September 2013 edition
The sewage treatment question
Many thanks for your editorial urging the CRD to “get their shit together.”
My wife and I moved to Victoria in 1980 and have lived in several parts of the city. We have developed a great appreciation of it and respect for it.
From its very conception of the various routes and choices of locations for the sewage disposal plans, the CRD has exhibited a callous dislike of the very environment in which we city-dwellers live. I recall one of the routes proposed for an excrement pipeline along Dallas Road and in James Bay, right next to Beacon Hill Park. The present idea is to build a plant, the design of which has never been published in its present form, at the very entrance to our harbour; and then there’s the 36 kilometres of pipeline to and from the Hartland yard.
In the light of reason, there are not two choices to be made but many, and I feel it is essentially up to us, the inhabitants, voters and taxpayers of this place, to say: first delay the whole thing and then make a good examination of more advanced systems already in use, including in Victoria.
There is no need for the massive constructions and expenditures at all. It may be best to deconstruct the present team involved in the project and make sure the minister in charge is informed of alternate systems which would actually deal with the toxic ingredients of the sewage which are not dealt with in the present one.
The latest figure I have read for the cost already incurred for this boondoggle is $60 million. If it goes any longer that figure will rise and rise and we are already paying part of it in our taxes.
A referendum would be toothless. Firing one person on the team would be pointless. Every knowledgeable expert on sewage disposal has opposed this one. Letters to the editor certainly indicate a general opposition to it. It is necessary for our voices to be heard in the halls of government, once and for all, lest the digging of troughs begin and the laying of pipe through our very habitation.
I’m against land-based sewage treatment for Victoria. So Leslie Campbell’s editorial on the mess the CRD has made so far with its sewage planning is good news, but bad good news as I’ll explain.
I cannot understand why someone as bright as Ms Campbell must be can’t just accept the science. The science says our current system is excellent. She invokes “the precautionary principle,” but that is only applicable “in the absence of a scientific consensus.” There is a scientific consensus—the public health officers have said the current method is completely safe for human health; the marine scientists have said that there is no demonstrated harm to the marine environment. If one wants to resort to abstract principles, why not do an Occam’s Razor—choose the simple, cheap, effective system already in place instead of a complex, expensive, uncertain system yet to be built, whether that be a single plant or an integrated resource management approach?
If it works don’t fix it. Indeed several US coastal cities have had the same issue and the EPA has agreed to give them an exemption allowing them to continue to use the same concept we are now using [to treat our sewage].
Mr Harper professes to be doing things based on science but he seems to have ignored the science behind this issue, as well as many others (or stifled it in order to get around those perplexing, annoying environmental problems). So our BC and local governments have had to follow along with an ill-conceived plan that pisses many people off and that I predict will cost over a $1,000,000,000; cause more environmental stress than we now have; and do nothing for the street drain run-off problem which is more severe.
So I ask that we stop and figure out what we really need and what works best instead of rushing in and creating something that is very expensive and not particularly effective. How many colonoscopies or other medical services can our health services perform with $1,000,000,000-plus?
Gene Miller writes “we sin globally by flushing our sewage into the wide ocean.” No subject is so misunderstood as the discharge of sewage to the sea.
Rule one is only to pay regard to those qualified to give an opinion. I hold a degree in municipal engineering, helped design and construct sewage treatment plants for 14 years and spent 18 years in our provincial pollution control branch. But primarily, those qualified are the medical health officers, biologists and biological oceanographers who have been participating in the monitoring program over the last generation. None of them believe we need to build a land-based sewage treatment plant. Indeed its net effect will be to do some damage to the environment, to pubic health and to safety.
Over 20 years ago the CRD decided to hold a referendum on the issue but in their normal way provided the public with no information. So I wrote a book to do that (members.shaw.ca/sewagecircus). By then the British had appointed a Royal Commission which deduced “with well designed sewage outfalls, we believe discharge to the sea is not only acceptable but in many cases environmentally preferable.” That is certainly so in our case where conditions are ideal.
The US Congress rejected a motion to require all discharges to have secondary treatment, the evidence to the contrary being “overwhelming.”
The CRD have simply ignored all that as not convenient. Much fuss is made about toxicants, but ours are less than those discharging out of the secondary treatment plant at Annacis Island into the Fraser, although that probably still has a negligible effect. The sea has been eroding whole mountain ranges for three billion years and is filled with every toxicant known to man but in minute concentrations. Our waste joins that from Greater Vancouver and Seattle as it heads to the mouth of the strait and its impact is negligible.
At 87 I have literally been fighting this battle for half my life and hate to see it being lost based on ignorance.
J.E. (Ted) Dew-Jones, P.Eng.
I think that Gene Miller’s points re the conservative engineering perspective taken by the CRD are quite correct. But there’s a reason for that cautionary view: If the system doesn’t work, the engineers will get sued. And since public funds are involved, the politicians will be at risk for authorizing the work. This combination guarantees that a low-risk, existing technology, will probably be used. Change that legislation, and you might promote more advanced thinking.
I did some reading on the Dockside Green systems after reading Gene Miller’s article. Excellent forethought, and system implementation, from what I can see. But I see no serious estimates of the cost of a dispersed Dockside Green approach for the CRD which can be compared to the estimate for the “standard” treatment, or for one large Dockside-type system. Most processing systems gain significant economies of scale in their operation; this is why large single-purpose manufacturing and processing facilities are generally built, rather than multiple smaller works.
Additionally, not all processes scale up linearly. I don’t know enough about sewage treatment to comment further, but Dockside Green had the massive advantage of being built for a small, new, privately controlled group of homes, where, for example, the black and gray water streams could be separated at source, which I believe makes a serious difference in how you treat the waste streams. How would you re-plumb Victoria to accomplish that?
Fox to finalize rules for henhouse?
I took on the mayor in 2012, for his arbitrary decision to extend City of Victoria Manager Gail Stephens’ contract to 2017, with a salary increase, even though her present contract was not due to end until 2014. Council members were not given the opportunity to review the mayor’s action on that one.
I noted in the press that a consulting firm has been engaged to locate a replacement for Ms Stephens. I should have thought that search would be delayed so the acting City manager could put into operation the recommendations put forward by Maximus Canada. It is she who has the immediate knowledge of how to put into place the various amendments to the City’s new organizational reporting charts.
I hope that when the consultant submits a short list of candidates, a small committee of experienced Victoria citizens will be given the opportunity to vet it prior to the final decision by council. I’m sure a committee could be quickly called together and to function at no cost to the City. I call to mind the likes of Alan Lowe, Peter Pollen, Judge Hughes, and David Broadland. That review would certainly take the heat off council.
Meet your doctor’s generous friend
This article by Rob Wipond is disrespectful to all those fantastic physicians that we have on Vancouver Island and all those fantastic pharma reps that we have. Instead of consulting with a bitter, long-term-leave sales rep, why not seek out the reps who make a difference? For that fact, why not ask to speak to our great docs? No, that wouldn’t sell magazines.
I’ve been a pharmaceutical representative for 27 years, the last 20 years being on Vancouver Island. I just finished reading your article and am disappointed, obviously. Rob Wipond used a study of two to paint all of us with the same brush, and commented on sales representative practices from 2000-2009. If he were to interview a working sales representative in 2013, and if he were to access online the Rx&D code of conduct for pharmaceutical companies (most are members), his article would show pharmaceutical companies in a more positive light. Unfortunately, that wasn’t his goal, which is clear in this article.
Editor’s note: See Rob Wipond’s article on page 18 for more on this topic.
If only the information in Rob Wipond’s article could be available to all patients. I knew about pharmaceutical companies influencing physicians but did not realize it was so blatant, and at patients’ expense. A previous doctor of mine had two shelves of drugs on the wall of his examining room. I said to him that it would be so easy for anyone to help themselves; he just shrugged and asked if I needed any of them…
Another doctor of mine would often give me samples. If I need to know about side effects from drugs (and in the past, I have suffered from them too often), I consult a pharmacist rather than my doctor. However, they don’t always like to talk about side effects when a doctor has prescribed the drug and I have found he/she will side-step my query.
Citizen analysis: The Maximus Report
Maximus Canada, the company which just completed a report on City of Victoria’s operations, is a credible organization and produced a good report based on the information they were able to obtain. Maximus admits that their benchmarking efforts with other like cities was limited by what other cities were willing to share and that it was difficult to find cities similar to Victoria.
Also, remember the City paid for this report and had some influence over what was included and not included; there is no doubt there was an intellectual property rights clause in their contract which gives the City final say as to what is published. I am quite surprised at the amount of information that was severed from the report.
I like Maximus’ recommendations for the most part. They make sense and merit serious consideration. So it is disappointing to hear our mayor immediately ruling so many of them out. A prime example is the mayor’s rejection of the recommendation to consider closing the Crystal Pool, considering its age and usage, and seeking out a relationship with the Y to provide such service.
The report is frank in its assessment of the state of the City’s infrastructure and the challenge the City is facing keeping property tax increases to 3.25 percent. The report states all municipalities are facing infrastructure challenges, though does not benchmark this in any meaningful way with other cities. I believe this is one area where the City is much worse off than others and wonder whether this was a simple omission or one that the City asked be not included.
I also wonder why City labour costs are not benchmarked against peers. City personnel costs have increased by 42 percent over the last ten years. Compare that to Italy’s labour costs increasing 35 percent over the past 12 years. There is a general consensus that Italy is now the most financially challenged in the European Union and that getting their labour costs down is essential for recovery.
Consider the following stark comparisons of remuneration: The provincial comptroller general is paid $140,595, while the City of Victoria’s chief financial officer receives $172,697. Or, the provincial government head of legal services at $184,968, compared to the City solicitor at $212,569.
I find it strange and startling to see Maximus’ conclusion the City is not top heavy with management and compares favourably with other cities, based on 53 management staff out of a total of 779 full-time staff or 990 full time/part time/volunteers staff—the City’s Annual Report shows City employee count at 1194 (average remuneration $84,270). Some of the discrepancy probably comes from the fact that police are not included; however that does not explain it all. The point regarding the numbers is Maximus can only work with the numbers the City provided and it appears those numbers are somewhat open to question…
Unfortunately, there seems to be a denial mentality at City Hall, a desire to ignore that it has a problem with its finances. Isn’t it the first step for someone with a problem to admit there is a problem? I believe that to be the first step in the 12 step program to sobriety!
Protect your rights
My husband John and I will be subscribing to Focus magazine today, and here’s why. Thanks to the help of your amazing investigative journalist Rob Wipond, we obtained a critical piece of information which will enable my family to ensure that the health care and the assets of my elderly and ailing in-laws cannot be taken over by VIHA.
This form, called Nomination of Committee, cannot be found on the government website, the Patients Property Act, or anywhere else. If you’re lucky enough to have a lawyer who is up on all the latest legislation (much of it cynically passed in April in the run-up before the election, when the NDP was pushing for laws to help protect seniors, like creating a Seniors Advocate), then you’ll probably be ok. But if you don’t know who to ask, where to look, or even that there are things in place to help you and what they’re called, you will no doubt be at the mercy of VIHA.
Apparently, wills, enduring powers of attorney, and similar documents are good to have, but they do not give families the right to tell VIHA “no, you can’t just come in and make decisions for us,” like being sent to a nursing home of their choosing, and “no, you don’t have the right to confiscate our home and its contents, bank accounts and any other assets.” They cannot go ahead and obtain a court-appointed guardian to do all of these things—so long as you have a Nomination of Committee form, handled by your lawyer, witnessed, signed, etc. It will supercede, block, override VIHA.
Another way my in-laws can be protected is if they take their names off their bank accounts and property title, replaced with their children’s names instead. They can live in their house for as long as they like, but it can’t be touched.
I hope this information will get out to as many people as possible. Contact your MLA, your lawyer, anyone with real information which can help you. The government seems to be intent on providing vague, little, or no information. We must insist on transparency and clear language everyone can understand, not just lawyers and bureaucrats.
Rob Wipond clarifies: Many legal forms are published in the Regulations or Rules associated with specific laws. The right of a person to nominate his/her own committee is described in Section 9 of the BC Patients Property Act. Unfortunately, there is no corresponding published form. However, the Ministry of Justice (Attorney General) has stated that anyone may write up a Nomination of Committee form with their own wording and a court would take it into consideration. (Special thanks to Lois Sampson of SeniorsAtRisk.org for helping bring attention to this important form.)
Some tax exemptions make no sense
[An open letter to Mayor and Council] In my musings over the need to trim $6 million off the City of Victoria budget by 2015, I have been drilling down into the guidelines for tax exemptions. Christopher Paine from the finance department has kindly sent me the latest updates to the guidelines.
I suggested to Mr Paine that the Clover Point Anglers Association (CPAA), among other organizations, may not be meeting all of the relevant criteria, including sections 2.5 and 2.6 wherein it is stated that: “services should be equally available to all residents of the City” (The CPAA has a 13-year waiting list, offers no signage on its boat shed and no contact information is readily available either on the web, in the phone book or at City Hall). Mr Paine indicated that no application had ever been denied due to this criteria.
The guidelines also note “the property must be enjoyed by a significant proportion of the general public.” (The CPAA has 28 members, each of whom have the exclusive use of their individual boat stored in the boat shed). Mr Payne again indicated that no application had ever been denied due to this criteria.
Another guideline states: “the organization must be seen to be working towards self-sufficiency.” (The CPAA has been receiving an annual tax exemption since 1932; it is currently valued at about $4000 per year. The association also pays a modest rent on the boat shed of about $160 per month. It seems unclear when self sufficiency will be attained). Mr Paine indicated that he could only speculate as to the purpose of this clause.
It is not my intent to highlight the CPAA for special consideration, but rather to illustrate the lack of clarity evident in the application of the permissive tax exemption criteria. As council begins to consider the City’s 2014 budget it will have difficult decisions to make, and it will be very important to improve the value that we receive from all tax exemptions by the application of a more thoughtful, transparent and rigourous application of the criteria.
Notes from subscribers and supporters
Enclosed is my subscription renewal form and cheque. Please use the extra money as you see fit.
Thank you so much for your excellent reporting. Keep up the great work—we really need our “focus” on Victoria.
Enclosed please find a small donation to help you continue your outstanding magazine. We do not wish to subscribe as we enjoy Focus online and can pick it up when it comes out.
Yours is the best investigative reporting in and on Victoria; I often recommend articles to my students.
James Tully and Debra Higgins
Thank you for your incisive interview with Dr Andrew Weaver (“Clean Tech, Collaboration and Civility,” Focus, June 2013). And thank you to Dr Weaver for caring enough about the future of our planet to get involved in government.
We desperately need policies built on science, sound judgement, and longer-term thinking. A sustainable future cannot be built upon continued resource extraction/depletion.
I wish Dr Weaver every success in convincing our other elected representatives of this fact, along with the urgent need to address climate change and shift our focus to stewardship of this beautiful Earth.
Focus continues to cover substantive issues and inform and inspire readers. My subscription cheque is enclosed.