Last two CVH pathologists resign angry and exasperated by Island Health tactics

Last two CVH pathologists resign angry and exasperated by Island Health tactics

Dr. Chris Bellamy, a well-known pathologist who practiced in the Comox Valley for 31 years  |  submitted photo

Last two CVH pathologists resign angry and exasperated by Island Health tactics

By George Le Masurier

For the past 31 years, Dr. Chris Bellamy has been a stabilizing figure in the Comox Valley hospitals’ medical laboratories. The mild-mannered pathologist earned the respect of his colleagues by working days and often nights to provide timely and accurate diagnoses for physicians and patients.

His stellar reputation extended beyond the Comox Valley. His peers around the province recruited him to serve on professional boards and committees, including one that revisited pathologist workload models and studied how they should be used in pathologists contracts provincially.

He mentored a wide array of medical technicians and laboratory assistants and provided them with the real-life education that can only be learned on the job.

When Bellamy first came to St. Joseph’s General Hospital in 1989, he was the Comox Valley’s only pathologist. As a general pathologist he did both the clinical and anatomical streams of the medical specialty. 

As the community’s population grew and the hospital’s workload increased, Bellamy was joined by Dr. Wayne Donn in 1999 and Dr. Stefania Giobbe in 2015, also general pathologists. The three doctors covered for each other’s vacation time and shared the after-hours calls and weekend work.

But this rosy scenario took a dark turn about seven years ago when the Vancouver Island Health Authority (sometimes called Island Health) unilaterally started to implement a plan to eliminate general pathologists on the North Island.

MORE: The issue in a nutshell

In the future, VIHA planned to provide only anatomical pathology services on-site and turn all clinical pathology over to a private corporation of doctors in Victoria, called the Vancouver Island Clinical Pathology Consulting Corporation.

Island Health started this change in 2013, but only at the Campbell River Hospital, where complaints of long wait times for results — some as long as six weeks for a cancer diagnosis — began almost immediately. 

The Comox Valley pathologists who worked at St. Joseph’s General Hospital, which was not under Island Health’s control, had different contracts that allowed them to practice general pathology and that remained in place through the opening of the new Comox Valley Hospital.

Island Health couldn’t take clinical pathology away from Bellamy, Donn and Giobbe, but it could encourage and pressure them to leave.

And it could refuse, after Dr. Giobbe went on extended medical leave in 2018, to provide any support to ease the workload. In response to requests from Bellamy and Donn for help, Island Health’s answer was to send the work to Victoria.

So it all came to an acrimonious end on June 21 when Bellamy and Donn jointly resigned. They gave two months notice.

“I was just exasperated and angry,” Bellamy told Decafnation. “I really felt forced out. VIHA was relentless in their pressure.”

“Politicians need to have their feet held to the fire”

According to sources within the Comox Valley Hospital, the Island Health announcement of Bellamy’s and Donn’s resignations did not thank the doctors for their years of service.

“And it was sent to the smallest audience possible,” the source said.

Bellamy said he feels sad for patients and staff, “who are bearing the brunt of what’s happening here.”

Their absence for the past two months has caused chaos at the CVH laboratory where most laboratory work is now shipped to Victoria. This has created longer wait times and has provoked some emotional patients to turn up at the lab, desperate for their biopsy results.

Since the pathologists resigned in August, Island Health has been unable to recruit any doctors willing to practice only anatomical pathology at the Comox Valley Hospital. The jobs remain vacant.

 

VICTORIA WAVES OFF CONCERNS

Dr. Chris Bellamy has been warning Island Health executives and North Island politicians about the dangers of shipping biopsy samples to Victoria to no avail. Now, he’s joining the call for a full external review of the situation.

Bellamy, Giobbe and Dr. Aref Tabarsi, a Campbell River general pathologist, met with Comox Valley MLA Ronna-Rae Leonard on Aug. 11, 2017, just prior to the opening of the new Comox Valley Hospital. North Island MLA Claire Trevena was also invited but did not attend.

MORE: 2020 candidates address the issue

The doctors’ goal was to save microbiology and other lab services from being moved from CVH to Victoria. They explained how even minutes counted in making a diagnosis. For example, they said in serious infections, such as meningitis, mortality rates nearly double if the diagnosis takes longer than an hour.

But Leonard said she would not interfere in what she perceived as an Island Health operational issue.

“If politicians don’t want to interfere in the daily operations of VIHA that can impact patient care and safety, then who is accountable?” Bellamy told Decafnation.

Bellamy now believes that an independent review is necessary because there is no accountability within Island Health for the delivery of lab services.

“You can’t point to any one person and say they are responsible,” he said. “It’s a matrix organizational structure, a latticework of managers who all point the finger of responsibility in another direction.”

Bellamy made further attempts to retain lab services on the North Island at meetings with Island Health and VICPCC doctors in 2019 and as late as March of this year. None were successful.

By summer, “it was game over,” for Bellamy and Donn. “From then on, it was just a matter of how to extricate ourselves from the situation,” he said.

 

BEYOND PATIENT CONCERNS

With Bellamy and Donn gone, the North Island now has no on-site clinical pathologist services. All of that work is now shipped to Victoria, mostly by courier.

That change has raised more concerns than long wait times and impacts on patient treatment plans. There are allegations of conflict of interest within Island Health.

Island Health signed it’s first multi-million dollar two-year contract with VICPCC in 2014. It signed a second two-year contract in 2017 under a non-disclosure agreement.

In the meeting with MLA Leonard in 2017, Bellamy, Tabarsi and Giobbe questioned the priority of these contracts.

“It is scandalous that a public body like Island Health would use taxpayer money to sign a multi-million contract with a private, for-profit corporation under a non-disclosure agreement,” the doctors wrote in their presentation to Leonard.

MORE: Medical centralization risks to public

And they alleged conflict of interest in how the contracts were awarded.

“Island Health allows some of the senior VICPCC shareholders to hold key administrative positions … including department and division heads who then dictate changes in service delivery to the detriment of the patients of the North Island and to their own financial benefit,” according to the presentation.

Island Health maintains there was no conflict of interest and has relied on a ruling by the College of Physicians and Surgeons, whose function is to protect the public.

Bellamy says Island Health has wrongly interpreted the College’s ruling.

“The College didn’t say there wasn’t any conflict, only that there was no conflict that had conclusively resulted in patient harm,” he said. “There was no absolute proof that patient care had been compromised because at the time no citizen had formally complained to the college.”

Since then, however, a citizen has made a formal complaint to the College, and there have been complaints to Island Health’s Patient Quality Care Office.

 

WHAT’S NEXT

Dr. Donn has already taken another job in the Fraser Valley. Dr. Giobbe remains on medical leave.

Dr. Bellamy is taking time to decide whether to go back to work in another capacity or to retire. Regardless of what his future holds, Bellamy says he wants to see this issue finally resolved.

“Politicians need to have their feet held to the fire,” he said. “The Comox Valley Hospital laboratory service is no longer good value for money and Island Health won’t change without public pressure.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MEDICAL TERMS USED IN THIS ARTICLE

Anatomical pathology deals with tissue biopsies, such as biopsies from breast, colon, skin and liver.

Clinical pathology deals with body fluids such as blood, urine and spinal fluid, and includes three areas of specialization:

Microbiology deals with the identification of infectious organisms.

General pathologists are medical specialists who study an additional five years in all areas of pathology.

Clinical pathologists are medical specialists who study the same additional five years but in only one of the areas of specialization.

 

 

 

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More Health Care | Top Feature

Petition put to BC Legislature: restore North Island pathology

North Island MLA Claire Trevena presented a petition signed by over 2,500 people to the BC Legislature Nov. 20 that calls for the return of onsite clinical pathologists’ services to the Campbell River Hospital and to investigate possible conflicts of interest within Island Health

$52.6 million Dementia Village planned on former St. Joseph’s General Hospital site

$52.6 million Dementia Village planned on former St. Joseph’s General Hospital site

Providence Living’s rendering of its planned Dementia Village in the Comox Valley

$52.6 million Dementia Village planned on former St. Joseph’s General Hospital site

By George Le Masurier

Island Health announced a project development agreement with Providence Living today to build and operate a 156-bed dementia village on the former St. Joseph’s General Hospital site.

“Our government continues to take action to ensure seniors, especially those with complex care needs, are receiving the best care possible,” Minister of Health Adrian Dix said in a press release this morning. “Friends and family should be confident knowing a loved parent or grandparent with dementia is in a safe environment, which is why I am pleased to see this project take another step towards meeting the needs of seniors in the Comox Valley.”

Read more about long-term care issues in the Comox Valley

Leah Hollins, Island Health Board Chair said she was”excited to see Vancouver Island’s first publicly funded dementia village be built in the Comox Valley.”

The dementia village will feature 148 publicly-funded long-term care beds and eight publicly funded respite beds. It will be built on the site of the existing The Views long-term care home and the former St. Joseph’s General Hospital. Once completed, the dementia village will replace the existing beds at The Views.

“We are very pleased to take this next step in fulfilling our mandate to provide innovative seniors care by building a long-term care home modelled on the concepts of a dementia village,” said Jane Murphy, President and CEO of Providence Living, and the former CEO of St. Joseph’s Hospital. “The Views at St. Joseph’s has a long history in Comox, and we are committed to seeking community input to ensure we best meet local needs. We look forward to continuing our work with Island Health to advance our shared goal of helping seniors in the Comox Valley live to their full potential.”

The dementia village will include:

• Small, self-contained households of 12 residents where each resident will have their own room and bathroom, leading to heightened infection control in a modern space
• A social model of resident-directed care for people with dementia
• Fostering free movement of people with dementia within a home and village setting
• Ensuring resident involvement in everyday activities within the household or the wider, secure village
• Focusing on individualized smaller groupings; cultural bonds, friendships, social activities
• Emphasizing daily life and sense of belonging – involving residents with food preparation, cooking, laundry
• Amenities for residents and community that include community gardens, child daycare, Island Health-funded adult day programs, and a community space, art studio, bistro and chapel

Construction of the dementia village is estimated to cost $52.6 million. Island Health will provide annual operational funding to meet the province’s target of 3.36 direct care hours per resident day. Providence Living has already begun the redevelopment planning process, with a goal of starting construction in spring or summer 2021.

“As a resident of the Comox Valley for the past 30 years, I’ve seen the increased need for seniors’ care, and I’ve heard from people looking for choices in long term care homes to meet their specific holistic needs,” said Ronna Rae Leonard, parliamentary secretary for seniors and MLA for Courtenay-Comox. “This innovative dementia village will help seniors experiencing dementia continue to have a good and dignified quality of life.”

Island Health and Providence Living will be consulting and engaging with stakeholders and the community as the project moves ahead.

Providence Living is a new faith-based, non-profit health care organization established by Providence Health Care to redefine our collective expectation of seniors’ care in British Columbia. The formation of Providence Living came from a deep desire to be part of a global movement to completely rethink and reimagine the experience of seniors and others in need of care, replacing care homes with genuine communities.

The organization was formerly known as Providence Residential and Community Care, and supported by St. Paul’s Foundation, Comox Valley Healthcare Foundation, and Auxiliary Society For Comox Valley Healthcare.

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Town Hall to explain how VIHA’s cuts have hurt North Island patient care

Town Hall to explain how VIHA’s cuts have hurt North Island patient care

Town Hall to explain how VIHA’s cuts have hurt North Island patient care

By George Le Masurier

For more than six years, Campbell River and Comox Valley doctors and other medical professionals have tried to stop the erosion of laboratory services performed on the North Island, but both the Vancouver Island Health Authority and the Ministry of Health have continued to allow the transfer of critical lab functions to Victoria area doctors.

“​It’s time for the community to speak up – for the services that we were promised when the new North Island hospitals opened, for our doctors and lab staff, for all of us,” said Barbara Bailey, a spokesman for Citizens for Quality Health Care.

READ MORE: Our series on pathology services in the North Island

To get the BC healthy ministry’s attention, the citizens group has organized a Town Hall meeting from 2 pm to 4 pm at the Campbell River Sportsplex. They hope people will attend to show their support, share experiences and sign a petition that demands the return of onsite clinical pathologists’ services to the Campbell River Hospital laboratory.

Speakers at the Town Hall will include Dr. Chris Bellamy, one of the Comox Valley’s three General Pathologists who still do clinical pathology onsite at the Comox Valley Hospital. But VIHA (also known as Island Health) also wants to take all clinical pathologists’ services from the Comox Valley Hospital laboratory and move that work to the same group of Victoria doctors.

That happened to Dr. Aref Tabarsi, one of two General Pathologists in Campbell River.

​After VIHA moved clinical pathologists’ services from the Campbell River hospital to Victoria, there has been a significant delay in test results, especially for urgent cases, which has had a negative impact on patient care and clinical outcomes.

It has also created a breakdown in working relations because hospital lab staff and local doctors can no longer consult with the pathologists on site to provide optimum services to patients.

“I will absolutely guarantee that this shift will result in the further erosion of technologists locally and will be bad for patient care in this area,” said Dr. Chris Bellamy, who has practiced general pathology in the Comox Valley for 30 years.

​Despite letters of support for reinstating onsite clinical pathologists’ services to Campbell River laboratory technologists and assistants, as well as 70 North Island general practice physicians, have written letters detailing the problems centralization has caused for their work and for patient care, and expressing their support for reinstating onsite clinical pathologists’ services.

But the Vancouver Island Health Authority has so far dismissed their concerns.

VIHA has not responded to the laboratory staff or doctors. The Ministry of Health has not respond to the Campbell River City Council or the Comox Strathcona Regional Hospital Board, both of who have asked for the return clinical pathology services to the Campbell River Hospital.​ ​

“​Come to the Town Hall on February 9. Learn from the senior pathologists at the Campbell River and Comox Valley Hospitals, lab staff and doctors in the community, share your own experiences.,” Bailey said.

​For more information, call Citizens for Quality Health Care: 250-287-3096 or Council of Canadians Campbell River Chapter: 250-286-3019.

 

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Maps will detail impact of sea level rise on Valley coastline

Maps will detail impact of sea level rise on Valley coastline

Flooding of the Courtenay Flats during previous heavy rainfalls

Maps will detail impact of sea level rise on Valley coastline

By George Le Masurier

It could be argued that climate change hasn’t yet impacted the daily lives of people in the Comox Valley. Yes, it has been drier for longer periods and a year ago the smoke from forest fires dimmed our skies and filled our lungs. The Comox Glacier is disappearing before our eyes.

These are minor events, however, compared to the torrential rains, flooding, droughts and intense super-hurricanes inflicting damage to other parts of the world.

But the serious consequences of climate change will soon reach our idyllic part of the world in the form of sea level rise.

Sea levels have risen by almost eight inches since the 1890s, an annual rate of about 0.06 inches per year, an amount barely noticeable except to those paying close attention.

But the rate of sea level rise has accelerated to 0.14 inches per year since 2006, and scientists predict it will continue to speed up as global temperatures climb.

The latest dire warnings suggest sea level could rise by as much as 1.3 feet by 2050 and up to 8.2 feet (2.5 metres) by 2100, depending on the success of global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

 

FOCUS ON COMOX VALLEY IMPACTS

To determine how rising sea levels will affect the Comox Valley coastline, the Comox Valley Regional District is undertaking detailed mapping of the regions 200 kilometres of coastline, from the Oyster River to Fanny Bay, including Denman and Hornby islands.

With a $500,000 grant from the National Disaster Mitigation Program, the CVRD hired Kerr Wood Leidal consulting engineers to assess the coastline from a geological perspective. They will produce maps and supporting technical data for five scenarios of sea level rise in the years 2030, 2050, 2100, 2150 and 2200.

The report will be a helpful planning guide for emergency management as well as for new development. And, the information will inform the CVRD how to make corresponding policy and regulatory changes, such as floodplain construction levels and setbacks.

The data will also help the CVRD predict how much flooding will occur and how long each flooding event will last.

“Sea level rise is coming whether we think it is or not and governments are being asked to act,” Alana Mullaly, the CVRD’s senior manager of the Regional Growth Strategy and sustainability, told Decafnation. “This will create a lot of hard conversations.”

With rising sea levels pouring over portions of our coastline, how close to the foreshore should building be allowed? Where should local governments put new infrastructure? How should local government manage its assets, such as parkland and archaeological sites? Who will pay for the restoration or relocation of assets?

Sea levels most certainly will have an effect on future land use planning.

“The CVRD may get a request to put a park here or a development there, but that property may be underwater in 20 years,” Mullaly said. “I’m thinking about the weighing of values that we, as a community, will need to do in dealing with climate change.”

 

RICHER DATA FOR ENGINEERS

To do this coastal flood mapping, the consultants will use LIDAR (Light Detecting and Ranging) to survey land remotely and produce high resolution topographic contours. The province has already flown LIDAR equipment over our area to collect the raw survey data and the consultants will process the data for use in the development of hundreds of maps.

Right now, communities that do not have coastal flood mapping generally rely on the requirements set by the province, which are based on mapping from the 1970s and 1980s.

Those maps did not account for any sea level rise, and neither does the current CVRD floodplain bylaw.

But by professional code, once engineers know something they have to consider it, and they have been taking sea level rise into account based on limited information. This report will give engineers richer local data.

Coastal flood mapping will put the CVRD in compliance with the Coastal Food Hazard Guideline, which is the main resource for engineers designing construction projects.

 

WHAT IT MEANS FOR THE PUBLIC

After the report is delivered by March 31 next year, the CVRD will hold public engagement events to inform citizens of its findings, which will ultimately lead to
recommendations for bylaws and other relevant regulations and guidelines.

“Sometimes it has been difficult for citizens to pinpoint the source or motivation when government rules change,” Mullaly said. “This won’t be one of them. This is not an arbitrary change. Sea level rise is coming.”

 

HOW HIGH WILL SEAS RISE?

The provincial government’s official prediction for sea level rise is a half-metre by 2050, one metre (just over three feet) by 2100 and two metres (about 6.5 feet) by 2200.

But that’s too low by at least half, according to recent scientific studies and the consulting engineers who did a similar mapping project for the City of Campbell River.

Northwest Hydraulic Consultants told Campbell River that the province’s projection “might be conservative.” One of the firm’s engineers, Grant Lamont, said it depends on future greenhouse gas emissions and how quickly ocean warming expands.

The loss of polar ice will accelerate in the second half of the century, Lamont said, and force people to cope with larger changes in shorter periods of time.

He recommended planning for two metres of sea level rise by 2100, as the states of California and New York have done.

Campbell River’s report suggests flooding will threaten downtown streets and buildings, and that local governments purchase coastal properties and turn them into pre-flooded parkland.

 

 

 

 

 

 

CLIMATE REFUGEES RETREAT FROM COASTLINES

There will be 13 million climate refugees in the United States by 2100. This report tells the story of a Lousiana town being relocated before sea level rise makes it uninhabitable. It portends to be the first of many retreats for existing coastlines.

The tiny village of Newtok near Alaska’s western coast has been sliding into the Ninglick River for years. As temperatures increase — faster there than in the rest of the U.S. — the frozen permafrost underneath Newtok is thawing. Now, in an unprecedented test case, Newtok wants the federal government to declare these mounting impacts of climate change an official disaster. Villagers say it’s their last shot at unlocking the tens of millions of dollars needed to relocate the entire community.

 

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Smit Field owners, neighbours, CVRD rural directors clash over testing of drag racing cars

Smit Field owners, neighbours, CVRD rural directors clash over testing of drag racing cars

Dan Annand a co-owner of Smit Field on Forbidden Plateau Road  |  George Le Masurier photos

Smit Field owners, neighbours, CVRD rural directors clash over testing of drag racing cars

By George Le Masurier

Does the Comox Valley want to allow the testing and tuning of drag racing cars in a rural residential neighborhood along Forbidden Plateau Road next to Nymph Falls Nature Park? Directors of the Comox Valley Regional District’s three rural electoral areas will answer that question at their next meeting, on Dec. 9.

But it won’t be an easy decision. The case involves neighbourhood concerns about noise, pollution and forest fires, a defiant property owner and a federally regulated airport.

For the past three years, the Vanisle Airfield Society Inc. has tested and tuned their drag racing cars at a 50-acre Forbidden Plateau Road property owned by Dan Annand and Kevin Griessel in contravention of Comox Valley Regional District zoning bylaws.

The property is zoned RU20, which allows several non-residential uses, such as sawmills and dog kennels, but does not allow drag racing or the testing of drag racing cars.

However, the property also contains Smit Field, a private airport registered by Transport Canada with 1,200 feet of concrete runway where the Vanisle Society has been holding its test and tune events.

The CVRD shut down the car club’s activity this summer after some area residents complained.

Now the society has applied for a three-year temporary use permit that would allow up to 50 car owners to test their racing cars over three days, three times per year beginning next May.

Vanisle Society spokesperson Ken Pederson says there is no other site with comparable amenities for car owners on Vancouver Island. Members of the society just “want to have fun,” he says, and tune their cars before entering races.

That hasn’t swayed concerned residents, who say they initially complained about the noise because the cars reach high decibel levels that they say can be heard at homes up to two kilometers away.

But since hearing from the Smit Field owners, and suffering social media harassments from members or supporters of the drag car society, the residents now fear the property owners plan to grow the site into a major event venue and that the drag racing car events will become permanent.

Temporary use permits can be issued for up to three years, and are renewable.

And that, they say, intensifies additional ongoing concerns about air and ground pollution and forest fires.

But principal owner Dan Annand told Decafnation this week that he has no plans to create more large-scale public events on his property, although he does currently host Jeepapalooza, which in its second year last summer drew 700 owners of off-road vehicles.

And if the CVRD Electoral Services Commission doesn’t approve the Vanisle Society’s temporary use permit, a defiant Annand says he might continue to allow the testing of drag cars anyway because he believes the regional district doesn’t have the authority to regulate how he uses his property.

Annand has also hinted that he might turn Smit Field back into a “full-blown airport,” with fly-in gatherings for pilots that could attract more participants and make more noise and pollution than either the drag car testing and Jeepapalooza events.

Plus, he says, he would stop allowing other public service uses of his property.

The following five sections break down this complicated story:

  1. What is Smit Field
  2. Why have neighbors complained
  3. Who is the Vanisle Airfield Society
  4. Dan Annand’s frustrations
  5. What is the CVRD recommending

 

Aerial view of Smit Field courtesy of Transport Canada

WHAT IS SMIT FIELD?

Bert Smit and Dan Annand, who shared a love for flying, have co-owned the 50-acre Smite Field property for many years. Smit owned the property as early as 1977 and obtained classification as a registered aerodrome through Transport Canada sometime in the early 1980s.

The airfield features a grass runway 66 feet wide by 2,663 feet long at the base of the Beaufort Mountains forming Forbidden Plateau and Mt. Washington.

In recent years, Annand has covered 36 by 1,200 feet of the runway with concrete. The drag racing cars use roughly 325 feet of it to test single cars and sometimes side by side.

Smit died on March 3, 2010 when his homebuilt two-seater Jodel aircraft crashed in a forested area just below Forbidden Plateau. Witnesses to the crash say Smit was doing acrobatic maneuvers when a wing appeared to break away.

The airfield is rarely used. As a private aerodrome, pilots must call Annand by phone to request permission to land. Annand has two hangars on the property, one that houses his own Cessna 180 taildragger airplane.

But when Smit and Annand, and others, used the airfield more frequently, Annand said “there were a lot more noise complaints” than there has been recently about testing drag racing cars.

As a result of those previous complaints, Annand changed the circuit pattern for arriving aircraft to approach the runway from over the Puntledge River rather than over residential areas.

A media relations officer for Transport Canada told Decafnation that the federal agency “does not issue an approval to the aerodrome but rather validates the data provided so that it can be published in the Canada Flight Supplement,” which is information for pilots.

Transport Canada does not issue approvals to the aerodrome on the use of runways. It is the responsibility of the aerodrome operator to ensure that the aerodrome is operated safely and to notify Transport Canada of any changes to the flight supplement information.

Annand has not yet notified Transport Canada that he hard-surfaced a portion of the listed runway with concrete or that he plans to extend it to 3,000 feet.

Burned rubber from drag car testing on the Smit Field runway

WHY NEIGHBORS HAVE COMPLAINED

Residents along Forbidden Plateau Road started complaining to the Comox Valley Regional District by Sept. 16, 2017. They say the noise from revving high-performance drag racing engines is deafening in Nymph Falls park and at homes within about two kilometers of the airfield.

Dylan DeGagne was the first neighbor to go public with a complaint. He told the Comox Valley Record last May that while paddleboarding on the Puntledge River near the BC Hydro dam at Comox Lake, “he could hear the cars roaring.”

DeGagne started a petition on Change.org to stop the activity. He immediately became the target of social media intimidation. He has now sold his house and is in the process of transferring to Victoria.

But other residents who spoke to Decafnation on the promise of anonymity, say they have also complained to the regional district. All of these sources purchased their properties before the dragster testing began. They say the noise since 2017 has affected their ability to enjoy their properties and potentially their long-term property values.

They have requested anonymity because of the threats issued through social media posts by either members or supporters of the Vanisle Airfield Society.

Screenshots of two previously public, now private Facebook pages include this post: “Yea, people complain its (sic) too loud. The noise isn’t going away, because I’ll make continuous passes on there (sic) street at 2am if need be, so get over the noise.”

And this reply: “I’ll just put a 353 Detroit in the box of my truck running flat out all night lol.”

Residents say they knew before they purchased their properties that there was an airfield nearby, but not that testing of drag racing cars would occur.

Their complaints include adverse market value impacts to their property, safety concerns to cyclists along Forbidden Plateau Road, forest fire risk, negative impacts to users of Nymph Falls park and wildlife, contravention of CVRD zoning bylaws and “an incongruence with climate change policies” (unnecessary pollution and carbon emissions from fossil fuels).

They say during the most recent Jeepapalooza event, some of the 700 campers set off fireworks during one of the driest periods of the summer.

“Why should we accept the devaluation of our homes, and the risk, to support other people’s hobbies,” one resident told Decafnation.

The concerned residents don’t see the Jeepapalooza and drag car testing events as separate issues.

“It’s not separate for us,” a resident told Decafnation. “The point is, where is this headed? The land owner has poured more than $200,000 into this property without without any approvals. He’s not doing it for three weekends a year that he says doesn’t generate any income for him. There’s a longer-term vision here.”

And they dispute Annand’s claim that the drag car testing events are just for his friends.

“Our complaint was filed only after we discovered that the test and tune events were being advertised on two Facebook pages, totalling more than 3,000 followers.

“This is not strictly a family and friends event,” the source told Decafnation. “All Vancouver Island and BC drag car owners now think there’s a drag strip in the Comox Valley.”

And they have no confidence so far that the CVRD can control these events through a temporary use permit. The regional district does not have a bylaw compliance officer to monitor such permits. It relies on a complaint-driven system.

The concerned neighbours do not understand the purpose of the CVRD’s recommendation to approve a one-year temporary use permit. The staff report suggests that one year would serve as a trial and give staff time to evaluate the events.

“But there’s no objective criteria mentioned how they would evaluate the events,” a resident said. “We already know it doesn’t work. What will they do, planners will drive around in their cars to see how loud it is?”

Concerned neighbors generally feel the CVRD recommendation disregards their concerns, the environment, the park and existing zoning bylaws.

 

Facebook Post showing cars lined up for testing at Smit Field

WHO IS THE VANISLE AIRFIELD SOCIETY

Comox Valley and Vancouver Island drag racing enthusiasts say they just want a safe place to test and tune their cars.

The Vanisle Airfield Society was formed in January of 2015 after approaching the co-owner of the Smit Field, Dan Annand. They formed the society in order to get insurance coverage, and are the official applicant for the temporary use permit.

“We want to do it right. We’re trying to make it safe for everybody,” Ken Pederson, a society spokesperson told Decafnation.

Prior they located at Smit Field, owners used to test their cars on the Comox Logging Road near Royston or on the lower sections of the Mt. Washington road, which was neither legal or safe.

The group has since purchased an expensive set of lights of the type used to start drag racing events and timing equipment to provide instant, printed feedback on driver response times.

In drag racing, a set of lights similar to street lights illuminate down from red to yellow to green. The driver to most quickly accelerate his car has a considerable advantage.

According to Pederson the test and tune events are really about tuning the driver, not the car. Smit Field is not used for drag racing where cars and drivers compete against each other side-by-side.

“Ninety-nine percent of drag races are won or lost at the starting line,” Pederson told Decafnation this week. “That’s why we need a place to practice. It’s more about tuning the drivers’ reaction time.”

Pederson says there are no other places to practice on Vancouver Island that appeal to his group of members. They tried Saratoga Speedway but the straightaway was too short for the faster cars and they could only get five hours of time. It takes two to three hours to set up their lights and timing equipment, so there wasn’t enough time to warrant the cost of renting the track.

And the Island’s other drag racing sites like Port McNeill and Western Speedway near Victoria don’t allow test and tune events. Drivers say they need the practice team to justify expensive trips to drag races, especially those off the Island.

Pederson says 35 of the 42 cars owned by members that might practice at Smit Filed are street legal.

And, he says, a suggestion to reduce the tuning events at Smit Field to one day, rather than three, won’t appeal to the society’s members. The society charges $700 for an annual membership, which pays for the portable toilets and food sold during events as well as the debt for purchasing the lighting equipment.

“Three one-day events don’t make it worthwhile,” he said.

Pederson said the society hopes to purchase carbon credits to offset the burning of fossil fuels before the CVRD’s electoral directors meet Dec. 9 to decide the issue.

“We’re trying to show we’re not a bunch of hillbillies. We want to do this properly,” he said.

Smit Field co-owner Dan Annand at the site of salmon habitat restoration on the Puntledge River near his property

PROPERTY OWNER DAN ANNAND

Dan Annand has co-owned the Forbidden Plateau Road property for over 20 years. He originally partnered with owner Bert Smit. When Smit died in 2010, Annand took on a new partner, neighbor Kevin Grissel, whose name appears on the title.

Annand says he’s not trying to become another Saratoga Speedway.

“It’s just friends having fun. I could do it every weekend if I wanted,” he told Decafnation this week. “Because of the hassle with the CVRD, I might invite a few friends up here with cars anyway, whether it (temporary use permit) passes or not.”

He says many of the drag car owners in the Vanisle Airfield Society are friends, whose parents were friends with his parents. And they share a love of racing, which he used to do 50 years ago, and flying. Three of the car owners own airplanes.

Annand is a member of the pioneering Piercy family and his wife’s family, the Picketts, were early settlers on Denman, Hornby and Cumberland.

“I probably have 500 relatives in Courtenay alone,” he says.

He doesn’t charge the drag car society or the Jeepapalooza organizers any rental fee. He has offered his property for free as long as the groups raise money for charity.

“That’s what it’s all about,” he says. “If they didn’t raise money for charity they wouldn’t be allowed out here.”

Between the testing of drag racing cars and Jeepapalooza, Annand says $80,000 has been donated to cancer-related non-profits in the last two years, including sending a family to Hawaii through the Help Fill A Dream Foundation, and donations to the local Hospice Society.

But he says the airfield could make money by promoting fly-in events to pilots around BC and beyond.

“If this doesn’t go through, I’ll hard surface the whole runway and start having airshows and fly-ins,” he said.

Annand says the increased air traffic would cause more noise and more pollution than a whole year of drag car testing.

“The stupid part is that the drag cars burn on a 14-1 air to gas ratio. They burn clean. Aircraft burn lead-based fuel. One plane releases more carbon than all the cars on an entire weekend,” he said. “One airshow here would create 10 times more pollution in the air than a whole year of cars.”

And he disputes the claim that any of the events have exploded fireworks. There are two water tanker trucks on the property, so he believes the risk of a fire is next to nothing.

Annand also points to all of the other benefits he offers free of charge to the Comox Valley community.

He allows the military search and rescue squadron to have their year-end party on the property, usually landing a helicopter. He allows the Courtenay Rod and Gun Club and the Department of Fisheries to use his property to stage gravel for a Puntledge River salmon enhancement project in an area called Reach B.

Mountain biking groups use his property to access trails up to the top of the Forbidden Plateau, and have recently rebuilt a bridge using Smit Field access. Mountain search and rescue teams use his site for marshalling and as a launch point for training exercises.

Annand also built a parking lot for access to Barbers Hole, and says he plows snow from neighbors driveways every winter.

“If this TUP gets turned down, all of that goes away,” he said. “The skinny of it is, I’ll stop all public access and all the benefits and the donations to charity go away. Shame on the three neighbors who can shut this all down. The CVRD should represent the majority. It’s no longer a democracy.”

Annand said he went door-to-door asking neighbors about the drag car noise. He says 91 people said they were in favor of it, and some even help volunteer during the events. He believes only three or four neighbors have complained.

Annand says he’s “done just about everything we can to reduce noise.”

“It’s noisy, no question. But we’re asking for 24 hours total per year. If you can’t put up with that then … really?” he said. “I’ve just about had enough of the CVRD. If it doesn’t pass, I’ll go to a full-blown airport. I’m going to do that anyway.”

 

CVRD’S RECOMMENDATION

Since notifying Annand and the Vanisle Airfield Society that they were contravening Comox Valley Regional District bylaws, planners have met with him and representatives of the Vanisle Airfield Society, and separately with a group of concerned neighbors.

At the Nov. 4 Electoral Services Commission, CVRD staff presented a report that recommended approving a temporary use permit for one year that would allow three, three-day test and tune events for a maximum of 30 cars and 15 campsites.

Staff have recommended allowing car owners to only practice from 10 am to 4 pm on Saturday and 10.30 to 3.30 on Sunday.

The report notes that the test and tune events comply with CVRD’s noise bylaw, which restricts hours but does not regulate decibel levels.

The report said the bylaw compliance department did a full review and determined the past drag car test and tune events were not lawful.

Staff said that noise from the events could not be controlled, but the conditions of the permit were designed to minimize neighbourhood disruption.

 

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