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  • Gayle Baker

News-Making Conversations: A New Firehall? CRD-North Salt Spring Waterworks District Relationship?

August 13

While some folks wandered in and out, a total of seventeen joined this ASK Salt Spring gathering welcoming CRD’s Gary Holman. After our Territorial Acknowledgement, we began by also welcoming the Acting Chief Operating Officer of our Fire Rescue Improvement District, Andrew Peat.

Andrew began by telling us about the newly-signed Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the CRD concerning the proposed new firehall. While both Gary and Andrew agree that the details are yet to be negotiated, in principle, this MOU agrees to include the CRD Emergency Program and Emergency Operations Centre in the proposed new firehall. It also proposes that the current firehall will be sold to CRD at market price and re-purposed as a year-round food market, smaller, but along the lines of the Granville Island Market in Vancouver.

Of course, this important new public amenity will not be possible unless construction of the new firehall and CRD acquisition of the Ganges Hall (with a current assessed value of roughly $800,000) are approved by voters.

Concerning the new firehall, it is generally agreed that relocating to the donated Brinkworthy property will take this essential service to higher ground and out of harms way, safe from the predicted sea level rise. Unlike the current hall, it would also built to current earthquake standards. A key part of the rationale for new firehall relates to the concern that in emergencies, such as floods and earthquakes, it is essential that our equipment, as well as our fire fighters/first responders, are not rendered helpless by these extreme events.

With thoughts of Lytton’s tragedy, a participant asked why wood was being considered for the new firehall. Andrew replied that those decisions had not yet been made. He also agreed that much of any firehall is basically a very big garage, but he warned us that costs are rising rapidly and that the firehall would be expensive.

Some good news: provincial borrowing rates (which are even lower than those of the Municipal Finance Authority through which local governments secure financing) are very attractive now. And, a productive well has been dug which, with North Salt Spring Waterworks District’s agreement to provide an emergency supply, will adequately supply the new firehall.

While timing for the referendum needed to approve the proposed new firehall was not discussed, this ASK Salt Spring gathering offered a casual soft launch for this conversation. Expect to hear much more from Andrew and the Trustees soon. . . .

As we learned last week at ASK Salt Spring, Improvement Districts - of which our Fire and Rescue District is among the largest in the province - are not eligible for provincial infrastructure grants: To add to the funding challenges, even fire departments that are part of local government are generally not eligible for provincial infrastructure grants for firehall construction.

Given this discouraging reality, Gary was pleased to announce that our Community Works (gas tax) funding has again been doubled, as it was in 2019, giving us approximately $1.2 million for infrastructure initiatives this year. And, it has just been announced that this money can now be used to support fire department infrastructure projects.

We also learned that the current firehall was built in phases, beginning in 1960, and that the current offices were once the Chief’s home. As it was built before our current building codes were established, Andrew told us that the building may need to be rezoned and that any change in its use would likely require a retrofit to bring it up to today’s standards. We also learned that the Ganges firehall property is far smaller than one might assume: While the parking lot at the side of the building is included in the property, the front of the property ends a few feet in from the front door.

The parking lot in front of the building is owned by the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure. In similar cases, the Ministry has been open to deeding or granting a License of Occupation of unused roads to local government, so this property that is literally at the centre of our village, could also be secured by the CRD.

A participant asked how we can even ponder acquisition when Salt Spring is unceded territory. While Gary replied that the established First Nations consultation process will be followed if community acquisition of the current firehall proceeds, he agreed that it was a complex issue with many stakeholders.

How does this all mesh with the work of the Islands Trust’s Ganges Village Plan Task Force? Stay tuned. Given climate emergency predictions, one participant pleaded for action on these important initiatives as soon as possible.

The conversation shifted to the HarbourWalk project. Gary gave us a review of the process to get provincial approval for statutory right of way (RoW) on the Crown land fronting the Ganges Marina property. In order to grant this RoW, the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development needs to review design plans for the HarbourWalk, which will require consultation with First Nations, the Marina, and the public.

Thanks to former CRD Director, Wayne McIntyre, the money for these required shovel-ready design plans is available. Late last year, PARC designated developing a Request for Proposal (RFP) for these plans as a top PARC priority. Blessed with a treasure trove of opportunities, with about two dozen capital projects underway, including community use of the Middle School and a Maxwell Mountain land acquisition opportunity, PARC, has has simply not had the staff resources to complete this RFP. Hopefully, this long-planned project will soon be moving forward again.

The conversation shifted to North Salt Spring Waterworks District (NSSWD). Focus was on the apparent breakdown of talks to establish an agreement between CRD and NSSWD so that NSSWD could access provincial infrastructure grants. (As most of you know, as another of Salt Spring’s large Improvement Districts, NSSWD cannot access infrastructure grants. As part of CRD, NSSWD would be eligible for these grants.)

This was clearly a sensitive issue for Gary as well as two NSSWD Trustees who participated in this ASK Salt Spring gathering. Gary expressed his view that discussions should continue to get into the details regarding infrastructure funding and NSSWD concerns about retaining local control over the water district. The Trustees expressed their concerns about the CRD, especially concerning its management of smaller water districts on Salt Spring.

At 1:00, and before folks dispersed to continue the conversations from this ASK Salt Spring gathering, we thanked Gary for his hard work. We also appreciated Andrew Peat, who had taken time from his day filled with payroll and preparing for the upcoming Trustee meeting, as well as the NSSWD folks who joined us and shared their perspectives.

Interested in Islands Trust doings? Please join us at the United Church Meadow next Friday, August 20, 11-1, to welcome Trustee Peter Grove.

Would you like to learn more about:

  • The Housing Task Force?

  • The Ganges Village Plan Task Force?

  • What is happening with the promised community engagement for the hotly-debated Policy Statement?

  • What can you tell us about the Dragonfly Housing Development?

  • And. . . .

Come to the Meadow to ask your questions, listen to those of others, and participate in rich, respectful conversations.

Bring your favorite beverage and a smile.

Chairs and chocolate chip cookies provided.

See you at the Meadow!

Any question, anytime:

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

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