Curtis Road residents have tried protests and lawsuits to eliminate the problem of noxious odours from the Courtenay-Comox sewage treatment plant. Now, they’re trying a collaborative Good Neighbor Agreement
For the past three-and-a-half decades, residents of Curtis Road have fought with dozens of elected officials and two iterations of the regional district (before and after it was split into two jurisdictions) over noxious ordours from the nearby sewage treatment plant that they don’t use and never wanted.
For two-thirds of Curtis Road property owners, whose families have lived there since before the treatment plant was built in the mid-1980s, it’s been a long ordeal.
For all that time, they have complained, protested, made presentations to the commission that governs the plant and written letters to cabinet ministers and provincial agencies. And they once successfully sued the regional district over the loss of property values due to the odours.
Now, Curtis Road residents are taking a different, more collaborative approach that they hope can resolve the issue through a better understanding of each other’s missions. The long-term goal, they say, is to encourage voluntary actions rather than legal challenges.
The residents have proposed a Good Neighbor Agreement.
“The agreement sets out what our expectations are of our neighbours at the sewage treatment plant for basic things such as odour level, noise and light pollution,” said Jenny Steel, spokesperson for the residents association. “Our association believes that this would really help both sides and improve our relationship moving forward.”
What is a GNA and who uses them
Formalized Good Neighbor Agreements are a relatively new method in Canada to resolve existing disputes or to preemptively address potential areas of dispute in the future.
The City of Parksville, for example, requires cannabis retailers to sign a Good Neighbor Agreement spelling out their responsibility to the community before they will receive a business license. The City of Quesnel, along with the RCMP and Northern Health, have a GNA with Elliot Street Supportive Housing for mutual respect and conduct.
Good Neighbor Agreements exist in larger centers, too. The Vancouver Union Gospel Mission has a GNA with the Strathcona and Downtown Eastside communities. And similar agreements exist in Victoria, Calgary and Toronto.
Decafnation was not able to find any other Good Neighbor Agreements in the Comox Valley.
But that’s not surprising. No Canada-wide data is readily available, but according to a 2004 evaluation by the University of Colorado Law School, there were only 50 Good Neighbor Agreements in the entire United States at the time.
“These so-called Good Neighbor Agreements (GNAs) take a variety of forms, but typically commit the company to mitigate the offending practices in exchange for the community group’s commitment to stop legal and public relations challenges to business operations. Many community activists believe that GNAs are a promising tool for community empowerment,” the law school reported.
Curtis Road proposal
The proposed Curtis Road GNA with the regional district addresses a variety of issues beyond odour problems. It includes visual stigma, groundwater issues, noise, light pollution, emergency planning, communications, complaint management and access to information.
“This Good Neighbor Agreement has been created to help alleviate negative environmental and public health and nuisance impacts. It establishes a set of standards that will result in respect for the fundamental rights of host community citizens to a healthy and peaceful environment,” says the residents association proposal.
Steel presented the proposed Curtis Road GNA at last month’s Courtenay-Comox Sewage Commission meeting. Commissioners referred it to CVRD staff for review and recommendations at a later date.
It will not be on next week’s sewage commission agenda.
But Steel remains hopeful.
“We’re hoping that our suggestion for a senior level meeting to review the agreement will take place soon – but the wheels grind slowly,” Steel said.
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