The new Sewer Conveyance Planning Process will include public and technical panels to be formed this summer; plus, the treatment plant gets upgrade to eliminate over-capacity at peak periods
When the Courtenay-Comox Sewer Commission put a hold last October on its plans to build a new pump station in Croteau Beach, it signaled the beginning of a new and lengthy process to examine a long list of better options for re-routing wastewater from the two municipalities.
That project — now know as the Sewer Conveyance Planning Process — gets underway in earnest next month.
Comox Valley Regional District staff will present the sewer commission in June with proposed terms of reference for the public and technical advisory panels that will help guide the process. They will also seek authority to hire a technical consultant and will outline plans to engage the public in a series of public events.
Kris La Rose, the senior manager of water/wastewater services for the CVRD, believes the process can still meet the original deadline of reporting back to the sewage commission in January 2019. But he acknowledges that unforeseen issues could cause some delay.
At the same time, he said, the first phase of a long-term project is underway to upgrade the Brent Road treatment plant.
The main sewer pipe carrying sewage and stormwater from Courtenay, Comox and K’omoks First Nations runs along the K’omoks Estuary, through Comox Bay and around the Willemar Bluffs to the Brent Road treatment plant. From there it discharges into the Strait of George via an outfall off Cape Lazo.
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The sewage commission was originally motivated to move quickly because it believed the pipe running along the base of Willemar Bluffs was in imminent danger of being exposed and damaged during winter storms, which could cause it to leak. And a plan, which critics characterized as “hasty,” was developed to build a pump station on Beech Street in the Croteau Beach neighborhood.
But further study of the condition of the pipe confirmed its relatively good condition, and an inexpensive solution was found to cover the pipe safely for many more years. That removed the urgency of the sewer commission’s plan.
With time to consider more forward-thinking options and climate change issues, and the emergence of three serious red flags that made a new pump station in Croteau Beach look less desirable, CVRD staff recommended taking another year to study other options for moving Courtenay and Comox wastewater to the treatment plant.
La Rose said the public and technical advisory committees will assist in reviewing the long list of potential pipeline routes and narrowing them down to a short list for more intensive, technical study.
He estimated the two groups would consist of almost 30 members.
Asked by Decafnation if the new sewerage plan would take a broader view and envision a Comox Valley-wide sewerage system enjoyed and paid for by more than the residents of Courtenay and Comox, La Rose said the current planning process is focused on the existing service area. But it’s possible the sewage commission could decide otherwise.
He specifically mentioned the South Courtenay areas of Royston and Union Bay, which voted down a South Sewer Plan last year because it was too expensive. He said adding them into the existing system would only increase the volume of wastewater flows by roughly 5 percent.
If the proposed housing developments at Kensington Properties in Union Bay and the nearby K’omoks First Nation property proceed, La Rose said there might be sufficient economies of scale to bring them (roughly Area A of the regional district) into the Courtenay-Comox system.
But any decision to extend the Courtenay-Comox sewerage system rests with the sewage commission.
FURTHER READING: Watch this page for new about the public advisory committee
Further expansion of the Courtenay-Comox system throughout the Comox Valley is unlikely. The Village of Cumberland has plans to upgrade its own sewerage system, and the Miracle Beach/Saratoga area would require too many miles of expensive pipelines.
Treatment plant to expand
Concurrent with the Sewer Conveyance Planning Process, La Rose is also managing a multi-phase, 50-year project that will eventually double the capacity of the Brent Road sewage treatment plant.
During peak times in the late fall of every year — when the tides are the highest and stormwater runoff hits its peak — the system exceeds capacity at the outfall. The December king tides can vary by 15 feet to 17 feet.
To solve that problem, La Rose said the CVRD will increase the treatment plant’s storage capacity by adding a new and separate equalization tank. The upgrade will enable the plant to store twice as much wastewater during peak flows and release it to the outfall when tides subside.
And new odor control technology is currently being installed that could resolve problems that have plagued neighboring residents since the plant was originally built in the 1980s.