CVRD commission takes “historic” step toward Comox Valley-wide wastewater system

CVRD commission takes “historic” step toward Comox Valley-wide wastewater system

The Union Bay community rests on the verge of a major development explosion  |  George Le Masurier photo

CVRD commission takes “historic” step toward Comox Valley-wide wastewater system

By George Le Masurier

As the Comox Valley closes in on selecting a new overland route for conveying Courtenay and Comox wastewater to the treatment plant in Cape Lazo, and potentially upgrading the level of treatment it receives there, elected officials are also considering a first step toward using existing infrastructure for a more inclusive community-wide sewerage system.

The Comox Valley Regional District is currently in the final stages of developing a new, long-term Liquid Waste Management Plan (LWMP) for the existing infrastructure that will provide important ecological and financial benefits.

But at present that infrastructure only serves a portion of the Comox Valley.

New Liquid Waste Management Plan process to restart this summer

Despite its misnomer, the Comox Valley Sewage Commission that governs the Comox Valley Water Pollution Control Centre — commonly known as the Brent Road treatment plant — and the infrastructure to convey it there, only serves households in Courtenay, Comox, K’omoks First Nation and CFB Comox.

It is not a Valley-wide service.

Approximately a third of Comox Valley households rely on private, individual septic systems, which vary in age and effectiveness.

Over the next several decades, Union Bay Estates plans to develop nearly 3,000 new homes in a project already underway

In fast-growing areas, such as Union Bay — one of four designated settlement nodes in the Regional Growth Strategy — and Royston, areas where sewage and other wastewater is currently handled by septic systems, there is a compelling need to provide better and more reliable wastewater treatment.

Many of these private septic systems are old and some are failing. Homeowners can spend $30,000 or more to replace a poor system, so it’s often put off as long as possible.

But systems that are not functioning properly have the potential to pollute. Previous CVRD studies have shown that failing septic systems in Royston and Union Bay have contributed to fecal coliform contamination of Baynes Sound.

But now a new plan to be led by Darry Monteith, the CVRD’s Manager of Liquid Waste Planning in its Engineering Services branch, would shut down those private septic systems over time by connecting households to the existing Courtenay-Comox infrastructure.

The possibility of this new approach was made possible when Courtenay and Comox sewage commissioners reversed historical thinking to entertain the possibility of opening their closed-system to other areas of the Comox Valley.

Many, including Electoral Area A Director Daniel Arbour, see the decision as a historical moment.

Union Bay opens new water treatment plant

“This is a significant milestone for the sewage commission and the Regional Growth Strategy,” Arbour told Decafnation. “It’s a big step toward a Comox Valley-wide solution. Moving from septic systems to a community system feels momentous.”

Arbour said the important aspect of the decision is that the framework is now in place for connecting the Royston and Union Bay area to the sewerage system “so that if grants are available and the cost per household is reasonable, this proposal has a chance to be successful.”

Sewage commission Chair David Frisch, a Courtenay City councillor, told Decafnation that this new approach would be “a step toward Valley-wide collaboration in local government, an opportunity for Area A residents to benefit from sewer collection and treatment, a way to ensure sewer doesn’t leach into Baynes Sound and a partnership with KFN to support reconciliation and First Nation Rights.”

 

WHY THIS IS IMPORTANT

Since at least 2006, Island Health has consistently recommended a community sewerage system for the Royston-Union Bay area due to poor septic system performance and the number of complaints received.

A 2015 study by Payne Engineering Geology conducted after a dry winter found that up to 50 percent of the areas’ septic systems were failing, particularly in the Union Bay community. And the study suggested the rate would be higher during wet winter months.

By comparison, an earlier study by the same engineers found zero failures of private systems in the Cape Lazo area.

The large reservoir tank at the new Union Bay-Langley Lake water treatment plant on Mcleod Road that will improve access to drinking water and enable future developments.

The Payne study identified six main reasons that septic systems were failing:

1) small lots, many less than 2000 square metres;
2) a shallow winter water table, shallower than 45 cm (18 inches) in some areas;
3) inappropriate designs including, in some cases, drain field trenches set deeper than the water table;
4) undersized septic tanks and drain fields;
5) lack of maintenance; and,
6) ageing systems in need of repair or upgrade (some systems are about 50 years old).

Over the last 18 years, the CVRD has put forward three previous proposals to resolve these problems. All of them have failed over financial issues. And all of them would have created new infrastructure exclusive to the South Courtenay area, essentially creating two independent sewerage systems in the Comox Valley.

In 2002, residents rejected a plan they deemed too costly. In 2006, residents passed a referendum to construct a new system, but that initiative collapsed when necessary grant funding didn’t come through. In 2016, residents again rejected a South Sewer Project proposal because it was too expensive.

 

HOW CHANGE OCCURRED

It took three failed attempts, but the reality finally became clear: a stand-alone system for CVRD’s most southern communities was neither feasible or viable. New thinking was needed.

In early 2018, the South Sewer Select Committee, comprising electoral area A and C directors and K’omoks First Nation representation, pressed the sewage commission to analyze the possibility of receiving and treating wastewater from the Union Bay and Royston areas into their existing system. Former Electoral A Director Bruce Jolliffe brought the request forward.

In April of 2018, the commission, apparently warm to the idea, asked staff to study the impact that this new approach would have on their system.

New Area A Director Daniel Arbour (elected in October 2018 to replace Jolliffe, who retired) told Decafnation that serious behind-the-scenes discussions on this approach got underway in mid-2019.

Over the next six months, elected officials and KFN representatives talked through topics that ranged from what expenses Area A residents would pay to how K’omoks First Nation and Union Bay Estates would be engaged.

In February of 2020, the CVRD engineering staff reported back to the sewage commission with its analysis.

The report showed that the impact of adding wastewater from Union Bay and Royston would have minimal impact on existing infrastructure over the next decade.

That analysis concluded adding wastewater flows from the southern areas of the regional district would initially add only about three percent to four percent more wastewater flowing through the system and an estimated 10 percent to 12 percent more when Union Bay Estates and potential K’omoks First Nation developments in the southern area get fully underway.

The report also showed that the addition of wastewater flows from Area A would reduce the financial burden on all participants.

Arbour said everyone at the table could envision some benefit for their constituents.

He said Courtenay and Comox saw financial benefits. KFN saw the potential to connect any development they pursued on properties they own in the area. And Union Bay Estates, which plans nearly 3,000 new homes in the area, saw that the new sewer proposal could reduce their cost of future development.

On Feb. 11 the sewage commission passed a motion in-camera that stated, among other things, that the commission was open to receiving and treating the southern area’s wastewater if it proved feasible. The minutes of this meeting have since been made public.

 

AN IDEA PREVIOUSLY REJECTED

Connecting households in other areas to the existing Courtenay-Comox system is not a new idea. It has been proposed before.

In fact, it was on the table prior to the unsuccessful 2016 South Sewer Project proposal but was eliminated from consideration early. At the time, the elected officials who govern their closed system weren’t interested in the southern area issues. CFB Comox has one seat on the commission, Courtenay has three and Comox has three.

That meant the only option in 2016 was to once again propose some version of stand-alone wastewater treatment for the Royston-Union Bay area. But concerns about a sewer outfall into the oyster-growing waters of Baynes Sounds necessitated a long and expensive pipe crossing the Estuary and Comox sand bar to reach the Brent Road treatment plant.

That pushed costs beyond the reach of most residents. And it was one of the factors that caused the Village of Cumberland to pull out of the South Sewer Project and pursue plans to upgrade its own existing wastewater system, which is currently underway.

 

IS THE NEW PLAN AFFORDABLE?

It is not yet known how much this new approach will cost, nor how much each homeowner would have to pay to connect.

Over the summer, CVRD staff will gather financial data, explore the feasibility of grants and plan a public consultation process that might occur in the fall.

Director Arbour says whether the CVRD and KFN can obtain federal and provincial infrastructure grants will be key to making the proposal viable. And to that end, he’s thankful that everyone has managed to see a long-term benefit.

A sign pointing up Mcleod Road in Union Bay

He says the price will have to be less than the 2016 proposal, which pegged an individual homeowner’s cost from $25,000 and up, which was as much or more than the cost of installing a new private septic system.

“Whatever it comes in at, it has to make financial sense to individual residents. What is the public appetite and what value do they see for their money?” Arbour said. “It has to be affordable. That will ultimately define success.”

Arbour says he won’t over-promote the idea. If the numbers aren’t well below the last proposal for a stand-alone treatment plant, then he could let the idea sit for now.

“But the framework will still be in place to connect Area A households, which resolves environmental issues and addresses future development issues in this fast-growing part of the Comox Valley,” Arbour said.

From a strictly optimistic perspective and if significant grants were solidified in the next 12 months, Arbour believes the project could begin in a year or two.

Arbour praised K’omoks First Nation leadership during the discussions about the plan.

KFN already owns land in the area and could potentially own significant parcels in the former Sage Hills development area depending on the ongoing treaty negotiations with the provincial government.

 

OTHER ISSUES

Including more of the Comox Valley in the Courtenay-Comox wastewater system raises other issues, such as how the function will be governed.

The commission has historically been composed of only Courtenay and Comox elected officials because the system primarily serves them. KFN has been a customer without representation on the commission. CFB Comox is also a customer but has a seat on the commission due to some early investment by the Department of National Defence.

Accepting southern area wastewater — the cost of which would be paid by residents — would likely entail voting representation for the Electoral Area A director and KFN.

KFN was offered a non-voting seat on the board last fall. At the same time, following a staff report on governance, the Electoral Area B director was offered a non-voting seat at the commission table when dealing with issues affecting Area B residents.

And another issue for the proposal is how to best acquire public approval.

Sewage commissioners could choose to have staff write a new Liquid Waste Management Plan, a task that could delay construction for two years or more. Or it could proceed through an Electoral Assent Process, such as a public referendum that could take place early in 2021.

The Electoral Services Commission, comprising directors from areas A, B and C, will decide which public approval process to follow.

If the CVRD proceeds via an Electoral Assent Process and it is successful, construction could begin in 2022 and complete in 2023.

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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

New Courtenay-Comox sewage master plan process to restart after virus lockdown delays

New Courtenay-Comox sewage master plan process to restart after virus lockdown delays

Three short-listed options for new conveyance routes for the Courtenay-Comox sewage system will go to public meetings later this summer

New Courtenay-Comox sewage master plan process to restart after virus lockdown delays

By George Le Masurier

More than a year ago, the Comox-Courtenay Sewer Commission launched a major initiative to develop a new master plan for conveying sewage to the Brent Road treatment plant, as well as envisioning future demand for advanced levels of treatment and the ability to reuse the wastewater and other resources.

The new plan — officially termed a Liquid Waste Management Plan — was designed to address the immediate issue of preventing the failure of the large sewer pipes that run along the beach below the Willemar Bluffs, by moving the entire conveyance system onto an overland route.

Kris La Rose, the Comox Valley Regional District’s senior manager of water and wastewater services, who is leading the project, his staff and a joint Public and Technical Advisory Committee spent more than six months discussing how best to reconfigure the system. At its March 22, 2019 meeting, the committees settled on a recommended short-list of three options, which were then the basis of consultations with the K’omoks First Nation.

It was expected these options, among other recommendations in the new LWMP, would be finalized this summer. But this spring’s COVID-19 virus security measures prevented public consultations planned for May and June.

With the loosening of provincial lockdown requirements, La Rose will seek commission approval next month to resume public consultations during a six-week period starting in August.

And that will push the regional district staff’s final recommendations on conveyance routes and treatment levels to the Courtenay-Comox Sewage Commission into November.

 

A BACKGROUND REFRESHER

Back in 2014, the sewage commission surprised the public with the now-discarded plan to prevent failure of the Willemar Bluff beach pipe by building a new pump station on Beech Street in the Croteau Beach area, located in Area B, not the Town of Comox.

Croteau Beach residents raised concerns about negative impacts on their groundwater wells and the propriety of forcing sewerage infrastructure on a neighbourhood that neither benefits from it or has a legislative voice on its governance. There was no public input prior to the plan’s announcement.

They also presented an independent financial analysis that showed the regional district had less expensive options.

As planning proceeded, and La Rose was appointed to a new position with authority over the project, it was discovered that the regional district’s original cost estimates were low by at least half and that other red flags had emerged.

La Rose recommended abandoning the original plan for a highly consultative process to develop a long-term plan that would consider a broader range of issues and visions.

The provincial LWMP process recommended by La Rose included forming Technical and Public advisory committees (TAC and PAC), who would also meet jointly and make recommendations with a single voice.

 

WHAT ARE THE OPTIONS?

The joint TAC-PAC recommendations are for three options.

First, a system to pump sewage directly from the Courtenay No. 1 pump station on Dyke Road over Comox Road hill, through Comox and along Lazo Road to the Brent Road treatment plant. 

Second, the advisory committee collapsed three variations of conveying wastewater to the treatment plant via tunnels into one option. In one variation, the sewer pipe would tunnel through Lazo Road hill. In another, it would tunnel through both Comox Road hill and Lazo Road hill. And using a gravity tunnel from Comox to the treatment plant will also be considered. While tunnelling is considered one option, all three tunnelling variations will be studied separately.

Third on the shortlist is to consider the three variations of the tunnelling option but as implemented into two phases.

Earlier this year, the sewage commission unanimously approved the recommendations of its Technical and Public advisory committee.

La Rose says the TAC and PAC committees also recommended three options for treatment levels at the Brent Road treatment plant. They include continuing with secondary treatment, adding filtration for all but peak wet weather flows or filtration for all flows. All three options would include disinfection in the form of UV light.

This article was updated on June 15 to correct the three conveyance route shortlist options. 

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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

Curtis Road residents threaten legal action over sewage commission failure on odour issues

Curtis Road residents threaten legal action over sewage commission failure on odour issues

Decafnation archive photo of the Courtenay-Comox sewage treatment plant  |  George Le Masurier photo

Curtis Road residents threaten legal action over sewage commission failure on odour issues

By George Le Masurier

This article was updated Nov. 6 to add further information from CAO Russell Dyson about financial planning for large expenses.

The Courtenay-Comox Sewage Commission has a sure-fire $8.5 million solution to the raw sewage odours that have plagued the Curtis Road neighborhood for 34 years, but it decided this week to spend another five months looking for a less expensive option.

That didn’t please the Curtis Road Residents Association who want a definitive decision from the commission by Nov. 15 to finally resolve the odour problem or they may pursue a legal recourse.

“While we appreciate that financing can take time, we have not heard, to date, any solid commitment from the commission that they intend to resolve the problem,” wrote Jenny Steel, spokesperson for the residents, in an email exchange after the meeting.

READ MORE: Previous stories on this issue

“That does not give (residents) a warm and fuzzy that you’re particularly committed to resolving the stink.”

Steel told the commission the CRRA plans “to take our campaign to the next level,” which includes lodging formal bylaw complaints and preparing for a new legal action against the Comox Valley Regional District.

Since the commission opened its sewage treatment plant in 1985 on property that borders Curtis Road, residents have suffered noxious odours that at times make their homes uninhabitable. Pleas for relief, including a previous successful lawsuit against the regional district, have made little difference, they say.

In 2018, the commission spent $2 million on a solution to “upgrade existing scrubbers and covering primary clarifiers.” But that did not solve the problem.

The commission now plans to spend $20,000 taking more odour measurements and studying what other BC governments have done to minimize the negative impacts of noxious odours on nearby homeowners.

Liquid Waste and Water Manager Kris LaRose told the commission this week that he’s “not disputing that odours from the plant are unacceptably high.”

And he believes two consultants’ reports are reliable that said covering the sewage plant’s three bioreactors would reduce odours in the Curtis Road area to a level below human detection.

But several factors prevent the commission from deciding to move ahead now.

One of those factors appears to be financial planning. CVRD’s Chief Administrative Officer Russell Dyson said the commission could not make a commitment to spend $8.5 million without an amendment to the regional district’s financial plan, and he said that could not be done before the CRRA’s Nov. 15 deadline.

“The alternative is for it to be considered as part of the 2020 budget which will be approved in March,” Dyson told Decafnation. “Given this level of expenditure, my advice was to follow the staff recommendation to do additional analysis and then consider (it) as part of the 2020 budget. The alternative would be to push through three readings by year’s end for a large expenditure that will have a lasting impact on the service.”

Dyson said the commission needs to find a way to improve the impacts of odour in a manner that respects the capacity of the ratepayers and the many financial challenges the service is facing, which include a new sewer conveyance system and treatment plant upgrades.  

That led several commission directors to conclude that whether or not they voted to approve the $8.5 million expenditure now, it couldn’t be formally approved until spring, so that doing further studies would not delay the solution.

Jenny Steel, the spokesperson for the CRRA, said the regional district spends similar amounts with less analysis.

“To put this in perspective,” she told the commission in a prepared presentation, “you just spent $7.6 million to expand the composting facility, you approved $7.1 for the EQ Basin and (the) CVRD provided $9 million for the Cumberland Host Community Benefit.”

Cumberland’s host agreement is with the Comox-Strahcona Solid Waste service.

Steel said spending $8.5 million to finally resolve the sewage commission ongoing odour problem is a 45-year investment that will cost Courtenay and Comox taxpayers less than $5 per year.

“That’s less than two cans of Febreze,” she said.

Another factor is a disagreement over how low odour levels need to go.

Residents want odour levels reduced to one odour unit (OU) at the plant’s property line boundaries under normal operations but will accept five OU (a design limit) only when there are problems at the plant, such as a power outage or mechanical failure.

One OU is the standard used by the province of Ontario. BC has no province-wide odour standards.

The problem, according to LaRose, is that covering the three bioreactors at a cost of $8.5 million might be unnecessary. His data shows the move would reduce odour measurements down to 0.5 OU at sensitive receptors, which he called a “big step.”

“Is there something in the middle? That’s what we want to study further,” he said.

The Curtis Road residents are also disputing CVRD staff reports that claim the 2018 upgrades made a significant reduction in odour from measurements taken 2016.

A CVRD newsletter about the issue claims odour levels declined by 80 percent. But the residents say the CVRD’s own data shows the reduction was only 47 percent.

When Steel asked for the newsletter to be recalled, Dyson said the CVRD stands by the newsletter’s claims

“Interesting — CVRD senior management are content to push demonstrably erroneous and misleading information to the public,” Steel emailed back. “Absent any commitment in writing … you leave us no choice but to pursue other avenues to resolve this issue.”

Comox Commissioner Russ Arnott said he didn’t “take kindly” to be given a mid-November deadline.

“If we’re going to be ostracized in the press, let it happen,” he said. “I will vote in favor of the $8.5 million, but I won’t be scared into making a decision.”

 

 

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Good Neighbor Agreement could help resolve sewage plant problems

Good Neighbor Agreement could help resolve sewage plant problems

Photo Caption

Good Neighbor Agreement could help resolve sewage plant problems

By George Le Masurier

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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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

New Courtenay-Comox sewage master plan process to restart after virus lockdown delays

Major changes coming to Courtenay-Comox sewage commission

George Le Masurier photo

Major changes coming to Courtenay-Comox sewage commission

By George Le Masurier

This article has been updated to include comments from Jenny Steel, spokesperson for the Curtis Road Residents Association

Major changes may be coming to the Courtenay-Comox Sewage Commission after directors unanimously approved five staff recommendations on Sept. 17 emanating from a year-old report on utilities governance.

Commissioners approved development of a policy to allow the Area B director to attend meetings and engage in discussions involving infrastructure and operations located in the electoral area. It would be a non-voting position.

Area B representation has been a contentious issue for years.

Croteau Beach residents raised the issue about five years ago during proposals to construct a new sewage pump station in the neighborhood. And more recently, Curtis Road residents who are still complaining about noxious odour from the sewage treatment plant have lobbied to have an Area B representative on the commission.

Commissioners also voted to invite the K’omoks First Nation to appoint an observer to the commission, also in a non-voting capacity.

Those recommendations may add two new positions on the commission, but another recommendation will consider whether to drop the Department of National Defense representative in lieu of an agreement to provide the DND with certainty over rates and system capacity to handle CFB Comox effluent.

That recommendation concerned Courtenay Commissioner Doug Hillian who pointed out that eliminating one voting member on a commision of seven leaves an even number of commissioners. That makes tie votes more likely.

The three Courtenay commissioners and the three Comox commissioners often vote in blocks and frequently on opposite sides of an issue. By legislative rules, any motion receiving a tie vote is defeated.

James Warren, the CVRD’s general manager of corporate services, who presented the governance report summary and staff recommendations, said the potential even number of commissioners was an issue for they would have to consider.

Warren said the staff will need two months to develop policies and agreements around the recommendations.

Major Delta Guerard said consultations on the DND recommendations would have to go through her chain of command all the way to Ottawa, which might take even longer.

One of the other recommendations included a list of staff-based actions to improve communications, and the possibility of adding a new technical professional dedicated to the sewage commission. At present, one professional handles both sewerage and drinking water responsibilities.

The final recommendation approved direct staff to develop a review board policy for large-scale projects, such as the new water treatment plant, to minimize the potential for political interference.

Responding to a question about future large projects, Senior Engineer Marc Ruten said the current system is 40 years old and some parts might need replacement rather than upgrading, especially because there are new provincial requirements today.

“It was okay to put sewer pipes on the foreshore at one time, which we’re realizing now is not an option,” Ruten said. “Many of the options of the old days are not with us now.”

Most of the recommendations require development of policies, agreements or other staff actions before they will be implemented. But the approvals set that process in motion.

Jenny Steel, spokesperson for the Curtis Road Residents Association, said her group would wait to see the policy staff recommends to assess whether Area B’s request for a permanent non-voting seat on the sewage commission will be effective.

“Our elected representative was not involved in any of the discussions and the level of detail in today’s staff report was not enough for us to understand what exactly was being proposed or how it would work.” she told Decafnation. “We do find it a slap in the face and undemocratic that other small constituencies (DND and KFN) appear to be welcomed without hesitation to permanent membership on the sewage commission. Meanwhile, Comox Commissioners treat Area B, the host community for a huge part of sewer service infrastructure, as a pariah.”

 

 

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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

Cumberland gets $7 million infrastructure funding for wastewater treatment

Cumberland gets $7 million infrastructure funding for wastewater treatment

Cumberland lagoons will get an upgrade  /  Decafnation file photo

Cumberland gets $7 million infrastructure funding for wastewater treatment

By George Le Masurier

Work will begin soon on Cumberland’s new wastewater treatment system after the Village received a $7 million grant from federal and provincial governments.

The Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program announced this week that Cumberland had been awarded $7,113,010 from the program’s environmental quality stream. That’s about 75 percent of the village’s $9.7 million plan.

Cumberland has been out of compliance with the province’s wastewater treatment standards for many years, and was recently fined $85,000 by the Ministry of the Environment. The village is appealing that fine because over the last three years it has developed a plan to return to compliance and has actively sought funding to implement it.

“The village has worked very hard to find a Made in Cumberland treatment solution that is affordable for our taxpayers, “ Mayor Leslie Baird said.

Cumberland opted out of the South Sewer Project in 2016 for financial reasons. That plan was ultimately rejected by Royston and Union Bay voters because it was too expensive.

Cumberland then proposed a traditional treatment plan, but couldn’t find funding for its $21 million price tag.

The village hired Paul Nash, of Sechelt, to help develop a lower cost alternative that would meet provincial standards.

The now-funded plan will upgrade Cumberland’s existing lagoon-based wastewater treatment system, handle large combine storm-sewer flows and provide capacity for population growth. It uses an innovative features to filter out contaminants, such as pharmaceuticals.

“The final treated water will restore the natural summer “wet” conditions to a drained wetland and facilitate habitat restoration of the area, while providing natural polishing of the water to remove organic contaminants, before distribution to the natural wetlands north of the lagoon, then continuing to the Maple Creek Watershed,” according to a village press release.

Mayor Baird told Decafnation this week that the village has filed a complaint with the BC Ombudsman Office over the out-of-compliance fines. She said one arm of the provincial government was working with the village on their plan and funding it, while another arm was threatening to fine them.

“There were two arms working in silos,” she said. “They had no idea what the other was doing.”

Baird said the appeal is important because many small communities in BC are out of compliance and the fines and the time, travel and cost to appeal them can be a “huge burden” on small towns. Cumberland hopes to set a precedent through its appeal and complaint with the Ombudsman.

With the new funds and the village’s $1.2 million in reserves for the project’s capital costs, there will be little need for additional borrowing. During last October’s municipal elections, Cumberland voters approved borrowing for the project.

That may be good news for villagers who support construction of a new fire hall.

Cumberland doesn’t have the capacity to borrow both the whole wastewater project and a roughly $4 million fire hall.

 

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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