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  • Gayle Baker

Salt Spring's Long-Awaited Water Study. . .and More

April 9

Welcoming CRD’s Gary Holman, 10 gathered for this week’s ASK Salt Spring. During the discussion, there were some creative suggestions about enticing larger numbers of Salt Springers to join these weekly gatherings with our elected officials. While it was agreed that the information-rich reports are read by many Salt Springers each week, most agreed that it was a lost opportunity for those who do not participate.

While between 20 and 30 gathered each Friday in the Meadow last summer, fewer typically participate in the Zoom gatherings. While averaging about 20 each week during the winter, spring numbers have dropped. It was surmised that Zoom Gloom had impacted many, understandably enticing folks outdoors to savour spring weather. And, that ASK Salt Spring was designed as a face-to-face gathering to share ideas (and cookies.) with Zooming about together only a temporary adaptation.

While confident that participation will increase when protocols allow ASK Salt Spring to host gatherings in the Meadow under the apple trees, there was a suggestion that evening gatherings might better attract employed Salt Springers. While reminding us that ASK Salt Spring is currently-scheduled over the lunch hour on Fridays, Gary offered to come to evening ASK Salt Spring gatherings if asked. Stay tuned. . . .

Also, once protocols allow, all of our elected officials will be invited twice every year to participate in an evening ASK Salt Spring gathering at Lions Hall. (The first of these gatherings had been scheduled when our pandemic lockdown intervened.) While not as good as face-to-face, the first of these opportunities will be available on Zoom next Friday, April 16, 11-1, when ASK Salt Spring welcomes MP Elizabeth May (11:30-noon only), MLA Adam Olsen, CRD’s Gary Holman, and our Islands Trustees, Laura Patrick and Peter Grove: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/83173679715?httpspwd=QnU0dFBJbkEwMkY5T2VYUXFiSmxuZz09 Passcode (if needed): 186259

Although many who have concerns (as evidenced by active social media conversations) do not join ASK Salt Spring for this respectful, real-time opportunity to discuss issues, it was agreed that the smaller numbers resulted in rich conversations in which all could freely participate.

Gary began by noting that some in the community are upset about sloppy line painting in Centennial Park. While he agreed that some tidying up is appropriate (and has expressed the concern to CRD staff), he also reminded us that the language used by some is way over the top - language that equates a few painted lines that can be washed away with the desecration of a First Nations burial site or painting hate-filled messages on synagogues or mosques. Instead, he asked us to be mindful of all the good work the PARC staff is accomplishing, including getting the market ready for startup and the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on improvements to Centennial Park, such as its new playground and bathrooms.

Gary expressed concerns about COVID numbers in the Vancouver Island region. Frustration was expressed about the lack of information about Salt Spring-specific infection statistics. While we were told that Salt Spring numbers were blended with those of the other Gulf Islands for public reporting, it was agreed that we need better Salt Spring-specific information. As one participant said: If I knew that there were as many case as now rumoured on Salt Spring, I would certainly be more careful that I am currently.

When asked why Salt Spring was not imposing restrictions to better protect islanders, Gary reminded us that, at the beginning of the pandemic, the province declared an emergency and mandated that all protocols would be determined by the province; communities cannot determine their own protocols. (The one exception to this is Vancouver, due to its different charter.)

We can, though, determine the rules of the areas that we own as long as we also follow provincial protocols as well. For example, while the Saturday Market must follow provincial rules, PARC could enforce stricter rules (which it has, for example, by requiring masks in the market area) and even decide to suspend its operations. Before any decision of that magnitude were considered, Gary reminded us that rumours of a spike in COVID cases on SSI has not been verified. He will attempt to get better local infection information from Island Health staff.

Switching gears to water, the long-awaited water report is finally available. Titled the Water Optimization Report, it can be found at: https://www.watercanada.net/water-optimization-report-released-by-crd-and-north-salt-spring-waterworks-district/. The CRD, province, and the North Salt Spring Waterworks District (NSSWD) Trustees are meeting to discuss implications of this study, more specifically the merits of an island-wide water utility and whether NSSWD should join CRD to qualify for the large provincial infrastructure grants. (As an Improvement District, NSSWD is not eligible for them; The province is strategically excluding all Improvement Districts from these grants to encourage them to become a part of local government.) Gary reminded us that any decision to join CRD would ultimately have to be approved by NSSWD ratepayers.

When asked whether NSSWD water rates would be decreased as the result of a merger with CRD, Gary replied that access to infrastructure grants would mitigate rate increases required to build new infrastructure. It is too early to tell whether there might be administrative and management cost savings. When asked to predict the outcome of these talks, Gary indicate that the outcome is uncertain, but this is the first time that CRD, NSSWD and the province are formally discussing ways to improve water governance and management.

Gary was asked whether joining CRD and gaining access to infrastructure grants could result in suspending the current moratorium that complicates the development of affordable housing in Ganges. Gary replied that infrastructure funding directed at measures that could increase water supply (e.g., raising St. Mary Lake levels or reducing water leakage in distribution systems) could help. He also pointed out that the need for the water moratorium is being thoroughly analyzed by the NSSWD Trustees separate from the question of joining CRD.

When asked whether costs for an island-wide water service would be shared by all islanders, Gary replied that ratepayers for each water district would continue to bear the operating and maintenance costs of existing infrastructure and any new infrastructure within their respective service areas. (This is satisfying news for well-users, an estimated 60% of Salt Springers.)

While the issue of our health care is a provincial issue, and our MLA Adam Olsen is a frequent and outspoken advocate for seamless health services for all, the CRD has a role in the expansion of Lady Minto Emergency facilities. While he is pleased that the CRD Regional Hospital District (https://www.crd.bc.ca/about/what-we-do/capital-regional-hospital-district), a service to which Salt Springers contribute each year, has allocated $3 million for the expansion of our Lady Minto Emergency Room, he is concerned that the remaining $7 million must be raised locally. In light of the fact that our many islanders without a doctor must use Lady Minto as the only local health care option available, Gary and MLA Olsen will continue to advocate for the province to contribute a significant portion of the remaining $7 million.

Concerning Burgoyne trails, we learned from Gary that an informal agreement has been reached which allows recreational use of the CRD road adjacent to its Burgoyne Waste Facility as long as users only access the part of the road not used by large trucks accessing and leaving the pump-out facility.

Concerning the likely use of the Middle School for community use, while it is an amazing opportunity, it is also a potentially expensive initiative. It will need to generate significant income to cover rental and upkeep expenses and may even require a voter-approved tax increase. It is Gary’s assessment that PARC is best-positioned to manage this endeavour, with experienced staff already in place operating the Rainbow Road Pool as well as a wide variety of community recreation programs. At the invitation of the School District, PARC staff are currently developing business plan and partnership options for the use of this facility. There is a possibility that a group, such as the Arts Council, could serve as an umbrella organization that could facilitate the allocation of space and rental agreements.

The discussion turned to concerns about public disorder in Centennial Park, and Gary was asked what had been put in place to more effectively address these issues this summer. A major achievement in the past year has been to secure funding from BC Housing for both year-round and 24/7 operation of the Community Services shelter. Gary is hopeful that these significantly increased hours of operation will provide an alternative, safe space with basic services like showers and laundromat for at least some of those congregating in Centennial Park. Bylaw enforcement budgets will be increased again in 2021, as they have for the past two years, and efforts will continue to collaborate more effectively with RCMP and encourage their greater presence at Centennial.

While this news is most certainly worthy of celebration, we were reminded of two challenges:

  • Finding Community Services staff is an ongoing problem, and

  • Many insecurely-housed prefer - and even need - a self-monitored community environment rather than the more restrictive shelter rules.

Gary reminded us that our parks are for everyone to enjoy and that all who obey the rules are welcome. We also learned that there are no leash laws on Salt Spring. It is not against the law for dogs to be unleashed; they must only be under control. Nevertheless, it was suggested that a place where our insecurely-housed could gather, recreate, and monitor themselves - much as most of us do in our own homes - was important to avoid the current pattern of chasing them from park to park each year.

Gary also reminded us that our long-awaited laundromat is nearing its grand opening (!!!) and that the PARC Commission has directed staff to further review the phasing in of some initial crime prevention measures in Centennial such as lighting and security cameras, that do not detract from the community feel of the park.

Two other solutions were proposed:

  1. We need a system that provides consistent, non-authoritarian help for those struggling with economic and mental health challenges through consistent and caring communication. Peer counseling was offered as a promising option.

  2. We need to help our local insecurely-housed Salt Springers when strangers arrive. Salt Spring appears to be a transient tourist destination, each summer attracting strangers who upset the balance by breaking the rules of civil behaviour adhered to by our insecurely-housed locals. While our locals are best-positioned to help address this summer problem, they also need our help when outsiders create problems by not honouring established community rules.

As 1:00 approached, Gary told us that he, our Islands Trustees, and MLA Olsen have agreed to review the merits of the Speculation and Vacancy Tax (https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/taxes/speculation-vacancy-tax) and any changes that may have been made since it was first proposed (and rejected) for the Gulf Islands. While this exploration is only in its initial stages, issues to be addressed include whether communities charging this tax have experienced a significant increase in the availability of rental housing and whether funds collected could be returned to the community generating them for affordable housing. Stay tuned. . . .

As we all thanked Gary for an informative conversation, and agreed to gather again next week, Friday, April 16, 11-1 to welcome all of our elected officials: MP Elizabeth May (11:30-noon only), MLA Adam Olsen, CRD’s Gary Holman, and Islands Trustees, Laura Patrick and Peter Grove!

Bring your questions, eagerness to learn, and enthusiasm to participate in a discussion of the issues that matter most to us.

To join:

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/83173679715?pwd=QnU0dFBJbkEwMkY5T2VYUXFiSmxuZz09

Passcode (if needed): 186259

Any question, anytime: ask@asksaltspring.com

Want to see reports from all the ASK Salt Spring gatherings?

asksaltspring.com

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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