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Major changes coming to Courtenay-Comox sewage commission

Sep 17, 2019 | News, sewage

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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