Letters to the editor, April 2014

Focus readers, April 2014

A pivotal moment

Many thanks to Focus for continuing to cover the sewage issue. Shameful that our CRD directors can’t get off the rock often enough to learn that land-based communities simply pick up the phone and order an out of the box tertiary system when needed, and not fumble about for almost a decade spending tens of millions of dollars to choose an antiquated technology that will not meet the evolving complexity of our waste. 

Our sophisticated soup of pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and the toxic leachate from our landfill will continue to be pumped into the ocean with the secondary system the CRD is championing. We have an opportunity here to uphold our reputation as an innovative green community. How could we be so far behind the crowd that we can’t even see what the finish line could look like?

Shellie MacDonald


I enjoyed reading your letter on this perennial topic. Hard to realize there was a time when sewage treatment was not a general topic of discussion. As a retired designer of systems, structures, and processes to make our lives better, I have followed the events with interest, challenge, frustration, resignation and finally bemusement. The lowest common denominator appears to be winning again. 

Applied scientists and engineers solve the problems presented to them by their leaders/paymasters. They will “solve” a badly-framed problem as best the current technology will allow. They cannot redefine the parameters of the work assigned to them regardless of how complex and expensive the parameters make the task. Walking away is an option but can be career-limiting.

Another observation is that we mislabel things, which makes solving them much more difficult. When we talk about “saving the planet,” what we really are about is stopping evolution at the current point where 7-10 billion humans overwhelm the planet’s natural rhythm. What we really should say is “save our lifestyle” or “stop evolution,” which more properly defines the issue. The planet will be here billions of years after humans have disappeared.

The focus on sewage treatment has blunted analysis of the really big issues. The collection, transportation and ultimate disposal of human waste is what costs the big bucks. The actual treatment is almost a minor budget item. But because the political message has been focused on treatment, we have headed down the path of competing technologies when what we need, regardless of the treatment technology used, is the most efficient materials-handling system. With that in place, we can efficiently experiment with and modify treatment processes as the treatment science evolves over the next few decades.

If we had taken this approach in the beginning we may have located the facility on the virtually unlimited and easily accessible space available off shore on Trial Island by merely diverting the existing disposal line. It could already be operational as a pumping site awaiting decision on the “best currently acceptable” sewage process to be installed.

Jim Knock


Open letter to Ministers Polak, Oakes and Premier Clark

I am writing to you regarding the CRD rezoning application of McLoughlin Point for the secondary sewage treatment plant.

As you are probably aware, there is much wrong with the CRD’s plan and the first two days of pubic hearings on the rezoning brought a lot of legitimate concerns of the public to the forefront and resulted in a list of missing information that the Esquimalt council needs in its deliberations in making a decision on April 7.

Recently there was a letter sent by the Seaterra commission to the CRD chairman urging him to go directly to the Province to bypass the public hearings. Whether the CRD would resort to such an undemocratic move or whether the help of the Ministry will be needed after the April 7 date remains to be seen, but I wanted to offer you my advice out of the dilemma the Province will be in should Esquimalt decide not to approve the rezoning application. 

We have all heard that the CRD may ask the Province to go to binding arbitration in case of a standoff, but there is another, much better option and it is to send the CRD plan to an independent review. Many people that do not approve of the CRD plan would welcome a truly independent review which would either come to the conclusion that the CRD plan is the way to go or suggest an alternative such as the RITE Plan which would provide a tertiary level of treatment in a series of smaller, distributed treatment plants that would cost half of what CRD wants to spend and provide reusable water for lawn watering, toilet flushing and water table replenishment. 

A big point of interest to the provincial and federal governments could be that if the RITE plan actually does end up costing half of what the CRD plans to spend and produces cleaner, more environmentally-friendly effluent, both levels of government could reduce their contribution by half—that’s $125 million dollars in savings each—and help the environment more. 

Victoria can be a leader in environmental stewardship with it’s sewage treatment rather than a follower of an old, obsolete and dangerous sewage treatment plan.

Tom Maler

Fake LNG numbers?

Another brilliant article by David Broadland in the March edition on the fake, false, and fudged information Christy Clark and the BC Liberals are using to justify the LNG fiasco. May I add a tiny bit more?

In the December 18 issue of the Black Press community newspapers, the conservative columnist Tom Fletcher published a year-end interview with Christy Clark. Clark, speaking of the LNG project, said, “…to export natural gas to Asia is the single biggest opportunity we have ever had as a province to reduce greenhouse gas emissions around the world. In shipping this to China, we are going to help them wean themselves off some of the dirtiest coal in the world.” She has repeated that claim several times in later talks.

Fletcher, in another column on December 4, announced the demise of Gordon Campbell’s greenhouse-gas reduction program, with Clark’s LNG project as one of the primary reasons. Noting Clark’s visit to potential customers for LNG in China and Japan, Fletcher wrote: “Clark visited the Jiangsu LNG import facility in China that could be a key export destination. Globe and Mail China correspondent Nathan Vanderklippe covered the premier’s visit. He reports that the gas being imported at Jiangsu isn’t replacing coal. It’s being used in addition to coal…”

So much for our greenhouse-gas reduction strategies.

Jim Geiwitz


City: Prepare for the silver tsunami

Reading Gene Miller’s latest article on “Good design” (Focus, March 2014) reminded me of a quote by Paola Antonelli who is a senior curator in the Department of Architecture and Design at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City: “Good design is a renaissance attitude that combines technology, cognitive science, human need and beauty to produce something that the world didn’t know it was missing.”

Now that the province has axed the Provincial Capital Commission and handed over various properties to the City of Victoria, there is an opportunity to add an iconic statement to the harbour that is at present “missing.”

The parking lot at Ship Point has long been a personal frustration. With a 50-foot drop-off from Wharf Street, it is a natural location that screams out for a grand waterfront structure that would put the harbour on the architectural map for residents and visitors alike. (I see a tiered glass facade stepping up to Wharf Street—think Arthur Erickson’s magnificent Vancouver Law Courts on Robson Street.)

While we are visioning, maybe we could also move the Maritime Museum to the waterfront from its present landlocked and totally inappropriate position in Bastion Square.

Although I live in Saanich, Victoria is my downtown and I ache to see architecture that captures the imagination. Gene Miller describes some good examples, but some of the waterfront properties are sadly lacking a “wow” factor. Who will step up to the design challenge?

Paul Gerrard, Saanich Councillor


Victoria’s silver tsunami has been going on for decades. I work in local retirement communities, and most seniors residing in them came here from elsewhere: the Prairies, Ontario, the Maritimes and beyond. They chose Victoria for its natural landscapes, spacious gardens, beaches, blossoms, clean air, and mild climate. I’ve never heard any say they came for malls and commercial-residential developments, or a “belt-line” of downtown buildings. 

On the other hand the seniors I know with grandchildren want to see the latter playing outdoors in the kind of fields, woods and shoreline greenspaces they themselves grew up with. Too many kids seem to be getting flabby, sedentary and socially isolated in front of their screens. 

Mr Miller’s musings about urban renters made me think of 19th century British housing reformer Octavia Hill who invented the term “greenbelt” and co-founded Britain’s National Trust. She wrote about the social necessity of “life-enhancing pure earth, clean air and blue sky,” and observed that “there is perhaps no need of the poor of London which more prominently forces itself…than that of space.” Crowding used to be the curse of poverty; now we call it “density” and recommend it for the well-off. But the well-off like space too—for their families as well as for themselves. Of course, as long as they keep coming green space will indeed be lost to the buildings that house them: They will destroy what they came for. 

More than half the human population now live in cities, so if cities do not plan for large well-treed wildlife-filled gardens and parks (like the parks and commons Octavia Hill’s activism saved for London), upcoming generations will grow up nature-deficient.

Barbara Julian


Quick, somebody buy Gene Miller a sheet of seniors’ discount bus tickets so he can roam the transit network and encounter some of the new bus shelters he obviously missed before writing last month’s column on the coming silver tsunami of old folks. 

I have a double conflict to declare: For a few years, BC Transit once paid the bills and provided an occasional freelance job; then Gene Miller’s Monday Publications employed me for a few more. Maybe they cancel each other out.

Columnists get to exaggerate; without it who’d read them? But his aside about the social message of the city’s bus shelters—a place to cower for bus riders with shitty little lives awaiting the “loser cruiser”—goes way down the list of rhetorical devices and off the end. OK, the older glass and aluminum outdoor waiting rooms are a little shabby and dated, but check out the latest bus stop structures made of expanded steel mesh with nice Douglas fir elements and solar-power LED lights. Very cool, very 2000s. They should find a place in the local design lexicon of Victoria’s favourite flaneur.

Norman Gidney


Gene Miller is right—there is a silver tsunami coming to the region: retired people likely to live all over the region and to need efficient transit. I doubt if the “well heeled” wave arriving will want to think of themselves as riders of the “loser cruisers” as Miller aptly puts it. His comments about transit bring to mind recent experience with the Seattle Sounder system. A recent ride on the system from Bellevue transit centre and its large park-and-ride to downtown reveals comfortable express buses with coach-like amenities stopping at quality bus shelters and at a quite low fare. When I compare this to the “hard class” and hard-to-reach seats of the West Shore/ Sooke double decker buses I ride all the time and Miller’s comments about shelters as well—it suggests it’s time to look at regional control of transit funding, planning and management. The recent government BC Transit review did not look at the option of local control in Victoria. It would have been hard to avoid doing this had there been some form of unified metropolitan city government to deal with. A city, by the way, that would be a member of the Big City Mayors’ Caucus whose meetings have recently been reported in the press. Victoria was not there.

John Olson

Provincial Capital Commission will be missed

The recently proposed sale by the Provincial Government of Langford lands bordering the Island Highway approaches to Victoria raises an issue: Who will continue the Provincial Capital Commission’s role in managing this long-standing planning and land management program?

These properties were among numerous land holdings painstakingly stitched together over the 50-year life of the Provincial Capital Commission to protect the scenic heritage of Victoria. Envisaged by Premier W. A. C. Bennett as the Capital Ways project, dozens of critical properties were acquired and enhanced to beautify the Capital Region.

The Langford lands bordering the Trans Canada Highway were part of this strategy. The intention was to provide “scenic portals” on the approaches to Victoria preventing the type of ribbon development that unfortunately disfigures many cities elsewhere in the province. The idea was modelled on the sophisticated land-planning techniques for viewscape preservation developed in such places as Switzerland, Austria, the United Kingdom and Oregon, USA. 

Numerous properties were therefore assembled adjacent to both the Trans Canada and the Pat Bay Highways. These acquisitions were gradually assembled in collaboration with the Ministry of Highways, the GVRD, and local municipal governments. The PCC also funded enhancement projects including planting hardy roses along the banks of the Pat Bay Highway, and seeding native wildflowers on medians and verges. The Commission also assisted with aesthetic improvements to highway overpass designs.

This Capital Ways initiative was one of many projects quietly pursued out of the political limelight. The PCC, its partnership initiatives with local governments and volunteer agencies, and properties held in trust for the people of BC, will be sadly missed.

Martin Segger