San Pareil residents question water petition

A delegation of residents from San Pareil had some harsh words for the Regional District of Nanaimo for the way it conducted a petition.

A delegation of residents who live in San Pareil had some harsh words for the Regional District of Nanaimo (RDN) for the way it conducted a petition in their neighbourhood that will see taxpayers footing the bill for costly water system improvements.

A petition asking residents to favour a $1.4 million plan that would see modifications to the water system to improve fire flow in the area, garnered enough signatures to allow the RDN to proceed with the work. Some residents, however, are accusing the RDN of unethical practices in conducting the petition process.

At the November 22 board meeting, a handful of residents said they were intimidated into signing the petition and questioned the process in which it was carried out.

The controversy surrounding the petition process pitted residents against each other and some of the homeowners not in favour of the water upgrades called into question the moral compass of the RDN.

Several RDN staff members were forced to defend the process that was used to carry out the petition. They explained it was a legitimate process that was not part of the elections act.

San Pareil resident Rose Anne McQueen accused the RDN of dividing her neighbourhood and displaying a serious lapse in its moral compass by releasing the names of those homeowners who had signed the petition.

As Chief Administrative Officer Carol Mason explained, the process used to conduct the petition was intended to be transparent and that included the public having access to all petition information.

Mason said the RDN chose to use the petition process to obtain approval for the water upgrades rather than a referendum process because the latter would have allowed non-taxpaying residents to have input on a project that has financial implications for people who own homes in the area.

It was also pointed out that the petition process is far less costly to conduct than a referendum.

The Shorewood San Pareil Owners and Residents Association (SSPORA) had come out in favour of the upgrades but not all neighbours were on board and the issue resulted in some heated exchanges.

Resident Helmut Orenjak asked the board to have an independent audit of the entire process and accused the RDN of being complicit with members of SSPORA to actively engage in dissemination of information to intimidate residents.

Home owner Lee Hunter also accused the RDN of using fear mongering tactics and stated that threats of their fire insurance rates going up substantially if no improvements were made were unfounded.

Barney Morrow agreed and said according to his insurance agent there is adequate fire protection for the neighbourhood and no concern for a rate increase.

Jo Dunn of SSPORA defended the RDN’s conduct and said the process was clear and comprehensive and people who canvassed the community in support of the water improvements did so respectfully and with no intimidation.

Mike Donnelly, Manager of Community Water for the RDN, also defended the way in which the petition was carried out and said it was a valid process. He reiterated that the infrastructure supplying water to the area is declining and currently there is a lack of full fire protection in the area but improvements to the system will remedy that.

Despite the repeated explanations by staff, which indicated the process was meant to be transparent, the angry residents still were not satisfied.

The board, in the end, voted to accept the results and proceed with the project, which will see homeowners’ taxes go up by about $400 per year.