Turbidity in Brooklyn Creek, with stormwater pipe creating a “waterfall” in the background. Kids sometimes play under this | Photos submitted by a Como resident
Town of Comox spills raw sewage into Brooklyn Creek, doesn’t inform public
Five months ago, I decided to take a break from publishing stories on Decafnation. It was a difficult decision because I enjoy journalism and there is such a dearth of enterprise reporting in the Comox Valley.
Several news events during this past half-year have tempted me to revive my regular reporting and commentary: Daniel Arbour’s bold and forward-thinking proposal about a future with fewer fossil fuel-powered vehicles and the recent federal election come to mind.
But today I stumbled onto a story that I couldn’t resist because it involves the ongoing degradation of local waterways by a municipality and a cadre of council members who chose to hide pertinent information from their constituents.
The story involves a major pollution event with potential public health concerns in the Town of Comox about which the public has not been informed.
One of the town’s sewage pipes recently broke and an unknown volume of raw sewage spilled into Brooklyn Creek, which flows through Mack Laing Park and empties into the Comox Harbour. That created a health hazard for any children playing in the creek and at the creek’s Comox Bay estuary, and a potential lingering toxic environment for any returning fish this fall.
It also contributes to the contamination of shellfish in Comox Bay, which is under an ongoing harvesting ban.
None of the council members or town staff have discussed this sewage spill publicly or informed town residents. We couldn’t find any notice on the town’s website. And, of course, you won’t have read about it in any of the local media.
Decafnation reached out late afternoon Friday to Town Engineer Shelley Ashfield via email, who has not yet responded. We will update this story when and if Ashfield responds to our questions.
We asked Ashfield when and where the sewage break occurred and how the raw sewage could have flowed into Brooklyn Creek.
And it gets worse. On Thursday, the creek turned a milky brown color from somewhere south of Guthrie Road and covered the length of the creek to Comox Harbour. It appears, though this is not yet confirmed, that during mitigation measures following the raw sewage spill, the town dumped loads of gravel into the creek, stirring up sediment at the creek’s bottom and creating turbidity that took a long time to clear.
This also poses potential problems for wildlife.
We learned from a Comox resident that Kira Gallant of Environment Canada has an open file on issues regarding Brooklyn Creek and the Town of Comox. And that Dave Pridham, an officer with the BC Environment Ministry, is investigating both the raw sewage spill and the turbidity issue.
Decafnation has also learned that Brooklyn Creek Streamkeepers discovered dozens of dead salmon smolts along the waterway’s banks this summer. That could be linked to the fact the town discharges multiple stormwater drainage pipes into the creek, which diminishes its water quality, and also as a result of this summer’s heat domes created by climate change.
Suspected poor water quality in the creek has nearly wiped out healthy fish spawns in the creek in recent times. The creek’s headwaters begin in Courtenay, primarily Crown Isle, and pass through Area B en route to Comox, which creates a three-jurisdiction regulatory process. None of the three levels of government monitor the creek’s water quality.
The recent incident reinforces long-time concerns about the Town of Comox’s stormwater management practices. Decafnation published an intensive series of stories on this and related issues two years ago.
The town had ample warning that such a disaster could occur. But the town has ignored recommendations from multiple engineering consultants dating back more than two decades to upgrade its stormwater practices, including the building of detention ponds to filter toxic runoff before it enters sensitive waterways and regular collection of water quality data.
There is a pending BC Supreme Court case about the town’s handling of stormwater scheduled to begin next spring.
But Comox residents might question their elected council members why they didn’t inform the public about the raw sewage spill into the creek? Did they even know about the spill? If not, then who is providing oversight of town operations?
Some people believe the Town Council of Comox is the least transparent of all Comox Valley municipalities. You might think that council members heading into municipal elections in 2022 would be trying to change this perception.
This story has been updated to correct an error that Brooklyn Creek travels through Macdonald Wood Park.
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A Town of Comox infrastructure failure could have spilled raw sewage into Brooklyn Creek for a long time, according to nearby residents who have noticed unusual plant growth and sewage-type odours for nearly 24 months. Mayor and councilors say they didn’t know about it
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