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


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



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.



“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



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.”



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.



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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More Environment | Government
CV Regional District adopts a statement of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples

CV Regional District adopts a statement of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples

The K’omoks First Nation welcomed the Tribal Canoe Journeys in 2017 at Goose Spit  |  George Le Masurier photo

CV Regional District adopts a statement of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples

By George Le Masurier

The Comox Valley Regional District board has adopted a statement of reconciliation to guide its work with Indigenous Peoples, including First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples.

The statement formally recognizes the regional district’s commitment to reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples, as outlined in The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and several other key documents.

Electoral Area B Director and board Vice-Chair Arzeena Hamir said in the board’s announcement that reconciliation is “not just a statement or a gesture.” She said it is a commitment to take responsibility for the past and move forward in partnership with Indigenous Peoples to support the reclamation of their identity, culture and livelihood.

“While the words we have adopted are important, as a board we understand that history will judge us by our actions,” Hamir said. “We are at the beginning of a very long journey to heal the past. We must be humble and committed leaders that will help to pave the way towards a better future for our community.”

The CVRD announcement also acknowledged that it will be the actions they undertake to support the statement that will truly define its relationship with Indigenous Peoples moving forward.

K’omoks First Nation Chief Nicole Rempel said it has been her goal to build strong relationships with our local municipalities and work together on the notion of moving forward together. She said KFN and the CVRD have developed a lasting relationship to better understand each other and their common goals, “as well as where we differ, and how we can achieve Reconciliation.”

Rempel said reconciliation will be no easy task.

“Reconciliation is different for everyone, and has a million different meanings,” she said. “Reconciliation cannot be achieved through one simple act, but it does begin with one simple act.”

In September 2019, the CVRD named Indigenous Relations as one of four strategic drivers through which CVRD services will be delivered. To support Indigenous relations as a driver, the CVRD adopted a framework last year that guides core service delivery through an Indigenous Relations lens and promotes greater cultural awareness.

Here are a few of the regional district’s reconciliation activities undertaken in 2020, in addition to regular and ongoing discussions between the CVRD and Indigenous peoples on projects and day-to-day service delivery, such as water supply, sewage collection/treatment, recreation, transit and solid waste, several activities illustrate the progressive work to advance Indigenous interests.

Summer Recreation Program: The CVRD and the Wachiay Friendship Centre co-hosted Earthbound Kids, an all-day Indigenous cultural camp to enhance the community’s understanding of reconciliation by raising the awareness of Indigenous cultural identity. The CVRD was awarded a $10,000 grant through the Union of BC Municipalities’ Urban Communities Partnering for Reconciliation to fund the program.

CVRD and KFN Leadership Meetings: The CVRD Chair and Chief Administrative Officer along with key elected officials and project managers participated in monthly Kómoks First Nation (KFN) chief and council meetings. Eleven meetings between KFN and CVRD leadership were held in 2020, addressing more than 30 specific projects.

Community Benefits Agreement: In late 2020, the CVRD and KFN ratified a Community Benefits Agreement that commits both parties to work together collaboratively on a regional solution for sewer. The partnership recognizes the existing sewer line through Indian Reserve (IR1) was expropriated without adequate consultation and provides compensation for past and future impacts of sewer infrastructure within the reserve. The agreement will provide needed upgrades for Comox and Courtenay sewer infrastructure, while supporting the growth and economic development plans of the K’ómoks community.

South Sewer Extension Project: An extension of sewer service into Royston and Union Bay that will service KFN development lands is in the early stages of assessment. The CVRD is currently undertaking further assessment and technical evaluation including further review of potential costs and is in discussion with the K’ómoks First Nation and Union Bay Estates.

Seal Bay Signage Project: Recognizing that Seal Bay Park lies within K’ómoks First Nation traditional territory the CVRD and KFN worked in partnership to plan signage improvements and enhance the overall park visitor experience while promoting understanding of the cultural heritage and values within the park. Seal Bay Park (referred to as ‘Xwee Xwhya Luq’ by KFN) contains cultural and natural values that are important to the KFN.



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

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

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

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

By George Le Masurier

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

Courtenay Mayor Bob Wells

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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



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More Government | Government Review | Latest Feature
Another environmental dilemma: Do biosolids pose a public health risk?

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

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

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

By George Le Masurier

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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











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

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

— BC Ministry of Environment



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

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

— University of Georgia research


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More Environment | Government
Stotan Falls petition called “trojan horse,” 3L serves notice of logging Jan. 21

Stotan Falls petition called “trojan horse,” 3L serves notice of logging Jan. 21

Photo Caption

Stotan Falls petition called “trojan horse,” 3L serves notice of logging Jan. 21

By George Le Masurier

It’s a brand new year but the controversy over 3L Developments battle to build a 780-house subdivision in the Puntledge Triangle carries on.

An unknown person or group of people calling themselves the Save Stotan Falls Committee have started a petition to persuade Courtenay City Council to annex the 3L Development property.

At the same time, 3L Developments has sent letters to property owners adjacent to its 500 acres between the Puntledge and Browns rivers notifying them that the company will start logging on Jan. 21.

“Please be advised that the owner of the lands adjacent to your back yards (3L Developments) is currently attempting to sell its lands to the Comox Valley Regional District (CVRD). The purpose of this proposed transaction is to enable the CVRD to establish parkland, trails and public access to the lands and Puntledge River. However, should the CVRD fail to come to an agreement with 3L, we will be commencing with clearing and timber harvesting,” the letter states.

3L President David Dutcyvich signed the letter. He says it will take about one week to complete the land clearing.

The regional district began the process of establishing a regional park service in December that is necessary to fund and maintain large regional parks such as the Puntledge Triangle property or the Bevan Trails recreation area. But it’s unlikely that service will be functional in the next two weeks and able to meet Dutcyvich’s logging deadline.

However, not everyone considers some immediate land clearing of the property a justification for not following due process.

Area A Director Daniel Arbour told Decafnation today that “the property has already been extensively logged, and the owner is within his rights in that regard. Most landowners see themselves as stewards of their lands, but some don’t.”

Grant Gordon, a nearby resident, told Decafnation that the 3L property has already been logged several times. Gordon believes the bigger issue at stake is 3L’s assault on the Regional Growth Strategy and the community’s will to keep rural areas “rural.”

Gordon calls the Save Stotan Falls Committee petition a trojan horse.

“Because it isn’t about Saving Stotan Falls. It’s about moving real estate along the river and changing the Regional Growth Strategy, making room for more single-family housing to the detriment of more fiscally responsible infilling of existing municipal areas,” Gordon told Decafnation today.

“There is no way that more people living closer to those falls is going to be good for Stotan Falls through annexation,” he said. “If people want to Save Stotan Falls then they should lobby their provincial government to get back control of the riverways granted to the E&N Railway in 1879.”

Gordon is urging people not to sign the petition, which is also up on the website.

He said the petition may be well-intentioned, “but it basically demonstrates a complete misunderstanding of the RGS and if it was successful it would condemn any natural component of Stotan Falls due to destruction. It would also set back the infilling initiatives of other developers that are occurring now due to the restrictions created by the RGS.”

Decafnation reached out to Dave Mellin, a retired Courtenay business person, who has made presentations to the regional district board and Courtenay council about saving Stotan Falls. We asked if he was behind the petition.

He declined to comment for this story.

The petition reads, “Please read and sign this petition and join us in convincing Courtenay City Council to annex the 3L Development Lands into the City of Courtenay, dramatically reducing the size of the development and saving the 300 acres around Stotan Falls for generations to come! This land will be donated to the community and is worth $14 million- $16 million dollars!

“This key addition to the Puntledge River Greenway offers recreation access for swimming, hiking, mountain biking, walking, fishing, salmon enhancement, white water kayaking, palaeontology, and bird watching just to name a few.

“This would make Stotan Falls the fourth largest park in the Comox Valley. This aligns with a major goal of the 20-year Regional Growth Strategy for the Comox Valley…”to protect, steward and enhance the health of the natural environment and ecological connections”. – that we ALL share.”

A lively discussion on various social media pages speculates that the anonymous petition organizers may be working on behalf of 3L, as their latest attempt to push the Riverwood subdivision through local governments.

If the petition is presented to the City of Courtenay, the venue of the debate will shift from the regional district to City Council but the arguments may remain the same: amend the Regional Growth Strategy or not.

Area A Director Arbour says Courtenay councillors will have to consider the broader implications.

“Annexing the lands into the City of Courtenay may risk more urban sprawl and a threat to agricultural and forestry lands. All the jurisdictions would still have to come together to consider the implications on the Regional Growth Strategy,” he said. “Courtenay would also have to consider how this fits in relation to their new OCP, which appears to favour densification.”

In a comment on Facebook, another nearby resident, Lisa Benard Christensen said, “That petition has little to do with saving the falls. From the comments of the people signing. I would think they do not know what they are asking for. They do not understand what it means for Courtenay to annex the lands. That annexation would come at a huge cost.

“We would be telling developers we don’t hold to our hard-won long term plans, that we don’t mind urban sprawl long before areas that are easier to provide transit and services to are infilled.

“It would take away from the rural feel of the area, allowing a concentrated block of 1000+ families and their guests and pets to take it over.

“Anyone that thinks that tiny falls recreation area could withstand that influx let alone still have room for the nostalgic outsiders to enjoy it is kidding themselves.

“This petition is basically a Trojan horse. A flashy statement meant to appeal to people’s nostalgia and their frustration at being denied access. It encourages a snap decision, hoping they don’t read too much into what annexation would actually do to the area.

“The best way to save the falls is to hold strong to our RGS and not allow this urban sprawl to occur. The price is too high. Don’t believe the illusion, research fully before you sign anything. Much is at stake here.”

Area C Director Edwin Grieve said the regional district is looking into resurrecting the regional parks service that was never rescinded but has been on mothballs for 25 years. 

“Everything moves at the laborious “speed of government” so it all takes time but, once the parks service bylaw is active, it is possible for the CVRD to go to the Municipal Financial Authority and borrow money at a very low-interest rate over an extended period against that,” he told Decafnation.

“Dave (Mellin) and the boys are correct in realizing that any development south of the Puntledge River would be in Courtenay’s settlement expansion area and it clearly says in the RGS that “services would be extended through annexation into the Municipality,” he said. “Once the land is out of the Electoral Area, the 4-hectare minimum lot size and many more restrictive regulations could cease to apply.”

This article has been updated to include Director Grieve’s comments and to correct that he referred to Dave Mellin.



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B.C.’s 150th anniversary provides an opportunity to right a historic wrong

B.C.’s 150th anniversary provides an opportunity to right a historic wrong

B.C.’s 150th anniversary provides an opportunity to right a historic wrong


As 2020 draws to a close, it’s become a cliche to say that it’s a year to forget. But we would be remiss if we did not recognize the progress we made this year as people took the time to reflect on the things that really matter. As COVID-19 shut down our world and the dramatic political divisions south of the border came to a head, we spent more time contemplating the changes needed to build a more compassionate, peaceful society.

In particular, one of the bright spots of 2020 was a much wider acknowledgement of the need to address systemic racism. We must now look for every opportunity to address our own history of racism and advance tangible reconciliation.

As the 150th anniversary of B.C. joining the Canadian confederation approaches in 2021, our federal government has an opportunity to advance reconciliation with First Nations on Southern Vancouver Island, while also protecting local drinking watersheds and endangered species, and fostering sustainable economic opportunities.

The negotiation of modern treaties in our part of the province is impeded by the lack of Crown Land due to the historic E&N Land Grant. The grant, which disregarded the rights and title of all First Nations in the area, is a legacy of B.C. joining the confederation. As part of the deal, the government awarded coal baron and government minister Robert Dunsmuir more than 20% of Vancouver Island, two million acres of land, along with $750,000. In exchange, Dunsmuir built the E&N railway, completing the rail link between Canada’s provincial capitals.

Today, the remaining undeveloped land is at risk due to logging and the potential sale of mineral rights. Local watersheds have come under threat from these activities, with communities being forced to invest millions on filtration and treatment plants to maintain their access to clean drinking water. Unsustainable development and resource extraction also threaten fish estuaries and animal habitats. Restoring the land to local First Nations could be done in a way that prioritizes vital conservation efforts, while also providing sustainable economic opportunities including selective forestry, recreation and tourism.

There are already programs in place to make this happen. The federal government has committed to protecting 30% of our natural areas by 2030 through Canada’s Nature Legacy program. A key part of this commitment is the creation of Indigenous Protected Conservation Areas (IPCAs), which fall under the jurisdiction and authority of the local First Nations.

Through a First Nations-led process the government could acquire a minimum of 30% of the existing forest lands that were privatized under the E&N land grant and place them under the jurisdiction and control of the affected First Nations. Land acquisition could focus on the critical habitat around rivers, watercourses and catchment areas for community drinking watersheds, with special consideration given to placing community drinking watersheds under co-management between First Nations and the cities and towns that rely on the water supply. Under the successful Land Guardian program, co-management could be coordinated between First Nations within the Hul’qumi’num, Kwakwaka’wakw and Nuu-chah-nulth territories of the land grant region.

The acquisition process could include the use of carbon offsets, land transfers, tax incentives and cash purchases to assemble the land. User fees generated by recreational use of the lands for activities such as camping, rafting and kayaking company tours, and parking fees for day use could also help fund ongoing land management through the Land Guardian program.

The acquisition of a portion of the E&N lands as IPCAs would be a significant step towards advancing reconciliation on Southern Vancouver Island. It can be done in a way that advances other goals that are important to Islanders, like protecting wild salmon, conserving the habitats of endangered species and preserving biodiversity, while also ensuring our communities have access to clean drinking water and outdoor recreation. This ‘rise together’ strategy has environmental, social and economic benefits.

If we take one lesson from 2020, let it be that honouring our history means looking at it with clear eyes. If we forget the full reality of our history, we are doomed to repeat it. So, what better way to celebrate the anniversary of our province joining the Canadian confederation than to address the historic wrong that was perpetrated as part of it? If we do, we can move forward together as a more just and sustainable province.

Paul Manly is the MP for Nanaimo-Ladysmith. He wrote this version of his op-ed column for Decafnation.




A rail link between Nanaimo and Victoria had been planned as early as 1873, but no serious effort to start construction was made until December 1883 when the province transferred to the federal government sufficient crown lands for the project. To safeguard control of the island’s economic future, and prevent the possibility of the Northern Pacific Railroad gaining the contract, many businessmen and politicians urged Robert Dunsmuir to build the line.

Dunsmuir was reluctant to accept the task, thinking it of little benefit to his colliery operations. He submitted a proposal to the Canadian government, however, and despite the severity of his terms he emerged as the sole acceptable alternative to foreign builders. After much shrewd bargaining in Ottawa Dunsmuir agreed to construct the railway in return for a subsidy of $750,000 in cash and a parcel of land comprising some two million acres – fully one-fifth of Vancouver Island. Significantly, the land grant came with “all coal, coal oil, ores, stones, clay, marble, slates, mines, minerals, and substances whatsoever in, on or under the lands so to be granted.”

He received also all foreshore rights for the lands, all mining privileges (including the right to mine under adjacent seabeds), and the retention of all coal and other minerals taken from the land. Additionally, as contractor he was permitted to cut whatever timber and erect whatever structures he saw fit to build the line. To promote settlement, provision was made for the sale of farmlands to homesteaders at one dollar per acre. Squatters of at least one year’s residence were allowed to buy up to 160 acres, and those settlers with title were allowed to retain their holdings, but virtually all else would go to the contractor in right of performance.

It was, in short, a major give-away of British Columbia’s natural resources.

— From the website, Biographi


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