WEB EXTRA: Hard to be positive about Common Sense

Dear editor,

I try not to write letters to the editor, and when I do I try to maintain a positive tone.

Dear editor,

I try not to write letters to the editor, and when I do I try to maintain a positive tone as I feel we already have too much negativity in the world.  However, as I read through some of the statements on the Comox Valley Common Sense website, I found it very hard to maintain that positivity.


From what I read, I gleaned the following key position statements:


–          Parkland costs too much money, so we need less of it – not more.

–          Building a third crossing over the river in Courtenay (which will cost at least $15 million) is inevitable, so we better plan for it.

–          Water meters should not be a priority – they had a link to a study to support it.

–          Sewage services should be provided to the entire valley and the costs spread fairly amongst all users

–          A deep water intake should be a priority – not conservation or water meters.

–          The union and staff salaries at our municipalities are too high.

So, let’s address the parkland issue first, shall we?  In one breath, the CVCS people state that the valley should be a pleasant place to live, and we should maintain a healthy environment and yet…”Furthermore, there are costs to maintain these parks every year. Second, land that is used for a park or set aside as green space, is not available for housing, or schools, or for industrial and commercial use, most of which would increase the tax base, taking pressure off existing homeowners and businesses.”  So – less parks, more development?  Will that keep the Comox Valley attractive and healthy? Do they place no value on parks and green spaces then?  Do they not understand the way that parks and green spaces are directly linked to higher property value (and thus higher tax revenue)?


Now, about that third crossing…as a civil engineer, I spent a good part of my undergraduate career learning about traffic and traffic management.  One of the basic truths of how traffic works is that the difference in the volume of vehicles between efficiently flowing traffic and complete deadlock is very small.  Thus, any efforts that reduce vehicle traffic in any way have a huge impact in improving the efficiency of vehicle traffic.  So, wouldn’t it make sense to try and get people out of cars?  I mean, we could spend $15 million on a bridge, which will then fill with cars, or we can spend a half million on a pedestrian/cycling bridge, say another $2 million on improved bicycle routes and maybe a couple of more million on improved transit, and shift people out of vehicles.  It is quite possible that  a shift of people out of vehicles could avoid the need to build a third bridge COMPLETELTY.  It could also save millions of dollars – sounds like common sense to me!


The site has a link to a study, from Montreal, about water meters and it is basically opposed to them.  However, the study contains a fundamental flaw.  I quote from the study:


“The major part of costs related to water is taken up by the infrastructure needed to treat, distribute and collect water. These costs are fixed and will remain the same regardless of volumes.  Variable costs such as energy or chemical products are negligible in comparison.  Pricing proportionally to volumes consumed will not be proportional to actual costs of water production since these are essentially fixed.”


Unfortunately, the reports reasoning is not quite correct.  When sizing water infrastructure such as pipes, reservoirs and treatment plants, the volume of water required by the system being served DIRECTLY correlates to the size of the infrastructure, and thus the price.  In the Comox Valley, we have some upcoming required infrastructure investment (in fact, the Common Sense people say we need a deep water intake) and the size of all of that infrastructure will be DIRECTLY RELATED to the projected volumes of water we will use the Valley.  So, if we want to minimize the costs of the infrastructure, we might want to think about doing everything possible to reduce the use of water in the system…again, sounds like common sense to me!


Let’s address municipal staff salaries.  I work as a consultant and own part of a private consulting firm.  When I look what I could get paid working for a municipality, the decision to stay where I am is very easy.  For the most part, if municipal staff in charge of certain sized organizations with certain liabilities were compared to their equivalent in the private sector, we would probably see that the private sector salaries double or triple those of comparable municipal staff.  Then, we are faced with attracting and retaining talented staff at municipalities.  Should we drop salary levels across the board?  What would happen?  Well, it is likely all the talent would leave for higher paid jobs.  I would say that we need high quality staff at our municipalities so that we retain high quality service.  Sounds like common sense to me!


They state that the CVRD is “a dysfunctional organization driven by a bureaucracy whose focus is building a bigger operation. It also is driven more by the views of a minority of the Valley’s citizens than by the needs and priorities of the majority. This is truly the case of the tail wagging the dog.”  Now, I imagine that some of the politicians that they will endorse are current CVRD Board members – and who but the board is directing everything that happens at the CVRD?


Now, I have to admit I do agree with some of their statements.  We do need a deep water intake as the risk of contamination on the current intake that provides water to most of the Comox Valley is very high.  However, I will again caveat that statement with the basic fact that the size, and thus cost, of the deep water intake will be DIRECTLY RELATED to how much water it is designed to convey.  Thus, any means to reduce water consumption, including metering, will reduce the costs of the new intake.  I also agree that sewage treatment should be provided to the bulk of the residents of the valley through shared systems.


I will end with a plea to my fellow citizens.  Please use some of your own common sense in the upcoming elections and research the issues and candidates and  ignore any partisan or biased views.  Make your own decision and don’t be fooled by anyone claiming to have all the answers.  Above all else, please vote!  This is your chance to have a direct say in how our community will look for the next three years.

Andrew Gower,