The Comox Valley Regional District has put the brakes on its controversial plan to build a sewage pump station on a vacant lot on Beech Street, just outside of Comox in Electoral Area B.
Members of the CVRD Sewage Commission voted unanimously Oct. 24 to shelve the Comox No. 2 Pump Station project and spend a year assessing other options.
The decision was based on a pre-implementation report from consultants that found “three red flags” with the proposed Beech Street site:
• The potential impact of the pump station on the quantity or quality of well water in the surrounding neighbourhood;
• The capital cost estimates of the project had risen from $12 million to $22 million, and;
• The condition of the foreshore forcemain from the existing Courtenay Pump Station to the location of the tie-in for the No. 2 Pump Station is not as deteriorated as previously thought.
After the meeting, Sewage Commission chair and Comox Coun. Barbara Price said she was pleased the commission voted unanimously to pursue other options.
“Until we have a confirmed direction, we can’t take [No. 2 Pump Station] off the table, but we’ve certainly moved away from it,” she said. “There are a number of red flags and we’ve seen they would be costly to remove.”
The Comox Valley’s current sewerage system was established in the early 1980s. Sewer pipelines transmit wastewater from Courtenay and Comox to the Comox Valley Water Pollution Control Centre (CVWPCC) through a forcemain along the Courtenay River Estuary, towards Goose Spit, and along the shore of the Comox Peninsula.
The CVRD first identified the need for a new pump station more than a decade ago, after discovering a section of its sewer pipeline was exposed and deteriorating along the foreshore of the steep Willemar Bluffs, which lie on the coast of the Comox Peninsula. Erosion of the Bluffs from waves crashing against the beach had put the sewer pipeline at risk of damaging the environment in the event of failure.
To address its sewerage issues, the CVRD decided in 2005 to construct a new pump station and that a new inland forcemain alignment would have to be built to connect the new station to the CVWPCC. Doing such would have addressed capacity issues at the Courtenay Pump and Jane Place Pump stations, which are situated along the Courtenay River Estuary.
The regional district felt the best course of action would be to decommission the section of the sewer pipeline along the eroding Willemar Bluffs and redirect wastewater to a new pump station located somewhere in Area B. The Beech Street location was proposed and the vacant lot was purchased in 2014.
The section of the pipeline along the Willemar Bluffs has been reinforced by the installation of “gabion baskets” — galvanized wire baskets filled with stones used to protect against erosive forces — in recent years as a temporary measure.
According to the consultants’ assessments, reinforcement of the gabion baskets has prevented the pipeline from deteriorating as badly as first thought and downgraded the risk of failure.
Backlash from Area B residents
The No. 2 Pump Station project has stoked political fires in the Comox Valley.
Many Area B residents were against the proposed location of the new pump station. A petition opposing the Beech Street site garnered more than 700 signatures last year.
Critics argued it was unfair to house a pump station in an area not served by the CVRD’s wastewater service, which only applies to the municipal boundaries of Courtenay and Comox. Opponents were also concerned with the potential noise and smell associated with the new pump station and how it would affect the neighbourhood’s groundwater.
Furthermore, Area B does not have a voting representative on the Sewage Commission.
Area B director Rod Nichol — who presented the petition against the Beech Street location at a July 2016 Sewage Commission meeting — attended the Oct. 24 meeting as a spectator.
He said the report from consultants was proof that the No. 2 Pump Station was an under-researched idea.
“Going back three years now, it was clear Pump Station No. 2 was more of a knee-jerk and it wasn’t well-researched,” he told the Record after the meeting. “It’s taken three years to get the good research. This latest report from Opus [one of the consulting firms] says this pump station is not a great idea and there are too many red flags.”
Nichol said he expects Area B residents will be pleased with the meeting’s verdict, but still wary that the option will continue to be pursued in the future.
“They’re still concerned that Beech Street is on the table and I totally understand why,” he said. “They have to find a present and better solution to replace it. They can’t take Beech Street off the table, then they’d have no solution whatsoever.
“But with the recommendations of Opus and what I heard today, there’s a concerted effort to find a better solution,” he continued.
“There’s one out there. [We just need] the political desire to spend the money to do it.”
According to the CVRD, an open house will take place on Thursday, Nov. 9 at the Comox Golf Course from 5–7 p.m. to update the public on the results of the investigation, indicative design stage, and next steps.