Saturday, December 10, 2016
Cumberland Matters aims to provide both factual information and opinion so that we, the citizens of Cumberland, can be better informed and feel ready to express our views at community forums, council hearings and the ballot box

 

Cumberland Wetlands Working Group – Volunteers needed!

Cumberland is surrounded by wetlands. They play an important role in the ecology of the Comox Valley, hosting a huge number of birds and aquatic creatures as well as providing a beautiful place for a stroll in every season of the year. The wetlands are changing. The last few years have seen the wetlands partially drying up in the summer, and although the drought is partially responsible, there’s a lot we don’t yet understand about how our wetlands work. The village of Cumberland is sponsoring a project to gather water level data in the wetlands. A series of staff gauges that look like giant rulers has been installed in key areas of the wetlands and we need volunteers to read the gauges. It takes about 20 minutes to read all six gauges, the reading can be done from dry land, and minimal training is required. Your commitment can range anywhere from being available as a backup gauge reader to committing to a month or more of weekly readings. The gauges have to be read regardless of the weather, so here is an opportunity experience the extraordinary beauty of Cumberland wetlands throughout the seasons. If you would like to be part of the Cumberland Wetlands Working Group, learn more about our wetlands and do your part to help protect and enhance our wetlands, please contact Steve Morgan at 250 465 4966 or stevemorgan42@gmail.com.

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CVRD Director Edwin Grieve wrote a letter to the Comox Valley Record about Cumberland's decision to withdraw from the South Sewer Project. In case you missed it, that letter is visible here. Our response was not published by the Record. 

To The Editor, Comox Valley Record

Edwin Grieve's letter criticising our Council over the South Sewer project is inappropriate, patronising and concerning to residents of Cumberland.

It is inappropriate for our elected officials to conduct communication through the letter column. It shows that they have been unable to fully listen to each other during the many meetings and consultations that have marked this lengthy process.

The facts that Mr Grieve lays out are well known to Cumberland Council and have been openly and clearly communicated to residents, demonstrating an example of community consultation that the CVRD would be well advised to follow.

Cumberland's decision was made in full knowledge and careful consideration of all these factors. To use the public press to rebuke the Council for the result of a democratic process suggests that our Councillors' concerns about project governance are perfectly valid. Cumberland is not the naughty child refusing to obey a parent's instruction; we would be the majority of connections and funding for this system.

Here's what happened at the Council meeting on October 13th. All Councilors were present.

Long Range Water Strategy

CAO Sundance Topham presented a report asking Council for direction on long term strategy for the Village's water supply. Recent events and requirements have identified significant costs related to UV sterilisation, work on No.2 dam spillway to avoid sediment discharge to Comox Lake during heavy rains and filtration needs within the next few years. 

Councilor Kettler suggested that we need more information about the CVRD long range strategy and asked about the option for a deep water intake in Comox Lake feeding the Cumberland supply. Mayor Baird noted that this option had been rejected. Councillor Kettler felt that long term, we would have to be part of the Regional system. 

Mayor Baird expressed concern about Comox Lake as a water supply, felt that Cumberland should do a further study to look at all options before asking to go into a regional system. "We own our system, it is easy to protect and I've always wanted it to remain as our system."

Councilor Kishi recalled that when Cumberland expressed a preference for a deep water intake, the Water Commission flatly rejected the request. The governance model for the regional supply is based on usage, which doesn't support or reward conservation, and the model is not right. 

Councilor Sproule noted that, expensive as our problems may be, joining a CVRD system might not be cheaper. She expressed concerns about the governance of the regional system, and it is difficult to compare a system that is profligately run without meters or demand management with our system where we have done a lot on conservation. It is a long way until the regional system has a deep water intake, filtration and other infrastructure. We would have to build pipes and pumps from Lake Trail road to get it here. 

Councilor Sullivan echoed Councillor Sproule's concerns and supported trying to maintain an independent system. 

At a packed Council Chambers, Council gathered to hear feedback from the public about the potential costs of the South Sewer project. Council will make a decision at the Nov 9 Council Meeting.

Background

CAO Sundance Topham explained the background to the meeting, that the South Sewer project has high potential for PPP (public private partnership) funding that will cover some more of the costs of the project. 

The Village is out of compliance, with high levels of phospohorous flowing into the Trent River and Baynes Sound. The village has been engaged in development of a Liquid Waste Management Plan (LWMP) for the past 16 years. Options that were being considered and refined in earlier years became unsuitable when the Village OCP defined significant residential and commercial growth. 

The South Sewer option was recommended to council in 2011 by a Council Committee, and that recommendation was adopted, with conditions regarding finance and governance of the proposed system. The village has been working with CVRD and KFN to work out governance issues and financial costs. 

The CVRD steering committee has chosen a project option that involves connection of the system to the Cape Lazo treatment centre and outfall via a pipe beneath the Estuary. They also defined a way to split costs based upon sewer flows. 

Cost estimates for Cumberland based solutions in 2011 ranged from $22m to $27m, which was a major factor in deciding to join with the South Sewer project. The Union of BC Muncipalities has offered $15m towards the project, and PPP Canada funding, if successful, could bring 25% of project costs - and not as a fixed dollar amount but a percentage, helping to cover any cost over-runs during the project. 

With PPP funding, Cumberland's cost share is expected to about $10m (with a +/-30% estimate accuracy) This works out to about $1000 per residential customer per year for at least 20 years.  

Cumberland Council are expected to vote on Tuesday to suspend the plans to upgrade the existing water system and either formally request to join the CVRD system from Comox Lake, or commission a new strategy study at a cost of up to $75k. 

Cumberland’s aging water supply has presented challenges for many years, most recently an order from Island Health which named problems with the No. 2 Dam spillway as a partial cause of the turbidity and boil water situation in Comox Lake. Solving this could cost up to $8m, though it is unclear how costs might be shared between the parties involved.

The Village is also required to fit UV sterilization equipment to the water supply, a condition of the VIHA operating permit for the water system issued in 2013. This was supposed to be operating by the end of September, but 2015, but the design work has only just been completed and estimated costs have risen from $500k to at least $1.4m, with a recommendation to spend a further $600k to double up the supply line from the Chlorine Shack to the Village. 

Given the potential for multimillion dollar costs in the next few years, Council is asked to make the difficult choice between giving up on the Village’s aging but independent water supply, or spending money on further studies to look at other solutions while asking VIHA to allow the system to continue out of compliance and at risk of another turbidity event in Comox Lake. 

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