Rural voters in the Comox Valley Regional District will choose between 3 candidates in Area A, 3 candidates in Area B, and 2 candidates in Area C.

Rural voters in the Comox Valley Regional District will choose between 3 candidates in Area A, 3 candidates in Area B, and 2 candidates in Area C.

Comox Valley Regional District candidates discuss wood stoves, noise bylaws

In an effort to keep voters as informed as possible heading into the Oct. 15 municipal elections, the Comox Valley Record sent out a series of questions for Comox Valley Regional District director candidates to respond to, regarding issues that affect rural residents of the Comox Valley. The following are their responses.

*Indicates incumbent

1 – What was your stance on wood-burning stoves?

AREA A

Daniel Arbour*

I am familiar with wood stoves as I have cut, split, and stacked firewood for most years since 2001. With the house being older, it is a long journey to move towards a heat pump. The house was recently insulated, and the next logical step would be to move to double-pane windows before considering a heat pump. Some of the incentive programs for switching to heat pumps require the removal of the stove, but this may be unnecessary as once a heat pump is installed it is likely to become the primary source of energy, due to operating cost and convenience.

From a policy perspective, the North Island Island Health Officer reports that wood smoke is a serious health problem that requires everyone to make improvements. The CVRD initiated an Airshed Roundtable, which is also looking at other sources of emissions such as cars, open burning in yards and private forestlands, and forest fires. In this context, I support non-smoke emitting heating systems, while recognizing that for some households the transition from wood stoves as primary heat may take longer.

Gordon Kennedy

Efficient stoves should be certified and allowed like soapstone stoves which hold heat or the European Kachelofen which maximizes heat capture from the material burned.

Tamara Meggitt

Wood stoves are a vital part of rural living for many residents. One person whom I spoke with and who resides in Area A saw a seven-day power outage. Given the severe storms we have, the ability to “weather the storm” is very important. Living rurally often means having only two main sources of heat — electricity and wood. The ability to stay warm and cook meals is essential. What can and should be looked at are wood stove exchange programs that make it affordable for residents to bring their stoves to modern standards. Education around proper use is needed. Seasoned dry wood use and limiting use during temperature inversions are just a couple of ways to mitigate wood stove emissions. An all-out banning of wood stoves is not something I support. Through engagement with our community, we can find proper solutions. We don’t want to risk lives and have a repeat of what happened in Texas when 246 people died during a power outage.

AREA B

Arzeena Hamir*

In rural areas, wood-burning stoves are essential for heat for power outages. However, as wood becomes more and more expensive, difficult to obtain, and we learn more about the health impacts of woodsmoke on children and those with underlying heart or lung issues, I believe heat pumps can be a better option for primary heating (and now cooling) in the rural areas. I think we are seeing more of our community opt for heat pumps with the great rebates that BC Hydro is now providing, so a voluntary change is already underway.

Richard Hardy

Growing up as a kid in Area B our wood stove was always operating; it was always an efficient way to heat our home. If folks are using seasoned wood for burning and switching to more efficient wood stoves, then I don’t believe there is an issue. What should be heavily weighed in the decision-making process is that what might work in urban communities may not work in rural areas. Heat pumps seem to be the popular choice for heating homes these days, but they are costly to purchase and install and require electricity to run. In rural areas it is not unheard of for the power to go out for many hours or even a few days, leaving residents with no means to heat their homes. Wood-burning stoves provide, not only a viable heat source in the case of power interruptions, but also a means to cook and heat water. So, my stance would be that I am in support of wood-burning stoves.

Keith Stevens

I am not opposed to the usage of modern wood stoves. If the stove passes a WET inspection and is used responsibly, it may be an excellent alternative heat source for some.

AREA C

Matthew Ellis

My stance on wood burning stoves is clear, in that I fully support the right to heat your home with solid fuels (this includes pellet stoves). Responsible users of wood burning appliances have up to date appliances, and burn dry, seasoned wood, which presents no health impact to the population at large. For those who choose to burn wood in an irresponsible manner, it would be entirely possible to issue fines for egregious amounts of particulate, easily enforced as open burning currently is; by our fire departments. It would also be an easy and effective course of action for the Regional District to issue wood burning restrictions on days of inversions. Wood heat remains essential for many rural residents who simply cannot afford a heat pump, or do not have the option to heat with natural gas (as it is not available in much of the regional district).

Edwin Grieve*

Wood stoves ya…what else can heat your house, dry a load of washing on your wooden clothes rack, boil a kettle of water and simmer a pot of soup all with a few pieces of renewable wood sourced right here in the Comox Valley. No wonder there are so many people opposed to this. My position has always been; Notwithstanding some serious air quality hotspots in the urban areas I support the responsible use of modern high-efficiency wood stoves in rural areas of the Regional District.

***

2 – Is the current rural noise bylaw efficient or should the issue be revisited? What is your stance on businesses such as Saratoga, when it comes to the noise levels?

AREA A

Daniel Arbour*

What is pleasing to the ear of one, can be someone else’s nightmare. The issue of noise comes up regularly, even in rural areas, and that is why the CVRD has a noise bylaw in place which sets guidelines for a range of activities, from industrial, to electronic noise, and so on.

In the case of the Saratoga Speedway, it was discovered that the track was treated as a highway under our old noise bylaw: in other words, noise could emanate 24/7, year-round. Residents pointed this out as part of a rezoning process. As elected officials, we decided to introduce an amendment to set specific times when noise from auto-racing is allowed, as is the case for other activities. Our initial regulation saw tremendous backlash from the auto-racing community in regards to Friday and Saturday night times, and we adjusted so that noise is permitted from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., which was well-received by auto-racers but not so by nearby residents. Further, as the bylaw does not really address decibel levels, we have continued to receive complaints through the summer. Continued conversation may lead to future adjustments, and I thank Area C Director Edwin Grieve for his everlasting appeal for compromise and hard work on this issue.

Gordon Kennedy

Noise is pollution and must be controlled. The racetrack has been in existence for some time now and may have a grandfathered existence. Any future additions or changes should go to a plebiscite in the affected area.

Tamara Meggitt

Many may not be aware, but an independent company was brought in to assist with acoustics at the track. What we saw happen was a long-standing local business being called a “stain” on the community by an elected person. Saratoga has been in operation since 1968, providing jobs and enjoyment for many on the North Island. Some would like to see gas stations banned and the use of fuel-based vehicles come to an end. That is a social engineering gambit far beyond a noise bylaw for Saratoga. Saratoga brings many benefits to our region and we need to look at this through a wider lens. That being said, I have had conversations with some locals who do find the noise level a bit much. It’s important that in all decisions, we work together and not be pressured by a vocal few. The owners of the speedway have shown a willingness to co-operate with their neighbours. Perhaps the problem exists with over-exuberant politicians.

AREA B

Arzeena Hamir*

It was my hope that once a set schedule was in place, the owner of Saratoga Speedway would implement the noise reduction system that he had put forward during the rezoning process. I’m sorry to see that did not happen. If a new rezoning application (for the campground) is put forward, I think we can revisit that muffling system that was previously suggested by the owner.

Richard Hardy

Saratoga Speedway, the airport, and CFB Comox are all examples of institutions that have existed in our community for many decades. These institutions continue to make noise just as they always have done. I believe that when you are seeking a location for a home, common sense would dictate that you consider the surroundings – including any potential noise issues. It is neither reasonable nor fair to introduce bylaws that would impair such icons of our community. I’d leave the noise bylaw alone, or grandfather institutions based on their length of time in the area.

Keith Stevens

The current bylaw should be revisited because it affects all businesses in the CVRD. Noise levels and the solutions were not addressed well enough before implementation of the bylaw.

AREA C

Matthew Ellis

I believe our current noise bylaws are sufficient, and would not be in favour of increased stringency. I fully support Saratoga Motorsports Park, and believe it presents a unique economic opportunity as the last area on Vancouver Island for motorsports enthusiasts to enjoy their sport. I’m proud of the recent work put into the property, and believe that it should remain a great place for family fun for years to come.

Edwin Grieve*

Up until this summer our noise bylaw was not applicable to racetracks. They were viewed the same as the noise on roads and highways. What the noise bylaw amendment did was to limit the track use to five days a week with racing Wednesdays and Thursdays allowed up until 8 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays until 9:30 with Sundays finishing up at 5 p.m. as to allow for one evening on the weekend when folks can enjoy a barbecue in their back yard. Although not ideal, it was something we could do under the Regional District’s limited legal framework.

Edwin Grieve* (cont’d)

Insofar as the Saratoga Speedway goes, its 60-year existence allowed it to be “grandfathered in” and operates under “legal nonconforming use.” We can not arbitrarily change zoning but the owner has expressed interest in changing one of his parcels to “tourist commercial” so as to allow for a campground. This would open up discussion and allow the RD to ask for concessions and amenities.

***

3 – How do you suggest the rural community improves on its recycling program?

AREA A

Daniel Arbour*

In Area A, we have excellent recycling options for Royston, Kilmarnock, Denman and Hornby Islands. Kilmarnock recently joined the Royston garbage/recycling pick-up program, and I believe it is costing each home $140 per year. On Denman and Hornby, we have fantastic recycling depots that have paved the way in B.C. for decades. For Union Bay and Fanny Bay, following a failed attempt at creating a universal recycling and garbage pickup program for all Comox Valley rural residents, residents still have to drive to town or to the Comox Valley Waste Management Centre to recycle, with limited, expensive options from private pickup contractors.

This year, the Comox-Strathcona Waste Management has initiated a Solid Waste Management Planning process that will set the priorities for the next 10 years. Members of the board have encouraged a move to zero waste, so I believe the issue is bound to come back on how to service places like Fanny Bay and Union Bay. I will continue to advocate for an easier way to recycle in those two communities.

Gordon Kennedy

One of my complaints about CVRD. Last year they added a recycling tax on our quarterly bill but we do not have yard waste pick up (I live in Royston). Nor do they pick up metal or glass. The recycling depot has no yard waste drop off. On the Courtenay website they say they pick up unlimited yard waste to keep it out of the regular garbage. What about the rest of us? At minimum, we should look into drop-off sites.

Tamara Meggitt

We should be looking to places like Denman Island when it comes to recycling. Having to haul their garbage off the island means they have had to adapt. Designated places and times for collection reduce the costs. Rural areas on Vancouver Island have seen their recycling depots shut down requiring long drives to properly deal with their waste. For some reason, making it harder for rural citizens to recycle, reduce and reuse their waste seems to be the intent. Let’s make services easier and more “green” for rural residents. Our communities want to co-operate. I won’t stand in their way.

AREA B

Arzeena Hamir*

We know that our landfill is filling up way faster than we anticipated, which is costing us as taxpayers millions of dollars to create new landfill cells. Diverting our recyclables, and thereby saving landfill space for only items that are truly garbage, is a huge benefit to us financially and environmentally.

But, less than 40 per cent of our recyclables are being diverted. Although the depot system was convenient, it was often abused, with high contamination and dumping incidents and the Regional District didn’t own these sites and wasn’t able to enforce fencing or other monitoring. We will have to come up with a better solution.

I personally think that pick-up from the roadside is the best option, rather than forcing everyone to get in their own cars and drive to either the landfill or a Return-It Depot.

I did hear from the community that a tailored option was desired for those who create less garbage and for those larger families that have more waste. Either way, we need to consult with the community on how best to proceed.

Richard Hardy

My answer to this question may be simple, but most folks in rural communities are still having to either go to urban communities or to the Cumberland waste facility to dispose of their recycling.

Why don’t we bring back the recycling bins in our rural communities?

Keith Stevens

I would like to see a combination of services; bi-weekly curbside pickup and a staffed community drop center with set hours.

AREA C

Matthew Ellis

I speak from experience when I say that our recycling and garbage removal options in the Regional District are lacking; I personally opt to take my own garbage and recycling to the landfill every weekend, as it’s both more convenient and cost-effective than the services offered. I’d like to work with contractors and offer more options to our residents, specifically to create a more streamlined and cost-effective service, having both your recycling and garbage picked up on the same day, creating less confusion for residents.

This would also help to encourage more recycling, and keeping recyclables out of the trash, helping create a more sustainable community for us all.

Edwin Grieve*

Efforts to initiate a unified curbside garbage and recycling program in the Electoral Areas have failed spectacularly. Once at referendum and again, a few years later, in an “AAP” or alternate approval process. Fears about trampling on private enterprise and mistrust of Big Government seem to have quashed this discussion for the time being.

There are currently a choice of three private garbage collection companies in the rural areas plus one picking up recycling. Unsupervised co-mingled recycling has been a failure all over the province, as contamination from improper materials renders the whole bin unusable. A couple of dirty diapers means the whole thing ends up in landfill.

It was costing us hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to maintain these sites. Good news is we are looking to build a proper fenced, lit and supervised site in Oyster River to service the northern portion of area C and the south of area D.

4 – With no visible end to the housing crisis, would you consider increasing the number of settlement nodes within the Regional Growth Strategy, to facilitate future development in the Comox Valley?

AREA A

Daniel Arbour*

I am not in favour of adding new settlement nodes as we have our hands full with the ones we already have (Union Bay, Saratoga, Mount Washington). The time and cost of sustainably supporting growth in places like Union Bay showcases that we need to continue to focus on those already approved, and not spread ourselves thin. Residents of the Comox Valley have clearly expressed in the Regional Growth Strategy that they do not want a sprawling community like Nanaimo. Restricting growth outside municipalities also ensures that we maintain a viable rural profile with farms, forestlands, and wild spaces.

So how to address housing then? The municipalities still have a lot of land for development or redevelopment, and I am heartened by the recent Courtenay OCP, which builds a trajectory for infill housing and lively, walkable neighbourhoods. I think why the issue keeps coming up of moving into the rural areas is because the development community has historically done very well with the model of taking over rural lands. I am glad that our group of elected officials has not been swayed and is following best practices for sustainable community development, while focusing our resources on the three approved settlement nodes.

Gordon Kennedy

We need to lower the cost of housing construction. I built a new house during COVID for $153 per square foot with a heat pump and solar panels. I can show you a two-month $12 electrical bill. I had quotes for $150,000 for all three staircases and built them for approximately $18,000.

Another of my complaints is to stop the municipal building departments from designing our homes and make developers use professionals. This is done in many jurisdictions outside of BC. People who work in these departments have not been given proper training. Building codes were set up to protect the insurance industry so why are we paying tax dollars for building inspectors to protect the insurance industry? Let the users pay professionals to do this so the average taxpayer is not on the hook for these costs. Also, some zoning requirements are sorely out of date. We need to update old requirements like vinyl siding is to be used.

I know the present provincial government is working to change this but we can start at the municipal level.

Tamara Meggitt

Before we look at adding more settlement nodes, we need to be working on the ones that currently exist. Regulation of approved developments has made it almost impossible for progress to be made on providing services, as well as homes, in Area A. People want to live in our wonderful community and that is not going to change. We should be working together to provide for future growth.

AREA B

Arzeena Hamir*

I don’t believe we got the concept of Settlement Nodes quite right. In my opinion, they need to be complete communities that have amenities and services like grocery stores, banking, and maybe even doctor’s offices so that people are not having to drive into the municipalities to do their basics. What we have now is clusters of homes, out in the rural areas, where people are having to drive long distances to get their daily needs met. This adds to congestion on our roads and certainly isn’t great for the environment. I look forward to reviewing the Regional Growth Strategy and finding out how to best serve the already existing settlement nodes and not exacerbating our traffic challenges.

Richard Hardy

Having grown up in the Comox Valley, I can say that there has been an enormous amount of growth over the years. Some folks are afraid of it, and some say, “not in my back yard.” To answer the question, yes, I would consider strategically increasing the number of settlement nodes within the Regional Growth Strategy.

Keith Stevens

I would like to have provisions in place that each new node includes a minimum of 10% affordable housing, as well as a percentage as agreed upon, of each sale to be used by The CVRD to build facilities to ease the homeless crisis.

AREA C

Matthew Ellis

It is incumbent upon both the municipalities and the Regional District to be flexible in amendments to the growth strategy, as the housing crisis continues. I would support new development nodes being added to the growth strategy, in a responsible manner, on a case-by-case basis. This means working and communicating with residents residing in the current areas to be developed, as well as taking into consideration critical infrastructure.

For instance, I was opposed to the vision presented by 3L Developments for the Stotan Falls area, as I don’t believe that urban sprawl was in the best interest of existing area residents, and would strain infrastructure such as Lake Trail Road, which is home to schools, and frequently sees many children walking along it; I do however support the area being developed into a rural community, with larger parcels, similar to the existing properties in the area.

Edwin Grieve*

The Regional Growth Strategy was mandated by the province as a requirement for the separation of the Strathcona and Comox Valley Regional Districts.

This took three years and $500,000 worth of reports, open houses, public meetings, mail-in and telephone surveys that culminated in two hotly contested public hearings.

In the end, it two days with a provincially appointed mediator before this bylaw was finally adopted. Changing this document and adding more growth nodes requires unanimous support from all three municipal councils, three electoral areas as well as any adjoining regional districts. So not a slam dunk.

Smart growth principals direct all growth to the urban core where services already exist saving multi-millions of dollars in new infrastructure costs.

There was no appetite for urban sprawl or, what we called, Nanaimo-ization.

5 – Reconciliation is an ongoing process. Where is your community lacking in that regard and how can we improve relations?

AREA A

Daniel Arbour*

The CVRD and municipalities have placed reconciliation at the heart of our local government work.

The chair and staff of CVRD, and other relevant elected officials, meet once a month with K’omoks First Nation (KFN) chief and council to discuss issues of interest, and seek input from KFN on CVRD projects. This approach of listening to KFN concerns and priorities has worked well, and we have adjusted and strengthened many plans and projects based on chief and council feedback.

In my opinion, Area A is especially important for the future of the relationship. The waters around Baynes Sound are a traditional food basket for KFN, and I have been involved in multitude initiatives to improve management and practices of these waters. Recently, K’omoks First Nation was selected to be the first aquaculture area-based management pilot for BC by the Department of Fisheries and Ocean, which is great news. On land, as much of KFN proposed treaty lands will be in Area A, we have collaborated on large sewage and water projects to eventually service these properties.

Next term, as we continue this work, I believe the potential for community planning conversations may be on the horizon. It is an exciting time, and more than words I will remain a champion for reconciliation through action, investment, and collaboration.

Gordon Kennedy

I understand people are angry and they should be. We have to realize that the ancestors of all people came from the same place, planet Earth. This systemic racism in my mind is societal racism. No system started it, people did. We need to clean it from everywhere in our customs, languages and actions. Whenever anyone puts down another person for any reason, they are contributing to this. We can only reconcile the past when we stop bad behaviour in the present. I have experienced and been told of instances of poor behaviour by CVRD employees and this must stop. They work for us the people of Comox Valley.

Tamara Meggitt

Reconciliation is very unique to each Nation. This is a huge concern to First Nations and they deserve time and respect as they work through their processes. The general public faces unknowns around the eventual relationships and the needs of the public must also be considered. We, as two overlapping communities, must foster open communications to create the best outcomes possible.

AREA B

Arzeena Hamir*

Not only is reconciliation an ongoing process, it needs to be embedded in all of our work and we can’t shy away from the difficult conversations. In the farming community, for example, we need to remember we are farming on stolen land and that agriculture was used to push First Nations off their land. That’s a hard truth to sit with but there’s no use denying that truth.

How do we move forward? I think we acknowledge the past, and we work with the K’omoks community to move forward. There is so much we can learn from indigenous people on how they were able to feed and sustain themselves for over 10,000 years without degrading forests, fish stocks, and the land.

I believe the principles of sharing, reciprocity, and respect for the land, the trees, and the fish are principles that enabled this place to be so abundant and re-integrating these principles into the way we manage our shared resources will benefit us all. I would also like to see K’omoks have a full voting seat at the regional district table, as we have seen in other communities such as Alberni-Clayquot. All our citizens, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, need to work together to plan for a more sustainable future and having a seat at the table means more communication between our communities and a better ability to solve problems together.

Richard Hardy

As an Indigenous person, who is an elected councillor for the K’omoks First Nation and who operated their shellfish company Pentlatch Seafoods, I have an extensive history of working with local governments’ staff and politicians. In the past, the relationship between local governments and K’omoks was not that great, but I am glad to say that the CVRD has made some significant strides in enhancing its relationship with K’omoks over the last few years.

Most notably with their commitment to reconciliation with Indigenous peoples and the implementation of the United Nations Declaration of Rights for Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). Reconciliation, in my opinion, requires relationship building and inclusion from the CVRD, and from K’omoks. There is a need for participation on both sides. This is one of the reasons why I am running for Area B director.

Keith Stevens

Education and understanding of cultural history and respect, will help to improve relationships between everyone. Learning from past mistakes and moving forward in a positive way.

AREA C

Matthew Ellis

We all understand that reconciliation is critically important for the future of our communities as we move forward in a new century. I’d like to work with the local First Nations band to provide economic opportunity, foster an environment of trust, and to reconcile the errors of past governments. Providing new economic opportunities and partnerships not only benefits our local First Nations, but everyone in our communities. We need to work to ensure that we allow the opportunity for proper archaeological investigation, working between developers and First Nations, so as not to lose vital historical information, as well as respect the remains of the deceased. We are well positioned at this point in time to make historical efforts to reconcile the past, and build partnerships, trust, and opportunities for the future.

Let’s work toward restorative justice, closing social and economic gaps, and create a community with equal opportunity for all.

Edwin Grieve*

With the impending settlement of land claims and treaty rights, K’omoks First Nation is poised to become the single biggest property owner in the Comox Valley.

The Regional District and KFN have both worked hard on building better relationships and understanding. We have been together in partnership on grants for things like water and south sewer.

It is hoped that K’omoks will eventually seek a seat at the regional board table where we can work together for the benefit of both our communities.

Comox Valley Regional DistrictElection 2022

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