Rezoning applicant Scott McKenzie speaks to the Comox Valley Regional District at the public hearing in regards to his application, which would pave the way for an on-site water bottling business. Photo by Terry Farrell

Public hearing on proposed Merville water bottling company draws huge crowd

Nearly three dozen speakers among the 150 in attendance

A public hearing into the rezoning application for a property in Merville, to accommodate a water bottling operation, attracted nearly 150 people to the Florence Filberg Centre in Courtenay Monday evening.

Scott McKenzie has applied for a zoning amendment to his property, in order to open an on-site water bottling operation, drawing groundwater from a well on his property, which is fed by a common aquifer.

Comox Valley Regional District directors Bruce Jolliffe, Rod Nichol and Edwin Grieve heard from a total of 31 people (other than the applicant), all but two of whom spoke against the rezoning application.

The majority of the opponents spoke against the nature of the business that the rezoning would accommodate, as opposed to the rezoning itself.

The main issues brought forth by those who spoke against the rezoning itself were concerns about increased traffic in the area, the fact that the licence would be transferable, and that approving the application at this point would undermine the recommendations previously brought forth by CVRD staff, and the K’ómoks First Nation.

“The problem with this zoning, if it were to go through, is that it would open the door for a whole list of other businesses… so if Mr. McKenzie’s family bails on this and sells the property, the zoning would go with the property, and there are any number of things that would be totally compatible within that zone,” said one long-time resident of Merville. “This is a very residential neighbourhood, and ‘light industrial’ just does not belong here.”

One of the two who spoke in favour of the zoning application said the alternative would bring more disruption to the neighbourhood.

“This meeting is not about a licence to extract water. This meeting is about being allowed a water-bottling facility on the property. So, while there is a lot of passion out there for the water permit, that’s not relevant. What is relevant is whether we want to encourage the McKenzies to have a (bottling) plant on-site, or force them to have it elsewhere,” said the speaker, referring to the fact that a licence to extract the water from the well has already been approved. “I personally think we are better off having smaller vehicles use the road, than forcing them to use larger vehicles to ship the water out.”

Of those who spoke against the rezoning due to the nature of the business, the overwhelming sentiment was that water is a communal resource, from which no one person/business should profit.

Other concerns included that no pump testing has been done to determine whether there would be adverse effects to neighbouring wells – a point Bunky Hall said history has already proven.

According to Hall, a group* committed to preserving fish habitat in Portuguese Creek drilled a well alongside the road 16 years ago, pumping the water out of the aquifer in an effort to protect the fish habitat in the creek.

“Within two days of that situation, my well ran dry,” said Hall. “So I am afraid that my well will be affected by this business.”

Jolliffe said the CVRD board can not discuss elements of a public hearing and would not comment. He could not give a date as to when the application will be brought back to the board for a vote.

*Hall referred to this group as the Portuguese Creek Protection Society. Records show there was an organization called the Portuguese Creek Streamkeepers that had filed a well drilling project with the Ministry of Environment, Lands, and Parks.

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