Regional district chambers were overflowing Tuesday (March 21) when rural directors voted on a home occupation use for a Merville resident who has applied for a water extraction licence.
Scott Mackenzie’s application for 2400/2410 Sackville Rd. has drawn a great deal of pushback in recent years. Bruce Gibbons of the Merville Water Guardians has a hard time believing Mackenzie will use less than 2,000 litres of water a day.
“The proponent has misrepresented his proposed operation to CVRD directors to intentionally mislead them as to the scope of the proposed business,” Gibbons said in a presentation to the board. “This is not, and never will be, a home occupation business…This is a commercial trucking business.”
He displayed an excerpt from a provincial application that showed an intent to fill a tank truck without exceeding 10,000 litres a day; however, storage is needed for 20,000 litres to be filled over two days. Gibbons said the number in the application contradicts government comments from March 6.
Gibbons was accompanied by former Area B director Arzeena Hamir, who said agricultural water demands come from aquifers. She also noted that local government, while it doesn’t have a say in water licensing, does have a say in land use.
“Squeezing this application into the home occupation definition goes against everything this community has asked of you,” Hamir said to the board. “It creates a dangerous precedent for resource extracting under that section of Bylaw 520.”
Gibbons said he’s spent five years fighting with government to overturn its policy to “basically give away our water” under the Water Sustainability Act. While the province is responsible for water extraction, he said local government can regulate what goes on above ground.
“Home occupation should protect us,” Gibbons said.
Area C director Edwin Grieve understands the public’s frustration.
“The only thing we differ on is the interpretation of a bylaw — one is right and the other is legal,” Grieve said.
The board allowed Mackenzie to provide additional information about his application. In terms of daily water usage, he expects “a dozen bathtub fulls” will suffice.
“There is no threat to water in the Comox Valley,” he said. “This is all a guise under the climate emergency.”
Area A director Daniel Arbour feels it’s a stretch to put this application under home occupation, because he considers it resource extraction.
Arbour opposed the recommended home occupation use, but Grieve and Area B director Richard Hardy voted in favour. Mackenzie’s application is now in the hands of the Ministry of Land, Water and Resource Stewardship.
Comox director Jonathan Kerr said experts predict global freshwater demand will outstrip supply 40 per cent by 2030. If the water licence goes forward, he questions what directors will tell residents whose wells run dry this summer. He implores the public to lobby the B.C. Government to change regulations about water use.
In an interview following the meeting, Grieve said the unfortunate thing about a flawed bylaw is that, under B.C. law, once an application comes in, it is too late to change it.
The district can revise a bylaw so as not to prevent future approvals, but an original application is grandfathered under ‘legal non-conforming use.’
“If there’s a silver lining here, it is that this issue will spur the board to double down on reviewing bylaws, written in a different time, which do not fit in with our current climate policies,” Grieve said.