Water Talks? A Fast-Approaching Firehall Referendum? Middle School Opportunities? And?
Twelve joined us to welcome CRD’s Gary Holman on a lovely summer Friday in the United Church Meadow. After our Territorial Acknowledgement, Gary told us that he believes that these acknowledgements, once almost simply rhetorical, are becoming more and more real as First Nations’ rights and title to unceded lands are recognized repeatedly by the courts. He spoke of a motion he is co-sponsoring that will be discussed at the July 14 CRD Board meeting. This proposal will ask the province to provide the funding (as with the Great Bear Rainforest agreements) needed to make old growth conservation a realistic option for First Nations
Gary spoke about the recent announcement of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between our Fire District and CRD (https://www.crd.bc.ca/docs/default-source/salt-spring-island-ea-pdf/2021-07-02-mou-crdssifr.pdf). While details still have to be negotiated, in essence, this MOU supports the colocation of Emergency Operations Services (currently in the basement of the provincial building on Lower Ganges Road) in the new firehall/public safety building. It also supports, in principle, a CRD option to purchase the Ganges firehall to ensure it remains in community hands (possibly for an indoor Farmers’ Market) if voters approve the referendum for the construction of this new public safety building.
Gary spoke of his frustration with the letter that has just reached many of our mailboxes from an unidentified group advocating that homeowners vote “No” to the upcoming firehall referendum. Littered with untruths, in his opinion, Gary believes this negative movement must be countered with factual information and a strong community commitment to, at long last, get to “Yes” for this essential infrastructure that, in light of the increasingly frequent severe events such as fires and wind storms, helps keep us all safer.
A few members of the Firehall Advisory Committee who were participants questioned why the Fire District was not better utilizing them to mobilize the community towards a positive vote. (Hopefully we can get this answer - as well as others - if representatives of the Fire District accept the invitation to join Gary at ASK Salt Spring, Friday, August 13, 11-1.).
Switching gears, we learned about Early Childhood Education (ECE) and some good news: As the result of decades-long advocacy, many are thrilled that ECE programs will finally (by 2023) be moved into the Ministry of Education rather than being scattered among a number of Ministries such as the Ministry of Children and Family Development. Hopes are that this move will finally bring ECE into the mainstream of lifelong learning rather than being separated and isolated. In other good news, a just-announced grant offers to fund ECE teachers to assist in kindergartens, another grant seeks to reduce childcare fees by 50% by 2022, and yet another grant seeks another 20 (four are already established) After School Care Programs in our schools.
Salt Spring’s Parks and Recreation Commission has recently received grants totaling over $1 million for two large ECE facilities, both located at the Rainbow Road Pool Complex. The modular preschool facility has already been completed. Soon to begin construction, a permanent addition will be added to the Pool complex for an infant/toddler program. A contract with a local non-profit has just been signed to establish the Little Rainbow Infant/Toddler Centre in the pool addition. This agreement stipulates that half of the building will be used solely for daycare while the other half can also be used for recreation and other community needs when available.
In addition to this permanent addition to the pool, this grant also funds the purchase of a bus (now being rented by PARC) for recreation and other purposes. Gary is hopeful that, with the addition of his Community Works (“gas tax”) funds, this new bus can be electric.
We learned that planning may soon begin for this Rainbow Road pool property, possibly including a PARC maintenance building for the crew and equipment. Did you know that the Trail Crew (comprised of two full-time, two part-time, and one weekend-only employee) currently use a 40-year old portable with neither water nor washrooms to carry out a variety of tasks? These tasks include maintaining equipment, undertaking small building projects, and constructing signs as well as storing an amazing quantity of items ranging from toilet paper to doggie bags.
We learned about constantly-expanding work of our Trail Crew like recently-completed Ganges sidewalks and the Booth Canal-Central Pathway, plus completion of a long-awaited Mouat Loop, renovation of the Centennial Park Gazebo, some renovation of the current boardwalk in Centennial,. . . and the list goes on. . . . (And. also including the newly-acquired United Church Meadow that we so enjoy.)
Concerning Transportation Commission pathways and sidewalks, did you know that it takes the equivalent of 18 person days a year (six trail crew members for one-day, three times a year) to simply maintain them? We also learned that, during the pandemic, if our crew had not been building the Baker - Central portion of the new pathway, there would have been no work for some Trail Crew members, necessitating that they be sent home. And, volunteers are welcomed to help: Tennis Club volunteers are filling cracks at the tennis courts!
A participant asked why his Highlands/Fernwood water bill increased so much last year and whether he and his neighbours would ever get information about how the extra money will be spent. Gary reminded us that it, like many other CRD Water Districts, is quite small with a very small tax base, and that it also has aging infrastructure. He also reminded us that Commissioners elected by Highlands/Fernwood ratepayers approved the increase at their Annual General Meeting. Gary promised to provide more details about the increase, which was presented in a staff report at a publicly advertised meeting.
Questions were raised about progress in the CRD - North Salt Spring Waterworks District (NSSWD) discussion generated by the Water Optimization Report (https://www.crd.bc.ca/project/salt-spring-island-water-optimization), prepared by a provincially-funded consultant. Gary told us that the possible conversion of NSSWD to a CRD utility as well as the recommendation of an island-wide utility were in early stages of discussion.
North Salt Spring is concerned about retaining local control and whether conversion to a CRD utility would necessarily secure a provincial commitment for infrastructure funding. Gary expressed concerns about the consultant’s recommendation for an island-wide water utility overseen by an elected-at-large Board. He worries that an island-wide board may not adequately-represent the area-specific interests of water districts with their own ratepayers, assets, and liabilities.
While Gary agrees there is value to information sharing and, possibly, even collaboration among water districts, he believes that this can be accomplished through regular meetings among water districts, as proposed by a water commissioner sitting on the Salt Spring Island Water Protection Alliance (SSIWPA). Gary noted that collaboration already occurs (e.g., CRD already contracts NSSWD to operate some of its smaller water districts), and this collaboration could be extended to more difficult issues such as the NSSWD water moratorium.
As 1:00 approached, the conversation shifted to safety concerns of the Booth Canal-Central Pathway. While we can celebrate the completion of sidewalks in Ganges as well as the undeniable benefits of the Booth Canal to Central pathway (funded largely by federal gas tax, a generous Salt Spring Island Foundation grant, and a $490,000 provincial grant), it was agreed that there are important lessons to be learned. These lessons were acknowledged by the Transportation Commission in a number of recommendations for future pathway projects, including the need to establish pathways standards more reflective of a rural community, avoid cutting trees whenever possible, and review of the plans by the Transportation Commission before they are finalized.
On a brighter note, a participant talked with enthusiasm for the proposed 3-D printed bus shelter (apparently the first in Canada) that was supported by the Transportation Commission, at the first Mobrae and Vesuvius Bay Road intersection, hopefully coming this fall. . . .
As we began packing up our chairs and gathering into small groups to continue conversations, Gary reminded us of the amazing opportunity offered by community use of the Middle School, a very large 17,000 square foot space as well as a gym. If a longer term lease could be negotiated with the School District for a portion of this space, Gary spoke of the possibility of colocating offices for CRD Administration and Building Inspection, as well as Islands Trust, currently paying commercial rates in three separate locations, totaling about $134,000 per year. What if some of that rent were used, instead, to pay a portion of the Middle School rent and maintenance, allowing nonprofits to use the space at the lower, more affordable, rents?
Please join us next Friday, July 16, to welcome Islands Trustee Laura Patrick to the United Church Meadow, 11-1.
What would you like to learn from her?
What are the most intriguing Salt Spring local planning projects in progress?
What is happing with the Ganges Village Plan?
How about the Housing Task Force?
What is happening with projects to protect our ecosystem and watersheds?
What’s next with the federation's Trust Policy Statement update.
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!
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