Archive for the 'Regional District' Category

Texada’s solid waste conundrum

By Tom Read

Texada’s forests, streams and lakes are notably pollution-free, and I hope we keep ‘em that way by dealing responsibly with our solid waste. Here's a 2007 photo I took of Case Lake, which feeds Rumbottle Creek, which in turn empties into the sea at Raven Bay.

Texada’s forests, streams and lakes are notably pollution-free, and I hope we keep ‘em that way by dealing responsibly with our solid waste. Here's a 2007 photo I took of Case Lake, which feeds Rumbottle Creek, which in turn empties into the sea at Raven Bay.

On Monday evening, Linda and I and about 20 other Texadans attended a presentation in Gillies Bay about the future of solid waste in our region. Officially it’s called the draft Powell River Regional District Solid Waste Management Plan and its duration is 2009 to 2019. Now, I know that’s not a sexy topic for many readers, but it has serious implications for Texada Island and the Powell River region. So I hope you’ll bear with me for at least a few paragraphs.

The plan’s goal is “working toward zero waste,” a realistic recognition that eliminating waste is desirable but not easy to achieve. Just so you know what we’re talking about here, the term “solid waste” refers to lots of things, including household garbage and trash, construction debris, all sorts of recyclable materials, and organic matter, especially food waste. In fact, food waste alone accounts for about 30% of our region’s total solid waste, and it is fairly shocking to realize that this is the single largest category of waste that we produce.

The presentation didn’t break out food waste for Texada, but I doubt that the 30% regional figure applies to us. My sense, based on being an active member of the community here for nearly 10 years, is that Texadans do a lot of composting and feeding of kitchen scraps to domestic animals. So I believe that the amount of food waste is less here than in “urban” Powell River. Since the plan’s overall goal is to eliminate waste, and since food waste is the single biggest category of waste in the region, it should come as no surprise that the plan recommends more backyard composting if it can be done without attracting bears (not a Texada problem, since we don’t have bears here), along with possible construction of a centralized $2.6 million composting facility.

Texadans will be expected to help pay for the feasibility study for this regional facility, since it’s claimed that Texada could benefit. How? Well, the consultant on Monday evening proposed that Texada, since it has no bears, might be a good location for the region’s centralized composting facility, “transportation notwithstanding.”

Ah, yes, transportation. Leaving aside the question of whether Texada makes sense as a possible location for a regional composting centre, there’s no denying that our island is quite dependent on ferry transportation for nearly everything, including moving our waste off the island. And that’s where the plan worries me. During the next 10 years, the plan calls for greatly reducing export of waste from the region as a whole, but it assumes that Texada will continue to export its solid waste to Powell River. Given what we’ve heard from Texada’s Ferry Advisory Committee members about potential increases in ferry fares during the next few years, let alone by 2019, we islanders could see a significant increase in our waste disposal costs.  More illegal dumping could be the result.

Ferry fares, and transportation costs in general, tend to parallel the price of oil. It’s way beyond my expertise to forecast the next oil price spike, but I think we’ll need an on-island solution for processing our solid waste sometime in the next 10 years.  Why? Because oil can increase in price much faster than new, strictly regulated solid waste management solutions can be implemented. This poses a conundrum for Texada and likely the region, too.

Fortunately, Texadans have a long history of creative problem-solving. I can envision a cooperative effort whereby Texadans consolidate our transport of solid waste to Powell River, perhaps starting informally among immediate neighbours. Just to be clear, I’m fully aware that Sunshine Disposal runs a reliable and affordable household waste collection service for Texadans who happen to live along its route. But the waste volume any one household can put in the tagged bags is limited, and there are times when a special trip to the Powell River transfer station (aka “the dump”) becomes necessary.

Some of us live off the beaten path altogether, so our only legal choices are to burn our waste or take it to Powell River. I tried burning household waste years ago and found it a smelly, polluting and time-consuming experience, so now we make the dump run to Powell River a couple times a year. There’s no reason islanders couldn’t cut transport costs by coordinating trips with friends and neighbours, which is now easier than before thanks to this website recently created by a Texada community volunteer, Tom Scott. Cooperation builds community and avoids raising our taxes to pay for consultant-driven solutions.

We might also learn something from our neighbour, Lasqueti Island.

Lasqueti already has a landfill exclusively for its local residents. Unfortunately, that landfill wasn’t built to present BC standards, and it might be prohibitively costly for upgrades to conform with provincial regulations. I’m told by our Regional District staff, however, that a new solid waste management plan for Lasqueti is pending but not yet ready for public release. Texada is considerably larger than Lasqueti in population, transportation services and physical size, but we might benefit by observing how our neigbours resolve their waste disposal problem.

The transportation issue remains my overall reservation about the plan, even though as noted above there are potential ways we could cope with it. I’ve also got a few quibbles regarding the plan’s treatment of illegal dumping and its view of glass as mere trash. But on the whole, the proposed plan looks quite positive. I like its emphasis on reducing waste in the first place, especially from over-packaging. In our household we’re already starting to do that by removing excess packaging in the store in Powell River, taking home only the product. Another positive approach is to reuse containers, such as re-filling our pharmaceutical prescriptions in the same bottle (adding a new label each time).  One of the reasons we support Pharmasave in Powell River is because its owner, Wanda, encourages such re-use and recycling wherever possible.

Solid waste is a constant fact of modern life. Thus, the plan’s provision for an ongoing volunteer monitoring committee staffed by a part-time “waste coordinator” will keep this un-sexy but vital topic continuously visible in our region and allow new solutions to be developed more quickly. Maybe it’ll even help solve the Texada solid waste conundrum.

Local, local government

By Tom Read

Public meetings can be visually dull, so instead here’s a photo I took years ago showing the industrial scene at Blubber Bay, which in this case can serve as a rather loose, rocky (ahem!) analogy for how efficiently the PRRD directors ran through their agenda last night at Gillies Bay. Besides, I forgot to bring my camera to the meeting.

Public meetings can be visually dull, so instead here’s a photo I took years ago showing the industrial scene at Blubber Bay, which in this case can serve as a rather loose, rocky (ahem!) analogy for how efficiently the PRRD directors ran through their agenda last night at Gillies Bay. Besides, I forgot to bring my camera to the meeting.

Not a typo, the title of this piece means that Texada Island’s main local government body, the Powell River Regional District Board of Directors, actually convened in all its glory on Texada yesterday for its monthly Directors’ meeting. This made it a physically local, local government for the first time in anyone’s memory, according to a few longtime Texadans I spoke to. Usually, the directors gather in Powell River, not especially accessible for Texadans who want to keep an eye on the local politicians.

The Texada local government tour came about mainly through efforts of our own Electoral Area Director, Dave Murphy. Dave got to show off our island’s impressive range of public and community facilities to his political colleagues, driving everyone around in the Texada Island Inn’s 13-passenger van. The assembled dignitaries then dined at the Tree Frog Bistro.  And then everyone got down to business at the Texada Community Hall in Gillies Bay.

The meeting started a few minutes after 7:00 pm, with probably around 80 to 90 people in the audience. That’s an extraordinary level of attendance for a local government meeting on an island summer evening, in my experience. Why so much interest? Answer: most likely, Lehigh’s proposed South Texada Quarry at Davie Bay, virtually the only controversial item on the night’s agenda. That item drew speakers pro and con for about 20 minutes, while the directors silently listened.

No fireworks erupted, no discussion ensued, no decision occurred. That’s set for next month in Powell River, of course (fireworks optional). No, in Gillies Bay last night the meeting rather lacked entertainment value after each side had had its say, because Chairman Colin Palmer (representing Electoral Area C, “south of town”) closed the meeting to further public comment so the Board could get on with its business. Indeed, from that point on, the directors moved swiftly through their agenda like limestone dropping from a conveyor onto a barge.

Thus, much of the audience departed shortly after public comments ended. It was, after all, a pleasant summer evening.

But those of us who stayed got to applaud as several distinguished islanders received much-deserved public recognition for their decades of volunteer efforts. We witnessed the founding of the Texada Island Heritage Commission, a new public service on our island that emerged through the efforts of the Texada Heritage Society. Plus, we got a subtle lesson in local government: all the real work happens in committees; the monthly directors’ meeting merely ratifies decisions made earlier in the process. The whole thing lasted only about an hour and twenty minutes.

Finally, the directors, their two staffers and a lone newspaper reporter all adjourned to the Texada Island Inn’s pub in Van Anda for a bit of libation and conversation before heading back to Powell River, the true seat of Texada’s not-so-local, local government.

An amazing public meeting

By Tom Read

Photos of public meetings can be pretty boring, so in light of this week's post topic, here's Rumbottle Creek on Texada Island, instead (taken Thursday am)

Photos of public meetings can be pretty boring, so in light of this week's post topic, here's Rumbottle Creek on Texada Island, instead (taken Thursday am)

For years, our region has tried to avoid implementing a poorly conceived, oppressive piece of environmental legislation spewed forth from Victoria called the Riparian Areas Regulation (RAR). I’ve written about it in this space before, pondering Texada Island’s fate. Alas, we can dodge this bullet no longer, because the Powell River Regional District, which includes Texada, is finally moving to comply with the RAR. This means public meetings.

The first Texada meeting happened this week. Islanders were invited to a “roadshow” featuring three regional district directors, one staff planner and one consultant. So on a cold but dry Tuesday evening, off we drove to the Texada Community Hall in Gillies Bay, stopping first in Van Anda to pick up an elderly friend who doesn’t drive anymore. Our friend, Phyllis, lives by the ocean and has drainage ditches on either side of her property. She was quite worried about the RAR’s potential impact, and she wanted to attend the meeting to ask questions and express her opinion.

About 25 islanders showed up, a decent-sized group. I had already seen the consultant’s presentation (posted online here), so I knew that he wanted to saddle us with development permits, or “DPs” as the jargon goes. At this point I’d like to remind the reader that our Regional District is one of the very few in BC that deliberately employs no building inspectors or bylaw enforcement officers. We enjoy a greater degree of freedom – and a greater degree of personal responsibility — than other places as a result of this policy. Texada’s Official Community Plan Vision Statement starts with the words, “The Texada Island community is committed to maintaining a spacious, independent and sustainable rural lifestyle with minimum regulations.” And we mean it, too.

So I was feeling a bit resentful at this meeting because our tax dollars were being used to hire a consultant who claimed we had to adopt one of the most expensive, intrusive and therefore oppressive of urban-style land use regulations, the dreaded “DP.” This new regulatory push arrived in the name of protecting the island’s fish and to help our Regional District avoid potential lawsuits (not necessarily in that order).

The consultant lives in the city of Courtenay and served as a regional district planner on Vancouver Island for many years. He spoke in jargon. He gave off an air of “I’m an experienced professional planner and I know what’s best for you.” He kept referring to places on Vancouver Island, (population 700,000) as examples that Texada Island (population 1,107) should emulate. He claimed, over and over, that we had to adopt DPs as the only effective way to protect Texada’s fish. He insisted that only DPs could offer significant protection from legal liability to our Regional District, leaving the vague but menacing threat of potential lawsuits in the air. Most of all he tried to convey his biased viewpoint as having a sense of inevitability, which reminded me of the “resistance is futile” mantra of cyborg conquerors in a Star Trek episode.

Mr. Consultant obviously underestimated Texadans. We politely pointed out to him that nobody protects the fish on this island the way we do. We explained that local residents possessed more common sense than to pay $2,500 or more to a consulting biologist just to determine whether a particular body of water near our property contained fish, as would be required using the DP approach. Mr. Consultant appeared surprised to learn, from research done by yours truly, that a legal opinion on the RAR, paid for by the Union of BC Municipalities, showed that the risk of legal liability for Regional Districts is low.

A glimmer that something good might happen came when the audience told Mr. Consultant that we wanted to hear details about other options for complying with the RAR. The least readable of his presentation slides showed a text-packed chart comparing five different approaches; he had only discussed two in any detail: DPs and the even more oppressive Zoning option. What about the others, we asked? So, with some reluctance, Mr. Consultant gradually explained the less regulatory ways to comply with the RAR, all the while peppered with questions from what had become a very animated audience.

The attending Regional District directors caught the mood, too, as they heard Mr. Consultant concede that there are very real, much less costly and less egregious options spelled out right in the RAR legislation. To cap things off, Texada’s area Director, Dave Murphy, stood at the end of the meeting and proclaimed himself firmly in favour of freedom — there will be no RAR-inspired DPs on our island if he can help it.

As we were leaving the hall I heard someone call out, in a triumphant voice, “who says public meetings are unproductive?” And as we drove Phyllis back to Van Anda, she sounded much relieved, too.

“Decisions are made by those who show up,” goes the saying; this was a night for Texada to shine as a community.


Post facto

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