District plans to hire environmental planner

By Steve Hubrecht

The District of Invermere recently made public its much-anticipated climate change resiliency briefing and actions report.

The briefing, which has been a strategic priority for the district since this past summer, outlines measures Invermere has taken over the past decade to help mitigate climate change, or to become more environmentally friendly, and concluded by outlining the district’s intent to hire an environmental planner on contract to further such measures going forward. 

Some local residents, however, later expressed dissatisfaction at the report, commenting that they had expected the report not to be a summary of past efforts, but rather a plan for future actions.

“The proposed 2022 budget…includes money, if approved by council, that can be used to support the hiring of a contract environmental planner to support some of the climate change actions described in this report,” said Invermere’s Chief Administrative Officer, Andrew Young, during the Invermere council meeting at which the briefing report became public.

“I look forward to bringing an environmental planner on staff. I fully support that…It’s another step forward for the district,” said Invermere Councillor Greg Anderson.

Invermere Mayor, Al Miller, noted that although the district has taken some steps to mitigate climate change in the past, much more remains to be done “and this new job that we’re trying to fill will help in that way.”

In introducing the report, Young explained it contains a lengthy overview of climate change-related policy and directions, and quickly ran through them for the benefit of council and the public gallery at the meeting. There were 35 measures in total, stretching back from present day to 2007. A few of the efforts listed are pending or in progress, but most have been already implemented and are currently in effect.

“It is clear the District of Invermere has done a great deal of work and taken multiple actions over many years to help make the community of Invermere more resilient to climate change impacts and threats, and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions… while at the same time the municipality has been realistic in its actions given the limited resources that are available to small communities — monies, people, expertise, time,” said Young adding that “nonetheless the district is taking further actions to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by, for example, making improvements to its vehicle fleet, buildings…The actions that the district has taken, and is undertaking, are intended to encourage responsible behaviours by everyone in Invermere — government, businesses, residents, and visitors.”

Local resident, Tracy Flynn, in the audience at the meeting, mentioned that she was “caught off guard” by the change in name of the ‘climate change resiliency briefing and actions report’ — which throughout the fall had been called the ‘climate change action priorities report’.

“This isn’t what I was expecting…I was expecting new actions that would be primarily in the future,” Flynn told council. 

“Sometimes you have to look back to look forward,” replied Miller. “The idea is to stay on track.”

Once Invermere council adopts the district’s 2022 budget, the environmental planner can be hired, added Young. “Then we can begin to actualize things…it is very central to our work plan for 2022.”

Flynn had earlier in the meeting asked Invermere council to give more serious consideration to adopting B.C. Energy Step Code level three (from the new B.C. building code) as soon as possible, instead of waiting until the end of 2022 to do so, when it will be mandated by the provincial government. She countered various reasons that had put forward against adopting Step Code level three during a recent committee of the whole meeting. 

“It is not dependent on hiring another staff member in the building services department,” said Flynn, adding software programs and the RDEK community energy advisor will take the bulk of the additional workload that comes with adopting step code level three.

Another reason proffered against early adoption is that most new buildings in Invermere are already built to step three, but Flynn said that “even if there is one new home not being built to standard, that is one too many in my opinion. And it will need to be retrofitted in 10 years time at any rate.”

She finished that “this really isn’t early…the District of Invermere should have adopted step three a long time ago. Delaying it has not helped builders, homeowners or building inspectors.”

At the end of the meeting Invermere resident Steph Van de Kemp queried council members if they were reconsidering their approach to early adoption of step three, asking “where is council? What are the next steps?”

Miller responded that council had not yet had an opportunity to discuss it further.

There was some curiosity from audience members, and among councillors, as to where climate change now fits with the district’s strategic priorities. Councillor Kayja Becker noted the briefing report is now complete, “but it’s now not on our current (strategic priorities) chart to hire an environmental planner…I really think that’s low hanging fruit and we should check that one off before moving on to other priorities.”

A few days later, other residents, who were not able to be at the meeting, reached out to the Pioneer, sharing perspectives similar to Flynn and Van de Kemp’s.

“We are extremely disappointed with the report that has been produced. We expected the climate change actions priorities report to be a forward-looking document that prioritizes actions that the district will take to mitigate climate change and increase resilience. Instead, they did the opposite. They took out the word ‘priorities’ from ‘climate change actions priorities report’ and just wrote a ‘climate change actions report’ that summarizes all initiatives and plans from the last 15 years — most of which are extremely outdated, and some of which were never implemented.

Instead of looking towards the future and opportunities to do better, they used this report as an opportunity to pat themselves on the back,” wrote local resident Amira Elwakeel, speaking on behalf of local environmental youth group ColumbiYEA, adding that “it is disappointing seeing how far behind the District of Invermere is in its response (to climate change), even compared to other small B.C. municipalities.”