‘Very little health concern’ with pump stations

In a series of articles, Record reporter Scott Stanfield delves into the contentious sewage issue.

  • Mar. 17, 2017 10:00 a.m.

Scott Stanfield


Opponents of the proposed No. 2 Pump Station in Area B suggest the project poses health and safety risks in terms of potential contamination to residential wells, and by compromising the neighbourhood’s quiet, rural setting. Some residents claim the stress of the situation has already caused one person to move from the neighbourhood. Another has tried — but failed — to sell his property.

The Station 2 project is estimated to cost $10,700,500. Construction will take about two years. Although the Valley contains two pump stations, the Comox Valley Regional District says a third is required to meet the needs of the growing community.

Young Street resident Dr. Don Blacklock said the vibration during construction of the Craigflower Pump Station in Victoria caused pictures to fall from the walls of neighboring houses, even some that were 100 metres from the site.

“It’s extremely noisy, because they go down about 30 feet,” he said.

But the CVRD has committed to “zero discernible noise” — or odour — at the property line of the proposed site at Beech Street in the Croteau Beach neighbourhood, just east of Comox.

From Island Health’s standpoint, risks associated with sewage pump stations are negligible.

“From a public health perspective, there is very little health concern from sewage pump stations, and associated distribution lines that are appropriately designed, constructed, located, maintained and monitored,” Medical Health Officer Dr. Charmaine Enns said.

Blacklock, however, feels projects such as Comox 2 “put a lot of pressure on people right there.” He notes, for instance, that Stafford Street resident Paul Horgen, who is blind, and his wife Ilona had a specially-designed house constructed in a quiet area.

“In terms of the general health of the whole thing, with the problems they’re having down in the strait, having to put danger labels on oysters because they’re getting infected with various things, most of them are probably from some sort of sewage exposure from somewhere,” Blacklock said. “Whether that’s septic fields down the way, or from pipes that are leaking…I am a big believer of not having sewage going down an estuary.

“Just asking for trouble. And there’s going to be trouble. There was a big fight about this way back in 1981, ’82 about them putting them there in the first place.”

The CVRD says the Beech Street parcel does not contain any sensitive ecosystems. But residents fear the pump station will contaminate wells with bacteria, chemicals and/or construction residues, and could damage or divert the aquifer that is the source of local well water.

Horgen says hydrogeologist Gilles Wendling has advised that the sewage station would put wells and aquifers at high risk.

Wendling later conducted a study for the CVRD.

“When we first bought the property, the residents did hire Gilles, to let them know what the results of a failure of the pump station would be to the groundwater in the area,” said Marc Rutten, the CVRD’s general manager of engineering services. “I think the focus of the residents was, ‘What if the station fails? What if there’s a big spill? What’s that going to do to our groundwater?’ (Gilles) concluded that a big spill would definitely be an issue.”

The district hired Wendling to focus on trenching, and pipe and wetwell installation.

“What’s the effect of the construction of a pump station?” Rutten said. “In our mind, failure of the pump station — a spill — is not an option. You don’t design for a spill, you design to make sure a spill can never happen. Just a bit of a different focus on the study work.”

According to the CVRD, the project will not proceed without ensuring that residents will have continued access to safe, potable water. Pre-implementation work includes further assessment of the Beech Street site, in terms of groundwater assessment and geotechnical conditions.

For more information about the Comox No. 2 Pump Station, visit bit.ly/2mnIZ6q

For a video and risk assessment of the current Willemar line, visit bit.ly/2eljgq8