Letters to the editor

Focus readers, September 2014

The truth about dilbit

In your July/August issue, Katherine Palmer Gordon comprehensively addressed the question whether a dilbit (diluted bitumen) spill will or will not float. But there is a simple solution to the problem: Don’t send any dilbit down a pipeline, and don’t ship it by tanker. Instead, construct an Alberta refinery near the oil sands, or if you prefer, at the BC/AB border, and transport only refined westbound petroleum products by pipeline and then by tanker. The refined products float, are far easier to clean up than dilbit, and land or sea spills are appreciably less damaging to the environment than dilbit spills. 

We Canadians ship too many raw materials out of the country. We should increase secondary and tertiary manufacturing operations and sell only final products or near-final products to foreign purchasers, improving our manufacturing skills as well as our balance sheets. There should be no rush to sell any natural resource or derivative thereof. Better to preserve our natural resources for our children.

Bob Barrigar


Do we really need Site C?

I appreciate the heartfelt article written by Briony Penn but I feel that all is lost in this battle. Several weeks ago, I came across Request for Proposal 1875 on BC Bid, the Province’s online resource for procuring goods and services and tendering public works projects. RFP 1875 was labelled as “Site C Clean Energy Project Early Works Clearing” and was issued by BC Hydro Power Authority. It called for bids to clear approximately 670 hectares of land and remove approximately 77,000 cubic metres of merchantable wood. Also requested was some road construction and levelling for a landing at the dam site. 

As a young citizen of this country and province, I understand that there is not a need for a project like Site C. Indeed, when juxtaposed to Maslow’s hierarchy, Site C is a definitive want. I also understand that while many of us (perhaps a majority even) may not want Site C, and that all of us certainly do not need it, we will get it anyway. Fascism is not new. A “Harper” or “Clark” government has little to do with those individual persons and a whole lot more to do with a far greater legion of forces. These legions get stronger when they are promised lucrative contracts for projects like RFP 1875. When we hand the reins over to these forces, pick up our ipad in one hand and our (hopefully craft) beer in the other, we are vulnerable to being kicked in our collective junk. We are going to have to drop something, if we wish to protect ourselves from the wants of others.

Ryan Gisler


Cloudy, with crazy periods

I just want to say how encouraging it is to know that Gene Miller is available to Victorians. In a world caught up in political correctness to the point of fear, he is a breath of fresh air. Please continue to allow his brilliant and entertaining thoughts to grace your pages.

Jeff Todd


The sewage treatment conundrum

The CRD’s own ongoing studies show that the marine life along the present sewage outfalls is very vigourous. In fact, it is found that mussels living near the outfalls are about 15 percent larger than mussels living some distance away. We are properly cautioned not to eat these animals because of the risks posed by heavy metals, pharmaceuticals, and other toxic materials being absorbed by them from the outfall. But now the CRD proposes spending nearly a billion dollars to remove the marine food source, while leaving most of the heavy metals and other contaminants in the outfall. The removed marine food source will then be treated and concentrated into a toxic sludge to be stored and transported in and around populated areas. These populated areas also happen to lie in a high risk earthquake zone and we now have the added danger posed by the possible spillage of this concentrated toxic material in populated areas. 

Why is the CRD proposing to spend nearly a billion taxpayer dollars to make the sewage disposal situation much more dangerous for human residents, while at the same time reducing a food source for local marine life?

David P. Goodenough, P. Eng.


Jean Randall’s excellent letter in the last edition reminded me that I had yet to put my expectations of the sewage treatment plant (that I am sure at some time will be built) in writing. My expectations are simple: The end products of sewage treatment should be potable water, and fertilizer that will not contaminate the crops it is used on. Done!

Richard Weatherill


Mayor Jensen’s flip-flop

The articles and readers’ views in the July/August issue of Focus have done a great service in bringing well-thought-out information and clarity to the subject of sewage treatment and exposing the folly of the present path. So much of what is written and spoken on the subject is too often based on emotion rather than facts. Problems are not solved by back room deals or hastily drawn conclusions—they are solved by taking the steps to define the objective, then deciding on the most appropriate steps to achieve it.

Is the overarching objective to contribute to the overall reduction of climate change? Or is it to dispose of sewage in the most effective manner? Or is it to preserve major related financial grants? If climate change reduction is the most important, then clearly the others are less so, unless they can be achieved in a manner that equals or enhances the success of the first. 

David Broadland’s article provides ample evidence that they do not. This gets to the heart of the matter, namely: Why is treatment necessary? Is it because it is “The right thing to do” based on emotion, political pressure, or sound scientific evidence that the present approach must not continue? Gut feeling and political pressure provide no rational argument for deciding whether to stop or proceed. Scientific measurements, such as water content measurements graded over distance and noted changes with time as Victoria grows, are fundamental to understanding what impact our outflow has. The fact that we may be already blessed with perhaps the most effective disposal system in the world should not be dismissed.

 I do not pretend to know the answer, but I am certain that proceeding without that information is absurd. If and when we find that we need to proceed, that is the time to decide how to do so. It will be the time to renegotiate supporting funding, with a full and persuasive story of what needs doing and why. We should not be seduced into approving an unsound action plan just because we will lose funding we do not deserve. Our present actions do little to convince that senior government funding will be well spent.  

Do we know what components of the sewage are hazardous? Metals? Detergents? Pharmaceuticals? Would it be more cost effective to take action to reduce their contaminating effects at source? So many things, such as paints and solvents, are diverted—what more might be done?

The more I hear about this project, the more I am convinced it is a very costly solution looking for an ill-defined problem. 

Few will argue that there are many other actions that could be taken to mitigate the effects of climate change rather than increasing them. Are the threats of melting ice and rising sea level to be ignored? Are the effects of climate change on growing and providing sufficient food to be denied? Working to minimize these evident threats seems to be more urgent than bowing to unsubstantiated pressures to solve an unquantified local problem.

J. Rory Kirby


Community Sport and Cultural Development’s Resources from Waste (available online) is the strongest call yet from the BC government to close the human waste loop. Urine and fecal matter are topsoil transformed—and need to return to the soil that grows our food. 

David Broadland’s July/August article stated that “doing nothing would be like taking 78,000 average cars off the road for one year compared to the emissions burden attached to the McLoughlin scheme.” That’s if we discount the effluent’s potential topsoil carbon value.

A huge loss of thousands of years of topsoil (sequestered carbon) occurs by sea-dumping our effluent. Clean it up by preventing proliferation of industrial and pharmaceutical contaminants in the first place, then safely return it to farms for topsoil renewal and fertilizer, without fossil fuel. But don’t sea- dump it.

Resources from Waste admits: “The IRM [Integrated Resource Management] model does not include revenues from metals, minerals or fertilizer.” In other words, it hasn’t accounted for the massive topsoil loss and carbon value represented by sea-dumping CRD’s effluent.

Incorporating this value by ending sea-dumping, even CRD’s current plan becomes highly carbon efficient and cost effective. This is true before using the effluent for heat and energy. And that’s a simple add-on with either central or distributed treatment.

Two films deal with contaminant eradication and effective effluent treatment: Crapshoot: The Gamble with Our Wastes (free at NFB.ca) and Living Downstream (see www.LivingDownstream.com).

Larry Wartels


David Broadland’s article about the mayor of Oak Bay was well written and although basically based on sewage treatment, the people of this community have many more experiences with this flip-flopping and the council is perhaps as much to blame. 

The issue of secondary suites is one example of what is still being studied, as is the decision to possibly ban leaf blowers. 

The kitchen scrap program, although well intentioned, is truly an expensive white elephant. When we put out a green bin with two or maybe three bags of scraps in it every two weeks and see a very large truck stop in front of the house and hydraulically lift the bin to this truck, we can only imagine the energy that is being used. Of course, this has dramatically cut down on ordinary garbage—to about one bag per two-week period—which requires another large truck to pick up. So there are two big trucks to pick up three or four bags. 

Finally, the deer situation is another example of indecisiveness. The mayor decided to cull 25 deer but then found it cannot be done without traps or CRD funding, so he put this project on the back burner. Now his worship is considering having Oak Bay build its own traps and is urging the CRD to continue with its funding.

Still, the most expensive [flip-flop] for the taxpayers will be the sewage fiasco.

Dorothy Slater


CRD/School District wasted water

The CRD spends $40 million annually on purifying and conveying the Capital Region’s water supply.

Two or three times each week, the playground at Eagle View School in View Royal  is watered by sprinklers. I wonder how many other schools and parks use our world-class drinking water in the same way. (Imagine how the Third World would view this waste.) The grass should be mowed and then allowed to remain dormant. It will turn green again in the fall. Not watering won’t kill the grass, but watering it is killing the taxpayer and is reducing the disposable income within the local economy. This is a wasteful and inefficient use of taxpayer’s money. 

To continue the waste, we get expensive CRD media campaigns telling us we must conserve water or we could be fined. Doesn’t it make sense that the CRD Parks and the School budgets should also stop wasting water? CRD engineers should be calculating the savings of using water obtained from tertiary-treated sewage.

The Seaterra monster, with its many heads, should be planning for several municipal tertiary plants on public property and on new high-density housing projects.

Voters should be demanding: Turn off the tap and stop using valuable drinking water for parks and playgrounds. Tertiary-treated water is safe to water the boulevards, parks and school properties.

A cost/benefit analysis will prove that the $783 million-plus for the Seaterra secondary treatment project, with its 36-kilometer pipeline to Hartland and back, is a waste of resources, money and water. CRD taxpayers should not be ignoring the Capital Region’s leaking faucet. Before the work commences, we want a written cost/benefit analysis, estimate and a guarantee in writing.

Art Bickerton


What would Gandhi do?

I read with appreciation, in June’s Focus, Leslie Campbell’s editorial “What would Gandhi do?” Another good question to ask is “What would Gandalf do?” As the shadow of corporate Mordor begins to fall on our peaceful shire, and the dark lord eyes the pristine West Coast, how will each of us play our part in returning the ring of greed to be melted in the fires that forged it? In times of great need, mythology as well as history helps us find the way. 

Arnold Porter


Sustainable fish farming?

Thank you for printing a letter (July/August 2014) about the ethical-environmental costs of annually killing 58 billion land animals for meat.

In the same issue, “Sustainable fish farming?” by Judith Lavoie praises land-based fish farming. She says that salmon raised in Kuterra Fish Farm near Port McNeill “seem happy.” It would be nice to believe they were, but how could one tell? We do know that salmon evolved to swim freely through whole oceans and then find their way back up the river of their birth to spawn. We do know that factory farming of fish is the same as any other factory farming: animals cramped, confined, medicated, and suffering muscle wasting, joint pain, infection, parasites, and injuries. And we do know, through recent research, that fish are intelligent, sensitive animals that feel pain in the same way we do. Researchers have discovered that the neurons in the pain perception regions of fish brains act just as ours do, and that they have receptor sites for opiates, meaning that they have receptor sites for pain stimuli: fish feel pain. (Queen’s University, Dublin)

A team at Edinburgh University discovered that fish will rock or rub body parts against glass to relieve pain, and that this pain avoidance is learned, not reflexive. Professor Culum Brown of Maquarie University in Australia discovered that fish communicate with and recognize each other as individuals. Anyone who’s had a pond of goldfish may know how they learn to come to be stroked. They enjoy the pleasurable sensation—not the behavior of a creature that doesn’t notice pain.

There is no longer any excuse for consumers to be ignorant of the suffering of fish they eat, often as an alternative to eating mammals, whose suffering is more familiar to us.

Dr Theresa Burt Perera of Oxford University studies how fish “perceive, learn, memorize, and use spatial information to navigate complex 3D environments.” “Freedom of movement is taken to an extreme in fish,” says the Oxford Navigation Group. So how do they feel when that is taken from them? Ms Lavoie says that salmon at Kuterra Fish Farm are monitored for stress. How are they monitored?

Fish also exhibit fear response when chased. How do they react when they are caught for slaughter in industrial aquaculture tanks, or are crushed at the bottom by the weight of all the other fish crammed with them into tanks? Apparently fully 12.8 percent early mortality is accepted at Kuterra. And when their shortened life is over (growth having been accelerated by non-natural feeding) how exactly are the fish slaughtered? Common methods include being bashed with clubs, or having their throats slashed or heads cut off while still alive.

What about this industry is not cruel and repellent? Interestingly, Kuterra is partly funded by Tides Canada, which also funds the Vancouver Aquarium, which doesn’t mind cramming even whales into tiny tanks. 

In sum, it’s hard to argue that land-based fish farms are superior to open-net farms, or to the cruelty of hooks and air-suffocation in “sport” and commercial fishing. There is no kind way to kill a fish.

Barbara Julian


Fracking facts

Advocates of the liquified natural gas industry seem to ignore the toxic process with which natural gas is being extracted. This process is known as “induced hydraulic fracturing” or “fracking.”

There is growing peer-reviewed scientific evidence of the harmful effects of contamination to aquifers by shale gas development and deep coalbed methane extraction. Pro-fracking opinions focus on the big bucks and ignore the detrimental effects on our limited fresh water systems.

According to geologist David Hughes our provincial government is on the hook for 65,000 fracking sites over the next 25 years to meet its gas export licenses granted by the National Energy Board.

A fracking well in a shale formation can use between 7.5 million to 19 million litres of water. That water becomes toxic by the addition of fracturing fluids mixed with friction-reducing additives, biocides, oxygen scavengers and stabilizers to prevent corrosion of metal pipes, and acids to remove drilling mud. Eighty percent of this fracking fluid comes back to the surface and 20 percent stays in the shale excavation. High cancer rates and damaging side-effects to human and animal life occur where waste-water tailing ponds and fracking fluid have escaped into underground and above-ground waterways.

This is the part which outweighs the financial benefits. Toxifying our limited water resources is insanity—no amount of remuneration can justify contaminating aquifers and surface-water for coming generations.

The green house gas emission footprint of the LNG industry is much greater than the burning of coal according to Bob Conibear, engineer and former LNG operations manager. One must take into account the leaking gases during extraction, the fuel spent to transport, the cooling of the gas into a liquid for export by tanker, and the burning at the country of destination.

Bill Woollam