Comox council will send a letter in opposition to the Village of Cumberland’s inclusion in a meeting with the province on turbidity issues at Perseverance Creek and the regional water system.
The letter will urge the Comox Valley Regional District to follow its own water committee motion, which passed unanimously on Jan. 24.
That motion called for a meeting between provincial officials and representatives from Comox and the City of Courtenay, where the vast majority of the region’s water system users live. It specifically did not mention inviting a representative of Cumberland to attend.
However, CVRD chair Bruce Jolliffe penned a separate invitation to Cumberland council on Feb. 15 for village Mayor Leslie Baird to join the delegation. The letter was also signed by Courtenay city councillor Bob Wells, who chairs the water committee.
That stoked the ire of Comox councillor and water committee vice-chair Ken Grant , who voiced opposition when a copy of Jolliffe’s letter came up during a Comox committee of the whole meeting.
Grant suggested inviting Cumberland to a sit-down with the B.C. ministers for Health and Forests, Lands and natural Resource Operations would “weaken” the position of the delegation.
Grant said he was “exceedingly clear that I didn’t think that that was a very good idea” for Cumberland to be included during discussion at the water committee meeting, because Cumberland was “party to the problem.”
“I think we’ve been put in a really awkward and bad spot here …” Grant told fellow council members.
“My opinion is Cumberland isn’t really taking this overly seriously, they’ve got their own fish to fry,” said a frustrated Grant.
Cumberland is studying future upgrades to its own water system, which is separate from the Comox Lake watershed system relied upon by Comox and Courtenay.
However, Courtenay and Comox representatives are frustrated by what they describe as a lack of action by Cumberland to address erosion at the spillway at Perseverance Creek – which falls under Cumberland’s jurisdiction but feeds directly into the CVRD’s water source.
The increased turbidity of the water has resulted in numerous boil water advisories due to health risks and has also spurred the planned construction of a $110-million water filtration plant.
There were four boil water advisories issued by the CVRD in 2016 and two so far this year.
Water committee members have also flagged concern with the impact ongoing erosion will have on the new facility’s service life once it is constructed.
“This is a serious, serious issue, both financially and for the health of our citizens,” said Grant. “And I think that it requires a lot more thought than just to take it upon yourself to do this,” he added, referring to the invitation to Cumberland sent by Jolliffe.
“I also look at the chair of the board (Jolliffe) and think, ‘He’s got 12 people on the water system,'” Grant said. “This isn’t affecting Area A hardly in any way at all.”
Grant’s comments fell on sympathetic ears around the council table.
“I don’t see that Cumberland has a role at this particular meeting,” said Coun. Maureen Swift.
“(The water committee) had their fulsome discussion at their table and they passed a unanimous motion, so that should be the way it stands,” Swift said.
Council members – minus Mayor Paul Ives and Barbara Price, who were absent – approved a proposal from Swift to write to the water committee stating that the delegation to Victoria be consistent with the committee’s motion; i.e. that Cumberland be excluded from the meeting.
The Echo contacted Jolliffe and Baird for comment, but a response was not received before press time.
However, committee chair Bob Wells said the invitation was based on positive results from previous meetings he organized in 2015 when Cumberland was invited to take part.
“I can definitely sympathize with (Grant’s) perspective,” Wells said.
However, not including Cumberland would have drawbacks, he said.
“If we’re going to be saying we want this remediated and Cumberland is not in that room … that’s going to eat up time if the ministers want to get clarification from Cumberland,” Wells said.
That could prove problematic given the imminent provincial election, he said.
Wells said he “chose the path that I thought would get the best results,” but is willing to abide by the will of the water committee.
Wells said his main focus is securing grant funding for the new water treatment plant.
“I think whether Cumberland is there or not there, we’re going to send the best team we possibly can,” he said.