Still struggling with a dose of Zoom Gloom - many likely drawn outdoors on this spring-like Friday - only 10 joined thisASK Salt Spring gathering. Despite our slim numbers, our CRD Director, Gary Holman, was welcomed enthusiastically and the conversation was rich and varied.
After a heartfelt Territorial Acknowledgment, Gary began by speaking briefly about what was on his mind. His was aware of island-wide frustration with the rollout of the COVID vaccination appointment system and the weariness with restrictive gathering protocols. Gary did remind us of the unbelievable feat of getting as many different vaccines developed and fully-tested in such a short time. While Canada’s response to the pandemic has been better than many other countries, most notably the United States, Gary does believe that many lessons have been learned. Among them is concern about Canada’s relinquishment of its pharmaceutical manufacturing capacity.
Among the good news is that Community Service is vaccinating our inadequately-homed Salt Springers.
Gary told us about the CRD’s expected March 24 adoption of the 2021 budget. While there were some significant changes since it was originally-proposed, the increase only totals 1.2%, up slightly from the original 1%.
A major budgetary increase was the region-wide cost of the Capital Region Emergency Service Telecommunications (CREST: https://crest.ca) system. This increase included towers in many areas of the Capital Regional District, with the exception of Salt Spring, as its proposed central location was deemed too controversial. (Rogers, partnering with CREST, is currently seeking a tower in the Channel Ridge area.)
While not entirely-unexpected, there was a significant increase in Salt Spring property values, resulting in an increase in our share of regional service costs. This property value increase was not unique to Salt Spring; other rural areas experienced a similar increase. While there may be many factors fueling this increase, it is widely-believed that COVID has resulted in a flight from urban to those rural areas that offer good internet service. Salt Spring seems to fit the bill perfectly, resulting in a limited number of homes for sale and increasing prices. Federal and provincial COVID-recovery funding, including help for our heavily-impacted bus system, largely offset the above tax impacts.
Our first question sought information about the CRD meeting costs. While technology costs for CRD virtual meetings (soon to be using Zoom at $20/month) are minimal, there are staff costs for all meetings. While the Senior Manager does not charge Commissions for her time, administrative and engineering staff do charge each Commission for their meeting time. When face-to-face meetings resume again, rental costs will be charged as well.
While Gary agreed that we need to work harder welcoming members of the community to Commission meetings, it was noted that Transportation Commission meetings are announced in both the Driftwood and the Exchange in addition to the required notice on the CRD website.
While agreeing that CRD could always do better, Gary reminded us that it is a two-way street and that it is also up to the community to reach out for information. Gary told us that his personal phone number, as well as his email, are published in the Lions Directory. He also participates in monthly Local Trust Committee Town Halls and writes regular Director Reports in the Driftwood.
And, the second Friday of every month, he answers all our questions at ASK Salt Spring.
Switching gears to climate action, Gary was asked to identify CRD initiatives to implement the recommendations of the recently-released Climate Action Plan 2.0: https://transitionsaltspring.com/responding-to-climate-change/. Gary noted a number of CRD actions that are currently underway. These include:
Plan are to expand our transit system to Beddis Road this year as well as other route and frequency expansions in the coming year. BC Transit is currently conducting an assessment of our routes and service. All Salt Springers will be surveyed next month. Look for the link mailed to you as well as published in the Driftwood and the Exchange. April 23, the BC Transit manager conducting this assessment will be the special guest at ASK Salt Spring.
Talks are beginning about the electrification of all of our buses, seeking the land and infrastructure needed to support electric buses so that Salt Spring is ready as soon as they are offered.
Two major active transportation links have been or soon will be completed: the sidewalk on Rainbow and Lower Ganges Roads completing a walking loop on Rainbow, Atkins, and Lower Ganges Roads. And, the pathway connecting Ganges Central is expected to be completed May 2021.
The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MoTI) has committed to repaving Fulford-Ganges from Seaview to Cranberry with a 1.5 metre bike lane and a .5 metre gravel shoulder on both sides of the road. While rights of way for over two dozen locations still need to be acquired by MoTI, it is hoped that this project will be completed in 2022.
A Working Group comprised of MoTI, BC Ferries, CRD, Transportation Commission, and Fulford Water District representatives will be established to address the extreme danger of Fulford Hill to pedestrians and cyclists.
Gary acknowledged the good work being done by Transition Salt Spring’s Electric Vehicle Group (special ASK Salt Spring guests March 26), sharing his delight with his Leaf.
Energy Conserving Infrastructure:
Gary has used Community Works (gas tax) funding to support the Farmland Trust’s ROOT (https://www.ssifarmlandtrust.org/the-root/) as well as for energy conservation infrastructure at Croftonbrook, CORE Inn, and Salt Spring Commons.
Gary hopes to establish a permanent chipping service in collaboration with our Fire Department, noting that the window for burning is fast shrinking and that backyard burning may soon be a thing of the past.
Gary and Liquid Waste Commission Chair, Mary Richardson, are working to successfully-decommission the lagoons at the Burgoyne Valley Transfer Station. As 95% of the effluent is currently being trucked off-Island (at the whopping cost approaching $400,000 each year) even deliqutifying this effluent could result in significant savings.
Gary and Mary have also been working with the Farmland Trust on establishing a composting facility at the Burgoyne Bay community farm.
On a more regional basis, CRD is acquiring electric vehicles, is protecting huge expanses (currently over 10,000 hectares) of forest land, and the CRD has a modestly-funded climate action group.
Most notably, though, in Gary’s opinion, is the methane-collection project at Hartland Landfill
Public Safety Building:
In closing, Gary reminded us of one of his top climate-related infrastructure priorities: adequate-preparation to address fire (among our greatest environmental threats) with a new, secure Public Safety Building (including firehall and the Emergency Operations Centre). The Fire Trustees have stated that they hope to put the issue to Salt Spring voters late in 2021 or early 2022.
Gary concluded that, while these climate action innovations are essential for our environment, they are also good business for our community, each also offering significant economic and social benefits.
When Gary was asked about CRD’s involvement in the Islands Trust’s Housing Solutions project, he was confident that he and staff would be consulted. Nevertheless, he promised to find out if CRD would be taking a more active role in this project.
Gary is discussing with Islands Trustees, Peter and Laura, and MLA Adam Olsen about the pros and cons of the Speculation and Vacancy Tax (https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/taxes/speculation-vacancy-tax). Currently exempt, our elected officials are interested in learning more about the potential of this tax to increase local rental availability. Stay tuned. . . .
We learned that the School District 64 will be making the Middle School available for community uses. While the school district will retain ownership to remain prepared if school enrollments increase, the opportunities that this presents for Salt Spring are very promising.
Gary was asked how hard it would be to get MoTI to require our roads maintenance contractor, Emcon, to sweep our streets more than the once per year requirement. The Transportation Commission will follow up to find out the possibility (and potential costs) of more frequent street sweeping.
Gary was also asked how difficult it would be to prohibit commercial traffic on certain residential roads. Follow-up is needed for this question as well. . . . Gary reminded us that, while clearly-important, the Transportation Commission has already taken on a daunting list of advocacy priorities as well as capital projects. (For a summary of only a portion of the many Salt Spring Island CRD capital projects, see its Project Tracker, available on the CRD website and attached to agenda packages for the Transportation and Parks and Recreation Commissions.
As 1:00 approached, Gary stated he felt a responsibility to find ways to make our unique governance system work. He acknowledged that this responsibility is shared by so many of Salt Spring’s hardworking volunteers who seek ways to accomplish things within our current system.
As we prepared to press our Leave Meeting button, Gary asked us to remember the amazing things that Salt Spring, a small community of under 11,000, has achieved and that we need to celebrate victories - like the soon-to-be-completed laundromat, an audacious and complicated undertaking by a small non-profit group of visionary volunteers.
Please join us Friday, March 19, 11-1 to welcome our Local Trust Council Trustee, Laura Patrick.
Interested in learning more about the Islands Trust budget?
How about the possible changes to Islands Trust policy?
Or. . . .What is happening with our Housing Solutions project and the Ganges Village planning project?
And - what do you need to know about efforts to protect our Coastal Douglas Fir?
Bring your questions, eagerness to learn, and enthusiasm to participate in a discussion of the issues that matter most to us.
Any question, anytime: firstname.lastname@example.org
Want to see reports from all the ASK Salt Spring gatherings?
Want to help? ASK Salt Spring now has a Save-a-Tape box at Country Grocer.
We would love your receipts! Remember: #15