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Posted: December 31, 2017

2017: A Year in Review for the RDEK

By Rob C. Gay

If I was looking for one word to sum up 2017 for the Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK) I would say “ADAPT.”

Like most organizations, we started the year with a plan that included details of what and when we wanted to compete a wide variety of projects. Our plans were definitely impacted this year by a number of unforeseen circumstances, many at the hand of Mother Nature. You may recall that late winter brought record snow falls, in spring the snow melted and we assisted residents with basement and overland creek flooding. When the water finally receded mosquitoes showed up in record numbers leading to many complaints. By the end of July, forest fires were becoming a concern and our Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) was activated. For over two months many staff adapted to helping in our EOC and Emergency Social Services Reception Centre. Many positive relationships were developed, numerous challenges managed successfully and gratefully, no lives were lost.

Looking back at 2017, there are a number of highlights:

Wild fires dominated the summer of 2017. Chad St. Pierre Photography image

1 . Emergencies – From floods to fires, our staff were tasked with responding to, and supporting, a number of emergencies in 2017. They did an outstanding job. We received a number of accolades for our communications during these emergencies, which were appreciated by our board and staff. Our hearts go out to the families of the three individuals who perished in the ammonia tragedy at the Fernie Memorial Arena.

2. Planning – the board adopted new official community plan (OCP) for Rural Kimberly and Fairmont/Columbia Lake. After two years of work, including extensive public and stakeholder meetings, the board decided not to support a new OCP for the Jaffray area. RDEK staff is administering the contract for the CBT/ tri-regional farm advisors project.

3. Building – The number of building permits declined by 1.3% from 2016; however, the number of dwellings increased by 6.7% and the value of construction jumped by over 31%.

4. Engineering – it was an extremely busy and successful year with Phase 2 of the West Fernie Servicing and Restructure Project largely completed and all of West Fernie officially becoming part of the City of Fernie. An upgrade project was undertaken on the Moyie Water System and there was a successful referendum in Windermere for the new East Side Lake Windermere Water System Service, which will see the RDEK purchasing Parr Utilities in mid 2018. Due to forest closures in fall 2017, we were unable to complete the Fairmont Creek debris flow mitigation project.

Photo submitted

5. Environment and Recreation – we were involved with two big new trails this year. The Westside Legacy Trail construction is underway and the Chief lsadore Trail was unveiled and celebrated on National Aboriginal Day and again on July l in conjunction with Canada 150. Staff also worked to enhance treatment of invasive weeds, upgrade our regional parks, and worked with a local group to bring disc golf to Wycliffe Park. The RDEK also provided the City of Cranbrook with a grant of $500,000 for Idlewild Park upgrades.

6. Discretionary Grants-in-Aid – Many volunteer groups within the RDEK benefit from our Discretionary Grants-in-Aid program. We also administer the $1.23 million Community Initiatives and Affected Areas Program for Columbia Basin Trust; 138 groups benefitted from these funds this year.

7. Other items of interest

a. The Columbia Valley Economic Development Service is now operational.

b. Advocacy – many elected officials attended the annual UBCM convention in September. The board had 14 meetings with provincial government ministers and senior staff with the goal of advancing attention to regional issues. We continue to be very active on the broadband services file, Highway 3 enhancement, Interface Wildfire protection, continued our community energy manager partnership, seek additional funding for invasive species, and support to our agriculture sector.

c. Board guests – we invited a number of organization to report to the board including:

  • Peter Urbane, CAO, Municipal Finance Authority;
  • Megan Lohmann, RDEK Community Energy Manager;

    Johnny Strilaeff
  • Kim Grout, CAO and Frank Leonard, Chair, Agricultural Land Commission;
  • Sherman Chow, Director of Claims, Municipal Finance Authority;
  • Ron Sharp, District Manager, Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure;
  • Wendy Van Puymbroek, Manager, Kootenay Rockies Tourism;
  • Johnny Strilaeff, CEO, Columbia Basin Trust.
  • 8.  Staffing – 2017 was a stable year in our staffing. In looking at our provision of services, the board has agreed to provide greater support to our emergency program, regional communications, and finance. As a result, we have approved three new positions and recruiting is underway.

Looking ahead to 2018

1. Taxation – The board and staff are in the middle of our financial planning process and a draft budget will be presented in February.

2. Collaboration with First Nations Governments – after a successful naming of the Chief Isadore Trail and some additional service agreement s with local Chiefs and Council, we look forward to continuing our relationship building with the Ktunaxa Nation Council and local band councils.

3. Water – many of our priority project s focus on two aspects of water: 1) providing ample clean water to residents in the Windermere and Edgewater areas and; 2) providing planning and protection from flood waters in the Fairmont Creek and Elk River drainages.

4. Waste – we will be working with Recycle BC to see if we reach an agreement to be part of their collection system, which would in turn help pay for costs of recycling paper and paper packaging waste. We are also in the midst of a services review of our solid waste program, the RDEK’s most expensive service. Included as part of that review, we will be discussion around new ideas for waste diversion and alternate methods to pay for the service. There will also be a public consultation component.

5. Fire and Wildfire – we will examine opportunities to provide fire protection to the areas of Wycliffe and rural Elkford. A long with the municipalities in the Columbia Valley, we will be undertaking a review of all the fire services in the Columbia Valley to ensure our collective services are operating effectively and efficiently. On the wildlife front, the RDEK will continue to look at the available options to reduce the wildfire risk around our rural communities.

6. Parks – our residents and visitor s appreciate our outdoor spaces. We will continue to form partnerships with communities to explore new parks options near Waldo, St. Mary’ s Lake, Fairmont Hot Springs, and Moyie Lake.

7. Enhanced communications with our residents – Based on our communication s team success dealing with the wildfire of 2017 we understand the high level of timely and accurate reporting our residents expect. We need to enhance our communications tools and resources to ensure a high level of public knowledge and safety.

8. Elections – General Local Elections are scheduled for October 20. The nomination period begins on September 4; hence, staff and candidates will have added responsibilities for a few months.

On behalf of the board and staff of the RDEK we wish you and your families all the best in 2018.

Lead image: A water bomber hits the Lamb Creek fire, version one, earlier this summer. Linda Botterill Photo

Rob Gay is RDEK Board Chair and Electoral Area C Director.

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