Local Governments in the Comox Valley Showcase Green Infrastructure Innovation


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Third of three events focuses on role of communication, collaboration and cost-sharing in progressing to sustainability

The projected growth of Vancouver Island and resulting cumulative impacts are drivers for reassessing where and how land is developed, and water is used. To promote a new way-of-thinking related to infrastructure policies and practices, CAVI-Convening for Action on Vancouver Island has organized Showcasing Green Infrastructure Innovation on Vancouver Island: The 2007 Series.

Each event has been co-hosted by a regional district and one or more of its member muncipaliteis. Each event has comprised presentations in the morning and a tour of project sites in the afternoon.

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The Showcasing Innovation Series

The goal in showcasing innovation and celebrating successes is to promote networking, build regional capacity, and move ‘from awareness to action’ – through sharing of green infrastructure approaches, tools, experiences and lessons learned as an outcome of designing with nature.

“The Showcasing Innovation Series creates pride and enables local governments to tell their stories in a way that no other forum currently provides,” observes Kim Stephens, Series organizer and event Moderator, and Program Coordinator for the Water Sustainability Action Plan for British Columbia.

According to Kim Stephens, “A Showcasing Innovation event is not a conference. Neither is it a workshop nor seminar in the conventional sense. Rather the purpose of the presentations is to whet the appetites of participants for the site tour that follows. The quality one-on-one conversations take place on the bus and when we go for a walkabout.”


Showcasing Green Infrastructure Innovation in the Comox Valley

The Comox Valley event was titled Connecting to Sustainability. The City of Courtenay and the Regional District showcased how they are making tangible progress on-the-ground through a philosophy that embodies the three C`s: communication, collaboration and cost-sharing.Ron neufeld, comox strathcona regional district

Ron Neufeld, the Regional District`s  Senior Manager of Operational Services, reports that over 40 people registered for the Comox Valley event. According to Neufeld, “Once the program details were announced, the response was immediate and we very quickly reached the bus capacity,”

“When we look at who registered, we are struck by the diversity of the audience. There were representatives from three regional districts, ten municipalities, the Clearbrook Waterworks District from the Fraser Valley, two provincial ministries, a number of private sector organizations, and several non-government organizations,” Kim Stephens elaborated.

“We had a great mix of people and perspectives. We had a representative of the Association of Vancouver Island Coastal Communities, a number of senior managers in engineering and planning departments, on-the-ground practitioners, and community activists,” he added.

To read a story that provides a comprehensive overview of the program design for Showcasing Green Infrastructure Innovation in the Comox Valley, please click here.


Program Scope

Starr Winchester, Mayor of the City of Courtenay and Chair of the Comox Stathcona Regional District, opened by providing a regional sustainability context. Eric Bonham, representing the CAVI Leadership Team,  followed by describing how CAVI originated and where it is heading. Susan Rutherford, representing the Green Infrastructure Partnership, closed by providing a synopsis of the Showcasing Innovation Series on both sides of the Georgia Basin.

The core program comprised a set of four case study presentations that descrbed current initiatives. The case studies were presented as packages of two. Please click on the links below to access the PowerPoint slideshow for each case study:

To download a copy of a handout that contains program information for the Showcasing Innovation Series, the Comox agenda, and other pertinent information relating to CAVI and the Water Sustainability Action Plan…please click on this link to Comox Showcasing Innovation Handout.


Setting the Context

A CAVI theme is that it often takes a third party to bring busy people together. This is the CAVI role. According to Kim Stephens, “Experience shows that intra-region communication among local governments tends to be the exception rather than the rule. The CAVI objective is to turn the exception into the rule. ”


Local Government Perspective

Mayor Starr Winchester referred to the Premier’s call for action at the recent annual conference of the Union of BC Municipalities. “Local government leaders Comox8 - mayor starr winchesterare telling our staffs that we want to be a sustainable community tomorrow,” she stated. “We are not being so unrealistic as to ask for this yesterday,” she added with a twinkle in her eye.

“Like most other areas on Vancouver Island, the Comox Valley is at a major cross-roads as to how we will develop and still maintain the natural beauty of our community,” she continued, “This is a real challenge.”

Comox12- mayor starr winchester (120p)Mayor Winchester explained that: “We want to keep our rural areas rural, yet we are faced with many people coming into the valley, especially now that we have an international airport.”

“We are experiencing phenomenal growth,” she continued, “So we are really depending on the practitioners to keep us grounded and realistic so that growth will be sustainable.”

Mayor Winchester concluded by referring to the position of her Council on sustainability: “Two years ago we made a resolution to raise the bar, and that’s why you are here today…to help us further raise the bar so that we can ensure a sustainable future for the Comox Valley.”


CAVI Perspective

Eric Bonham, a founding member of CAVI, told the story behind CAVI and highlighted how the CAVI Partnership is translating a shared vision into action that is resulting in an expanding and inclusive partnership.

Comox10 - eric bonham, cavi leadership team (160p)“This started in 2002 when I was still with the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and a Director of BCWWA,” Eric told his audience, “I had the opportunity to travel the length and breadth of Vancouver Island and talk to people about the issues of concern to them. I would ask …where are we going on Vancouver Island.”

Eric elaborated on how it became clear through all these conversations that there was a shared concern: there was no forum for discussing the future of Vancouver Island. Filling this vacuum provided the impetus for CAVI.

To provide context for the Showcasing Innovation Series, Eric referred to a quote from Patrick Condon: What the cell is to the body, the site is to the region. “If we are to have a healthy Vancouver Island region, then every site needs to be developed in a manner that sustains the health of the region,” Eric postulated.

For the complete text of Eric’s remarks, click on CAVI – Convening for Action to Change the Way Land is Developed on Vancouver Island. To download a copy oif his PowerPoint presentation, please click on this link to Creating Our Future: Convening for Action on Vancouver Island.


Green Infrastructure Partnership Perspective

Susan Rutherford, a lawyer with West Coast Environmental Law and a member of the Green Infrastructure Partnership Steering Committee, described how the Green Comox11 - susan rutherford, green infrastructure partnership (160p)Infrastructure Partnership has supported CAVI in undertaking the Showcasing Innovation Series.

According to Susan, “The philosophical underpinning of the green infrastructure approach is a design with nature way-of-thinking and acting. This is very intuitive. It is about ensuring that when we plan our communities, we keep the ecological systems that we rely upon in the forefront of our thinking.”

“When we organized a consultation workshop for local governments in the Greater Vancouver region in 2005, people in local government told us that they wanted a venue where they could share successes and tribulations,” she continued, “They told us that they didn’t want another document that would go on the shelf. They wanted to hear the stories APEGBC6 - susan rutherford (120p)from those who are overcoming hurdles to make green infrastructure happen on the ground.”

“The Showcasing Innovation Series gets people excited,” reported Susan, “It is amazing. It works. People want to tell their stories and they want to learn from their neighbours.

To learn more about what Susan talked about, please click here to read a story about how the Green Infrastructure Partnership has evolved the Showcasing Innovation Series. To download a copy of Susan’s PowerPoint presentation, please click on this link to Convening for Action to Change the Way We Develop Land: Design with Nature.


Context Presentations

The four presentations covered a broad range of subject areas that demonstrated the breadth and depth of inter-governmental collaboration.


Case Study 1 – Municipal Collaboration – Making it Happen

Graeme Faris and Kevin Lagan described on-the-ground benefits that result when local governments collaborate to integrate their efforts, and are guided by an holistic way-of-thinking and acting. They provided examples of how local governments in the Comox Valley are ‘connecting the dots’ to achieve integrated and sustainable outcomes.

To download of copy of their PowerPoint presentation, please click on this link to Municipal Collaboration – Making it Happen.


Case Study 2 – Comox Lake Watershed Assessment – from Awareness to Action

The Comox Strathcona Regional District manages the Comox Valley Water System. Water originates in Comox Lake, is taken from the Puntledge River downstream of the lake, and delivered to over 40,000 people. The lake is a glacier-fed lake that is also used for power generation by BC Hydro, maintenance of fish hatcheries by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, recreation by anglers, boaters and swimmers.

Graeme Faris and Ron Neufeld described the steps in the process for completing the first Watershed Assessment in accordance with the new drinking water source to tap guidelines. According to Graeme Faris, “The Watershed Assessment is done. We have commitments from the stakeholders. We have informed the public. But this is just the opening salvo. We are now moving into Phase 2 to develop strategies to meet water demand and manage risk.

To download a copy of their PowerPoint presentation, please click on this link to Comox Lake Watershed Assessment – from Awareness to Action.


Case Study 3 – Innovation in the Comox Valley: first Wal-Mart, then Home Depot

Wal-Mart established the precedent for rainwater runoff capture in the City of Courtenay. The Home Depot development then went beyond the Wal-Mart experience when it established a British Columbia precedent for deep-well injection of runoff for groundwater aquifer recharge.

According to Kevin Lagan, “As the Wal-Mart development is situated adjacent to the Millard Creek, any loss of precipitation to the catchments area was deemed to be critical. For this reason, the precipitation falling on the roof area of Wal-mart, Winners and Staples (approx. 1.2 hectares) is captured, passed through an oil/grit interceptor and then discharged into a artificial aquifer running the length of the west side of the development.”

“At the Home Depot site, roof and parking lot drainage is controlled and piped to oil/grit interceptors,” continued Kevin, “From there, the drainage water is piped to exfiltration galleries, with any excess flow going to a deep-well injection system.”

To download a copy of his PowerPoint presentation, please click on this link to  Innovation in the Comox Valley: first Wal-Mart, then Home Depot 


Case Study 4 – Absorbent Soil for Rainwater Management: Lessons Learned

The Official Community Plan states that a minimum depth of 300mm of topsoil or amended organic soil will be provided on all landscaped areas. The required depth is increased to 450mm for shrubs, and is 300mm around and below the root ball of all trees of a property. Soil depth is a requirement in all new subdivisions.

According to Sandy Pridmore, “The purpose of the soil is to function as a sponge. In terms of implementing the soil depth requirement, we have little or no problems in commercial or multi-family developments. It is the single-family properties where ensuring compliance causes me challenges. This is a work in progress. Increasingly, it looks like we will have to rely on an educational approach so that everyone involved will understand what we are trying to achieve.”

To download a copy of Sandy’s PowerPoint presentation, please click on this link to Absorbent Soils For Rainwater Management and Achieving Compliance To Meet Green Infrastructure Goals .


Scenic Tour

Transit ridership continues to grow faster in the Comox Valley than anywhere else in British Columbia. As the showcasing tour moved from site to site, there was a discussion of some of the ways that the region has been encouraging the use of public transit – including on-line internet service that will be available in November on major bus routes, notably the Courtenay to Campbell route..

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Stops Within the CIty of Courtenay

The field trip portion of Showcasing Innovation in the Comox Valley included a drive by Home Depot, Mazda and Toyota; and stops at the Veterans Memorial Parkway and the Muir Road Development. It was a 2 kilometre walkabout to visit the sites of interest along the Parkway.

According to Kevin Lagan, “At the Veterans Memorial Parkway, we showcased an  engineered wetland, stormwater separation on the Findley Creek tributary, and habitat compensation for the Red Legged Frog. When we visited the Muir Road Development, the focus was on Findley Creek flow augmentation and community detention ponds.”

Please click on this link to download a copy of Comox Valley Showcasing Innovation Tour within the City of Courtenay to see where these stops of interest are located.

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Along the Veterans Memorial Parkway, the group found the road crossing provisions for the Red Legged Frog to be intriguing. In the photo below can be seen the half-pipe section which is intended to direct the frog to the designated crossing points.


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A memorable moment on the bus ride was circling around the roundabout, not once but twice. Previously, there was a high frequency of occurrence of traffic accidents at the original 4-way intersection. Construction of the roundabout involved a partnership comprising the City, ICBC and the Ministry of Highways.

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Stops Outside the CIty of Courtenay

“We also visited Comox Lake; and on the way back to town we stopped  at our SkyRocket biosolids composting plant,” added Graeme Faris, “The compost is made of wood chips from processed wood waste received at the landfill and biosolids from the Comox Valley Water Pollution Control Centre.”

Click on this link to download a copy of Comox Valley Showcasing Innovation Tour outside the CIty of Courtenay to see where these stops of interest are located.

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Posted October 2007