Town employees armed with dump trucks, vacuum trucks, excavators and other equipment removed stinky silt from Brooklyn Creek on Sept. 3 | Photos submitted
Tonnes of sewage mud removed from Brooklyn Creek, nearby residents say its been piling up for years
Following the publication of a Decafnation commentary on Friday about leaking pipes that spilled raw sewage into Brooklyn Creek, the Town of Comox has gone on a hurried public relations campaign.
Mayor Russ Arnott has been posting on his Facebook page and doing media interviews this week even though he says he only found out about the leak on Saturday, three weeks after it occurred. And the town took the unusual step of issuing a news release on a Saturday, a day after the original Decafnation article appeared.
The PR campaign has minimized the seriousness of raw sewage leaking into the creek for an undetermined length of time and downplayed any ill effects the leak might have had on fish or dogs and other animals that drink from the water or children who play in the creek.
The town’s news release dated Saturday, Sept. 25 characterized the problem as “a small sanitary leak” that it “discovered” on Friday, Sept. 3, and assured citizens that the matter was remedied that same afternoon by removing tons of “contaminated water and soil from the creek.”
A test of the creek’s water quality after the remediation measures showed no public health concerns, according to Chief Administrative Officer Jordan Wall.
While the town says it found the source of the sewage leak on Sept. 3, it has not said how long the failed sewer and stormwater pipes had been leaking. Nor have they stated the length of time between when town employees first noticed diminished water quality and when they located the source of the problem.
But thanks to multiple Decafnation readers, we have learned that raw sewage may have been leaking into Brooklyn Creek for a long time, possibly years.
That would explain high levels of dissolved oxygen in the creek, unusual plant growth near Noel Avenue, dead smolt fish found on the creek’s bank and a definite sewage odour noticed by at least one person who walks the Brooklyn trails regularly.
PIECING TOGETHER WHAT HAPPENED
According to the town’s news release the sewer breach occurred near the Hillside Avenue-Highland Road intersection where stormwater and sewage manholes are located side by side. The town says concrete at the bottom of the sewage manhole eroded and flowed into a crack in a stormwater pipe one meter away
“These types of issues are increasingly common in these systems due to the age of some of the infrastructure,” Wall told Decafnation. He says the town plans to invest “heavily” in replacement and repair over the next several years.
Based on that explanation, the affected stormwater pipe would have to have discharged its polluted water into the creek somewhere upstream from the new culverts lower down on Noel Avenue. That’s because, as the town says, its response to discovering the leak included removing “contaminated soil” from the creek at the location of the new Noel Avenue culverts.
Neither Wall nor the town’s news release has said clearly that the removed soil was infused with the leaking raw sewage, but residents who live close to those culverts have told Decafnation that the smell of sewage was “overwhelming” as they watched town crews dig out tons of “contaminated soil.”
Asked if the septic smell had been strong, Brook Place Strata President Dennis Strand said, “Strong? That isn’t the word for it.”
And other residents of Brook Place, a 36-unit condominium building that borders the creek say that over the past two years they have observed unusual growth of plant life and silt buildup at the site of the culverts, and a definitive smell of sewage.
Carol Neufeld, a Brook Place resident who walks the creek trails every day, told Decafnation that she has noticed a septic smell along the creek for more than a year.
Strand says he and other nearby residents suspect that sewage may have been leaking into the creek at least since the Noel Avenue road work was conducted two years ago. But it’s also possible that sewage has been leaking into the creek for even longer and conceivably from multiple sources.
Strand says he was told by an environmental professional working at the site that there have been reports of toilet paper and lumps of human excrement floating in the creek.
ROLE OF THE NOEL AVENUE CULVERTS
But in a written response to the Brook Place concerns, Strand says Mayor Russ Arnott denied any problems of capacity or silt buildup with the culverts.
In the mayor’s letter dated Aug. 20, Arnott said the culverts were “working as expected.”
But just a week later, at 1 pm on Sept. 3, at the start of the long holiday weekend, “an army of people and equipment descended on us, full force,” Strand told Decafnation.
Strand and other residents watched as approximately 15 employees with two dump trucks, excavators, two vacuum trucks, backhoes and other heavy equipment spent more than six hours removing 15 truckloads of contaminated, stinky silt and plants from the culvert location. The crews came back over the weekend for another few hours.
The vacuum trucks were used to reach places the excavators could not.
Regular tandem-axle dump trucks can carry 12.5 tonnes and a vacuum truck holds about 12 tonnes. Fifteen loads (11 dump truck and four vacuum truckloads) would equal approximately 180 tonnes or nearly 396,000 pounds of sewage-infused silt.
But town CAO Wall disputes those estimations. He told Decafnation the town only removed 38 cubic meters of material or about 57 tonnes, equivalent to a little more than four truckloads, and that most of it was gravel.
Strand says that’s “just not true and the photographs we have prove it.”
He says other people who watched the six-hour operation counted 15 loads — 11 by dump trucks and two each by the two vacuum trucks.
“If they only took out 57 tonnes, why did they have two dump trucks and two vacuum trucks onsite,” he said.
Strand, a former two-term Comox Council member and Comox Valley Regional District director, also disputes the town’s claim in its Saturday press release that they discovered a sewage leak, found its location and fixed it, and then coordinated with federal and provincial agencies and mobilized a large contingent of employees and equipment all in the morning of a single day.
The reparation work at the culvert site began at 1 pm.
“They had to have known sooner. I know governments can’t do all of that in a half-day,” he said. “They didn’t come and remove the silt because of our complaints. The mayor had just said a week earlier that there wasn’t a problem there. So they came Friday (Sept. 3) afternoon because of the sewage leak.”
What really angers Brook Place residents, Strand said, is the fact that the town had for a long time failed to even acknowledge their complaints about a problem that could have affected the condo building.
“But all of a sudden they arrive in full force. Working overtime on a holiday weekend. As I said, they weren’t here for us,” Stand says.
Strand is particularly upset with how the council has handled the issue.
“Nobody is taking ownership for not doing it right (the culvert design) in the first place. They didn’t account for the periods of low flow in the creek,” he said.
“It’s total disrespect to me and our strata owners.”
TURBIDITY FROM NEW GRAVEL
The turbidity observed in the creek recently is linked but not directly related to the sewage discharge.
Following the clean-up of contaminated silt and vegetation below the new Noel Avenue culverts, well-intentioned streamkeepers laid down new gravel as part of the reparation measures for potential spawning fish. Some of the gravel was reportedly unwashed, meaning it wasn’t clean of sediment. A subsequent flush of rainwater sent the silt (turbidity) downstream.
Sources told Decafnation that the turbidity was temporary and not likely to have any long-term effect on the creek’s water quality.
OTHER POLLUTED COMOX CREEKS
Brooklyn Creek isn’t the only waterway within the Town of Comox that has been affected by high pollution levels.
The last measurement made by a homeowner of E. Coli in Golf Creek, which runs through downtown Comox (mostly channeled underground) was taken on Aug. 7, 2021 and showed 11,000 coliform units per 100 ml. The single sample threshold for closing a public beach is 400 cfu/100 ml.
That means the E. Coli measured in Golf Creek may be nearly 30 times the government guideline considered safe for human contact. On Aug. 19, 2020 E. Coli was measured at 16000 cfu/100 ml, or 40 times the safe limit.
There is a BC Supreme Court lawsuit pending over water quality in Golf Creek.
All of Comox Bay is under an ongoing shellfish harvesting ban.
COUNCIL KEPT IN THE DARK?
The news release also revealed that the mayor and Town Council had not been made aware of the issue until that day, which was 22 days after the leak was discovered and remediation action was taken. Mayor Arnott confirmed that delay in an email to a concerned citizen.
“Myself and council were briefed on this today,” Arnott wrote on Sept. 25 to a Decafnation reader.
Decafnation asked Mayor Arnott Tuesday morning via email whether he was concerned about this lack of communication, and whether the council might pursue disciplinary action.
“The issue is being dealt with internally,” he said.
This article has been updated to correct tonnage from imperial tons to metric tonnes
COMOX TOWN COUNCIL
Russ Arnott, Mayor
SUBSCRIBE TO OUR NEWSLETTER
On Merville groundwater extraction it’s deja vu all over again
Regional district staff recommend approving an amended application for groundwater extraction in Merville as a “home occupation,” but rural area directors want more clarity on its legal definition
Merville water bottling issue returns to the CVRD, highlights provincial water policies
The Comox Valley Electoral Areas Service Commission will consider on Monday an amended application for water bottling operations in Merville and draw attention to larger water policy issues in British Columbia
What’s dire: the lack of Comox subdivisions or climate change and gradual deforestation?
A Comox Valley developer is suing the Town of Comox because his permits to cut down trees and build more single-family homes haven’t been issued as fast as he’s wanted and because the town wants a wider walking trail through the property
Join the discussion Oct. 3 about food system security in the Comox Valley
The Watershed Sentinel magazine is hosting a zoom webinar Oct. 3 on food system security in the Comox Valley
Comox Valley Nature webinar to discuss effect of climate change on marine life
Comox Valley Nature lecture to discuss how this summer’s heatwave killed off billions of sea life and the future for marine ecosystems
New North Island organics processing facility raises concerns about cost, fire and odours
Campbell River environmentalists raise concerns about the the cost and location of the Comox Strathcona Waste Management Commission’s new organics processing facility
THE WEEK: 5 things wrong with how Comox tried to hide sewage spill information
Comox Town Council has nothing to say about raw sewage leaking into Brooklyn Creek beyond issuing a press release, which makes misleading statements
Town of Comox spills raw sewage into Brooklyn Creek, doesn’t inform public
A broken pipe has spilled raw sewage into Brooklyn Creek and it appears that efforts to mitigate the damage have created a high level of turbidity, a double whammy for fish as well as a potential public health concern. But the Town of Comox has not yet formally informed the public.
Campbell River Environmental Committee lists its current top priorities
The Campbell River Environmental Committee has kept North Island residents aware of environmental risks and promoted awareness of potential concerns to help government and industry make informed decisions
BC forest march: Tell Premier Horgan to implement Old-Growth Review Panel advice
Premier John Horgan should keep his promise to implement the recommendation of the Old-Growth Review Panel and place a moratorium on logging old-growth trees in British Columbia, say participants in the BC Forest March
Blowing smoke: Campaign to overturn wood stove bylaws called misleading, ineffective
The woodstove industry has launched a campaign to overturn restrictive bylaws in the Comox Valley, but local government leaders say they are unmoved and a new study suggests woodstove testing is fatally flawed.
Enter your favorite tree into Comox Valley Nature’s annual contest by April 1
Comox Valley Nature is taking nominations for the Tree of the Year until April 1.
Free webinar lectures on herring and the protection of natural shorelines in the Salish Sea
Comox Valley Nature present free webinar lecture on the importance of herring to the Salish Sea ecosystem and the effects of hard shoring our coastline
Did you know: We drink Canadian beer out of American cans, where’s the logic in that?
During the recent aluminium tariff “trade war” between the US and Canada, the lowly beer can became a sign of the entire debacle. It began on August 6 when the US announced a ten per cent tariff on aluminium from Canada.
Wildwood: A community model for creating jobs and revenue within ecological parameters
A small charitable society has restored a heritage home and property with the help of local government into a self-sustaining and job-creating destination for people from all over the world. It’s a possible model for Mack Laing’s property and home
Thanks George, for exposing all this. The press release in the paper this week on page A40, which looked like a normal news article, is I suppose the same one everyone was looking for. It won’t surprise those in the know to hear that the spin and deflection being generated comes from the same person who did PR for CVEDS and John Watson for many years. That person now works for the town of Comox! Talk about recycling.
It seems that being transparent and accountable is just not part of our political fabric in this country anymore. It’s all about trying to get the citizens to believe what you want them to.
Good to see you back George doing a very good job of journalism! We have missed you.
Rather than Council being kept in the dark, it is more likely council is doing it’s best to keep us in the dark and the CVRD is an accomplice in my view.
Thank you George once again for in-depth, factual, timely informative investigative reporting. This is the type of local journalism that can truly make a difference.
I too went looking for the press release and couldn’t find it. Luckily an engaged councillor sent me a copy via email. Seems to be a true lack of information sharing; with taxpayers and some elected officials, a lack of transparency, a lag in response time to information and complaints shared by citizens, and an ongoing game of ‘hot potato’. It’s like I tell my kids, “the quicker you tell the truth, the less trouble you’ll be in”. I feel like this simple mantra applies to this scenario.
Not to pile on, but because central aspects of this issue are trust, transparency and communication, I note that although the mayor posted about the issue on his FB page just after noon on Saturday, September 25th and included the press release, which is marked “For Immediate Release”. However, I and many others can find no trace of the release being distributed (i.e. not on the ToC website, FB page or via any news distribution service) until sometime Monday afternoon, September 27th. This is after another councillor was notified of the comments on the Comox Valley Rants and Raves FB page Monday morning. As news releases are effectively time stamped, this indicates no broad distribution of the information (Myself, I don’t check the mayor’s FB page generally) was made until after the sh*t started to hit the fan.
Oh, the mayor and council … What beacon of E-coli.