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Water bottling proponent defends plan to Island community

Merville’s Scott MacKenzie speaks to Cumberland about its bottling ban
Merville property owner Scott MacKenzie speaks to Cumberland council about his proposed water bottling operation. Photo by Mike Chouinard

The Merville resident who wants to bottle water from his property offered a counterpoint to criticisms of his plans before Cumberland council on Monday.

Scott MacKenzie asked to appear before council in response to requests asking local governments to ban bottling of groundwater in area communities. Most of his presentation was directed at the claims of the “proponent” of the ban, though he did not identify the person, beyond saying he was a neighbour. MacKenzie said his aim was to correct the record, including statements from elected officials about the issue.

“We are not taking our opinion around to be heard. In fact, we are only countering the proponent’s claims that have arisen due to his emotional pleas to every council and every regional district in the entire province,” he said.

MacKenzie has a licence to extract up to 10,000 litres of groundwater a day from his property. However, when it came to getting approval for bottling it, he ran into opposition at the regional district level. In August 2018, the CVRD turned down the rezoning application, at which time he expressed interest in looking elsewhere to bottle the water. Opponents though pressured municipal and regional governments to remove the possibility of bottling water, with elected officials responding by calling for larger regional bans on bottling. For example, the Strathcona Regional District has pushed for a broad ban through motions to the Association of Vancouver and Coastal Communities Association and the Union of British Columbia Municipalities.

RELATED STORY: CVRD defeats Merville water bottling operation application

RELATED STORY: Strathcona Regional District board passes bottled water resolution for AVICC meeting

In the case of Cumberland, council responded recently with a move to ban bottled water businesses within its zoning bylaw.

RELATED STORY: Cumberland moves to ban bottled water businesses from zoning bylaw

MacKenzie dismissed claims his operation would cut off water access for his neighbours, would make their wells run dry or that land would be affected.

“Artesian wells of this nature are very rare,” he said. “Our licence was issued because we have discovered the best artesian spring in the entire Comox Valley. It’s the third on Vancouver Island.”

He also questioned the proponent’s claims about zoning in the area of Merville. Nor would his proposal open a “Pandora’s box” of bottling corporations “thirsty for profits,” adding that his intent was to keep the business local and that he could not legally sell the business to another party.

MacKenzie said his well was not connected to stream flows, and it produces 80,000 litres per day without pumping.

“The proponent does not trust the expertise of loyal public servants who are experts in their fields,” he said.

He said the aquifer recharges each year and cited communities like Gibson, Langley and Abbotsford with water systems that rely on recharging aquifers.

“The proponent has utilized many effective tactics thus far,” he said, saying this has included dismissing the message, distorting facts and distracting the audience.

“Let’s make clear our intentions are nothing the proponent claims,” he added. “No corporation would ever come to steal Cumberland’s water.”

Following the presentation, Mayor Leslie Baird told MacKenzie she wished he had taken a different approach from going after people to make his case.

“I truly do wish you had taken a different tactic,” she said. “You were here to talk about your views, not the proponent’s views, and I wish you had taken that tactic.”

At the end of the night, Bruce Gibbons, founder of Merville Water Guardians, identified himself as the “proponent,” and thanked council for moving ahead with the water bottling ban and asked about next steps in the process.

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