Comox manipulates sewage commission vote, residents cry foul on ‘repugnant’ tactic

Comox manipulates sewage commission vote, residents cry foul on ‘repugnant’ tactic

Sewage treatment plant seen from Curtis Road  /  George Le Masurier photo

By George Le Masurier

In a move one observer called “repugnant,” Comox Councillor Ken Grant and Comox Mayor Russ Arnott moved a motion at the regional sewer commission Tuesday that they intended to vote against.

It was a deliberate attempt to defeat a proposal to allow non-voting representation for Area B on the Courtenay-Comox Sewage Commission, and was made possible because CFB representative Major Delta Guerard did not show up to cast a deciding seventh vote.

It is not known which way Major Guerard would have voted, or why she didn’t attend the meeting.

Courtenay directors had declined to make the motion, saying they preferred to wait for a future meeting when the full commission was present.

The vote ended in a 3-3 tie, with Courtenay directors voting in favor and the three Comox directors voting against the motion they manipulated to the board table. A tie vote constitutes a defeated motion, and the issue cannot be reconsidered at future meetings.

An unidentified audience member called the Comox directors’ tactic “repugnant” as she was leaving the boardroom.

The controversial sequence of events arose because Electoral Area B Director Arzeena Hamir had requested a voting position on the sewage commission.

In a March 15 letter to the commission, Hamir argued that the treatment plant for Courtenay and Comox sewage resides in Area B and offers no benefit to Area B residents. In fact, she wrote, the plant presents ongoing negative environmental, social and economic impacts for Curtis Road residents that live just down wind from the plant.

They have been locked in a 35-year struggle with the Courtenay-Comox Sewage Commission to eliminate noxious odours that lowered the value of their homes and at certain times of the year made them uninhabitable.

Curtis Road Residents Association spokesperson Jenny Steel told Decafnation after the meeting that her group would now take their request for Area B representation to the full Comox Valley Regional District board, and to individual municipal councils.

After the meeting, Hamir told Decafnation that she was disappointed with the results of the vote.

“The residents of Area B have had to make huge sacrifices for the benefit of the region and deserve a voice at the table,” she said. “And while residents of Area B are able to delegate to the Sewage Commission, there is never an opportunity for them to rebut incorrect statements the way a director at the table would have. Again, super disappointed.”

Steel said it was “undemocratic and irresponsible” for Grant and Arnott to move a motion they planned to vote against.

“Comox commissioners knew that the vote was tied and should have waited until all commissioners were at the table,” she told Decafnation. “Staff and Courtenay commissioners seem genuinely to want to build a good neighbour relationship – it’s frustrating that Comox don’t seem to want to come on board.”

 

Arnott: giving politicians a bad name

During the course of debate on the issue, Comox Mayor Arnott took a swipe at himself and his colleagues.

“Maybe we need less (sic) politicians and more professionals on the commission,” he said. “When you add more politicians to anything, it’s not a good idea.”

That got laughs from Grant and Comox Director Maureen Swift, but the Courtenay directors didn’t appear to find it amusing.

Courtenay Director Will Cole-Hamilton responded succinctly.

“If we follow the logic that all politicians are bad, we should all just go home,” he said.

Arnott also tried to argue that Area B representation was not a valid idea.

“This is an emotional issue we’re dealing with,” he said.

Courtenay Director Doug Hillian contested that statement.

“If these are valid concerns (noxious odours, etc.) raised by residents and we direct staff to expend time and energy to address them, then these two positions don’t jibe,” he said.

Cole-Hamilton added that the commission was responding “to a real thing. This is not emotional.”

Hillian said giving the Area B director a seat at the commission table, but without voting power, was actually an enhancement of the democratic process.

“They’re asking for some type of formal voice, to take part in the back and forth among directors, and it doesn’t cost us anything,” he said. “This is an opportunity for trust to be rebuilt.”

Curtis Road residents have continually complained about often unbearable odours since the plant opened in 1985, and have successfully sued the regional district for its inaction once before.

Cole-Hamilton said giving Area B a voice without a vote was a reasonable compromise until the staff makes recommendations this fall on last year’s broader governance review.

Arnott may have been referring to his own emotional involvement in this issue.

The Comox Town Council has been at odds with other Area B neighborhoods for years, such as the Croteau Beach area over a pump station — now deemed unnecessary — preservation of McDonald Woods and over attempts at annexation of the area into municipal boundaries.

Mary Lang, a Croteau Beach resident and Area B representative on the CVRD’s Liquid Waste Management Plan Public Advisory Committee, told Decafnation after the meeting that it’s inevitable some residents get emotional over issues.

“When citizens are disenfranchised from decisions that have the potential to impact their homes, and are solely relegated to 10-minute presentations that they are supposed to feel honoured to have been granted…they might come across as emotional,” she said.

 

Rural residents react

Jenny Steel told Decafnation last night that Curtis Road residents will continue pressing for representation on the commission.

“We’ll be asking for a permanent seat on the sewage commission with voting rights for any decisions impacting odour, visual and noise stigma in Electoral Area B – we think that’s fair,” she said. “We’ve already emailed in requests for delegations to the CVRD board on June 25th and with Comox Council on the 19th.

“We feel it’s important to explain to Comox Council why a seat on the commission is a democratic and practical solution to this 35-year old problem.”

Steel said if Comox commissioners want to communicate through delegations, “then that’s what we’ll do.”

“It’s obvious that they don’t understand the effort required and frustration involved in bringing our issues to their attention. Nor do they understand the abysmal failures of the status quo,” she said.

Within the last year, other Area B residents have asked for representation on the sewage commission due to concerns about a new sewage pump station to serve Courtenay and Comox but located in the Croteau Beach neighborhood.

Comox Valley Regional District engineers, who manage the system for Courtenay and Comox, eventually backed off that plan — which had been strongly supported by Comox directors — because it proved too costly and risky for Croteau Beach drinking water wells and for other technical reasons.

Lorraine Aitken, a Croteau Beach resident and an alternate Area B representative on the CVRD’s Liquid Waste Management Plan public committee, said another Arnott comment — suggesting that Courtenay and Comox take back the management of the sewage function from the CVRD — is a perfect example of emotion over reason.

“Has it occurred to him that the treatment plant is in Area B? The pipes to the plant are in Area B?” she said. “Perhaps he has plans to move the whole operation to the Comox Golf course or the Filberg Lodge, where emotions would never be an issue.”

Aitken also took exception to Arnott’s comment that during his brief six months at the table he has seen numerous delegations and feels that citizens are being well represented.

“If the sewage commission had been doing their jobs properly for the past 35 years, citizens wouldn’t have to keep coming back over and over again,” she said. “If Maureen Swift and Ken Grant (who have been paid to sit at the commission table for many years) had done their jobs properly — read reports, master plans, asked questions, consulted with the public in good faith — they would have solved the problems that bring the residents of Area B back to the commission to point out what the commissioners missed, what they misunderstood, how they screwed up again because they didn’t listen to the residents of Area B in the first place.”

 

What’s next

CVRD staff are reviewing an outside consultant’s review of governance issues, particularly as they relate to the region’s water and sewer commissions. They plan to present a report of their review and recommendations in the fall.

Meanwhile, construction of a new equalization basin at the treatment plant will move ahead this summer, along with an odour level study, an analysis of odour standards across Canada and preparation of cost estimates to cover the plant’s bioreactors to further reduce noxious odours.

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CVRD assures Curtis Road residents, who seek BC intervention

CVRD assures Curtis Road residents, who seek BC intervention

File photo of lower Curtis Road

By George Le Masurier

Letters are flying between “fed up” Curtis Road residents and the Comox Valley Regional District over odour, drinking water wells and other issues emanating from the Brent Road sewage treatment plant.

The regional district’s Senior Manager of Water/Wastewater Services Kris LaRose has assured Curtis Road residents that construction of an equalization basin to prevent potential winter overflows from the wastewater treatment facility will not affect their shallow wells or local groundwater.

In a letter to the residents association, LaRose also said the equalization Basin (EQ) will be built into the ground, not above it, for seismic safety. And, because he only expects effluent in the EQ basin during the stormiest and wettest days of winter, LaRose added that covering the basin to eliminate odours was not financially warranted.

The Curtis Road Residents Association plans to meet later this week to review and possibly respond to LaRose’s reassuring letter. In the meantime, they have written letters of their own seeking provincial intervention.

Jenny Steel, spokesperson for the residents, said she is waiting to hear back from requests her group has made to the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change. They are seeking higher-level assurances that the EQ basin’s location will not affect their well water quality and quantity.

Meanwhile, Courtenay-Comox Sewage Commission Chair David Frisch and CVRD staff will meet with the residents, and their Area B representative, Arzeena Hamir, next week for a less formal conversation about the issues.

The sewage commission sets policy for a sewerage system that serves residents of Courtenay and Comox, members of the K’omoks First Nation and CFB Comox. But its treatment plant is located in Area B. Neither the Area B representative or K’omoks First Nations have a voting seat on the commission.

 

What is an EQ basin and why it’s necessary

During heavy rainfalls in the late fall and winter, stormwater seeps into the sewerage system and increases the volume of wastewater entering the plant by more than three times the average summer flow.

With population growth and increasingly extreme winter weather brought about from climate change, those winter flows threaten to overflow the plant’s current holding capacity. That could mean raw or nearly-raw sewage spilling into the Strait of Georgia, which would violate standards and regulations.

The EQ basin was originally planned for another site on the treatment plant property, further from Curtis Road, but engineers discovered conflicts with existing infrastructure and future expansion plans. LaRose says moving the location now would add “several million dollars” to the cost and delay the project for a year.

“Delay of the project to 2020 would result in another winter of increased potential of plant overflow …” LaRose wrote in his letter.

 

Why the residents are concerned

Curtis Road residents — about 80 people belong to the neighborhood association — have several concerns about the EQ basin and its location 70 meters from homeowners’ property lines.

The main concern is that any compromise of the basin’s membrane will result in a leak of raw sewage into local groundwater and residents’ drinking water wells.

In his letter, LaRose said there will be more than three meters between the bottom of the basin, including its under-drain and leak detection system, and the top level of groundwater. And he said the CVRD would take additional measures to mitigate potential leaks.

The regional district will engage an arborist to assess trees annually prior to the storm season and remove any trees that have a probability of falling on the basin and tearing the underlying membrane.

The district will also drill a groundwater monitoring well below the basin’s location on the Curtis Road side to test water quality and detect leaks. An under-drain system will be installed with sensors to collect any leakage, which will trigger an auto response to drain the basin if a leak is detected.

Residents have complained about noxious odours from the plant since it opened in the mid-1980s that are at times overwhelming. The new EQ basin will have an open surface area equal to the plant’s existing primary tanks, which were covered in a past attempt to reduce odours.

But LaRose said that due to the limited amount of time the basin will contain untreated sewage — he estimated fewer than 50 hours per year — that no cover for the basin is planned.

“The very significant expense of covering the EQ basin is not seen as warranted,” he said.

 

What residents are doing

The resident have written to the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Health. They want provincial intervention in the sewage commission’s plan to build the EQ basin.

They noted that “prevailing winds and gales could easily cause tall trees (rooted in sand) to topple into the basin resulting in a compromised membrane.” And they noted the risk of an earthquake.

“The mental angst of worrying about whether our drinking water is fouled is an unreasonable interference in the use of our property,” they wrote.

The residents’ goal is to convince the sewage commission to relocate the EQ basin further away from their properties.

 

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Mistrust still evident between residents, sewage commission

Mistrust still evident between residents, sewage commission

Area B Director Arzeena Hamir at a tour of the treatment plant last fall  /  George Le Masurier photos

By George Le Masurier

This article has been updated

Plagued by the odours of sewage from Courtenay and Comox for 34 years, the residents of Curtis Road returned to the regional sewage commission this week hoping for resolutions to their concerns, which they say now include a threat to their drinking water wells and a visual blight on their neighborhood.

But the residents walked out en masse before the meeting concluded in “total and complete frustration.”

“I felt we needed to walk out when the commission members accepted CVRD staff recommendations despite knowing that many of our issues had not been addressed and without any really substantive discussion at all,” Curtis Road Residents Association spokesperson Jenny Steel told Decafnation.

“It’s agony to sit at a meeting when a commission member asks what will make Curtis Road happy, and not be allowed to answer,” she said. “We question how democracy is being served by the severe limits placed on communication at these meetings.”

The meeting highlighted a long history of conflict between Curtis Road residents and the Courtenay-Comox Sewage Commission, and the mistrust that still exists between them.

In its presentation this week, the residents made three requests to the commission: one, to adopt a measurable odour standard; two, to allow Area B representation on the sewage commission; and, three, to overhaul the commission’s 2014 odour complaint tracking system.

The commission made no decision on adopting an odour standard or allowing Area B representation. It did agree, though not through a formal vote, to update the commission’s website to accurately report the number of complaints it has received.

Liquid Waste and Water Manager Kris LaRose acknowledged that the commission’s website had “underplayed” the level of complaints about odour from sewage treatment plant. He promised to review all language on the site and update it.

 

What the commission did do

The commission did pass three staff recommendations in response to Curtis Road residents’ presentation at last month’s commission meeting.

— It will develop a landscape plan, in consultation with residents, to revegetate berms to be constructed around the new equalization basin. The commission expects them to solve the visual blight concerns and to help reduce odours.

But the commission took no action to address residents’ fear that the location of the EQ basin could affect their supply of drinking water from nearby shallow wells.

— It directed staff to work with residents to create a communications system to keep residents informed of operations at the sewage treatment plant that could impact odour levels.

— It will expedite an odour measurement survey previously scheduled for August to analyze whether previous odour controls measures had, in fact, achieved an 80 percent reduction in odours, and to update cost estimates for eliminating the remaining percentage, whether it is more or less than 20 percent.

In its 2016 plan to reduce odours, the commission stopped short of spending $3 million to cover the bioreactors, a process where bacteria work on sewage sludge before being cleansed through low-pressure micro-filtration membranes. The cost to do it now is estimated at up to $5 million.

Commission members discussed covering the bioreactors and there appeared to be majority support for doing it now if that would remove the last 20 percent of noxious odours.

But several directors wondered if previous attempts to reduce odours had actually achieved the predicted 80 percent reduction, or had fallen short, and whether covering the bioreactors would then achieve the desired 99.9% odour reduction.

In the end, commissioners voted to expedite the new odour study (although it will take six weeks to get it started) and to update the cost estimate of covering the bioreactors at the same time, which will speed up decision-making when the odour study results are known.

LaRose said if the commission decided this summer to move ahead on covering the bioreactors, the work could be completed by the end of 2020.

— It referred the issues of Area B representation on the commission to staff to prepare a report for the June meeting that would outline governance options.

 

EQ basin concerns

Curtis Road Residents Association spokesperson Jenny Steel said the group’s most urgent concern is that commissioners gave the EQ Basin project a green light.

“We are all extremely worried that any breach of the basin liner will result in pollution of our well water,” she said. Those who live on the peninsular know how brutal the winds are down here during those big storms, and trees fall frequently. We think it will be a disaster waiting to happen.”

Liquid Waste and Water Manager Kris LaRose said the EQ basis was first conceived in 2017 and is now urgently needed to mitigate the risk of sewage overflow next fall and winter.

When heavy rains begin in November, the volume of wastewater increases three-fold due to rainwater entering the system. And with increasing frequency and intensity of winter storms due to climate change, the problem is expected to worsen.

LaRose said the original site for the EQ basin, which Curtis Road residents prefer, was further away from Curtis Road, but that it would limit future plant expansion. Courtenay and Comox populations are growing, he said, and the plant will need to accommodate that growth.

But perhaps the overriding motivation for moving the EQ location was cost. Locating it at the northwest corner of the plant’s property, away from Curtis Road, would have cost $7.2 million. The new site, closer to Curtis Road, will be less expensive.

LaRose is currently leading the development of a master liquid waste management plan that includes a 50-year plan for plant expansion and upgrades in treatment levels. The plan will also realign sewage conveyance to the plant and envision resource recovery, such as reusing cleaned water for agricultural and other purposes.

Moving the EQ location would also be expensive.

LaRose reiterated that the EQ basin would only be used during a handful of extreme weather events during the winter, and would be cleaned after each use. He predicted the basin would not affect Curtis Road residents.

Curtis Road residents want the commission to move the basin and retire the tall emission stack to soften the visual stigma.

 

Next steps

Sewage Commission Chair David Frisch will accompany staff members to an informal meeting with Curtis Road residents. Area B Director Arzeena Hamir will be invited to attend.

An odour measurement study will begin as soon as possible and be completed by August. Staff will update the cost estimate for covering the bioreactors.

Staff will also prepare options for including Area B representation on the Sewage Commission for its June meeting.

But Jenny Steel hopes the commission will respond sooner.

“We had asked the commission to respond to us by May 16th – we will wait to see if and how they respond,” she said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WHAT ARE OUs?

The units for odour measurement using dynamic olfactometry are “odour units” (OU) which are dimensionless and are effectively “dilutions to
threshold.”  — Western Australia Department of Environmental Protection

WHO USES OUs?

Several jurisdictions use a standard of 1 OU for odour emissions for sewage treatment plants, including the Province of Ontario and the City of Vancouver.

The new Capital Regional District has set 2 OUs as the standard for its new sewage treatment plant at the property line, which is about 300 meters from the nearest residences. But, the Curtis Road residents point out that all tanks at this plant will be covered from the start and that no residences exist between the plant and the ocean, which eliminate offshore breezes carrying odours through a neighborhood.

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More sewage

Mistrust still evident between residents, sewage commission

Plagued by the odours of sewage from Courtenay and Comox residents for 34 years, the residents of Curtis Road returned to the regional sewage commission this week hoping for resolutions to their concerns, which they say now includes a threat to their drinking water wells and a visual blight on their neighborhood

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“Stinking” sewage plant wafts back onto CVRD agenda

“Stinking” sewage plant wafts back onto CVRD agenda

George Le Masurier photos

By George Le Masurier

T he Curtis Road Residents Association will press the Courtenay-Comox Sewage Commission again next week, this time on policy issues related to their decades-long battle to eliminate unpleasant odours from the system’s sewage treatment plant.

And they have new information that British Columbia’s Local Government Act does not prohibit municipalities from including voting members on commissions who represent non-participating constituents in a service or function.

Last month, residents told the commission that recent efforts to control the odours haven’t been successful and asked that the plant’s bioreactors be covered and that a new equalization basin currently under construction be relocated. They said the EQ basin has created visual pollution and will likely intensify the odour problems.

Lower Curtis Road

At the next commission meeting on May 14, the residents will ask for a commitment on odour standards, a specific odour reporting system and for action on their request for Area B voting representation on the commission.

Jenny Steel, spokesperson for the residents association, told Decafnation that a second presentation was necessary because “10 minutes is not long enough to address 34 years of abuse.” Delegations to the commission are limited to 10 minutes.

Since the treatment plant opened in 1985, it has emanated strong sewer smells that, due to geography, flow constantly through the Curtis Road neighborhood.

The odours are so bad that the Cape Lazo properties have lost monetary value and residents have been unable to stay in their homes during times when the stink has become unbearable.

Past inaction to address the problem by the sewage commission resulted in a lawsuit, which was won by the Curtis Road residents, that compelled the commision to fix the problem and to compensate homeowners.

But the odour problems continue, partly because past commissions haven’t taken the residents concerns seriously enough, according to the Curtis Road residents. And that’s a governance issue they feel could be addressed by having Area B representation on the commission.

As long as the treatment plant remains in Area B — and there is no plan to ever move it — rural residents believe they should have a voice on the decision-making body.

This same governance issue has surfaced before, most recently over the controversy to patch the Courtenay-Comox sewerage system with a new pumping station in the Croteau Beach neighborhood, which also lies within Area B.

Croteau Beach and Curtis Road residents say that if Courtenay and Comox want to locate infrastructure outside their municipal boundaries, then democratic principles dictate those outer areas should have representation at the decision-making table.

When the governance arose at last month’s sewage commission meeting, Comox Director Ken Grant said he believes the Local Government Act — the provincial document governing municipalities — prohibited Area B representation, because those rural residents don’t participate in the sewerage service. Area B residents can’t connect to the sewerage system and they do not pay for it.

Steel believes Grant misled the commission because her research and conversations with CVRD staff indicate that changes made to the Local Government Act in 2000 gave municipalities the necessary flexibility to include non-participating voting members on commissions.

She made a Freedom of Information request to the CVRD for the Act’s sections that support Grant’s claim.

It was a bylaw (No. 650) approved by the former Comox Strathcona Regional District board — since split into two boards for the Comox Valley and the Strathcona regions — that established the sewage commission. The CVRD board could change that bylaw.

Steel said the Curtis Road Residents Association might take the issue of Area B representation on the sewage commission to the CVRD board, or they might make presentations at both Courtenay and Comox municipal council meetings.

But first, they are waiting to hear the sewage commission’s response to their April presentation at the upcoming May meeting.

 

 

 

YEAR-OLD REPORT ON GOVERNANCE GAVE NO RECOMMENDATIONS

Last year, the Comox Valley Regional District commissioned a consultant to study governance options for administration and operation of the regional water supply and sewage conveyance and treatment services.

But the report from Leftside Partners Inc. presented to the CVRD board last September made no recommendations. It only suggested some considerations for such a change and encouraged elected officials to discuss it.

Chief Administrative Officer Russell Dyson described the background for the study in a March 2018 memo to the board:

“Since June 2017, a ‘utilities commission’ concept has been considered to possibly resolve some concerns related to efficiency, accountability and effectiveness for the decision-making processes related to water and sewer services. The proposed project scope, which is described in more detail further in this report, would focus its attention on the water supply system (function no. 300) and sewage treatment service (function no. 335), recognizing that a change in the governance framework may impact just the water service, or the sewer service, or both, depending on the governance project findings and the will of the service participants.”

 

 

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More News | sewage

Mistrust still evident between residents, sewage commission

Plagued by the odours of sewage from Courtenay and Comox residents for 34 years, the residents of Curtis Road returned to the regional sewage commission this week hoping for resolutions to their concerns, which they say now includes a threat to their drinking water wells and a visual blight on their neighborhood

“Stinking” sewage plant wafts back onto CVRD agenda

The Curtis Road Residents Association will press the Courtenay-Comox Sewage Commission again next week, this time on policy issues related to their decades-long battle to eliminate unpleasant odours from the system’s sewage treatment plant

Area B residents want voice on regional Sewage Commission

Area B residents want voice on regional Sewage Commission

By George Le Masurier

The problems inherent when several distinct government jurisdictions nearly overlap each other reared its ugly head again at last week’s regional Sewage Commission meeting.

And it’s no coincidence that these issues rise because two larger jurisdictions (Courtenay and Comox) have dumped their effluent problems on a smaller third jurisdiction (Area B), without allowing the latter any formal representation.

Big governments have historically pushed their problems out of town, into less populated rural areas, where they are presumably less noticeable.

But for the residents of Curtis Road, who are downwind from the nearby sewage treatment plant, noxious odour problems are more than just noticeable. The smell of human waste has plagued them for 35 years, forcing some them out of their homes.

And the residents of Croteau Beach, just outside the boundaries of the Town of Comox, took special notice when a previous Sewage Commission planned to build a new pump station in their Area B neighborhood. The plan was fraught with flaws, not the least of which was a threat to residents drinking water wells.

Grant: “A lot of the things (Nichol) said were just not factual”

Croteau Beach residents lobbied for Area B representation on the Sewage Commission at the time. They argued that the principles of democracy demanded it.

No jurisdiction should be allowed to locate infrastructure necessary for a function or service in a separate jurisdiction that derives no benefit from the service and has no effective voice at the decision-making table, they said.

Now, Curtis Road residents are joining in that debate. They, too, want Area B representation on the Sewage Commission. And they have backed that argument up with a detailed history of alleged flagrant disregard for their concerns by three decades of commission members.

And now, new Area B representative Arzeena Hamir has asked the commission to add her as a voting member.

That’s a proposal that didn’t sit well with Comox Councillor Ken Grant.

Grant questioned whether it was legal under the BC Local Government Act to appoint a voting member to a commission from which that proposed members’ constituents do not participate. By that Grant meant that Area B residents don’t pay for the cost of operating the regional Sewage System, nor do they get to use it.

But Grant did not question whether it was ethical for the commission to build a “stinking plant” — as Curtis Road resident Jenny Steel said — next to residents who have no say in the matter.

Still, Grant went further. He said when the Sewage Commission experimented with a non-voting Area B representation to appease Croteau Beach concerns, it was a failure.

“It didn’t matter what we did, it didn’t matter. It wasn’t good enough for the area (Croteau Beach),” he said.

And then Grant called out former Area B representative Rod Nichol.

“A lot of the things (Nichol) said were just not factual,” Grant said. “It made it difficult to come up with a proper decision.”

Decafnation emailed Grant after the meeting to clarify his statements. Was he calling Nichol a liar, who purposely stated untruths? Or did he mean that Nichol was uninformed, that he just didn’t know what he was talking about?

Grant refused to clarify his statements.

Nichol, however, said he stands by any statements he made at the Sewage Commission.

“I did not attend the meeting … so I am not aware of what was said and by whom,” Nichol wrote via email. “If Ken Grant indeed said what you claim, then here are my comments:

“It is easy to chuck sh*t when the other party is not present to defend himself. If “a lot of things the previous director said were simply not factual” why has it taken this long for the allegation to be made? Everyone has an opportunity to speak and be heard at those meetings — if I said things that were not factual, why didn’t someone challenge me at the time? I do not know what Ken Grant is allegedly referring to, but I stand by what I said.”

Comox Valley Regional District Chief Administrative Officer Russell Dyson said a governance review is underway that may help the Sewage Commission decide whether they can, or want to add the Area B representative in either a voting or non-voting capacity, or at all.

A motion to include the question of Area B representation on the commission in the governance review was passed by a 4-3 vote split along jurisdictional lines.

All three Courtenay representatives voted in favor of the motion, as did the representative from CFB Comox.

All three Comox representatives — Grant, Maureen Swift and Russ Arnott — voted against it.

 

 

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More Politics | sewage

Mistrust still evident between residents, sewage commission

Plagued by the odours of sewage from Courtenay and Comox residents for 34 years, the residents of Curtis Road returned to the regional sewage commission this week hoping for resolutions to their concerns, which they say now includes a threat to their drinking water wells and a visual blight on their neighborhood

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Critical long-term wastewater infrastructure questions are being asked at the CVRD, among them: Should sewer pipes come out of the K’omoks Estuary? What level of treatment do we want, and how will we meet the long-term growth of the Comox Valley? And, should we be planning to recover our wastewater resource?

Rural Comox residents want less odour, more compensation

Rural Comox residents want less odour, more compensation

A lagoon at the Comox Valley wastewater treatment plant on Brent Road  /  George Le Masurier photo

By George Le Masurier

This article has been updated following the April 16 Sewage Commission meeting. It was originally published April 15.

 

Curtis Road residents want Comox, Courtenay and other users of a wastewater treatment plant in their neighborhood to pay them under a Host Community Compensation agreement.

Speaking for the Curtis Road Residents Association at Tuesday’s Courtenay-Comox Sewage Commission meeting, Jenny Steel said neighbors of the treatment plant have endured 35 years of noxious odors and numerous failed promises to eliminate the smells. The plant opened in 1984.

“And the plant still stinks,” she told commissioners from the two municipalities and CFB Comox.

There are 49 properties between the treatment plant and the Strait of Georgia at Cape Lazo. Many of them were established in the 1930s and still belong to the same families. But the location puts residents in the path of daily off-shore breezes, which pick up odors from the open treatment facilities and blows them through Curtis Road homes.

In a 17-page history of the odor problems sent to commissioners last week, Steel said residents find the stink is so strong that it wakes them up at night. When the sewer smell gets really bad — usually when there’s no wind from the southeast to blow the odors back toward the plant — residents are forced out of their homes because it’s “sickening.”

Previous Sewage Commissions ignored the problem and refused to finance additional remedies, so the residents sued, and won. The Sewage Commission compensated homeowners for reduced property values and rental incomes. There are carriage houses and secondary residences on some properties.

“But the problem hasn’t gone away,” Steel said. “It’s a little better now than last year, and it will probably be a little better next year … but it’s still there.”

British Columbia has no odor control standards. Only the provinces of Ontario and Manitoba have established standards.

An air quality study completed in 2016 showed that odors from the Brent Road plant exceeded the Ontario standards up to two kilometers away and that at some Curtis Road homes they exceeded the metric by 10 times.

The sewerage system and treatment plant serves only residents of Courtenay, Comox, K’omoks First Nation and CFB Comox. It is managed for them by the Comox Valley Regional District. There is no representation on the Sewage Commission from Area B.

After Steel presented a history of the problem, the commission voted to request a staff report before responding to the residents’ demands.

The residents want the Sewer Commission to immediately and completely cover its bioreactors to control the odours emitted during the biological process of removing pollutants from the wastewater. They estimate the cost at around $3 million, although the CVRD puts it over $5 million.

Steel also asked the commission to reassess the need for a new equalization basin, or to at least relocate it on the treatment plant’s 35-acre site in the Cape Lazo area.

The removal of trees in about 25 percent of the forested buffer area between the plant and Curtis Road to build the new EQ basin has made the plant visible from residents’ properties, and further reduced their value.

In an email to Decafnation, Steel said the Sewer Commission did not consider the visual stigma created by this new EQ basin “and its effect on our home prices as well as the potential additional odour source.”

The plant uses EQ basins a few times each year when high tides coincide with an increased volume of liquid entering the plant due to heavy rainfalls, according to Liquid Waste and Water Manager Kris LaRose.

He said that because treated wastewater flows by gravity from the plant to the outfall in the Strait of Georgia off Point Holmes, they must store partially treated wastewater for “several hours on a handful of days” during the late fall and early winter.

The Curtis Road residents also want the Sewer Commission to sign a Host Community Benefit Agreement to compensate homeowners until the odour problem is resolved and a visual screen is restored.

In an email to Decafnation, Steel described a Host Community agreement.

“The concept … is to balance the impacts a local community may experience in hosting a waste management facility against the advantages received by the users of the facilities from other communities,” she said.

Steel pointed to the $9 million agreement between the Comox-Strathcona Solid Waste Committee and the Village of Cumberland in 2013 for hosting the North Island landfill within their municipal boundaries.

The Capital Regional District also signed a Host Community Compensation agreement with Esquimalt for locating that region’s new sewage treatment plant.

Steel said she was happy with today’s meeting. 

“I was delighted  that we had a packed house,” she told Decafnation. “The sewage commission members were engaged and respectful, plus it seemed that most had read our report.   

“We’ll obviously know more when we receive their response next month.”

 

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