By Steve Hubrecht

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Invermere representatives lobbied provincial officials on a range of issues of local interest at the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) convention in the Lower Mainland last week.

Invermere Mayor Al Miller said he feels the provincial officials are at least getting the message on these topics. He added he hopes to see improvements soon and said “all in all, I think it went pretty well.”

One of the topics Miller and other Invermere representatives discussed with the province was turning responsibility for the old Ministry of Highways yard in Athalmer over to the District of Invermere. The province wouldn’t agree to simply give the land to Invermere, but did agree to a 99-year lease, which Miller was delighted at. “It does get it back in district hands. Our plan is to service it and then use it as light industrial space,’ he said. “There is big demand for more commercial and light industrial space in Athalmer.”

Invermere representatives also met with the B.C. Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy to vent their frustration over the Abel Creek culvert. The district was forced to spend $700,000 earlier this year to fix the culvert and had to begrudgingly divert $570,000 from its paving budget to pay for it. 

The district was given a ministerial order from the federal government legally requiring the culvert be completed in 2023 and it swiftly applied for a grant to pay for most of the project. But because of impact to fish, construction can only happen during a six-week window in any given year. So to ensure the work was done on time, the district signed a contract with a contractor this spring to install the culvert this summer. Then the district learned that because it had already signed the contract for the work, the culvert was no longer eligible for grant funding.

“We really got shortchanged on that one,” Miller told the Pioneer. “That in my books is just not cool . . . it was very frustrating.”

The transfer of management of James Chabot Provincial Park from the provincial government to the District of Invermere and the Shuswap Band was another issue discussed at UBCM.  “We want to upgrade the amenities at James Chabot and make it a viable park. We can’t do that now, because it’s not ours to manage. It’s not as well maintained as Kinsmen Beach is. If we and the Shuswap manage it, we can get it to that level.” 

The provincial government is amenable to the idea of transferring responsibility for James Chabot (likely in the form of a long-term lease) to Invermere and the Shuswap Band and is undergoing a consultation process on that idea. 

“There’s no set timeline yet. They assured us they’re working on it, but they did explain that proper consultation takes time . . . hopefully we get approved soon,” said Miller.

Invermere representatives also had a meeting with BC Hydro over concerns about the extreme lengths of time it is taking to get the Crown corporation’s design and approvals for new builds in Invermere. 

“I understand that their offices are severely backlogged and they just don’t have enough staff to do it in a timely manner,” said Miller. “But in Vancouver or Kelowna, you can hire a private contractor and then get BC Hydro to approve that. Out here, they haven’t allowed that yet. We are pushing for that.”

Some developments, including affordable housing, have been held back by as much as a year because of BC Hydro design and approval delays, said Miller, which he pointed out hardly helps Invermere’s housing crisis.