Electoral Area H Director Bill Veenhof (white shirt) and Regional District of Nanaimo staff endured the anger and wrath of residents who stood up to speak against the marine outfall of the $10.7 million Bowser sewer project and rezoning of the site for a wastewater treatment plant at the public hearing held Monday night at the Lighthouse Community Centre. — Michael Briones photo

Bowser residents say no to rezoning of two lots for wastewater treatment plant

Veenhof, RDN staff absorb barrage of angry comments on plan to flush sewage into the ocean

The result sounded strongly one-sided at a recent public hearing on sewage outfall.

The message delivered by the majority of the more than 200 people that attended the public hearing held at the Lighthouse Community Centre on Monday night (July 9) on the rezoning of the proposed Bowser wastewater treatment plant site was an overwhelming “no.”

The properties to be rezoned are located on Pitt Road and Shaughnessy Drive in Electoral Area H.

The wastewater treatment plant is a major component of the $10.7 million Bowser sewer project that will serve 99 parcel owners in the village centre.

The residents are not against the sewer project. Their major contention is the plan to use the ocean to discharge treated wastewater.

They want Area H Director Bill Veenhof to relay their message to the Regional District of Nanaimo board that they are against the marine outfall plan and are calling the regional district to explore a land disposal alternative.

Throughout the meeting, Veenhof and RDN staff could do nothing but absorb the residents’ wrath and disappointment. They endured a barrage of angry comments. They did not answer questions, which Veenhof told the public outright, they were not going to do because it was a public hearing.

Veenhof said they were there only to listen and to record the public’s input regarding the proposed rezoning of lots for the purpose of building a sewage treatment plant.

Written submissions were also collected prior and during the meeting.

Ian McJannet asked why the RDN chose to proceed with this marine outfall plan when only 67 parcel owners voted in favour of it while 200 people that were present at the meeting clearly opposed it. As well, he questioned the rationale behind the RDN’s plan when the rest of the world is seriously considering reducing pollution dumped into the ocean.

“I seriously believe you should all be totally ashamed of yourself if you go ahead with this plan of fouling our environment,” said McJannet. “I just hope with a bit of luck, when the next election comes around, you would all be looking for new jobs.”

Thomas Gates, who is also the spokesperson for the Stop Bowser Ocean Sewage Group, cited that the RDN’s plan goes against the grain of the region’s Official Community Plan policy of achieving sustainable development.

“How can it be met by polluting the marine environment?” Gates asked. He pointed out that there were studies already that point toward a land disposal option that the consultant, Stantec ignored.

“Bowser residents and (communities that could be impacted) were misled by the RDN officials and professionals who let us down,” said Gates. “Our pleas for a cleaner environment have fallen on deaf ears. Our elected representative votes against us and this is wrong.”

Brian Holyk, who represents the Area H Ratepayers and Residents Association, said they remain shocked at the “lack of vision the RDN is demonstrating by forcing this outdated inferior SBR (sequencing batch reactor) plant and marine disposal pipeline project through.”

“By now we all know that better technology and more effective systems with land disposal are feasible and exists in other jurisdictions and are possible here according to previous engineering studies,” Holyk pointed out.

“Lax, outdated provincial and federal wastewater regulations are being exploited in this situation. We should be held to a higher standard. Someday soon, bewildered residents will look back on this and wonder… ‘what were they thinking?’”

Holyk went on to stress that they are opposed to the rezoning and added that perhaps “the next referendum we will have in Bowser is to get out of the RDN.”

One resident asked the public to raise their hands if they opposed the rezoning and asked Veenhof if staff can record the show of hands in favour or against. Veenhof said they will only do so if they approach the mic and state their views.

That led to a bench clearing situation as the majority of the people left their seats to line up to express their opposition to the rezoning and marine outfall. The lineup of people included parcel owners who voted for the project, but who now want to rescind their endorsement.

Barry Bevilacqua asked Veenhof if they would allow The NEWS to take a photo of the list of people that voted against the rezoning to ensure that they are all counted. Veenhof said no and that they would be posted at the RDN website.

When all had spoken, Veenhof informed the public that all comments and input would be compiled and made available to the public. The RDN board will decide whether to give the rezoning application third reading at its regular board meeting on July 24.

If it passes, the zoning amendment bylaw will be forwarded to the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure for consideration before it can be adopted.

Send story tips: michael.briones@pqbnews.com

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