of knowledge or a lack of interest. The written comments about school trustees point to both. 

And too few people responded from the Village of Cumberland to provide the data for meaningful analysis, although 80 percent of the villagers who did respond were decidedly satisfied or very satisfied.

It is interesting that roughly 20 percent of respondents felt neither satisfied nor dissatisfied with their councils and individual councillors. This may not be surprising given that a large majority of eligible voters were not sufficiently interested in local government to cast a ballot in the 2018 civic elections.

The survey also asked respondents to identify the top issues elected officials should address before voters go back to the polls on Oct. 15 of next year.

Although the list of top issues varied by Comox Valley jurisdiction, it was clear that respondents overall rated affordable housing as the number one issue. Traffic congestion and various other transportation issues collectively ranked second.

Comox respondents over age 55 were more dissatisfied with their town council than younger residents.

In the survey, Decafnation invited people to rate their level of satisfaction with the Comox Valley’s four local governments as well as their individual municipal, school district and Island Trust elected officials. The survey was conducted over a three-week period via Survey Monkey and the results independently analyzed by several community volunteers not associated with Decafnation.

Respondents could choose among five levels: very satisfied, satisfied, neither satisfied or dissatisfied, dissatisfied and very dissatisfied. For this story, in most instances, we have combined the top two satisfied ratings and also the bottom two dissatisfied ratings. We refer to the results as ‘satisfied,’ ‘neutral’ or ‘dissatisfied.’

Many of the survey respondents included written comments to help explain their satisfaction ratings. These can be found elsewhere on the Decafnation website starting today with Courtenay and Comox. The comments help to explain and interpret the respondents’ satisfaction levels.

This article takes a close look at the results for Courtenay and Comox. Readers can click all images for enlargement.

 

CITY OF COURTENAY

Twice as many survey respondents from Courtenay said they are satisfied (55%) with their city council than dissatisfied (27%). And that sentiment was mirrored in respondents’ impression of individual council members.

That level of satisfaction also transcended all age groups. Respondents who are 54 years old and younger had approximately the same satisfaction level as those over age 55.

How satisfied are you with the Courtenay City Council? — click to enlarge

Respondents in age groups from 18 to 54 were satisfied (59%) and dissatisfied (30%), while respondents in the age groups from 55 to 65-plus were satisfied (54%) and dissatisfied (26%).

Many of the respondents’ comments praised specific council action.

“I am relieved the council was not taken in by 3L Developments, and also that it supports the bike/pedestrian bridge to 6th St. I do wish the council would consider more green space for every new development. Everyone needs a small area of greenery, preferably a few trees and flowering bushes, a bench or two, whether for a lunch break or just to rejuvenate.”

Mayor Bob Wells received a 53 percent satisfied rating, compared with 26 percent who were dissatisfied with his performance. The percentage who gave him the top ‘very satisfied’ rating (18%) was about the same as the council as a whole (20%) and all other council members except for Manno Theos (9%).

Wells received both praise and criticism from survey participants.

You can read all the comments about city councillors and the council itself here.

“It’s a difficult job trying to lead the way and find common priorities to address civic issues and sustain a vision of an inclusive community that values people of all income groups/ages. He (Mayor Wells) hears what people say! He seems to work at building consensus when possible,” said one respondent.

But some respondents disapproved of his communication style.

“Never hear from the guy,” said one. While others said, “Never hear from him except when he is at a public function with a high attendance,” and “I have sent him a few emails and have yet to receive a reply! Not even an acknowledgement.”

Courtenay respondents were most satisfied with Councillor Doug Hillian, who got a 68 percent satisfied rating, with 44 percent rating his performance at the top very satisfied level.

Hillian’s very satisfied level ranked higher than all other Comox Valley council members. Only Electoral Area A Director Daniel Arbour (60% very satisfied) and Electoral Area B Director Arzeena Hamir (58% very satisfied) eclipsed his 44 percent mark.

One respondent said Hillian was the council’s “Elder statesman. Eloquent. Ever diplomatic. Grateful to have him.”

Another person wrote, “Councillor Hillian is very knowledgeable and experienced, he’s empathetic, cares about the environment and related issues, and is responsive to taxpayers.”

Manno Theos was the only city councillor to receive an overall dissatisfied rating (41%). Although 32 percent of respondents said they were satisfied.

What are the top issues council should address? — click to enlarge

“I have always felt that of all councillors, Manno is the least invested in helping the little guy and the most invested in watching out for larger money sources. It is good to have a counter-voice to balance the primarily progressive council, but I feel he is less invested in meetings and he often sounds distracted behind the zoom camera and has less in-depth comments.” said one respondent.

Respondents gave similar approval ratings to the remainder of the council members. They also received mostly positive comments.

Will Cole-Hamilton (52% satisfied) was called the “Best of the bunch. True leader. Could be more influential and “not as nice” when driving the necessary culture changes at City Hall.”

A respondent commented that Wendy Morin (52% satisfied) has “A lot of heart and insight which has at times been sorely lacking on council.”

 

A respondent said Melanie McCollum (48% satisfied) “is a very good listener and … also seems to give issues a lot of thought and, so far at least, she looks for ways to resolve long-standing problems such as unhealthy air quality in the Valley due to overuse of woodsmoke. I see her as promising and hope she lasts.”

More than one respondent mentioned David Firsch’s (47% satisfied) impact on the cycling community. “I think he has some good ideas. He is definitely a positive for the cycling people in Courtenay.”

Courtenay residents who took the survey said affordable housing (62%) was by far the most important issue for the council to address before the 2022 elections. Completing the city’s update of its Official Community Plan was second at 52 percent, followed by economic development (49%) and traffic congestion and/or parking (48%).

It was interesting to note that respondents nixed the idea of annexation or otherwise expanding city boundaries. Only 3 percent of respondents ranked it as an important issue.

“Council needs to build a consensus for new initiatives flowing from the OCP. ‘Building back Better’ will require engaging the community from the neighbourhood up instead of ‘top down’ policies. Support for Neighborhood Associations is one way to start engaging people where they live. Staff will need reorienting to community engagement. Add a Community Development function of Social Planning and coordinate with agencies,” said one respondent.

 

TOWN OF COMOX

Almost half of the Comox respondents (49%) said they are dissatisfied with the performance of their Town Council, while a third expressed satisfaction (33%). And only 10 percent said they were very satisfied.

But that level of dissatisfaction did not transcend all age groups among Comox respondents as it did in Courtenay. Younger Comox residents surveyed said were much more satisfied with their council’s performance than the older residents.

How satisfied are you with the Comox Town Council? — click to enlarge

Comox respondents in age groups from 18 to 54 were mostly satisfied (57%) and only 19 percent were dissatisfied. But in the older age groups, those trends were reversed. Respondents in the age groups from 55 to 65-plus were largely dissatisfied (70%). Only 17 percent of this older age group said they were satisfied.

Respondents noted the reasons for their overall dissatisfaction with Comox Council in the written comments. You can read all the comments here.

“This Council is unable to think outside of the box that it has built for itself. Because a number of the councilors are new to their positions, they seem unwilling to act or oppose the direction of the Council set by those who have past experience.,” said one respondent.

“Election promises have been broken, respect for previous OCP has been lacking in follow through, lack of a heritage registry and building permits without proper parking allocations are issues. Using OCP designated parkland space to sell for a building site and not honouring an almost 40-year-old trust agreement with Mack Laing are also issues for me. I could go on,” said another.

But there were some less critical comments. “People are doing their best under the circumstances,” said one person.

Respondents gave Mayor Russ Arnott an approval rating similar to the council as a whole: 48 percent said they were dissatisfied with his performance while 24 percent were satisfied. In the extreme ratings, 10 percent said they were very satisfied with Arnott and 20 percent were very dissatisfied.

Arnott had the highest dissatisfaction rating of all council members and the respondents’ comments reflected this.

“The mayor’s behaviour in council meetings has been interruptive and not respectful to public speakers and his newer council members. He has not attempted to follow OCP guidelines … He is a former member of council who continues to block resolution of a 40-year-old Trust that could have created a gem for Comox such as Campbell River has achieved with both the Sybil Andrews House and the Haig Brown house and property. He continues to block a Heritage Registry for Comox, at a great loss for the community,” said one respondent.

But there were other opinions, too. “He is a down-to-earth, approachable leader. He stood up for his Public Works staff when an awful fabricated story broke about interactions with the female public. His love for Comox is obvious. He cares about people,” said another person.

At the other end of the scale, first-term Councillor Nicole Minions topped council members with a 53 percent approval rating, 23 percent of respondents giving her the top level rating of very satisfied.

“Councillor Minions is a welcome addition to this council. She has attempted to initiate some progressive ideas to the council despite the older members of the council’s entrenched resistance to considering new ideas. It’s disappointing that her initial support for a meaningful attempt to resolve the town’s situation in regards to the Mack Laing Trust has been silenced,” said one respondent.

Another first-term councillor, Alex Bissinger posted the second-highest satisfied rating (49%) and had the highest percentage (34%) of very satisfied respondents. Stephanie McGowan, also in her first-term, received a 41 percent satisfied rating.

Respondents kept Councillor Patrick McKenna in positive territory with a 34 percent satisfied rating, although he had the highest dissatisfied rating (19%) of the four newcomers on the council and the highest indifferent rating (47%).

Councillors Ken Grant and Maureen Swift received mostly dissatisfied ratings at 43 percent and 36 percent respectively. Grant got the lowest satisfied rating (19%) of all Comox council members.

“Ken Grant’s jokes and comments are sexist and disrespectful. He is part of the “Old Boy’s Network “ of the last Council. He seems opposed to any substantial changes to Council’s past performance,” said one respondent.

“Ken Grant seems to represent the white male status quo,” said another.

What are the top issues council should address? — click to enlarge

Comox residents who responded to the survey said the top two issues for the town to address are climate change (50%) and resolving the Mack Laing Trust issue (50%)

Taxation and municipal finance issues and affordable housing were both important to 42 percent of respondents. Economic development was important to less than a third of respondents (32%).

The comments made by survey participants reflected these issues.

“Comox town council’s continued obstruction and delay towards responsibly resolving the Mack Lang Trust debacle is a municipal disgrace,” said one respondent.

“There’s a general lack of discussion on this town about how poorly developed the waterfront is. There’s a huge opportunity here and we have great waterfront doctors offices (which is a complete waste). It should be filled with waterfront restaurants, cafes and hotels. Again, some vision is seriously lacking here. Also a boardwalk connecting marina park to goose spit park should be a thing,” said another.

And this, “We don’t need hotdog stands on the marina park pier, nor do we need any more empty buildings. keep up the splash park, enhance the boat launch area, and, as has been promised for years, build a walkway along the shore like almost every other waterfront community on Vancouver Island. It’s embarrassing,” said a respondent.

Next time, we look at the survey results for the Comox Valley Regional District and the three electoral areas. We’ll also review the satisfaction levels of the Denman and Hornby Island representatives to the Islands Trust and District 71 school board trustees.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

HOW YOU RATED COURTENAY, COMOX COUNCILLORS

 

READ YOUR COMMENTS ABOUT COUNCILS AND COUNCILLORS ON THE SURVEY HOME PAGE

 

 

 

RESPONDENTS AGE GROUPING BY JURISDICTION

 

 

 

SURVEY RESPONDENTS BY GOVERNMENT JURISDICTION

 

 

 

COMOX SATISFACTION LEVEL FOR UNDER & OVER AGE 55 RESPONDENTS

Satisfaction level of Comox respondents age 54 and under (above) and 55 and over (below)

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Early-onset dementia, a heart-rendering disease that took Dales Judd in his prime

Early-onset dementia, a heart-rendering disease that took Dales Judd in his prime

Greta Judd: early-onset dementia took her husband, Dales, during a physically fit and productive time of his life  |  George Le Masurier photo

Early-onset dementia, a heart-rendering disease that took Dales Judd in his prime

By George Le Masurier

Before Feb. 11, 2016, Greta Judd, like most people, had only a general awareness of dementia. She just knew Alzheimer’s disease was a form of dementia that affected older people. No one in her family had suffered from dementia. And she had never heard of early-onset dementia.

Many years before, Greta had started to notice subtle changes in Dales, her husband and high school sweetheart. But at first, these seemed simply to be the normal signs of ageing, like needing glasses to read a book.

So when Dales’ anxiety levels started to increase in his early 50s, she wrote it off as getting older and becoming more set in his ways. When the avid cyclist fell off his bike, he was just clumsy. When he couldn’t remember the name of something, he was merely forgetful.

“With dementia, you lose the person in increments”

But over the years, Greta had become increasingly worried about the changes she saw in Dales. She circumvented Dales’ family doctor and pressed for a clinical diagnosis from an Island Health specialist in seniors care.

On Feb. 11, 2016, the Judds learned that Dales was living through Dementia with Lewy Bodies, an incurably rare disease with characteristics of both Alzheimers and Parkinsons, but one that progressed more quickly than both.

“Getting the diagnosis was horrible,” Greta told Decafnation. “It was devastating to realize my husband of 45 years wasn’t coming back. This wasn’t something we could fix.”

She cried a lot at first but hid it from him by going out for walks.

“He fed off my moods and I didn’t want to upset him,” she said.

Lewy Body Dementia represents between five percent to 10 percent of all dementia cases in Canada. Most of the 500,000 Canadians with dementia are over 65 and have Alzheimer’s or vascular dementias. Lewy Body typically exhibits earlier, around age 50, and tends to afflict slightly more men than women.

Dales’ life expectancy was pegged at three to seven years.

After slowly declining over almost 20 years, Dales died exactly on Feb. 11, 2019, at age 68. But he did not die how you might imagine.

 

SEEING THE SIGNS

Looking back, Greta can see now the little signs of dementia that Dales had been exhibiting for more than a decade before his diagnosis.

He always had poor sleep patterns and frequent insomnia and he experienced noticeable weight gains and losses. Both are commonly accepted indications of a propensity to develop dementia.

He started to forget simple words like ‘refrigerator.’ “You know,” he would say, “that place where we keep the food.” Once an avid and daily sudoku puzzler, he suddenly stopped altogether.

Dales Judd: a victim of early-onset dementia

When they went to a restaurant, Dales seemed to always forget his reading glasses. “Just order me something,” he would say. Greta understands now that he couldn’t read the menu because the words weren’t making sense to him any more.

It’s common to develop masking and coping strategies, but as the disease progresses they become harder to hide.

On a driving trip to the Grand Canyon several years before his diagnosis, Dale asked one morning, “Where are we?” Greta took out the map to show the route. But she soon realized his question was more profound than a specific town or campground.

His symptoms worsened. More than once during his sleepless night, Dales flooded the kitchen floor by washing the dishes and leaving the plug in the sink with the water running.

When he left all four elements burning on the stove, about a year before his diagnosis, Greta could no longer leave him alone in the house or outside.

And neither Greta or Dales’ sister, Carol, with whom he was very close, knew until after the diagnosis that he had been having visual hallucinations. They were friendly but frightening.

Dales continued to recognize people right to the end, Greta believes. He just couldn’t say their names or speak.

“He would try. His mouth would open but the words just wouldn’t come,” she said.

Finally, the only way he could communicate or show emotion was to cry.

 

WHO WAS DALES JUDD?

Greta was 18 when she married Dales, 23. They were married for 45 years. They moved to the Courtenay from Canmore, Alberta in 2003. They semi-retired from Dales’ career as the Canmore community services director and previously as director of a YMCA in Calgary. Dales drove a school bus for the Comox Valley Schools.

Greta remembers Dales as a tremendous athlete.

Dales on his ride to Newfoundland

For a while, he mastered all the racquet sports. Then he got into long-distance cycling. He cycled from Canmore to Alaska twice. He cycled once from Canmore to Jasper over to Prince Rupert, ferried down to Port Hardy and cycled down the Island and then back to Canmore. He and his sister, Carol, once cycled from Victoria to Newfoundland.

Dales always needed a goal, something that he was training for. He ran many marathons and half-marathons.

She also remembers Dales “big sense of humor and he was incredibly funny.” Greta says he was “kind, generous and a superb father. He was proud of his children. He made it a point to expose his children to as many activities and experiences as he could.”

 

THE END IN A CARE HOME

The tragedy of Dales Judd’s death was not that he died. Greta, her sister-in-law and their children all knew the end was coming.

“I had been grieving for three years already,” she said. “With dementia, you lose the person in increments.”

When Dales’ physical deterioration became too difficult to manage safely, Greta made the difficult decision to move him into a residential care home.

And that’s when the tragedy of Dale’ death occurred. He did not die from his dementia. He died from the Norwalk virus that had spread through the Comox Valley Seniors Village for the second time in 10 months.

Dales with his grandchildren in the care home

Dale had survived the first outbreak, but he and the residents of three adjoining rooms, none of whom were mobile, all died from the second virus outbreak at about the same time.

Because the restrictions of the coming COVID virus pandemic were not yet underway, Greta and Dale were able to spend the last hours of his life together.

But Greta and the family members of the other victims were angry.

“His life in the Seniors Village was horrible,” she said. “Staff all did their own thing then. There was no leadership. Some of the staff even resented family members’ visits.”

Greta was doing all of Dales’ person care and even feeding him. That was common among the residents, she said because the facility was so short-staffed.

She says family members had become the privately-owned facilities’ essential workers even though they were paying the care home $7,000 a month (family cost plus public subsidy).

“I think it’s better now,” she said. “But by the time he died I was grateful that he didn’t have to live that way any longer. It was a demoralizing, demeaning way to live.”

 

MOVING FORWARD

There is another tragedy that accompanies all forms of dementia: the toll it takes on family caregivers.

According to B.C. Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie, there are roughly one million unpaid caregivers in B.C. Ninety-one percent of them are family members, usually adult children (58 percent) or spouses (21 percent).

In a report, “Caregivers in Distress: A Growing Problem,” Mackenzie said 31 percent of unpaid caregivers were in distress in 2016, which represented a 14 percent increase in the actual number of distressed caregivers over the previous year.

She defined ‘distress’ as anger, depression and feeling unable to continue.

Fortunately for Greta, Dales was able to age in place at home for a while with the help of some friends, family and Island Health home care aides. But even so, she says, the burden of having to do everything from pay the bills to take the car in for repairs while providing almost 24/7 personal care took its toll.

“The home care we did get was wonderful, but it was only minimal care. They would sit with him so I could go to buy groceries or run other errands. But it was just to make sure he was safe. They didn’t shower him or do any personal care,” she said.

Greta and Dales Judd

What Greta really needed was longer-term mental health breaks for herself so she could recharge. She was able to get a week-long respite bed only two times in three years, one each in Cumberland and Glacier View Lodge.

But she eventually connected with a group of five other women while taking their husbands to a weekly Minds in Motion dementia program at the Lower Natives Sons Hall. The group continued to have coffee regularly after their spouses were in care homes.

Now, the women have all taken up the ukulele and formed a group called the Uke-A-Ladies and they play together via Zoom.

And Greta has become active in other groups lobbying the BC government for more long-term care beds and respite beds for the Comox Valley.

Now, she’s thinking of selling the travel trailer the couple purchased long ago with intentions to explore North America. She might trade it for a travel van and make a few trips with her dog.

“We can’t move on,” Greta said. “But we have to move forward with our lives.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

WHAT IS LEWY BODY DEMENTIA?

People with dementia with Lewy bodies have a decline in thinking ability that may look somewhat like Alzheimer’s disease. But over time they also develop movement and other distinctive symptoms of Parkinson’s disease that suggest dementia with Lewy bodies.

Dementia in British Columbia Dementia is a broad term used to describe the symptoms of a number of illnesses that cause a loss of memory, judgment and reasoning, as well as changes in behaviour and mood. These changes result in a progressive decline in a person’s ability to function at work, in social relationships, or to perform regular daily activities.

In British Columbia, current estimates of the numbers of people with dementia vary between 60,000 and 70,000. As the numbers of seniors grow, dementia cases will rise.

 

TYPES OF DEMENTIA

Alzheimer disease: A progressive disease of the brain featuring memory loss and at least one of the following cognitive disturbances that significantly affects activities of daily living: Language disturbances (aphasia); An impaired ability to carry out motor activities despite intact motor function (apraxia); A failure to recognize or identify objects despite intact sensory function (agnosia); and Disturbance in executive functions such as planning, organizing, sequencing, and abstracting.

Vascular Dementia: A dementia that is a result of brain cell death that occurs when blood circulation is cut off to parts of the brain. This may be the result of a single stroke or multiple strokes, or more diffusely as the result of small vessel disease.

Dementia with Lewy Bodies: This disease often has features of both Alzheimer disease and Parkinson’s disease. Microscopic ‘Lewy bodies’ are found in affected parts of the brain. Common symptoms include visual hallucinations, fluctuations in alertness and attention, and a tendency to fall.

— Internet sources

 

BY THE NUMBERS

Over 500,000 — The number of Canadians living with dementia today.
912,000 — The number of Canadians living with dementia in 2030.
25,000 — The number of Canadians diagnosed with dementia every year.
65% — Of those diagnosed with dementia over the age of 65 are women.
1 in 5 — Canadians have experience caring for someone living with dementia.

Over $12 billion — The annual cost to Canadians to care for those living with dementia.
$359 million — The cost to bring a dementia-treating drug from lab to market.

56% — of Canadians are concerned about being affected by Alzheimer’s disease.
46%  — of Canadians admit they would feel ashamed or embarrassed if that they had dementia.
87%  — of caregivers wish more people understood the realities of caring for someone with dementia.

— Alzheimers Society of Canada

 

 

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Wildwood: A community model for creating jobs and revenue within ecological parameters

Wildwood: A community model for creating jobs and revenue within ecological parameters

Photos of the homestead at Wildwood are courtesy of the EcoForestry Institute Society

Wildwood: A community model for creating jobs and revenue within ecological parameters

By George Le Masurier

In February of 2017, the former Comox Town Council voted to petition the BC Supreme Court to modify the Hamilton Mack Laing Trust established 39 years ago. The town’s intention was to demolish Laing’s heritage home, called Shakesides, and use the money he had bequeathed the Town of Comox for other purposes.

Although the town had done nothing to live up to the Trust Agreement for over four decades, the town now seemed anxious to get to court and proceed with its plan to replace Shakesides with a “viewing platform.”

But the Supreme Court disrupted those plans when it granted the Mack Laing Heritage Society intervenor status in the case, which would allow the society to present evidence opposed to the town’s petition.

Now, after spending more than $200,000 with a Vancouver law firm, the town appears to have abandoned its petition for unexplained reasons and has not announced any new approach to fulfilling its Trust Agreement.

But among the evidence the Mack Laing Heritage Society (MLHS) would have presented in court was a complete business plan for the restoration of Shakesides as a community project. The plan identified dozens of local businesses, tradespeople and volunteer citizens committed to providing labour, materials and donations.

The plan was “totally plausible” according to its chief architect Gord Olson, a member of the society, in part because other communities have successfully used similar plans to restore landmarks and heritage sites.

In fact, the Victoria Times-Colonist newspaper featured such a project in a three-page spread in its Saturday, Jan. 23, 2021 edition. Although larger in scale, the Wildwood forest and homestead located between Nanaimo and Ladysmith shows how a community project can create a self-sustaining job-creation destination.

 

RESTORATION OF WILDWOOD

Merv Wilkinson originally intended to farm the property he bought on Quennell Lake in 1938 and enrolled in farming classes at the University of British Columbia. But one of his professors urged Wilkinson to instead create a sustainable forest like the ones in the teacher’s Scandinavia homeland.

Over the next seven decades, Wilkinson managed a sustainable forest that today still includes old-growth trees. He selectively logged the property every five years for density, light and marketable species.

He also built a log house with stock from his property that burned down from a chimney fire. He rebuilt it again in 1965.

Wilkinson, who died in 2011 at age 97, eventually moved off the property. The Land Conservancy of BC took its management, but when the TLC proposed selling the property to a private interest, a registered charitable society went to court to keep Wilkinson’s legacy in the public domain.

The Ecoforestry Institute Society (EIS), founded in 1994 by several University of Victoria academics, eventually won a 2016 court battle to acquire the property and hold it in trust for the people of B.C.

Kathleen Code, the EIS vice-chair and communication director, told Decafnation that the society was aided by an Eco forestry Management Plan and a trust deed written by Dr. Donavon Waters, a well-known Canadian trust lawyer. The property now can never be sold to a private interest and must always be owned by a like-minded society.

But, she said, by then the homestead had fallen into serious disrepair. Wildlife and vegetation started to reclaim it back to nature, including a resident bat colony that was relocated to bat boxes.

So Code said the society created a plan to restore the homestead with the help of volunteers, community donations and financial support from the local government.

The result has been a total success, she says.

 

SELF-SUSTAINING AND POPULAR

“Wildwood is a job and revenue creator, all the while operating with its ecological parameters of the forest,” Code told Decafnation in a telephone conversation.

People come from all over the world to visit Wildwood. Some come for tours, some to see the fully-functioning forest and ecosystem, including old growth. There have been groups of Korean foresters, government ministers from Germany, delegations from Europe and more.

But some people come simply for a respite in nature. A top Holland travel agency for the well-heeled has added Wildwood to its list of recommended destinations.

“Some people come to see the famous pear tree in the orchard planted by Dr. Jane Goodall, one of Merv’s many famous friends from around the world,” she said.

Visitors can stay overnight in the log cabin homestead, which has a two-night minimum. Some guests have stayed for a week. The house sleeps 6 with 2.5 baths.

But Wildwood also rents the house for corporate retreats, weddings — one event involved more than 100 people — workshops and other functions.

Code told Decafnation that the facility is already fully-booked through mid-September of 2021.

“What a great job creator; it’s one of the new ways to develop revenue streams while keeping nature intact,” she said. “People today want an experience in their vacation, not just a destination. Vancouver Island can offer experiences in spades. We have nature at its best.”

 

JOB CREATOR

Kathleen Code’s own economic development background has helped make Wildwood a self-sustaining enterprise.

In its second full year, the property generated about $30,000 in revenue that along with continuing public donations and grants pays the society’s $450,000 mortgage, compensates the paid part-time education programmers and tour guides.

It also creates other jobs for cleaners, caterers, maintenance people, naturalists who design courses for school children and workshop facilitators for programs on bats, mushrooms, edible plant identification and health and wellness.

Code says that future building plans will require architects, engineers, construction workers and tradespeople. They also hope to add value-added products, employing artisans and woodworkers. She anticipates that these events will also help support musicians, photographers and artists.

“What a great job creator,” she said. “It’s one of the new ways to develop revenue streams while keeping nature intact.”

 

HOW THEY FINANCED IT

The Land Conservancy originally raised $1.1 million to own and steward Wildwood. Part of the funds came from Grace Wilkinson, the second wife of Merv Wilkinson, who owned three-quarters of the property at the time.

After the court victory in 2016, the Ecoforestry Institute Society paid $800,000 to acquire the property from the TLC. They relied on community donations, but the majority of the money was raised through a $450,000 mortgage provided by Vancity.

The Regional District of Nanaimo donated $150,000 and the society received a $65,000 grant from the BC Capital Gaming agency specifically for the homestead renovation.

The 14-month renovation to the building cost about $250,000. The society did its own general contracting and hired local tradespeople and purchased goods and services from local suppliers.

And volunteers donated extensive labour and materials.

The project managers scoured the island for vintage appropriate furnishings and helped repurpose and refit donations. Volunteers and EIS Board members did the interior design, dug trenches, stained woodwork, painted the bathtub and milled lumber for the bed platforms and decks.

The Homestead restoration required gutting the structure, then installing new electrical, water, heat, solar and septic systems, as well as new floors, plastered walls and new fixtures throughout.

 

WHO IS THE EIS?

Code says the EIS is a tiny society with a cohesive board that has diverse skills, including two registered foresters, economic development analyst, commercial and graphic designer, ethnobotanist, former city planner and an Indigenous liaison.

The EIS headquarters is at Wildwood although volunteer board members come from all over Vancouver Island, including current co-chair Peter Jungwirth, forester, who resides in the Comox Valley.

Wildwood Vice-Chair Peter Jungwirth of the Comox Valley

Jungwirth emigrated from Austria in 1998 with his wife, Heidi, who was originally from the Comox Valley. They met in Austria while she was teaching at an international school.

Jungwirth met Wilkinson in 1997 when he and Heidi visited the area prior to moving here permanently and was “hooked” on Wilkinson’s ideas.

“Foresters are always looking for a better way to manage forests,” he told Decafnation. “And the concept of ecoforestry hooked me in.”

Jungwirth said, “Merv’s legacy is a beautiful forest which he managed for more than 60 years that still has plenty of old-growth trees and thus is a prime teaching and demonstration forest.”

He called Wildwood the biggest hope for change in forestry in BC and the world.

“There is so much more to a forest than timber. There is food, medicine, wildlife, all kinds of vegetation, clean water & air, climate moderation, carbon storage, recreation potential and more, but above all it is an intricate ecosystem that we ought to steward and not destroy, ” he said. “For Ecoforestry, a healthy forest with a functioning ecology is the bottom line, everything else you manage for needs to submit to that goal. That is quite a contrast to industrial clearcut logging.”

Jungwirth said that the forests in Austria are 80 percent privately owned, but forest legislation does not permit anything bigger than patch cuts. With so much publicly-owned forests in BC, you would think public interests like biodiversity conservation or carbon storage against climate warming would be reflected more in the management,” he said.

He visited the Carmannah Valley after it was mostly logged and wondered “why did they have to fight so hard to keep at least some of the magnificent Old Growth forest with the tallest Sitka spruce in the world?”

“Europe made these mistakes, they took it (old-growth) all, and now there’s so little left in the world,” he said. “BC is well on its way there, too.”

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A SIMILAR PLAN FOR MACK LAING’S HERITAGE HOME, SHAKESIDES

The Mack Laing Heritage Society has proposed a plan to restore the home famous Comox ornithologist Hamilton Mack Laing. You can read the plan here.

 

 

HOW THE ECOFORESTRY INSTITUTE SOCIETY FORMED

EIS grew out of a movement in the mid-1990s as a number of academics from the University of Victoria and local environmentalists sought a better way to manage our rapidly depleting ecosystems. Founders include well-known luminaries:

Dr. Alan Drengson (contributor to the deep ecology movement and UVic Emeritus Professor of Philosophy);

Dr. Duncan Taylor (contributor to the deep ecology movement and UVic Professor of Environmental Studies);

Dr. Nancy Turner (ethnobotanist and UVic Emeritus Professor); and

Sharon Chow (Sierra Club Director for 20 years).

Merv Wilkinson himself was to become a member and was later awarded for his pioneering work in ecoforestry with the Order of Canada and the Order of British Columbia. Learn more about Merv here.

 

 

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More Environment | Latest Feature | Mack Laing

Comox failed to consult with KFN over Mack Laing Park

Now that Chief Nicole Rempel has made it clear the Town of Comox failed to properly consult the K’omoks First Nations about plans to demolish Mack Laing’s heritage home, a serious question arises: With whom did town staff and council members consult?

Council vote sends Mack Laing Trust issue back to court

Comox Town Council voted 5-2 this week to continue designing a viewing platform to replace naturalist Mack Laing’s heritage home, rejecting any other proposals for the property, as it prepares to head back to the BC Supreme Court.

MLHS issues letter of thanks to Comox Council

Mack Laing Heritage Society archive photo By George Le Masurier he Mack Laing Heritage Society this morning issued an open letter to the Town of Comox mayor and council. Here is their letter: We, the Mack Laing...

Local governments start their 2021 budgets; who is the CVs highest-paid official?

Local governments start their 2021 budgets; who is the CVs highest-paid official?

Comox Valley local governments are planning their 2021 budgets  |  Scott Graham photo

Local governments start their 2021 budgets; who is the CVs highest-paid official?

By George Le Masurier

It’s not coincidental that Comox Valley residents receive their property value assessment notices in January just as local governments start their annual budgeting processes. Property taxes are the principal source of revenue for most BC municipalities.

By provincial law, local governments must complete their 2021 budget as part of a five-year financial plan every year by March 31. Homeowners start to receive their property tax notices about a month later.

And even though local government budget meetings are open to the public, few taxpayers attend them in order to learn how local elected officials spend our tax dollars.

Do you know, for example, how much your municipal councillors are paid? How many municipal employees make more than $75,000 per year? Do you know what we pay the RCMP for protection services or how much each government has accumulated in surplus revenue?

Have you filled out Decafnation’s Local Government Performance Review? It’s a short survey measuring Comox Valley voters’ level of satisfaction with their local governments.

With the help of a few volunteers, Decafnation has compiled data from our local government’s financial reports and broke it down on a per capita cost and compared those numbers with two of our municipal neighbours: Campbell River and Nanaimo.

We used each government’s 2019 Statement of Financial Information (SOFI) and their corresponding 2019 Annual Report as the basis for our information. The 2020 reports are not yet available.

Readers can look through all of our collected data by clicking the links elsewhere on this page, or by clicking the links to each government’s financial reports.

 

ELECTED OFFICIALS SALARIES

All Comox Valley municipal elected officials are considered part-time positions. That includes the three mayor positions and regional district directors.

Courtenay Mayor Bob Wells was the Comox Valley’s highest-paid elected official in 2019, earning $128,465 in salary and expenses from the city and the Comox Valley Regional District. The next highest mayor or councillor earned less than half of that amount.

Courtenay Mayor Bob Wells

On top of his $71,905 mayor’s salary, Wells took home another $47,810 from the regional district in director wages, committee compensation and expenses. He served as chair of the regional district board in 2019.

Courtenay Councillor David Frisch earned the second-highest amount of $60,782 from his salary of $28,021 as a CVRD director in addition to his $25,234 city council remuneration.

However, all three electoral area directors earned slightly more than Frisch because electoral area directors receive a higher base salary as their area’s only elected representatives.

Area C Director Edwin Grieve and Area B Director Arzeena Hamir both took home $64,849 in salary and expenses, while Area A Director Daniel Arbour earned $63,3472.

Comox Mayor Russ Arnott was the third highest-paid council member in 2019 at $50,158 — $38,384 from Comox and another $11,774 from his regional district duties.

On the expenses side, the top three were Cumberland Mayor Leslie Baird who claimed slightly more in expenses ($11,000) than Comox Councillor Stephanie McGowan ($10,966) and Comox Mayor Arnott ($10,234).

But all three of those expense totals were higher than any single councillor in the City of Nanaimo (highest $10,251) and all Campbell River councillors except for Charlie Cornfield who claimed $11,782 in expenses.

 

ADMINISTRATION COSTS

In a separate spreadsheet, the Decafnation volunteers broke out some of the key administrative costs of running a local government.

One of the highlights on this spreadsheet is that all jurisdictions have increased revenues year over year, in part due to the growth of the Comox Valley.

But it also shows that tax rate growth has exceeded the Consumer Price Index for British Columbia. This is also true for Nanaimo and Campbell River. Could this be because expenses have increased faster than new growth on Vancouver Island can support?

Tax rate growth is one area where public involvement in the budgeting process can directly affect the outcome.

The chart also shows that municipal expenses — the bulk of which are labour costs — have also increased year over year and exceeded the CPI in the municipalities. But not at the Comox Valley Regional District where expenses were kept a half-point lower than the five-year CPI average.

In Comox, the five-year average shows the town’s expenses outstripping revenue by more than two percent.

 

MAKING SENSE OF SURPLUSES

One of the tricky areas of municipal budgeting involves accumulating surpluses. Provincial legislation requires regional districts and municipalities to account for surpluses differently.

Courtenay, Comox and Cumberland may accumulate “unspent surpluses” that in theory can be used for any purpose in the future. There are also reserves for an intended service, such as water and sewer reserves. These can only be used for their stated purpose, and cannot be transferred for something like road improvements.

And, there is also another type of reserves that are created by council policy and not a legislative requirement. Courtenay’s Infrastructure Renewal Reserve is one example. These types of reserves could be moved from one purpose to another, but it would require a council resolution and is not a common practice.

By contrast, the regional district may only have reserves set aside for a specific service that it provides and these are usually attached to a plan for anticipated expenditures.

As you can see in our spreadsheets, the three municipalities of Courtenay, Comox and Cumberland have a combined accumulated surplus of more than $348 million and the regional district has an additional $178 million in reserve. That compares to $305 million in Campbell River and $831 million in Nanaimo.

 

POLICING COSTS

The data shows that Courtenay clearly bears the burden of protective services in the Comox Valley. It may mean that the city has been subsidizing protective services in the other areas.

Part of this anomaly occurs because Courtenay’s population qualifies it as a city, whereas Comox has been classed as a town. Those designations may change this year. If so, Comox’s share of policing will increase and Courtenay’s share will decrease.

But it is interesting to note that policing costs increased in Courtenay last year, while they decreased in Comox and Cumberland.

The RCMP manages the Comox Valley as a single detachment. The same officers respond to calls in all jurisdictions.

Courtenay paid $9,412,733 in 2019 of the Comox Valley’s total RCMP cost of $17,869,053, or 53 percent. That was an increase of 5.5 percent over 2018 and nearly triple what the Town of Comox pays.

Comox paid $3,251,181 in 2019 or 18 percent of the total policing costs. Cumberland paid four percent and the regional district paid 25 percent.

We noted that while Courtenay pays more per capita for policing than Nanaimo, policing costs represented close to the same percentage of revenue and expenses for both cities.

 

MUNICIPAL EMPLOYEES

All local governments’ financial statements include a break out of employees paid more than $75,000 per year and those paid less.

In all three municipalities and the Comox Valley Regional District, the percentage of salaries under $75,000 is greater than those paid more. But that’s not the case in Campbell River and Nanaimo. Nanaimo’s over-$75,000 salaries are 15 percent greater than those paid less. In Campbell River, the two numbers are almost even.

 

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