Blowing smoke: Campaign to overturn wood stove bylaws called misleading, ineffective

Blowing smoke: Campaign to overturn wood stove bylaws called misleading, ineffective

Burning wood has a romantic aura about it for some, but for others, the smoke causes multiple, serious health hazards  |  George Le Masurier photo

Blowing smoke: Campaign to overturn wood stove bylaws called misleading, ineffective

BY GEORGE LE MASURIER AND GAVIN MacRAE

This article has been updated.

The days when Comox Valley people burned wood for cooking and heating out of necessity have long gone. But the romantic notion of chopping and stacking firewood to burn in fireplaces and woodstoves over damp West Coast winters has lingered on in the Comox Valley. The Village of Cumberland even celebrates woodstove culture with an annual festival.

But what was once a means of survival is now regarded as a health hazard.

Smoke from wood stoves and fireplaces is the largest driver of the Comox Valley’s air pollution, creating winter air quality that is at times some of the worst in the province. Temperature inversions, the shape of the Comox Valley and periods of calm air in winter all contribute to the problem, according to the regional district.

And it is this resulting haze that is linked to a litany of health problems.

Ultrafine particles – called PM 2.5 – penetrate deep into lung tissue and can trigger heart attacks, strokes, worsen asthma, and diminish lung function. Long-term exposure to wood smoke can cause emphysema, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and chronic bronchitis, and heighten the risk of dementia and cancer.

“We are not going backwards” — Cumberland Mayor Leslie Baird

Children are particularly affected. The ultrafine particulates in wood smoke have been shown to lower birth weights, increase infant mortality and stunt lung development and function.

To cap this harmful pollution, Comox, Courtenay and Cumberland have all passed bylaws since 2018 banning wood stove installations in new homes. Courtenay and Comox bylaws go further, prohibiting wood stoves in renovations as well.

That’s raised the hackles of the Hearth Patio & Barbeque Association of Canada (HPBAC). The Ontario-based trade group, with members in the Comox Valley, recently launched a media campaign to have Comox Valley’s wood stove bans overturned.

On a new website and in radio and print advertising, the HPBAC says the bans unfairly prohibit residents from installing new “clean burning” wood stoves certified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The “Overturn the Ban” campaign website also stresses the economy of wood heat, claims local wood stove businesses will “suffer unnecessarily” under a ban, and declares that “Burning wood is a way of life.”

The HPBAC did not respond to an interview request by the publication deadline.

Smoke from woodstoves is the top cause of poor air quality during Comox Valley winters | Ravi Pinisetti photo, Unsplash

 

A MISLEADING CAMPAIGN

Courtenay Mayor Bob Wells has called the woodstove industry’s campaign misleading.

“The majority of emails I’ve received from the public on this topic are from people who assume the City of Courtenay is banning all wood stoves, based on the ad campaign that’s been running in the Comox Valley,” Wells told Decafnation.

But in fact, Courtenay City Council has updated its Building Bylaw to prohibit the installation of wood stoves in new construction and requires a building permit to fix or replace an existing wood-burning appliance to ensure that the new appliance meets CSA standards.

“Council will not revisit this decision,” Wells said.

And he has requested the industry association to alter their campaign to remove the claim that local governments do not allow upgrades.

Cumberland Mayor Leslie Baird said the industry campaign to overturn the local bans on wood stoves in new construction “is not sending the right message to residents.”

“Each council (Courtenay, Comox and Cumberland) did their due diligence in making their decision,” she told Decafnation. “I am not reconsidering my position and I will not ask Council to reconsider our decision.”

Baird said Cumberland councillors listened to Public Health Officials about the adverse effects of woodsmoke, including the latest reports and studies on the cost to the BC healthcare system.

“How many years did it take for citizens to realize the effects of cigarettes on our health?” she said. “This is the same issue.”

Comox Mayor Russ Arnott refused to comment for this story.

Comox Valley Regional District Chair Jesse Ketler said that regional directors reviewed scientific studies and local air quality testing results before making their decision to offer rebates for replacing five-year-old or more woodstoves used for home heating with a cleaner fuel source, such as gas, pellet, propane or electric heat pump devices.

“As local government, we care about our airshed and have taken steps to reduce local air pollution. These are science-based decisions that are not likely to be reversed but could be improved with further input from our regional Airshed Roundtable,” Ketler said.

 

INDUSTRY CLAIMS REFUTED

“Newer wood stoves meet stringent EPA emission standards,” said the industry’s Overturn The Ban website, that fall “well within or below acceptable particulate emissions standards per hour.”

But that’s not so, according to a landmark report published in March by the Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management (NESCAUM), a coalition of eight U.S. state air quality regulators.

After auditing the EPA’s testing and certification regime and re-testing over 250 EPA-certified stoves, the Boston-based organization found a “systemic failure of the entire certification process, including EPA’s oversight and enforcement of its requirements.”

That failure means there is “no confidence” that new EPA-certified stoves spew fewer particulates than the old appliances they are replacing, the report said.

“The unavoidable conclusion of this report is that EPA’s certification program to ensure new wood heaters meet clean air requirements is dysfunctional,” the report reads. “It is easily manipulated by manufacturers and testing laboratories. EPA has done little to no oversight and enforcement.”

“It’s bigger than just paperwork issues,” said Lisa Rector, a policy and program director at NESCAUM and lead author of the report. “There were many things done during the testing to reduce emissions, some of it allowed but not as intended, and other things not allowed.”

To achieve EPA certification, wood-burning appliances move through a Byzantine process involving multiple third parties and potential conflicts of interest. Since instituting emissions standards, the EPA hasn’t conducted a single audit to verify certification results, the report said, in a period of over 30 years.

Now, Rector said states under NESCAUM’s guidance have to figure out how to adapt the policy to accommodate the EPA’s failings until the EPA fixes the problem, which could take years.

The report has direct implications for the Comox Valley: “At its core, EPA’s program as currently run allows the continued sale and installation of high-emitting devices… Once installed, these units will remain in use, emitting pollution for decades to come.”

CVRD is one of two in the province to exclude woodstoves from the BC exchange program | George Le Masurier photo

 

MONEY TO BURN?

Jennell Ellis, the spokesperson for the non-profit advocacy group Breathe Clean Air Comox Valley, considers the NESCAUM report’s findings significant enough to refer to as “Woodstovegate,” but said other claims by the HPBAC don’t stand up to scrutiny either.

Namely, that it is unfair to restrict wood stoves because they are an inexpensive source of heat for lower-income residents.

Ellis said that although wood heat is cheap for those getting free wood, in reality, the heat source exacts a dear price from neighbours, communities, and society at large.

“In lower-income neighbourhoods, everyone is breathing the air, while only those who get free wood benefit,” she said.

Health Canada estimates air pollution causes 1,900 premature deaths in BC every year, while total health costs in Canada are pegged at $120 billion annually.

Education campaigns on wood seasoning and best burning practices are no panacea either, Ellis said, because some people refuse to change behaviours and because enforcement is difficult and shouldn’t fall on municipalities anyway.

“In order to get a clean-burning wood device, there are four things you need,” said Rector. “Good technology, good fuel, good installation, good operating practices. Modify any one of those – bad fuel, poor operation, bad technology, bad installation – will turn a device into a high emitting device.”

 

STOVE EXCHANGE PROGRAMS INEFFECTIVE

Finally, the NESCAUM study adds to a body of evidence calling into question the wisdom of subsidizing the change-out of old wood stoves for new ones.

In BC, an exchange program funded by the province and municipalities, and administered by the BC Lung Association, offers rebates for households upgrading from an old wood stove to a pellet stove, natural gas, propane, or electric heat pump. In most jurisdictions, the cost of new, EPA-certified wood stoves is also subsidized by $250-$500.

The Comox Valley Regional District and Sunshine Coast Regional District are the first in BC to exclude replacement wood stoves from the program.

“[The BC Lung Association] think it’s a form of harm reduction,” Ellis said. “We’re lobbying them and trying to convince them that it’s like telling people to smoke light cigarettes.”

A 2015 evaluation of BC’s Woodstove Exchange Program, covering 2008-2014 and commissioned by the Ministry of Environment, found, “there has not yet been a clear reduction in fine particulate matter pollution coming from residential wood stoves in BC.”

The evaluation speculates part of the lingering pollution could be due to a simultaneous increase in the number of households adopting wood heat but concedes poor wood-burning practices persisted despite a “significant effort” in education and outreach to teach clean-burning practices.

Another case study comes from Libby, Montana. The city of nearly 2,800 had over 1,200 non-EPA-certified wood stoves changed out for new units from 2005 to 2008. This was expected to lower the particulate emissions from wood stoves in the town by over three-quarters, but studies later showed an emissions drop of less than a third.

 

LOCAL GOVERNMENTS ARE RESOLUTE

The Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association appears to be fighting a losing battle. Local government leaders say the industry’s Overturn the Ban campaign hasn’t changed their minds.

Cumberland Mayor Baird said she has “no idea why they have chosen the Comox Valley to launch their campaign. We joined with the Comox Valley Regional District as did Courtenay and Comox to improve the air quality in our areas.”

“We are not going backwards,” she said.

CVRD Chair Ketler and Courtenay Mayor Wells both think the industry has targeted the Comox Valley because all three municipalities have created new bylaws that limit the use of wood stoves in new construction and they fear the precedent this sets for other BC municipalities.

This article was a journalistic collaboration between the Watershed Sentinel and Decafnation

 

 

 

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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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Regional District terminates CVEDS contract, opposing views were too entrenched

Survey finds Areas A-B happy with regional board, directors, little interest in schools

Photo Caption

Survey finds Areas A-B happy with regional board, directors, little interest in schools

By George Le Masurier

Just over halfway through their first terms in local government, regional district directors Daniel Arbour and Arzeena Hamir have earned high approval ratings from the respondents to a Local Government Performance Review conducted recently by Decafnation.

Decafnation initiated the survey to measure how satisfied voters were with the performance of the councillors, directors and trustees they elected in 2018.

The first article summarizing the survey’s findings published earlier this week took a close look at the Courtenay and Comox municipal councils and individual council members. This second article focuses on the rural electoral areas of the Comox Valley Regional District, as well as the District 71 school board and Island Trust representatives from Denman and Hornby Islands.

Electoral Area A Director Daniel Arbour received the highest approval rating of all the Comox Valley’s 33 elected officials reviewed in the survey. Eighty-nine percent of Area A respondents said they were either very satisfied (61%) or satisfied (28%) with his performance so far. That was also the survey’s highest ‘very satisfied’ rating.

Affordable housing the top issue in Areas A and B. In Area C, it was protecting the Regional Growth Strategy

Electoral Area B Director Arzeena Hamir was close behind Arbour with a 65 percent approval rating from respondents, including a 58 percent approval rating in the top ‘very satisfied’ level.

Respondents from electoral areas A and B also said they were satisfied with the work of the Comox Valley Regional District board of directors.

But veteran electoral director Edwin Grieve didn’t fare as well. Fifty-seven percent of electoral area C respondents said they were dissatisfied with his performance at mid-term, including 30 percent who said they were very dissatisfied.

Despite Grieve’s low approval rating, the survey found that Area C respondents were still mostly satisfied with the regional board as a whole, although their satisfaction level (38%) was the lowest of the three electoral areas. Also, the number of Area C respondents who gave the board a neutral rating (neither satisfied nor dissatisfied) was the highest of the three rural areas.

The survey results also show that most residents in the municipalities and rural areas were ambivalent about School District 71 school board trustees as well as Island Trust representatives. With a few exceptions, most of these elected officials’ received the neutral rating of neither satisfied nor dissatisfied.

A neutral rating usually indicates the survey respondent doesn’t have enough information to form a strong positive or negative impression or that they are indifferent to, in this case, the school board and Island Trust issues.

Denman Island’s Laura Busheikin received the strongest satisfaction rating (54%) among the four Islands Trust representatives from Denman and Hornby islands. But both Busheikin and Denman’s other representative, David Critchley, received a significant number of written comments.

All four Islands Trust trustees received high neutral satisfaction ratings, probably because twice as many Area A residents live in the Royston to Fanny Bay portion of the district as on the islands. Those residents are not as likely to follow Denman and Hornby civic issues.

“Although a Hornby Islander, Daniel Arbour is doing a good job of representing both the “Big Island” and “Little Islands” parts of Area A.”

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 in each jurisdiction, areas A and B choose affordable housing as the number one issue. In Area C, the top issue was protecting the Regional Growth Strategy, quite possibly a reaction to the multi-year controversy over a large subdivision proposed by 3L Developments.

The survey was conducted over a three-week period via Survey Monkey and the results independently analyzed by 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 bottom two dissatisfied ratings and refer to them as simply satisfied or dissatisfied.

Most of the 314 survey respondents included written comments to help explain their satisfaction ratings. These can be found elsewhere on the Decafnation website.

Here’s a closer look at the results for the Comox Valley Regional District Electoral Areas, school trustees and Island Trust representatives.

 

CVRD ELECTORAL AREA A

Almost two-thirds of survey respondents from Area A (61%) said they are satisfied with the regional district board. That was the highest approval rating of any local government surveyed and may be a reflection of respondents’ satisfaction with CVRD Director Daniel Arbour.

Arbour not only received the highest approval rating in the survey (89%) but he also had the lowest disapproval rating (7%) and the fewest number of indifferent respondents (4% neither satisfied nor dissatisfied).

Area A respondents’ satisfaction level with the regional district board – click to enlarge

One respondent said they were very satisfied with Arbour because, “Although a Hornby Islander, Daniel Arbour is doing a good job of representing both the “Big Island” and “Little Islands” parts of Area A.”

“He has a good media presence so I see things he is trying to do. Shares information on Facebook. Connects with locals about rural concerns and get what it’s like to live rurally,” said another respondent.

You can find all of the regional district, school trustee and Islands Trust comments here.

District 71 school board Chair Sheila McDonnell, who represents Area A, received the highest satisfaction rating (29%) of any school trustee and a low dissatisfaction rating (5%).

But survey respondents across the Comox Valley gave all of the school board trustees, including McDonnell, and the four Islands Trust representatives overwhelmingly indifferent ratings. Sixty-seven percent of Area A respondents said they were neither satisfied nor dissatisfied with McDonnell.

Respondents said they “have no kids in school, so not an interest,” and “No idea what she’s up to.” While another respondent said, “Sheila has been very receptive to feedback and concerns about the school board processes.”

Few Area A respondents said whether they were satisfied not with the Denman and Hornby Island Trust representatives.

Denman’s Laura Busheikin topped the survey for most responses and respondents also gave her the highest satisfied rating (54%) and also the lowest indifferent rating (37%).

“Laura is by far the best Islands Trustee we’ve had in the 31 years I’ve lived on Denman Island. She’s smart, hard-working, and faultlessly ethical despite being cast, in some Islanders’ minds, as a foil to Local Trust Committee members whom they regard as “elitists,” said one respondent.

Area A respondents’ top issues – click to enlarge

Only about 20 percent of Area A respondents said they were satisfied or dissatisfied with Hornby trustees Grant Scott and Alex Allen and Denman trustee Dave Critchley. But respondents did have several conflicting comments about Critchley

“Trustee Critchley is a lawyer and performs his LTC job officiously. He tends to take a conservative position on certain issues, particularly housing which has become a hot-button again as the IT Council has decided to crack down on non-conforming dwellings and has been issuing eviction notices since last winter. These “illegal” dwellings have existed on this Island for 47 years—ever since the imposition of the Islands Trust. They exist because they are critically necessary: the AVERAGE age on Denman is 61 years old and younger workers of every sort are needed—and need places to live. Trustee Critchley has tended to support the recent crackdown on non-conforming dwellings. About 20% of our population lives in these,” said one respondent.

And when it came to the top issues Area A respondents want Arbour to address before the end of his first term, Affordable housing topped the list (66%). Next was mental health and opioid addiction issues.

 

CVRD ELECTORAL AREA B

More than twice as many Area B respondents to the survey say they are satisfied (53%) than dissatisfied (20%) with the regional district board. And 65 percent say they are satisfied with the performance of Director Arzeena Hamir. Just 13 percent said they were dissatisfied.

Area B respondents’ satisfaction level with the regional district board – click to enlarge

“Arzeena Hamir is an outstanding director. I highly respect her for her willingness to speak up and be vocal about issues she feels strongly about. She communicates professionally and thoroughly researches issues she’s addressing. She has been unafraid to speak publicly about CVEDS, and other challenges the CVRD is facing,” said one respondent.

“Have been very impressed with Director Hamir in every way. Particularly appreciated her support of Curtis Road residents in our difficulties with the Sewage Treatment plant,” said another who echoed other respondents’ comments.

The comments from Area B respondents, which can be found here, included these:

“On the whole I am pleased with how the CVRD has handled things this past term. I’m especially happy that they are putting CVEDS through their paces and bringing them to task for the years of secretive operations and inadequate service to the area as a whole,” said one.

Area B respondents’ top issues – click to enlarge

While another said, “I think that personal relationships seem to trump community greater good when it comes to decision making for Director Edwin Grieve. Very satisfied with Daniel Arbour and Arzeema Hamir.”

Survey respondents were dramatically indifferent about school board Trustee Michelle Waite. Ninety percent of Area B respondents said they were neither satisfied nor dissatisfied, because, according to one respondent, “No idea how that is going.”

Another respondent said, “The school district does a poor job of getting its news and information to the public. Sometimes this feels intentional.”

The top issues Area B respondents want to be addressed are affordable housing and the Regional Growth Strategy. But they also noted support for the farming sector and climate change as top issues leading up to the 2022 civic elections.

 

CVRD ELECTORAL AREA C

Of the Comox Valley’s three electoral districts, Area C is the most unhappy with their regional board representation, and the least happy with the CVRD board itself.

Area C respondents’ satisfaction level with Director Edwin Grieve – click to enlarge

Area C respondents said they were decidedly dissatisfied (56%) with the performance of Director Edwin Grieve.

“Grieve appears to support the visions of CVEDS and the Exhibition Grounds Committee that are not in keeping with more sustainable, grassroots, community-based values. BIG is not necessarily beautiful. Input from local growers and the community at large should be valued and respected, not minimized or criticized. Time for him to join many of the other “old boys club” members and step aside,” said one respondent.

All of the survey’s written comments about Grieve, the regional district and their school board trustee can be read in their entirety here.

But 30 percent of Area C respondents were also satisfied with his performance.

Area C respondents’ top issues – click to enlarge

“Edwin has been between a rock and a hard place for a long time, what with 3L being in his grill for so long. Director Grieve seems to be a conciliator personality type and is not his own best advocate. I think that many times what he does is not actually understood by the electorate and the press,” according to another survey respondent.

The recently appointed school trustee for Area C, Cristi May Sacht received equally small numbers of satisfied and dissatisfied respondents and 81 percent who said they didn’t know enough about her or were indifferent to school issues.

Protecting and updating the Regional Growth Strategy is the top issue (65%) that respondents from Area C want their director to address in the last half of his term. Respondents ranked affordable housing second (52%) and then economic development and climate change.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

HOW YOU RATED ELECTORAL AREA DIRECTORS, SCHOOL TRUSTEES AND ISLANDS TRUST REPS

Cumberland school board trustee Sarah Jane Howe’s result derives from only three respondents, two who gave her a neutral rating and one who gave a satisfied rating.

 

 

SURVEY RESPONDENTS BY GOVERNMENT JURISDICTION

 

 

SURVEY RESPONDENTS BY AGE GROUPINGS

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More Government Review | 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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LAST CHANCE TO TAKE OUR SURVEY ON LOCAL GOVERNMENT PERFORMANCE

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...