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Posted: December 24, 2018

2018: A Year In Review at the RDEK

By Rob Gay

What a remarkable year 2018 was for the Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK) as several of our longer-term projects were completed.

Following the approval of local taxpayers, two major milestones were achieved: we completed the largest construction project in our history in West Fernie, and undertook our largest purchase to date with the acquisition of the Parr Utilities water treatment plant and building in Windermere.

The RDEK starts each year with a work plan and a budget that supports the plan. Like most years, 2018 plans included a variety of projects and activities both small and large. Our Engineering Services Department had an especially busy and successful year. Similarly to 2017, our plans were impacted by local forest fires which resulted in thousands of residents in the East Kootenay being put on evacuation alert, and hundreds more being evacuated from their homes. Extremes in our weather appear to represent a new normal for us and the RDEK will be taking steps to help residents prepare for emergencies like forest fires and floods.

A number of highlights of interest from 2018 include:

1. Engineering Services – July saw the successful completion of Phase 2 of the West Fernie Servicing and Restructure Project. This project was completed on time and below budget. On October 1, we celebrated the purchase of the Parr Utilities water treatment plant which will eventually result in the RDEK being able to provide clean water to over 1,300 residences in the Windermere / East Side Lake Windermere area. A key piece of this project in 2018 will be beginning the work to connect the Windermere Water System to the plant. We will also have the ability to expand service if we get demand from other local residents in the future. The Tie Lake Dam project and Baptise Lake Reservoir Dam upgrade were substantially completed this year. The Fairmont Creek Debris Flow Mitigation Project, delayed due to the forest closure last year, was also finished. With the help of some grant funding, an Elk River Floodplain Mapping project was completed.

2. Building and Protective Services – Electoral Area F in our Columbia Valley is experiencing a building boom with over $30.2 million in construction in 2018. Area A at $9 million and Area C at $9.8 million are also seeing reasonable growth. Overall the RDEK rural communities and municipalities reported over $145 million in 2018 construction. The RDEK submitted an application to the province for funding to initiate forest fuel management prescription on 370 hectares within the RDEK.

3. Planning & Development Services – community plans tend to take the majority of staff time however our planning staff dealt with a variety of issues in 2018 including the feeding of a large flock of wild turkeys in the Edgewater area, BC Speculation Taxation concerns, placement of numerous communications towers to help enhance cellular phone and broadband services, Kootenay Boundary Farm Advisers contract extension, renewal of our Energy Manager Partnership with BC Hydro and Columbia Basin Trust, and new development permits in the Wasa area to help protect environmentally sensitive lands.

4. Recreation Services – Two new regional parks were approved early in 2018 including Fairmont Path and Waldo Cove. The RDEK was also asked to sponsor a number of not-for-profit society grant requests to the Provincial Rural Development Fund. The RDEK agreed to assist with the planning and contribute some funding of the new Akisq’nuk First Nation Recreation facility.

5. Environmental Services – a very busy year with many meetings focused on updating our two-decade old solid waste management plan. The year was complicated by a fire in the main waste transfer station building in Kimberley. A new Household Hazardous Waste facility, designated for use of all RDEK residents, has just been opened at the Cranbrook Transfer Station. An official opening is planned early in the New Year. Our board recently reviewed the results of a solid waste audit, which we undertook earlier this summer on garbage collected from around the East Kootenay. The findings of this report will help to inform our solid waste management advisory committee as they deliberate during the early months of 2019.

6. Grants – On behalf of the Columbia Basin Trust, the RDEK managed and administered $1,084,126 in grants through the Community Initiatives and Affected Areas Programs. In total, 156 projects were supported in 2018. Our Electoral Area Services also fund a Discretionary Grant-in-Aid program, which typically focuses on small-value grants to help support the needs of our valued not-for-profit groups.

The RDEK is also eligible – and makes a number of applications – for a variety of Provincial and Federal government grants to assist in providing services to our residents.

Other items of interest

Election 2018 – Elections were held in October and our new board was sworn-in prior to our November meetings. We welcome five new directors to our board of 15. We all serve a four-year term.

Communications – Each year, our Electoral Area Directors host Town Hall meetings. Prior to the start of the Town Hall Meetings, we also hold a ceremony to celebrate our Electoral Area Volunteer of the Year. The nominations for the 2019 Electoral Area Volunteers of the Year will be open in January. The Town Hall Meetings include presentations by senior staff describing project and services of note and a detailed look at the Financial Plan breakdown to illustrate where your tax dollars are being spent and how services are managed. Time is available for residents to ask questions of their director and staff at the meeting. Although we hold the Town Hall Meetings annually, Directors and staff welcome meeting requests any time of the year.

Forest Fire Smoke – let’s not forget August of this year. The month of ‘no sun’ for many of us, and breathing / other health problems for many others. Solutions to problems like air pollution and forest fuel management and not easy; however we need to start focusing attention to these macro-type issues at all orders of government.

Collaboration – continuing on our progress in 2018, we plan to host a two-day forum for elected officials on governance in the region. Our goal is to gain a greater understanding of how our First Nations govern and manage programs, and to provide our municipal and First Nation leaders insight into how our regional governments works. Our essential outcome is understanding and how we can collaborate for the betterment of all residents of the East Kootenay.

Looking Ahead to 2019:

  1. Solid Waste Management Plan Review – changes in how we deal with solid waste could have impacts for all residences and businesses within our region. Before implementing new approaches, the board will consider input from public engagement sessions, surveys, and recommendations from our solid waste management review advisory committee. Up for review are key principles of waste management including system costs and revenues, waste diversion including organics, and land fill. These discussions will be happening through the first few months of 2019, and we urge all residents to get involved in the discussions. In early 2019, the RDEK hopes to introduce the Recycle BC program into our recycling system, which will increase the types of materials we can recycle.
  2. Living with Climate extremes – in 2019, we hope to see an increased focus on fire prevention. Some of the key areas of focus will be education, interagency cooperation, FireSmart principles for private land, community evacuation planning, on-ground fuel treatment, and public outreach. On the flooding side of things, we hope to complete the debris control on Fairmont creek and flood mitigation projects for the Elk River including more diking and public outreach.
  3. Clean BC – Our board will review the recent announcement by the Province and determine how we might contribute to the success of this exciting program. Major initiatives within the program include cleaner transportation, more energy efficient homes, cleaner industry, reduction in waste, and new employment and business opportunities within the sector.
  4. Partnerships – we will continue to work with local community groups who have a vision and clear expectations around what benefits their proposed project or services will have on the social, economic and/or environmental well-being of our region.

On behalf of the board and staff of the RDEK we wish you and your family all the best in 2019.

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

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