Comox Mayor Russ Arnott adamantly opposes Area B representation on the sewage commission / George Le Masurier file photo
Comox Valley sewage issue pushed, Arnott comments called “out to lunch”
Comox Mayor Russ Arnott feigned little knowledge this week of how the Comox Councillors that he appointed to the Comox Valley Regional District Board are voting, and why.
The only item on the Courtenay-Comox Sewage Commission Tuesday, Aug. 13, was a reconsideration of its “no decision” last month, a tie vote that technically defeated a motion to allow Area B representation on the commission.
This week, the commission, with CFB representative Major Guerard in attendance, delayed taking any action on the matter until after CVRD staff present their recommendations from a year-old study on how best to restructure the regional district’s water and sewer commissions.
But the issue launched Arnott off on an opening diatribe about why the board had sent the issue back to the commission.
“Why did they send it back?” Arnott asked. “We made a decision. What’s to say whatever decision we make today won’t come back. When does this end?
“I find it disrespectful, and it leads me to wonder where the integrity of the Town of Comox votes lay when we’re a paying member and (deference is shown) to a special interest group,” he said, referring to the Curtis Road Residents Association.
That caused Courtenay Director Wendy Morin to ask for a voting record of the CVRD Committee of the Whole, which comprises the full board.
“If I recall Comox directors voted to send it back,” she said.
Comox Director Ken Grant jumped in to say he could settle the question.
“Yes, Comox did vote to send it back. It was clear we (Comox directors) were going to lose the vote, so we voted in favour to deal with it here (at the sewage commission),” he said. “We were outmuscled.”
FURTHER READING: Our archive of stories about the sewage commission
Comox is the outlier on this issue. There is support for Area B representation on the sewage commission from Courtenay and some of the electoral areas.
Comox has two directors on the CVRD board, while Courtenay has four and Cumberland and the three electoral areas each have 1. Weighting the votes based on population gives Courtenay 18 votes to 10 for Comox.
Pushing a decision on the issue didn’t sit well with the Curtis Road Residents Association, who have been battling with the regional district over noxious odours emanating from the Brent Road wastewater treatment plant since 1985.
Jenny Steel, the spokesperson for the residents, said the CVRD Board had ordered the commission to further consider the appointment of the Area B director as a non-voting member for a temporary period of time.
“The Commission today failed to follow that direction, there was no substantive discussion at all,” she told Decafnation. “ Instead, they decided to wait for Comox and Courtenay bureaucrats to come up with their “governance study” recommendations — without any input at all from Area B.”
Steel said “the writing is on the wall … Comox councillors will continue their vendetta against any voice for Area B at the table.”
The Curtis Road residents had requested that the Area B director be permitted to participate in the discussion at the Aug. 13 commission meeting, but Steel says the CVRD did not even acknowledge that request.
Steel said the CRRA would now seek out other avenues within the government to resolve their concerns.
“We will formally lodge complaints with the provincial Ombudsperson and the Inspector of Municipalities, as well as expand our outreach to the public and press,” she said. “We do not believe Comox commissioners have acted responsibly on this issue.”
Steel went on to say that Comox Mayor Arnott’s statement that there’s a good relationship with the Curtis Road Residents was “completely out to lunch.”
“Since our first delegation in April there has been no commitment whatsoever to fix the odour problems or to improve governance moving forward,” she said. “In an earlier meeting, Comox reps had proposed that one of the existing commissioners be our voice at the table – clearly an admission that Area B does need a voice.
“However, they are dead set against that voice being Director Arzeena Hamir, our democratically elected representative. Go figure.”
Hamir told Decafnation that she’s extremely frustrated by the situation and that she feels for the Curtis Road residents.
“They have put so much time and energy into resolving their problem. They read the reports more intensely than some of the elected directors,” she said. “To have the issue punted back and forth (between the CVRD board and the sewage commission) is frustrating.”
Steel echoed that comment.
“It is indeed frustrating to go round in circles on what would seem such a straight-forward and reasonable request,” she said. “Until we get this resolved we have no choice but to continue with our delegations.”
They have several outstanding issues, including the location of a new holding pond, agreement on an odour standard and covering the bio-reactors, which cause most of the odour issues.
“A Good Neighbour Agreement between Area B and Comox/Courtenay is something we’ve been working on and will bring forward to the Commission soon for consideration,” she said.
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