Archive for June, 2009

Info-pollen

By David Parkinson

A bee gathering nectar from the fruit of a young Oregon grape blossom. Hive gets nectar, flower gets pollen, in a nice example of symbiosis.

A bee gathering nectar from the fruit of a young Oregon grape blossom. Hive gets nectar; flower gets pollen: a nice example of symbiosis.

There’s more to life than books, you know,
But not much more.
Oh, there’s more to life than books, you know,
But not much more, not much more.

(The Smiths, 1983)

One of the reasons I started this blog is because I believe that it’s important to exchange information among people who are working together to create social change. I suppose everyone believes that, but I wanted to put my money where my mouth is by starting something that I hoped would evolve into a venue for people to talk about what’s going on in the region, what’s going well and what’s not going so well, and what we hope to do to build on the successes or address the challenges.

Aside from this blog, there are a few local email lists that I’m aware of which people are using to exchange newspaper articles and blog posts, online petitions, and other pieces of information having to do with the environment, politics (local and not-so-local), climate change, resource depletion, spirituality, eco-psychology, and a host of related topics. I know, from trying to keep up with what’s going on out there, that this blizzard of information can be overwhelming. I use Really Simple Syndication (RSS) to track just over three hundred online sources of information: mainly blogs and news sources; I subscribe to probably about thirty or forty listservs or email lists; lately I have started to get turned on to some sources of information via Twitter; and on top of all that, I have people who send me email messages pointing me at things they think I might be interested in. All in all, a hefty dose of news and opinions.

I consider myself near the top end of the scale of ‘info-tolerance’. (Which is not a boast, trust me.) But not everything worth reading or knowing about comes to us through electronic media. I am aware that we are all surrounded by people who have vast amounts of valuable knowledge, experience and wisdom acquired through years of study, work, and practice. Lately, I’ve been thinking of some ways we can share some of the things we know, or know how to do, or the things we want to know more about. Everyone is out there reading and learning about some of the same things, some different things; but what we need are more ways to bring all of this knowledge together.

So here are some ideas I’m throwing out there. If you see something you think is a good project to get started and you’d like to help with it, let me know. If you think of something I’ve missed, let me know.

Community bookshelf

Many of us are avid readers of books having to do with peak oil, climate change, food security, community resilience, environmentalism, and many other topics that could be loosely lumped together under the name ‘sustainability’. Most of the people I know and talk to are always telling me about what they’re reading, what they just read, or what they’re looking forward to reading. And I’m a voracious reader who always has three or four books on the go at a time. And so we end up with these books on our shelves, which seems wasteful since they should be out there circulating in the community. And we end up with all of this knowledge in our heads, which also could be spread around more, if we had more opportunities to pass it on.

So I decided to try out a jazzy little internet tool called ‘LibraryThing‘ to start up a little virtual bookshelf that we can use for exchanging books. This nascent project was inspired by Heinz Becker, who recently gave me a copy of Helena Norberg-Hodges’ Ancient Futures, with the proviso that I pass it on when I finish reading it. (Also, it was partly inspired by a similar community bookshelf at the Freakin’ Coffeeshop in Courtenay, which anyone reading this should absolutely visit next time they find themselves in Courtenay; it’s a five-minute walk from Creekside Commons co-housing project, which is also worth a look-see.)

If you click this link, you can see the books I’ve entered so far.

After I sent out my first email about this community bookshelf project, I heard from two people who have started similar projects in the community for book collections of special interest, so it might be possible to organize a single collection of resources which can be freely borrowed and passed around.

Here are some of the good reasons to set up a community bookshelf:

  • People can borrow these books for a longer time than the public library permits. In the case of reference material, that can be important.
  • We can’t always compel the public library to accept donations or purchase books that we might find worthwhile (especially when they are out of print), nor are they likely to stock multiple copies of the same book. Right now, our public library is so strapped for space that they cannot accept all donated books.
  • A project like this can supplement local work on sustainability and Transition. (See below for some ideas on how this could happen.)
  • We could even generate a small amount of money for worthy local causes, through user fees & fines; the worth local cause could be the purchase of books that people feel are worth owning in the community.

Here’s how you can get involved, if you think this is a worthwhile project:

  • If you have books lying around that you think might be of interest to others around the community, and the books are in some way about developing an appropriate and resilient local economy, preserving the natural environment, producing/preserving food, etc., then let me know. I am happy to physically house (and catalogue and track) any donated books until such time as we can find a better home for them. And I’m sure we can find a better home for them.
  • There will need to be some policies about how we manage donations & borrowing, so it would be nice to have some help working that out.
  • If you’re interested in borrowing one or more of the books listed so far, let me know. Let’s get this ball rolling!

Book reviews

Another way to pass information around, especially when it concerns a book, website, blog, or online article that you have just read and enjoyed, would be to write a review of the book or article. Inasmuch as it bears on the sort of thing we discuss here on Slow Coast, I would be happy to consider publishing it. I have wanted to write reviews of some of the things I’ve been reading since I started this blog, but somehow I always find myself with something more pressing on my mind when I sit down to pound out my weekly post.

If there is something you’re reading that you simply must share with others out there, consider writing a review. And if we had a community bookshelf up and running, then people who want to read what you review could find a copy easily and pass it on to the next in line.

“Slow Readers”

A similar idea, and one which (gasp) would take place in the real world would be a book club devoted to discussion of the books and other things we’re all reading. I’ve never belonged to a book club, because I’m not sure I could stand the regimentation of having a number of people all reading the same thing at the same time. But why not have a book club whose main purpose is just to rave (positively and negatively) about books to like-minded bibliophiles? Why not a monthly book club that consisted of five- or ten-minute presentations from numerous readers about the things they were reading? If something sounds worth reading, according to someone’s report on it, then it you can borrow it from the community bookshelf and read it, then pass it along.

Combine this idea with food, award extra points for especially witty or clever reviews, and this could be the hit of the dreary winter months. I’d love to hear about what other people are reading and enjoying. What a great way to build community and share ideas!

Teach-ins

Kicking it up a notch from the book club would be something like a teach-in, in which one person or a group could take on the task of reading, digesting, and presenting the information from a book, online article, or whatever source of information they thought was worth passing along. I’d be willing to do this, and I have a couple of books in mind which I think should be more widely known. Again, this could be organized as a panel discussion with a theme; several people could take on the task of preparing a presentation on a book, or a chapter, or some aspect of a topic. Kind of like a free community-driven seminar.

The upshot is that we have a variety of tools and techniques available which can be used to spread knowledge, skills, and wisdom around more widely. Some of them are decidedly old-fashioned (e.g., sharing stuff) and some depend more on recent technical innovations (e.g., LibraryThing). But if we put them to good use, we can all teach and learn as much as care to.

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To all lovers of books and libraries and librarians: do not forget that the Powell River Public Library will be holding its second public consultation on the subject of a new library facility for the region. This meeting will be at 7:00 PM on Tuesday, July 7 in the gymnasium at Vancouver Island University in Powell River. Please come out and share your thoughts about whether we need a new library and (if so) what your vision is for the future of our library.

Rural reality

It's late June and I'm still behind on planting! That bandage on my arm is holding it together, since I blew out some upper arm muscles a few weeks ago chopping weeds.

It's late June and I'm still behind on planting! That bandage on my arm is holding it together, since I blew out some lower arm muscles a few weeks ago chopping weeds.

By Tom Read

For anyone considering moving from city to country, the better to build and tend gardens, split and stack firewood, care daily for animals and keep up with the many tasks required to maintain a comfortable and sound country homestead, be forewarned: it’s harder on one’s body than you might expect. When we moved to Texada Island nine years ago, I had spent much of the previous 30 years working in office jobs and living a relatively sedentary life. During those urban years I dreamed of living on a rural property, particularly of having space for a really large garden.

Sound familiar? Do you want to grow more of your own food in a fairly large garden, such as wouldn’t fit into an urban lot? Then consider: first you’ll need to clear land, remove weeds, roots and rocks, loosen the soil to a suitable depth, make and add compost and fertilizer, and design and install an irrigation system. Only THEN do you get to plant the garden you could only dream about in the city. Even if you use machines to help with this work your body will feel the strain. This is especially true if your body happens to be north of a half-century in age.

Yes, physical labour helps me stay fit, but over the years I’ve discovered a couple of crucial differences between rural work and urban exercise routines.

First, rural work can be demanding and at times tedious, but it always feels good to see the tangible results. The urbanite’s make-work exercise routine may feel satisfying physically, but it doesn’t produce anything of actual value (aside from maintaining one’s health, which is certainly valuable). Example: Creating a well-made garden bed is a labour that both gives a good all-around workout and sets the stage for producing food, whereas peddling a stationary bike for an hour just gets you an aerobic workout.

Second, rural work has to be done when it’s needed, regardless of whether you’re tired or your arm muscles are in pain from too much weed-wacking the previous day. Thus, if you put off the garden bed digging too long while waiting for your arm to feel normal again, you’ll miss your planting window for the season.  There’s pressure to “get it done” with work around the homestead because ‘tis the nature of seasons to slip away before you’ve quite got your garden planted or your wood split or the micro-hydro system repaired. In contrast, if you miss a few sessions at the gym in the city, so what?

Not to sound too self-righteous about it, but I’d rather do physical work around our rural property than an exercise routine, any day. So I’ll keep at it as long as I can, regardless of my growing list of aches and pains as I get older. Rural work is part of my reason for living, which is not something I could say about mere “exercise.”

By their fruits ye shall know them

By David Parkinson

Almost ready to be picked and savoured...

Almost ready to be picked and savoured...

Anyone who accepts that the threats posed by peak oil (and general resource depletion), climate chaos, and economic meltdown are threats to be taken seriously must wonder how we’re supposed to get from here to there. Here means a society deeply dependent on fossil fuels and committed to endless economic growth. There means… well, that’s the big question, right? Anything other than the status quo — or the status quo only more of it — is hard for us to imagine. Much of the long and complicated work of our local Transition effort will revolve around the re-imagining of the future of this region; and to make that re-imagining happen, we first need to understand that we have the power as citizens to design the future we want to see and then work together to build it.

This is a massive task, and in order to be successful it will require collaboration and the creation of many new projects designed to strengthen our ability to provide food, affordable shelter, water, jobs, education, medical services, and all of the other goods and services which support the life of our region. To the extent that providing these goods and services now depends on excessive use of fossil fuels or other scarce materials, to the extent that they create excessive atmospheric pollutants, and to the extent that they actually undermine the local economy, we will want to create alternatives out from under the current system.

I admit that it’s hard to know what this is even going to look like. And my reading of many of the leading ‘post-peak’ thinkers (e.g., Sharon Astyk, John Michael Greer, Richard Heinberg, Rob Hopkins, James Howard Kunstler, Dmitry Orlov, among others) tells me that none of them knows much more about what to expect than I do. The solutions they are advocating are all about preparing for as much as possible, given some reasonable assumptions about what we can expect to be coming at us. The idea is not to prepare for this or that specific thing so much as it is to become resilient in the face of whatever might be headed our way. And much of that preparation is pretty basic stuff, good common sense, and falls into what Sharon Astyk has written about under the name of “The Theory of Anyway“, which is to say: the things we should be doing anyway, whether or not there are crises forcing us to change our behaviour.

One of the very basic things which we should be doing anyway is being good stewards of all of the assets in our community. That we are not succeeding at this is obvious in every clearcut, every polluted waterway, every improvised roadside dump. We are going to have to reduce the amount and impact of our wasteful and environmentally destructive behaviour as resources become scarcer and more valuable.

One community asset which is currently being wasted more than it ought to be is fruit. There are countless abundant fruit trees throughout the region, and many of them drop their fruit each year because no one cares enough for the fruit to gather it and preserve it. After all, apples, pears, and other fruits are easily available year-round in our grocery stores, and cheap — especially when you consider that often they come from halfway around the world — so there is no huge impetus to make sure that we scavenge every last fruit from every last tree in the area.

But it is sad to see good food wasted, especially when people are going hungry around us. So for the last four years the Powell River Fruit Tree Project, a small but scrappy community initiative, has been working on a next-to-zero budget to see that as much fruit gets saved and used as possible.

Here’s how it works: the owner of fruit (or nut) tree who wants the fruit harvested contacts the coordinator of the Fruit Tree Project, Anne Michaels. Anne arranges for a team of volunteer pickers to go to the property and pick the fruit. The standard arrangement for distributing the fruit is that one-third goes to the pickers, one-third to the owner of the tree, and one-third to a local food pantry or other charitable organization to be distributed to those in need. But that arrangement is flexible, since sometimes the owner of the tree is happy simply to have the fruit picked and taken away, if only to reduce the risk of having a bear come and do it.

Anne is working hard to see this project expand. She is hoping that the Community Resource Centre in Powell River will be home to some fruit-preserving workshops and work parties this year. One of the difficulties in past years has been that the charitable organizations struggle to give away fresh fruit during the summer months, and there has been no way in previous years to can, freeze, or dry the harvested fruit so that it can be stored and distributed year-round. Now that the Community Resource Centre has a fully operational and inspected kitchen, the Fruit Tree Project can use that kitchen to preserve fruit for later use. Anne is planning to dehydrate a lot of the harvested fruit, in the hopes that dried fruit and fruit leather will be a product that can bring a little money into this perpetually cash-strapped project.

Anne also talks about expanding the project to take in more than just tree crops. What if we could arrange for crews of gleaners to swoop in when homeowners have more lettuce, beans, or (most likely) zucchini than they know what to do with? What if those crews could be sure that this fresh local food could get to those in need, via local soup kitchens or food pantries? And what if enough money  (or another form of exchange) could flow through this project to pay for a coordinator, for some equipment, or for the use of the kitchen facilities?

What if there were a whole regional network of gardens producing food which could be assured of not going to waste, because all homeowners knew that the community gleaning team were just a phone call away? If the volunteers could be paid either in gathered food or in some other form, such as a local food-backed currency which could be exchanged at any time and not just during the time of harvest? What if more people in the community were able to learn the skills involved in safely preparing and preserving the summer harvest against the long cold wet winter months?

And what if all of this activity were generating true economic value? How could it not? This would be food produced in the region by people who live here, harvested and shared among other people in the region, producing jobs and stores of food for anyone willing to work.

Somehow we have to get from here to there. And the only way to do that is to start with what’s here, now, and try to make it get a little bigger and a little better each time around. So if you’re interested in getting more involved with the Powell River Fruit Tree Project, feel free to contact Anne Michaels at prfruittreeproject@shaw.ca or (604) 485-4366. If you have fruit or not trees which you anticipate needing to have picked this year, let her know. If you would be willing to go out into the community as a volunteer picker, let her know. And if you have ideas about how to make this project even better, Anne is looking for a committee of supporters to brainstorm and work on expanding the project. Let her know if you’re interested in being involved.

At The Dump (it’s all happening)

By Tom Read

Lawnmower wheel gets new life as garden gate support, an example of creative re-use made possible by Texada's "heavy metal dump."

Lawnmower wheel gets new life as garden gate support, an example of creative re-use made possible by Texada's "heavy metal dump."

Zebras are reactionaries

Antelopes are missionaries

Pigeons plot in secrecy

And hamsters turn on frequently

What a gas

Ya gotta come and see

At the zoo

From At The Zoo, a song by Paul Simon and Art Garfunkle

Like a certain fictional zoo, much more happens at Texada Island’s heavy metal dump than meets the eye of a casual passerby. Texada’s beloved dump, also known as “Lot 6,” offers a wealth of opportunity for the imaginative and creative visitor.

Earlier this week my friend Jim and I went shopping for wheels and more at the dump. It’s not actual shopping, of course, because everything is free for the taking.  It’s not an actual dump, either, because technically this place is a transfer station. So, thinking of transferring something worthwhile to ourselves, we arrived late one morning for a bit of a boo.

Upon entering the yard suddenly we were in a different world. We beheld treasures. This place is called “the heavy metal dump” because it’s got heaps of scrap metal in various forms, plus car tires, spent car batteries, dead vehicles and battered appliances — but not electronics. No household garbage, either — that’s sacrilege!

Like pilgrims on a mission, we were in search of small but tough wheels for the swinging end of a couple of yet-to-be-built garden gates.  Now, a longish garden gate needs a wheel at the latch end because otherwise the whole structure sags and drags. And what did we see as we entered the sacred grounds of the heavy metal dump? Wheels everywhere! Wheels on castaway lawn mowers, on shopping carts, on and off kids’ bikes, on upended barbeque units, and stand-alone wheels detached from unknown devices, then abandoned hither and yon as casual dump decorations. We filled a five gallon bucket with several most excellent wheels, then moved on to the really good stuff.

I found a roll of thin but strong wire, practically new. Jim found a large, heavy workbench vise with broken innards, but felt certain he could repair it. Then we both came upon the remains of a small trailer, and some distance away, two perfectly serviceable quad tires, already mounted on wheels and axles. Wow! Something magical began to unfold as we picked our way through the jumbled dump. Here, several metal shelves, barely dented; there a compressor off a large truck, worth several hundred dollars if given a little touch-up by a mechanic, and, behold: a set of almost-new truck tires hidden in plain sight.

But the best find of the day came when we discovered two abandoned weed-wackers. It happens that after nine years my gas weed-wacker had recently burned out its ignition coil. Jim surmised, correctly as it turned out, that at least one of these dump delight weed-wackers would have a perfectly good coil. When we got home, he made the switch, so to speak, and now my old weed chopper runs like new.

It’s a happening place, all right. Ya just gotta come and see at the dump!

Much more happens at Texada Island’s heavy metal dump than meets the eye of a casual passerby. Texada’s beloved dump, also known as “Lot 6,” offers a wealth of opportunity for the creative visitor.

Earlier this week my friend Jim and I went shopping for wheels and more at the dump. It’s not actual shopping, of course, because everything is free for the taking.  It’s not an actual dump, either, because technically this place is a transfer station. So, thinking of transferring something worthwhile to ourselves, we arrived late one morning for bit of a boo.

Upon entering the yard suddenly we were in a different world. We beheld treasures. This place is called “the heavy metal dump” because it’s got heaps of scrap metal in various forms, plus car tires, spent car batteries, dead vehicles and battered appliances — but not electronics. No household garbage, either — that’s sacrilege!

Like pilgrims on a mission, we were in search of small but tough wheels for the swinging end of a couple of yet-to-be-built garden gates.  Now, a longish garden gate needs a wheel at the latch end because otherwise the whole structure sags and drags. And what did we see as we entered the sacred grounds of the heavy metal dump? Wheels everywhere! Wheels on castaway lawn mowers, on shopping carts, on and off kids’ bikes, on upended barbeque units, and stand-alone wheels detached from unknown devices, then abandoned hither and yon as casual dump decorations. We filled a five gallon bucket with several most excellent wheels, then moved on to the really good stuff.

I found a roll of thin but strong wire, practically new. Jim found a large, heavy workbench vise with broken innards, but felt certain he could repair it. Then we both came upon the remains of a small trailer, and some distance away, two perfectly serviceable quad tires, already mounted on wheels and axles. Wow! Something magical began to unfold, as we picked our way through the jumbled dump. Here, several metal shelves, barely dented; there a compressor off a large truck, worth several hundred dollars if given a little touch-up by a mechanic, and, behold: a set of almost-new truck tires hidden in plain sight.

But the best find of the day came when we discovered two abandoned weed-wackers. It happens that after nine years my gas weed-wacker had recently burned out its ignition coil. Jim surmised, correctly as it turned out, that at least one of these dump delight weed-wackers would have a perfectly good coil. When we got home, he made the switch, so to speak, and now my old weed chopper runs like new.

It’s a happening place, all right. Ya just gotta come and see at the dump!

I will never own a car (ask me why!)

By David Parkinson

One of the places in the bike's drive train where radial energy is translated into linear energy.

One of the places in the bike's drive train where linear motion is translated into radial motion (or vice versa). Elegant and efficient.

I’ve got a bike,
You can ride it if you like,
It’s got a basket, a bell that rings
And things to make it look good.
I’d give it to you if I could, but I borrowed it.
(Roger Keith “Syd” Barrett [1946-2006])

Sometimes I wonder what percentage of the North American population makes it to the age of 47 without ever having owned a car. 10%? 5%? 2%? I have no idea. Certainly not many, although the number may be about to start rising and never stop.

I got my driver’s license as quickly as I could once I turned 16. I loved having the use of the parental car to get around and see friends, since many of my high-school friends lived all over Toronto. As a boy, I was pretty fascinated by cars of all kinds, and I expected that — like any normal person — I would soon have a car of my own. And then I left home.

For many years, I was too poor to think about buying and maintaining a car. And luckily during those lean years I was living in Ottawa and Montréal, cities which both have excellent public-transit systems which I used extensively. Shortly after I moved to Montréal in 1986, I bought myself a bicycle, an 18-speed Peugeot which cost more than I could easily afford, but I used it a lot to get from Pointe St-Charles, the down-and-out working class neighbourhood between the Canal Lachine and the Fleuve St-Laurent, all the way up to Côte-des-Neiges, where I worked, and then up to l’Université de Montréal, pretty much at the top of the city. I loved that bike. And then it was stolen during some hockey-related mayhem in 1989 (I think after the Canadiens lost the Stanley Cup to the Calgary Flames).

Among my circle of friends and acquaintances who lived in Montréal at that time, I can think of only one who owned a car. For the most part, people were able to walk or take a bus or the Métro just about anywhere and at any time. For longer trips there was the Greyhound buses and trains. I cannot remember one time when I really wished I owned a car. I especially rejoiced in not owning a car when I would hear the sounds of a vehicle being towed away for being on the wrong side of the street and preventing street-cleaning or snow removal.

I bought another bike not long after losing my Peugeot, a very slick Bianchi mountain bike with Biopace chainwheel, which was the newest geeky hardware. Not long after that, I moved to Ithaca, New York, where I lived down in the town and had to get to campus every day up a long hill. Much of the time, though, I ended up walking in snow and rain. But when the weather was nice and not too hellaciously hot, I would slog up that hill in the morning and then get to sail home downhill all the way.

Six years later, I moved to Seattle and for some reason put my bike into storage. There was a moment, right before I made the move, when I was seriously considering buying a car, because I expected that I would need one to commute from home to work. But by that time I was beginning to enjoy the challenge of non-car-ownership: I was becoming more conscious at that time of the serious environmental downsides to widespread car use, and willing to put effort into going without a car so long as that was feasible. So I commuted by bus for a number of months, and then discovered the joys of vanpooling and carpooling. We were lucky to have friends whose cars we could borrow if we needed to do errands requiring something bigger than a backpack. Otherwise, we walked a lot in that very walkable city.

Still, I was not using my bike at all. I tried to bike to work a couple times, but that was about 28 miles and required me to get on the road at an ungodly hour. So that experiment didn’t work out.

And now I live in Powell River, a very small city with very large potential for bikeability. I use my bike to get around everywhere, mainly but not exclusively within city limits. There are some aspects of biking around here that I am not so happy about, one of them being the sometimes inexplicable reaction from car (and truck) drivers. Some of them come up so close beside me that I wonder if they see me at all. Others pull this really irritating stunt where they hang back in my blind spot — or so they think, but I have a rearview mirror and I can see what they’re up to — and then wait for the right moment when they can pull way over to the left, sometimes right into the oncoming lane, pound on the gas pedal, and roar by me. Hey, thanks!

Sometimes I’ll walk into a store or office and someone will say something like, “Good for you, biking on a day like today.” (I usually get this in the wintertime, or during other periods of crummy weather.) But I don’t feel particularly virtuous about riding my bike, since I don’t have much choice. The thing I do feel virtuous about is not having a car. And even that, to be honest, I don’t really congratulate myself for. I consider myself extremely lucky to be able to choose not to own a car. It would be different if I had children, or a job which I needed to commute to, or a physical disability, or any number of good reasons to need to use a car frequently. There are real disadvantages to not owning a car, and I simply need to live with those. I believe that for my situation and physical abilities, I have no need to own a car. I don’t expect to own a car, although I might end up owning a piece of a shared vehicle at some point in the future when I can no longer bike everywhere I need to go.

Car ownership provides certain obvious benefits. But the costs are very real too, and assuming that the cost of oil will continue to rise into the foreseeable future, these costs will take a larger bite out of an ever-shrinking average household budget. For some people, the cost of car ownership already exceeds the benefits. I believe that this is going to be the case for more and more people over the next months and years. But not many of those people are ready, able, or willing to use a bike to get around. Ditching the car in a world built for cars is hard. Some can do that, and more will be giving it a go.

I expect to see much more interest in bikes, conventional and electric, over the next few years. A bicycle is far and away the best way of traveling short distances. The drawbacks come from weather, road conditions, aggressive drivers, and people’s physical limitations. But these can be overcome to a large extent. The problem is that all of our attention goes to making the roads car-ready, and very little goes to making the roads ready for alternative, low-cost, healthy modes of transportation.

Some of the infrastructure we’ll need to put in place:

  • Dedicated bike lanes;
  • More places to buy and repair bikes;
  • A community cooperative workshop with parts, tools, and skilled technicians;
  • More and better ways of integrating bikes and buses, cars, light rail, etc., so that longer journeys are feasible;
  • Incentives for shared car ownership and/or regular bike use.

A good place to start would be a regional bike club. Anyone want to start one?

As car ownership becomes less feasible for more people, they will be looking for alternatives. Increased bicycle use is one of many likely avenues worth exploring. The days of single ownership of fossil-fuel-burning vehicles are numbered. And we’ll be doing well to start investigating the options which will allow people to get around, work, and take care of their families. It will be a slow transition, but a steady one, and we’re not ready yet.

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This recent podcast from Vancouver Cooperative Radio‘s Redeye program has an interview with one of the curators of the Velo-City show at the Museum of Vancouver, which runs until September 7, 2009. Worth a listen, and the show sounds worth seeing if you’re in Vancouver.

Local economy betrayed by the $5 customer

By Tom Read

Centennial Service, not a mere commodity seller, but a key part of our island's local economy

Centennial Service, not a mere commodity seller, but a key part of our island's local economy


Centennial Service has the best commercial location on Texada Island. Its prominent spot at the corner of Blubber Bay Rd and Gillies Bay Rd greets traffic flows coming in from the ferry, or travelling between Van Anda and Gillies Bay, making this a true corner gas station. Even the greenest first-time visitor just can’t miss it.

The owners, John and Linda, have lived on Texada much of their adult lives. I’ve observed the way they conduct business during my nine years living here, and I’d like to point out a few realities that visitors and Texadans alike should consider about our only local gas station.

Let’s start by getting one thing clear: Centennial is not really a commodity-selling business, like gas stops in the cities. For example, if you ask the city gas station attendant for directions, you might get a very brief, often uninformed answer, as in “I don’t live anywhere near here, sorry” while they shift their focus back to the long line-up waiting to buy junk food. Note that it’s an “attendant” you’re usually talking to, not an “owner” or someone who thinks and acts like an owner.

But if you ask John or Linda or Ian (whom I consider an honorary owner, given his dedication) for help, you get real, well-informed, interested help. This could include detailed directions (with a local map) if you’re lost, being a trusted drop-off point for an envelope or package for pickup by someone else later, or having the station opened up after hours so you can get gas if you’ve run out. That’s service, not commodity-selling.

Speaking of after-hours service, consider that in last winter’s snowfalls, our local gas station owners came in to work very early and stayed very late so that our intrepid highway maintenance guys, Al and Sy, could refuel the island’s snowplow/sand truck as often as needed to keep our roads open.

Yet this is a business where volume is everything. If you don’t sell “x” amount of gas each month, you’ll end up paying a higher wholesale rate than your competitors, who will eventually drive you out of business if people choose to buy their gas solely on the basis of price. Our Texada station really can’t offer the lowest prices in the region. It must contend with being off the beaten path for fuel distribution, so the owners often must pay more to bring gas and diesel here. Thus, we “regulars” typically pay a bit more per litre than the city people across the water do. But that’s ok for a loyal customer, because we know that the price spread on fuel between island and mainland isn’t price gouging, it’s just necessary to stay in business. And, believe me, this community really doesn’t want to lose this particular business.

Conclusion: there is just no way this gas station can survive without the loyal support of local people. My understanding is that Texada’s Centennial Service has about 75 such loyal customers who are keeping the station afloat, sometimes just barely. So where are all the other hundreds of vehicle owners who live on Texada buying their gas? Ah, here’s where the $5 customer comes in, pulling up to the pumps right now: “I’ll take $5 worth,” says the polite lady in the nice car, who has lived here a decade or two. “I just need enough to get to Powell River,” where, obviously, she will buy her fill of gas.

Does this hurt? Of course it does, especially for local business people who pride themselves on giving the community superb service that would be unheard of in a city. Local business people who care about their customers are treasures, the very foundation of our local economy.

Economic progress or economic vandalism?

By Richard Fletcher

Davie Bay, Texada Island. (Photo by Tom Scott.)

Davie Bay, Texada Island. (Photo by Tom Scott.)

Lehigh Northwest Cement (Lehigh), whose parent company is HeidelbergCement AG, (Germany) has applied to the BC Provincial Government for use of the foreshore at Davie Bay, Texada Island, for a barge loading facility. Lehigh plans to quarry limestone over 36 hectares (with the works extending over 75 hectares) in order to extract 20,000 tons per month of 3 inch aggregate limestone for shipment to the Lower Mainland and adjacent areas for use in road base and associated uses.

The Power River Regional District has required Lehigh to present and discuss its proposed plans with the community of Texada Island and a meeting is scheduled for June 27th at the Texada Community Hall. There is also an invitation to visit the site between 11am and 4pm on the same day. Residents and ratepayers of Texada are encouraged to take up the invitation to walk the site and attend the public meeting in the evening.

There are some fundamental issues involved with the Lehigh proposal that Texada islanders need to consider and resolve.

1. Social License

Firstly, it is important to appreciate that Lehigh will need a “social license” from the residents and ratepayers of Texada before it can proceed with this project. A social license means that Lehigh will need the tacit and explicit approvals of governments, communities and other stakeholders. So what you as a Texada resident and ratepayer think of this project will have a strong influence on whether it goes ahead or not.

2. Davie Bay

Davie Bay is an area of outstanding natural beauty; the shoreline and islands of Davie Bay are spectacular. Tom Scott has posted a selection of pictures of Davie Bay. To view these go to http://picasaweb.google.co.uk/tomnsharon/DavieBay.

Davie Bay has little islands just off-shore and spectacular views of the Georgia Strait, including Lasqueti and Vancouver Islands. Texada’s Official Community Plan (OCP) considers Davie Bay a potential park site.

IMG_5942

Picture 6

Lehigh plans to construct a conveyor or ramp, 433 meters in length, 7 meters in height, spanning the causeway and tidal island at its crest (at the skyline of the first picture immediately above, and on the picture at the top of this post), and build a barge-loading facility on the Lasqueti side of the tidal island in Davie Bay. Clearance for the conveyor would be approximately 6 meters, and it would entail the building of several pylons to support the structure. The conveyor or belt would be 4 feet wide, over the tidal island and extend about 50 feet out into the ocean to enable 10,000 ton barges, 350 feet in length, to load.

Judging from other quarry operations on Texada and on the Sunshine Coast it would appear little can be done to lessen the environmental impact.

3. Location of the new quarry

The quarry operators on Texada have to date quarried the northern limestone deposits on a large scale over decades. While returning economic benefits, these operations have done substantial damage to the ecological system in the northern part of the island. What efforts have been made to restore the natural environment have largely been unsuccessful.

Picture 5

A quarry operation in Davie Bay half-way down Texada would take quarry operations on Texada to a new level; quarry operations would then extend from the north to the sensitive mid-part of the island, impact the natural beauty, recreation, be intrusive, and threaten the economic and environmental “balance” of Texada.

4. Economic justification

Texada is host to 3 long-established limestone quarries:

(1) Lafarge Corporation Texada Quarrying Ltd (TQL). In 2005, the Gillies Bay quarry increased cement limestone and aggregate rock production. Approximately 6 million tonnes were quarried with up to 1 million tonnes stockpiled depending upon final contracts. It is expected that this production will consist of 3 million tonnes of cement limestone; 0.6 million tonnes of chemical-grade limestone; 0.5 to 1.5 million tonnes of crushed aggregate (limestone, volcanic and granitic rock) and rip-rap; and, 40 to 50000 tonnes of high brightness white limestone.

(2) Ash Grove Cement West Inc. at Blubber Bay, in operation since 1907. Records indicate that Ashgrove has shipped about 5 million tonnes annually. About 1 million tonnes of waste rock is sold as construction aggregate. The Company sells aggregates, agricultural limestone and also cement rock to their cement plant in Seattle, Washington, chemical grade limestone to their Rivergate lime plant in Portland, Oregon as well as aggregates and chemical grade limestone in BC.

(3) Imperial Limestone Ltd. near Van Anda, is another US Company based in Seattle. There is also a non-operational quarry owned by Lafarge; it is the terrace-like landscape as seen from Powell River.

Currently production rates at the 3 quarries are at low levels.

Lehigh Northwest Minerals Ltd (Lehigh), is a subsidiary of HeidelbergCement AG, a German company which is a global competitor to Lafarge Corporation, which is the owner and operator of the TQL quarry. Historically Lehigh has been a major customer of TQL buying substantial quantities of aggregate from TQL under long term contracts. It is believed the current contract is due to expire in 2013.

Global construction and raw material companies such as LaFarge and Heidelberg Cement prefer to be vertically integrated and thus have physical control over sources of raw material. Compared to the TQL quarry, potential production at Davie Bay is stated to be at a modest output rate, at 20,000 tons per month, or 240,000 tons per year, subject to market conditions. In contrast the TQL quarry north of Gillies Bay is a low cost producer and can ship about 5 million tons per year.

One presumes that Lehigh’s quarry operation in Davie Bay will be a higher cost operation because of its projected small scale, the high employees to production ratio, and cost of infrastructure will be in current dollars (versus historical costs for TQL). The Lehigh management would likely use potential production at Davie Bay as a “hedge” against price gouging by TQL, should aggregates regain price buoyancy in the future. This is particularly valuable, as it is a physical hedge, of unlimited duration, unlike financial hedges which are short term and expensive.

Given the low production rate of the Davie Bay quarry, Lehigh would likely retain its contracts with TQL, and use the Davie Bay facility as both a hedge and a “peaking” facility, only bringing in the quarry when aggregate prices are high, to augment the TQL supplies. As the Davie Bay quarry would be high cost, this is a most probable scenario —it means of course that production (and jobs) would be highly intermittent hence the value to Texada’s economy would be very low, and taking into account environmental and social costs, negative.

Lehigh indicate that the quarry at Davie Bay would employ 10 people. If Davie Bay is used to displace TQL supply, TQL jobs would likely be displaced. If used as a peaking facility, employment would be intermittent and in a period when jobs are not hard to find at the peak of the cycle.

Longer term there is very little chance those relationships would change as TQL has many, many years of low cost reserves.

It is said that the Lehigh proposal relates to federal “stimulus spending” in Canada and the USA. It would be difficult for a corporation to justify a capital investment of $5-8m at the present time. There is abundant idle capacity in the industry, we are in the midst of the impact of the credit crunch, and there is a major competitor, a few kilometers away which happens to be a low-cost producer working at low production rates.

The environment would be better protected if federal subsidies were directed into more meaningful projects. Lehigh (Heidelberg Cement) should reach an arrangement with Lafarge. The regulators should insist on it.

5. Cost to Texada

Benefits are questionable

There would be construction of the ramp, the barge loading facility, and ancillary facilities to have the quarry in a “ready to operate” condition. The 10 jobs promised by Lehigh are highly likely to be intermittent, or displacing jobs at TQL, as explained above. The environmental and amenity costs on Texada outweigh these questionable economic benefits.

Jeopardizing future options

Texada already has a major limestone quarry in TQL that encompasses a large portion of the island with apparently enough limestone for 200 years and a deep sea loading facility. The other two quarries also comprise very large tracts of land and are also currently suffering under the economic conditions.

Texada is still largely a natural wilderness area, with the most stunning rugged natural beauty of all the Gulf Islands. Fortunately the environmental damage of the quarries has been restricted to the northern part of the island, but if this quarry goes through this could be about to end. If Texada’s environment is abused this will affect the decisions of people wanting to move here. Texada sits astride the Malaspina and Georgia Straits, near major population centres, and has huge potential for recreation, nature tourism, wilderness activities, attraction as a holiday destination and as a retirement community. These attributes create their own economic activity offering a sustainable economic base. Quarry activities in one of the most beautiful parts of our island, mid-way down to the provincial park, might jeopardize our economic options for the future.

Also, if Davie Bay is permitted it would create a blight on the area surrounding Davie Bay, including Shingle Beach and threaten recreation activities in the south of Texada. Any operation of the quarry would create intrusion and traffic, and the site is 14 km down the island on gravel roads.

6. Democracy

Some say, enough is enough. We don’t need another quarry. The project offers doubtful economic benefits to Texada, and has the potential of doing major damage to the Texada’s environment in a most sensitive part of the island. It could threaten Texada’s alternative economic prospects for the future.

This is a decision to be taken by ALL Texada residents and ratepayers, and what you think does matter. You are urged to participate in full in the upcoming events of June 27th. It is hoped that TAN itself will hold a public meeting to gauge the public mood and subsequently survey individual opinion on Texada, similar to the “referendum” TAN conducted with the WestPac LNG proposal.

As you can see from the above note, each of us should consider this matter carefully, obtain as much understanding as possible, and make a decision personally whether this project should be supported or opposed.

You may want to write to our Power River Regional Director Dave Murphy (davewm@xplornet.com). Please copy to Frances Ladret who is the Administrator at the PRRD  (administration@powellriverrd.bc.ca).

You may also want to write to the parent company of Lehigh Northwest Minerals Ltd:

HeidelbergCement
Berliner Strasse 6
69120 Heidelberg, Germany

Comments should be directed to the attention of the Supervisory Board, or contact  them electronically at http://www.heidelbergcement.com/global/en/company/contact.htm.

A core part of HeidelbergCement’s corporate mission is building on the three pillars of sustainable development: economy, ecology and social responsibility.

++++++++++++

Richard Fletcher is Vice-Chair of Texada Action Now Community Association. This note is written in a personal capacity.


Post facto

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