Professional engineer speaks out in favour of Comox pump station

Dear editor,

Following up on the recent articles and letters published in our local papers, the record on the Comox No. 2 Pump Station needs to be clarified, and the critical facts properly emphasized.

The most important thing for the public to consider is the risk of failure of the current forcemain where it rests in the foreshore, along the Willemar Bluff. A recent risk assessment of this section of forcemain determined there was a 1 in 2 chance of a major failure caused by erosion in the next 5 years.

To be totally clear, there is a 50-50 chance of the forcemain rupturing and raw sewage being dumped into the ocean as a result of ongoing erosion in the next 5 years. This is a significant level of risk, and the proposed Comox No. 2 pump station on Beech Street will completely eliminate it.

By comparison, the risks posed by the installation of the subject pump station are very small. The hydro-geological report specifically stated that the risk to the local aquifer was “moderate” in the event of a pipe rupture after construction completion.

If you add to this conclusion the fact that the risk of a pipe rupture is miniscule, the absolute risk to wells in the neighbourhood is negligible. During construction, the largest impact assessed by the hydro-geologist was that some surface water could be diverted in the ditch where the forcemain will be placed. However, this would be a temporary effect only, and would likely not impact the neighbouring wells in any way.

The other major complaints being fielded about the proposed pump station include noise and odour. As a professional engineer who has designed and supervised the construction of ten sanitary pump stations in the last 20 years, it is my firmly held conviction that this is nonsense.

A modern, sub-surface sanitary pump station of the type proposed for this site is virtually noiseless. Modern pumps, which remain submerged while operating, and which are in turn in a buried structure simply do not make a significant amount of noise.

Add to this the fact that noise abatement is a requirement of the design and construction for this project, as specified in the recent request for proposals to hire the owner’s engineer, and noise will not be an issue. Conversely, a neighbour who holds the odd house party, revs their souped up car, and occasionally bucks up fire wood will make considerably more noise than even the loudest sanitary pump station.

As for odour, while some of the existing pump stations in the Comox Valley produce the occasional waft of smell, the proposed pump station most certainly will not. Sophisticated, customized odour control is a major design and construction requirement. Your neighbour who burns brush from their yard, or burns trash, or has a wood stove and ignores air quality advisories, will create far more odour than the proposed pump station ever will.

Finally, the form and character requirements for this new pump station will be strict. The end result will be a very attractive building with suitable landscaping that will blend in quite well with the existing houses in the area. If there has been any decrease in property value in the Beech Street area, it is because of the inflammatory comments and the unrelenting campaign of the residents who are complaining and creating a much bigger issue out of this than exists in reality. Imagine if they had listened to the professionals involved, and applied some rational thought to the situation and not raised such an alarm. I fear that the very residents who have complained about the risks so loudly, and inflated those risks beyond any reasonable level have done the most damage to their own property values.

Much of the commentary that has been printed revolves around the risk to the estuary and foreshore. Yes, there is a risk as the existing sewage mains do run through the estuary and along the foreshore. However, this project is aimed at removing the biggest risk of failure of all – the Willemar Bluff section. Kris LaRose, P.Eng., the CVRD senior manager of water and wastewater services very rightly explains that the forcemains and pump stations that will remain have considerable life in them, and should not be retired prematurely.

It should also be noted that the CVRD has let a contract to inspect all of the forcemains to properly ensure they are serviceable and to take care of any vulnerable locations immediately. Finally, I can guarantee that when the time comes to replace the remaining sections of forcemain, the CVRD will be removing as many of them as possible from vulnerable locations. I can promise that I will be one of the people ensuring that happens by either bidding on and winning the design contract, or doing what is necessary to hold the CVRD accountable.

The final point of this matter that needs addressing is all of the hyperbolic language around how democracy is being destroyed. This is completely untrue. All currently legislated procedures and processes were followed when the land was procured, and on all project decisions. I know that the Municipal Ombudsman investigated, and found absolutely no wrong doing.

The CVRD has been taking great effort to have public outreach including open houses. What is actually happening is that a few loud voices are being unsuccessful in bullying the CVRD and the Sewage Commission. Well, that is how democracy works. Your voice will be heard, but if your points are not valid, they will not impact the decision making. If the people complaining truly care about democracy and think that the currently legislated processes are flawed, I look forward to seeing them run in one of the next elections available to them on a platform of reforming the policies around land procurement and capital project decision making.

In summary, the proposed pump station will make an excellent neighbour. It will be quiet, odourless, well maintained, and attractive. The proposed pump station will eliminate a massive environmental risk immediately. The risks to the neighbourhood where it will be placed, including the risks to any wells, is minimal.


Andrew Gower , FEC, P.Eng., PE