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Posted: June 19, 2022

Citizens seek sustainable development leadership in RDEK

Instead of gathering for a Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK) public hearing for a proposed development on June 14, 70 people met in-person in Fernie, with an additional 90 online, to discuss a better way forward for sustainable growth and development in the Elk Valley.

“Citizens of all ages, from largely the Elk Valley and other parts of the East Kootenay, want to have their voices heard and their opinions incorporated in decision making by local government ensuring benefits to community today and for future generations,” said Lee-Anne Walker, a 40-year resident of the RDEK and volunteer facilitator for the event.

The evening included an enlightening and provocative presentation by Robert (Bob) Sandford. A resident of Canmore and an author of many relevant resources from water to climate change, Sandford provides expert advice to the United Nations and many national and international bodies.

He encouraged East Kootenay residents to “not underestimate what you have around you, in terms of landscape. Learn from others. Bridge generational gaps and listen to youth, as well as respect the intelligence and resilience of natural systems. As a community, use your power to be less divisive, more visionary, and collaborative.”

Sandford’s presentation was then a catalyst for community conversation.

In small groups (in person and at home), people were asked to imagine the future in 2050 and the values they see protected. What threatens those values? What does sustainable and responsible development look like and what elements drive successful approvals?  Lastly, in the upcoming election, what do we expect candidates to do for their constituents to realize sustainability?

Citizens were clear. They expect the RDEK to have a sustainable and responsible development vision and to reject applications without this vision. Tools must be utilized to improve development planning, approval and accountability, and ensure developers follow through on promises. Piecemeal planning must end; the RDEK needs a process that benefits the broad community today and in the future.

As one community resident expressed, “the RDEK must stop leading developers down the path of expecting yes.”

From another: “listen to your residents and represent us.”

Other quotes from Sandford that resonated with attendees were “don’t underestimate the value of the things we value;“now is the time to stand up as a community; and developers will try to divide and conquer so we need to unite.”

Local governments need to use the tools like zoning to protect community values and then incorporate community consultation to express to developers community needs and conditions.

Developments must include protection of wildlife corridors, environmentally sensitive areas, as well as affordable and mixed housing/density. “Developers simply saying the word conservation in their proposal does not equal conservation,” stated one concerned resident.

From Sandford’s research he shared the pitfalls and hopes of development in mountain communities. “If ever there was a time in history of the mountain west when we needed courageous, relentless, informed and visionary citizenship and leadership, it is now.”

His presentation is posted for listening on Summary of the community conversation input will be also be at this site by July 9.

This summary will also be presented to the RDEK staff and board.

Lead image: Seventy residents gather at the Fernie Seniors’ Centre. (Photo credit Gary Walker).


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