Letters to the editor
Focus Readers, September 2016
Sewage and the politics of contamination
Another excellent article on the contamination of local politics, toxic promises, and confabulation in the name of serving the public interest.
It’s amazing how the fine print in an environmental legislation clause, private side trade deals between political leaders in BC and Washington state, and IOUs left over from the Vancouver/Whistler Winter Olympic Games can be used to over-ride the right of elector consent in order to plunder the public purse and build a regional sewage treatment system that could cost $3 billion over time.
I appreciate your investigative reporting about the vested interests involved in the newly appointed provincial board to oversee the development of this multi-billion dollar questionable infrastructure project. It seems a hand-picked group of political patrons with links to a major engineering consulting firm, Stantec, will now have the final say on the form of land-based sewage treatment that will be used, and the location(s) of the facility(ies).
My concern is that these tight political and business relationships seem to be pointing to more skullduggery in the awarding of another lucrative publicly-financed project close to home.
Installing rails on Ogden Point Breakwater for the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority (GVHA) was a low-risk project for Stantec. Now this engineering firm is the GVHA’s lead consultant on another multi-year, multi-million dollar infrastructure project. It is formulating a 30-year Ogden Point Master Plan and a rezoning application to the City of Victoria. Why? To justify the investment of more than $300 million to redevelop GVHA’s Ogden Point property (divested from the Federal Department of Transport in 2002).
GVHA, a $12-million private non-profit enterprise, is not known for its transparent and accountable business model. Its long-term development plan crafted by Stantec has all the earmarks of another pillaging of public funds for private interests. Their dream is the transformation of a contaminated marine site into an earthquake-proof property replete with refurbished piers, new cruise-ship terminals, not to mention an upgraded heliport site, and additional retail and commercial buildings including a boutique hotel to welcome more than 500,000 tourists annually to this prize waterfront site.
It’s not the polluters, the profiteers, or the politicians who pay. It’s the public who will bear the burden of “bold” boondoggles, mounting debts, and soaring taxes.
Re the letter in the July/August issue of Focus from fellow biologist and long-ago colleague Thor Henrich. He is one of the very few to mention the huge contribution of the freshwater input into the Salish Sea as a means of diluting and transporting sewage effluent. Tides ebb and flow, but the input of rivers is one-way. The end result is extreme dilution of effluent by the time it reaches the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Accurate measurement is beyond most instruments available locally. It has been estimated that the concentration of pollutants in the Strait is “a few parts per trillion.” That may not conjure up an immediate image of the situation. Do the math and it turns out that, if the figure is 10 parts per trillion, then a water sample that would fill the former ill-fated tanker Exxon Valdez 21 times over would yield just one cupful of pollutants.
Another point that should be made is that, in 1994—within the lifetime of the current sewage system—E.D.Cokelet, a Seattle-based oceanographer, studied the effluent in the waters off Victoria, analyzed it and traced it back to its source. He found that 52.1 percent came from the Vancouver area, 43.2 percent came from the Seattle area and only 4.7 percent came from Victoria itself. Not only does this give the lie to Washington State’s claim that Victoria is polluting that state’s beaches but it also means that those 21 tankers-full of water samples would yield only two teaspoons of Victoria-based pollutants!
Do we really have to spend a billion dollars to eliminate so little?
Bear in mind that much, most or even all of that Victoria-based effluent comes not from the sewage system but from the many residences whose sewage bypasses the sewage system and enters the storm drain system, either directly or through the pairing of the storm drain and sewer systems, designed to share the load during heavy rainfalls. (Hence the posting of beach closures due to e-coli contamination following heavy rains). A few years ago, dye studies confirmed the presence of sewage that bypassed the sewage system. Why has that not been followed up on? It would be very much more cost-effective.
Meanwhile, if the federal and local scientists are so far apart in their evaluation of the local sewage treatment scene, get the Feds out here, so that they and the locals can have a meaningful discussion on site. Let them take actual samples in situ. Let them see the flourishing populations of diverse species in the vicinity of the outfalls. Let’s get them talking facts. And sense.
Before we choose the ultimate sewage treatment system for the CRD core area municipalities, we should all be aware of some basic facts. The first is that in the 44-year history of Macaulay and 35-year history of Clover Point outfalls, there has never been any scientific evidence of shoreline pollution caused by the operation of their deep sea outfalls.
During this time, however, there has been continuing periodic discharges of raw sewage into the relatively shallow waters along our beaches and shorelines.
Why? Because in most, if not all, municipal sewage latterals there is a combination of sewage and household stormwater runoff. In periods of heavy rainfall, the hugely increased flow would “overcharge” the sewage trunk lines, necessitating overflow stations discharging to the relatively shallow, near-shore waters. Because there is not sufficient contact with full-strength sea water at these outfalls, some of the pathogens, such as e-coli, are not killed off and we have, or should have, health warnings posted.
This overflow problem was noted in a 1966 Greater Victoria Sewerage Study—50 years ago. It is still a problem today.
It should be noted that no matter what type of sewage treatment we eventually select, we will still have this shoreline pollution problem unless we separate the sewage from the household stormwater. To do this we need separate lines for each.
Surely it only makes sense to retain our tried-and-true deep-sea outfall treatment system and re-dedicate the billion dollars or more estimated for land-based sewage treatment to separate (twin) all the household sanitary and stormwater drainage.
It might also be noted that twinning sewage and household stormwater drains could be handled by local engineering and construction firms, thereby keeping the dollars circulating in the community.
Might one assume that the BC Liberals’ usurpation of the sewage impasse is driven by two factors—namely that there is an election on the horizon; and that this is yet another opportunity to direct some very large funds to friends and supporters of the Liberal Party? Because this juggernaut called sewage treatment apparently flies in the face of both reason and science, it must be driven by vested interests.
The same goes for the Mackenzie Interchange Project, where tens of millions of dollars will be spent to give the impression of progress, which again flies in the face of reason.
It seems the decision-makers don’t really give a damn whether any of these actually work, so long as they give the governing party “talking points.” And then there is the Massey Tunnel replacement, and of course Site C. The list goes on….
Well done! Great research, analysis and summation. I think David Broadland (and Focus) should get the Pulitzer Prize (or Canada’s equivalent) for his investigative reporting on the sewage issue. This is probably the best news reporting in Victoria for many years and its potential to prevent the waste of billions of taxpayers’ money should be recognized.
We must understand that the municipal politicians are limited by their constitutional subservience to the Provincial Legislature but the public still has final control—witness Brexit.
I can only hope the public will read your articles and then act on them to step forward to halt a travesty of public sector mismanagement and bureaucratic momentum.
Over the past decade, the public has repeatedly gathered its local mass indignation to block the location of the sewage treatment component of the sewage-handling issue (the most visible but much less expensive part). Maybe we can reset the whole agenda and rethink the timing of the whole project by redirecting that mass indignation against a more proper target.
Once the sewage investment money is spent, it is highly unlikely that any political party will investigate the outcome to determine if we got value for the spent billions. Why would our politicians bother? It is spent. There is little political value in digging up skeletons, especially when they each were a part of the hit team.
So we have a very narrow window of opportunity in preventing the expenditure of these billions. I think your articles should be used as the basis for all future sewage-related questions to our political leaders; they are that good. Treasury Board staff take note.
More nails in the coffin of the cholesterol hypothesis
In a media world overloaded with conflicting health information, shoddy research, corporate lobbying and sketchy marketing, finding a trusted information source is like grabbing a life ring in a raging storm. Alan Cassels is one of those life rings. His last Focus article on statins is typical of his thoughtful science-based evaluation of the influential pharmaceutical world.
Critiques of their world are warranted but we shouldn’t lay total blame at their feet. We all want the “good life” and all the food, drink and pleasure that come with it. Unfortunately, with it comes all the negatives: obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, heart attacks and strokes. And we want it to all go away with a pill. And we want our government to pay for that pill.
The headlines always go to the “new pill that promises…”, the “new machine that can find…” the “promising cancer drug that may…”. Yet little press goes to the well-proven, weight-losing, type II diabetes- and atherosclerosis-reversing, cholesterol- and high-blood- pressure-lowering world of plant-based foods—the world of whole grains, corn, rice, beans, legumes, potatoes, vegetables and fruits, a diet that fed millions of Chinese, Japanese, South American, Mexican and African people before meat and dairy were promoted.
Some of the leaders in this field are T. Colin Campbell, Drs Dean Ornish, Neal Barnard, John McDougall, Caldwell Esselstyn. The common denominators of these folk are their research, promotion of plant-based foods, and their lack of corporate sponsorship.
Are you thinking the plant-based consumers are a fringe group? The Ornish Plan is being paid for by Medicare in the US as well as a number of private insurers because it saves them paying out for stents, by-passes and other expensive treatments. US Health coverage provider Kaiser Permanente has written a physicians guide calling for no meat, dairy or oils. A win-win because Kaiser saves money and the patients improve their health. China recently announced a 50 percent dietary meat reduction to combat disease and global warming.
Speaking up for seniors: BC’s Seniors Advocate
Focus writers Judith Lavoie and Alan Cassels never disappoint. “De-tox for public discourse” was interesting too; in my mind it fit in wonderfully with Leslie’s references to dear old Bertrand Russell, Mr Eloquence himself.
As for the article on old people, as an old person myself, I must say I bristled at the title, “Speaking up for Seniors.” Why do we need “others” speaking up for us anymore than aboriginals or disabled people or feminists or immigrants or prisoners? Isobel Mackenzie (very conservative; government-appointed) certainly doesn’t speak for me. I’d like to see an article on aging and ageism written by an old person, an old person who is comfortable enough with her age that she doesn’t resort to euphemisms such as “seniors,” “pensioners”, and “golden agers.”
The media bombards us all with phrases such as “age-defying,” “young at heart,” “takes years off your appearance,” “wrinkle erasing,” “85 years young”—illustrating that ageism is pervasive and damaging, and that fear of getting old is rampant. This topic needs a very thorough study and a radical, myth-bashing approach. No offence intended, just encouraging Focus to take it much, much further.
It was disappointing that your article failed to even mention the very serious rise of violence in care facilities. As someone who has considerable experience with this issue, the main problem is that residents are being taken off mood stabilizing medications as a result of the anti-psychotics campaign, without there being an effective, personalized care plan in place so that those residents do not harm other people. The result has been more seniors and staff being victims of violence, which is heart-breaking.
It is true that anti-psychotics have been used as a quick-fix “solution” for violent behaviour since it is cheaper and easier to administer a drug rather than have an adequate number of sufficiently-trained staff to deal with residents who are prone to aggression.
But it never occurs to some decision-makers that the reason they were prescribed mood stabilizing medications in the first place is that they are a danger to others when they are not receiving appropriate care and supervision.
Editor’s note: The Advocate’s report on aggression in care homes points out: “Recent work by the Canadian Foundation for Health Improvement found that, during a controlled study in 56 Canadian long-term care facilities, decreasing the use of antipsychotics not only did not lead to more incidents of aggressive behaviour, but in fact led to less incidents of aggressive behaviour. Findings such as this once again call into question the role of antipsychotics in treating aggressive behaviours. Our analysis did not find any relationship between use of restraints and occurrence of incidents.”
I often think that part of the systemic difficulties that occur are because our society sees “Seniors” as somehow “other” than the rest of the population. I don’t think anyone who is under the age of 65 would appreciate having to live in a facility with no real privacy, treated as children, having to report for meals at certain times, with everyone in the same age bracket surrounding them.
I also am struggling with an aged parent, who is presently at home. She has home care a couple of hours a day. Her body is frail, but her mind is active and lively. She has been falling regularly. Our family knows she will not do very well in an extended-care facility. And she may be past the point of residing in an assisted-living situation. There need to be other solutions, as all of us are quickly approaching our older years.
One of my ideas is to create townhouse/garden flat complexes with central courtyards that could be used by all ages: young families, singles, and the elderly.
Trans Mountain: Trudeau should just say No
Thank you for an excellent report by Judith Lavoie on the Kinder Morgan pipeline. You might ask her if she publishes again to include the fact that this pipeline will add an additional 126 million tonnes of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere every year. This looks to me like a worse environmental disaster than even an inevitable oil spill on land or in water.
To put that in context, greenhouse gas emissions for all of BC—from all cars, trucks and buses, all house and building heating and from all industries including the high-emitting cement industry—totals 64 million tonnes per year. This one pipeline will add two BCs-worth of emissions and take the federal government in the opposite direction from its promise to reduce Canada’s greenhouse gases.
It seems we are supposed to look the other way if the bitumen is burnt outside Canada. It supposedly doesn’t count. Does anyone think it will not affect our own climate? This is not some silly counting game. It deeply affects the lives of our children and grandchildren.
I put some money and effort into buying an electric car and a heat pump, to replace my gas car and my oil furnace. I calculate I saved the atmosphere two tonnes of greenhouse gases a year. This pipeline will make a total mockery of my effort and a mockery of the efforts of the BC government to persuade people to reduce their emissions. No one else will follow my example once they see that the federal government will dwarf their changes by such a huge retrograde project. Just note the numbers: 126,000,000 to…2.
I believe that Canada’s economy will benefit greatly by diversifying the customer base for Canadian resources. I feel that it is quite safe to ship oil by sea because of great advances in tanker safety such as global positioning system navigation, double-hulled tankers, and the practice of using ocean escort tugs.
I have considerable sea-going marine experience in BC waters and in my judgement the navigation passage from Vancouver to the open sea is not particularly difficult and I have good faith in the very professional BC Pilotage Association and the Canadian Coast Guard Vessel Traffic Management System that oversees the safe navigation of deep sea vessels.
Not all your respondents are opposed to this important project.
Paul C. Leblanc
My congratulations on another absorbing issue of Focus. David Broadland’s continuing research into all aspects of the sewage issue is investigative reporting at its best!
However, I wish to “argue” about the main premise of the article on the Transmountain pipeline which is that, for global warming to be successfully limited before an uncontrollable catastrophe occurs, most hydrocarbon sources need to be “left in the ground.” And Canada’s tar sands should be a prime candidate for this.
Let me first say that I firmly believe that climate change is caused by humans, and that at its extreme, it will be an existential challenge for modern civilization if not the human race. So it is possibly the foremost problem facing the world today. All of the distinguished persons mentioned in the article are also highly concerned about global warming, but all of the quotes and citations used in the article seem to focus on just one aspect and ignore a much bigger and complex problem, namely, how does Canada sustain a prosperous economy while also acting responsibly in the climate change arena?
Economically, Canada cannot be self-sufficient, especially with respect to lower-value manufactured goods, specialized machine tools, entertainment, vacations in warm climates, and such. So we have to trade. Canada’s vast area means it incurs higher infrastructure costs; it cannot sustain a single national power grid which might optimize electricity use. We need to spend relatively more energy for transportation. And Canada’s location in the “frozen north” means it has relatively high heating costs. Nor is Canada physically located in an advantageous place for trade with any other nation than the USA. There are two implications for us in all this: One is that we must trade; the other is that we have relatively high energy needs even if we want to be responsible global citizens.
If we have to trade, what do we have to offer the rest of the world? For the most part it’s natural resources of all sorts (minerals, wood products, grains, gas and oil). Maybe some other country can afford to leave its hydrocarbons in the ground; we can’t.
And where do we get our energy? It would be great if we could shift more to electricity which is not generated by burning fossil fuels. So what are our options? Nuclear—makes a lot of sense but most if not all of the experts featured in this article oppose nuclear, despite the lack of objective scientific evidence to support such a position. Hydro—great, but I’m aware that at least some of the article’s experts are staunch opponents of BC’s Site C Hydro project. Seems inconsistent to me. And places like Saskatchewan simply don’t have a hydro option. Solar—also great, but we aren’t a particularly sunny place, and without effective and economic means to store solar for when it’s needed, solar will always remain a small contributor to Canada’s overall energy use. Wind—yes it has a future, but again only as a relatively modest contributor to the overall energy needs because wind requires too big a land footprint to be used on a massive scale.
Climate change and Canada’s impact (good or bad) is indeed a complex issue. It would be nice if Focus could source more balanced and scientifically sound articles on this important issue.
De-tox for public discourse
Recently I have been wondering how to understand/digest/work with comments and letters to the newspaper in my own small community that are distressingly fractious. I don’t know the answer to my concerns, but reading the editorial and articles in the most recent Focus magazine certainly added clarity to what doesn’t work in building community.
Recently a reporter for our small newspaper on Gabriola wrote what I thought was an engaging, inclusive, and well-intentioned article about Justin Trudeau’s participation in Pride events across Canada. I know that this article was meant to build community locally and in a broader sense. However, the letters responding to the article in the following week’s newspaper berated the reporter for not including all the different terms for various transsexual stages and identities. She was harshly criticized for celebrating an event for which she apparently did not use the correct terminology. I’m fairly well-educated and well-read, and I probably would have fared worse if I had written the article myself.
I realized that my distress over the rude letters arose from a feeling that those same critical writers could have commented on the omissions and errors about transsexual terminology and sexual identities in a way that would have brought readers on-side with their complaints, instead of alienating readers like me who now wonder if I can say anything about those topics without being offensive. The feeling of community and inclusiveness that was intended by the reporter was parsed by angry people whose attitude seemed to say, “You forgot my special identity which is more important than anything!”
Building community, strengthening civil discourse, celebrating public space, and working for democracy requires everyone to argue and discuss issues with an open mind, integrity, and a will to work together for everyone’s benefit. The July/August issue of Focus is an excellent example of these intentions.
New calls for a moratorium on old growth logging
There is a peculiar reference in Briony Penn’s recent report on seeking a land use agreement for Vancouver Island to consider the scientific principles and innovative planning found in the 2015 Great Bear Rainforest agreement.
Yet in that forward-thinking agreement there are some 25 million cubic metres of old growth to be logged from the GBR over the next ten years. To get some idea of that amount, take a look at the next logging truck you see, and then imagine 500,000 more.
Hope Jahren, the palaeobiologist who has written a new book, Lab girl: A Story of Trees, is of the view that in some 600 years, logging pursuits will have reduced most trees on the Earth to stumps, part of the broader outlook that our world is falling apart.
Guidance may be needed in preserving old growth forests on Vancouver Island. But as reading material to that end, the GBR agreement could hardly be a worse choice.