Deer stand on the Comox Golf Course near Golf Creek. Photo by Terry Farrell

Comox couple suing municipality for nearly $250,000

Residents taking Town of Comox to Supreme Court over stormwater runoff

Ken McDonald and his wife Norine had plans of moving to Comox to retire, spending time with their grandchild, and enjoying all that the town and Valley have to offer.

Now, they are taking the Town of Comox to B.C. Supreme Court for nearly $250,000.

Following a move from Alberta years ago, the couple purchased their home on Jane Place, a property that McDonald describes as “a lovely place with a creek running through it.”

Now, after a few years of litigation with the municipality, he notes it has been a nightmare for his family.

“I have grandchildren who love to splash around [in Golf Creek]; now we know it’s an open sewer – it’s not enjoyable anymore. When do you say enough is enough?”

When the McDonalds purchased the property, they knew there were some erosion issues they had to deal with in their backyard due to Golf Creek, which flows through their property.

They undertook some remediation work, which included building a wall, and learned Golf Creek was being used as stormwater outfall.

After speaking with a neighbour, McDonald realized the creek, which runs through his property, was not a natural waterway but was part of the stormwater management system.

“The creek switches from a trickle into a rapid (during stormwater flow). Erosion which might take 100 years will take 10 years with stormwater.”

He explains the issue with stormwater is that it changes the hydrology of a waterway, and with an increase in the volume and speed of water, comes the increase of erosion.

Originally, the McDonalds summoned the Town of Comox in BC Small Claims Court for $25,000 for compensation for the cost of the initial erosion wall, as well as the cost to repair additional damage.

In their Notice of Claim, the couple noted the case is based on nuisance, and they have evidence that proves the Town is discharging stormwater from a significant area of the municipality into Golf Creek; the Town failed to implement appropriate erosion control measures recommended by two engineering studies commissioned by the Town; two independent geotechnical engineering studies confirmed stormwater erosion has damaged their property and that subsequent erosion damage to the creek bank occurred in December 2016.

A few times a year, McDonald explains, he notices the creek turning a brown-like colour, and describes it as “foamy and sudsy.”

“It’s disgusting. When we saw this, I thought, ‘Oh my God, this looks awful.’ There’s children who play in this creek.”

In September 2018, McDonald decided to test samples of the water.

“The results were mind-blowing,” he notes. “This is like raw sewage.”

His tests showed high levels of fecal coliform and heavy metals.

Last month, he retested the water, and the fecal coliform levels were significantly higher than the safe level for recreational use. When tested for E. coli, his results showed five times the level allowable by government regulations.

“All of these pollutants are going into the Comox Harbour,” he notes, and adds that once he measured the pollutants in the creek, he knew it was now a requirement to produce the results and information if it came time to sell their property.

“We put a lot of money into our home, and now we have to tell the seller [when it comes time to sell], we have an open sewer in our backyard. Who wants to buy that?”

The McDonalds made an application to have their case heard in Supreme Court, as they are now asking the Town for the value of property which they consider has been damaged in the ravine area – 29 per cent of assessed value as determined by BC Assessment.

On May 31, approval was given to have the case heard in BC Supreme Court.

While McDonald said the case has cost him and his wife tens of thousands of dollars, he believes it is important to send a larger message.

“We’ve got to stop somewhere and start saying the environment is a priority. We want to live in a place that is clean and safe. I can’t live with myself if I let it go. Ultimately, we want the creek to be clean.”

The Record reached out to the Town of Comox but did not receive a response by press time. Check comoxvalleyrecord.com for updates.

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