Upper Columbia Valley elected officials were at a Columbia Valley Chamber of Commerce’s Local Government Update last week, updating chamber members on local political developments during the past year and on developments set to come this year.

“People in Area G are optimistic in general,” Area G director Gerry Wilkie told roughly 60 chamber members gathered on Thursday, January 14th, going on to list the various projects completed in Area G in the past year, including the Edgewater water system upgrade; the Spur Valley water system upgrade; the Wilmer Community Hall; the renewed tenure for the Wilmer Regional Park — which may possibly end up being named the Selkirk Regional Park instead, according to Wilkie; and the Toby Benches Official Community Plan (OCP) process.

Looking ahead at the year to come, probably the largest project in the works for Area G is the planned magnesite mine near Spillimacheen (see a future issue of Echo for more), he said.

Radium Hot Springs mayor Clara Reinhardt gave a run down of highlights in the village in the past year, including the Rotary Community Garden, and said that for the year ahead, council plans to continue to cooperate with other Upper Columbia Valley municipalities and rural areas on valley-wide initiatives to promote tourism (“which is our biggest economic driver,” she said); plans to replace its current community hall with a new one (“nothing grand, just something functional”); and will continue to deal with some unsightly premise issue in the north ridge area of the village.

Invermere mayor Gerry Taft listed the completion of the cenotaph park and the update of Invermere OCP among the major projects finished in the district in 2015. He also mentioned the work the district has begun to pinpoint the source of the ongoing water taste and odour issue, and the progress made on the planned new multi-use centre, saying that both those projects would continue to be high priorities in 2016.

‘With the water quality, it’s tricky, we’re still trying to figure it out,” said Taft. “For the multi-use centre we have completed the detailed design. We have shortlisted some contractors and the tendering process for the work will occur in late February or early March, with actual construction hopefully starting in April. We’re hoping the building will be finished by the fall of 2017. We know it’s an aggressive timeline, but that’s what we’re aiming for.”

He added that in the meantime the district will continue to help the various user groups to try to secure more than $1.5 million worth of funding for soft costs.

“We have quite a lot of community development initiatives going on right now,” Shuswap Indian Band chief Barb Cote told the chamber members, giving a long list of new personnel hired by the band in 2015 and listing projects started, completed or planned, including having new band offices set up; expansion of the band’s water system to the north; and a planned new housing development.

“We’re on a real roll right now,” said Cote, also adding details about some of the regional and federal negotiations the band has been involved in (such as the Columbia Basin Treaty) and mentioning her efforts to help bring the Shuswap band into closer cooperation with the Akisqnuk First Nation.

“The two First Nations in valley have not always worked well together and we’re hoping we can change that,” she said, adding that she is a Shuswap band member, but also has Ktunaxa heritage.

Canal Flats mayor Ute Juras detailed the difficulties in her village brought by the permanent closure of the Canfor sawmill, and talked about efforts to help the situation. She also pointed to a few bright spots in the year for the village, including the the success of its fall fair and mentioned potential plans for a winter farmers’ market in Canal Flats.

Area F director Wendy Booth highlighted to chamber members the completion of phase one of the Fairmont Creek debris flow mitigation work; money secured for broadband in the Toby Benches area; the establishment of the a valley-wide economic development services area; and securing operational funding for the Whiteway. She said that major projects coming up in 2016 for Area F include starting the OCP update process for Fairmont Hot Springs (“it will take 18 months to two years to complete”); continuing to work on the Windermere water system; the ongoing Columbia Valley branding and marketing initiative; and phase two of the Fairmont Creek debris flow mitigation work.

Following the presentation chamber member Rod Turnbull asked Booth about the Windermere Creek issue.

“It is still a priority. It is still on the radar,” responded Booth. “But we haven’t had the same support (from affected residents) to create a service area and raise taxation to fix it as we did in Fairmont to fix the issues there.”

At the end of the meeting Invermere councillor and chamber member Al Miller offered praise to Cote for her efforts in changing the Shuswap Indian Band band, saying “the whole atmosphere up there for those of us running businesses on Shuswap lands has changed,” he said. ‘It is quite welcoming and business-like.”

This political update for the chamber was the sixth annual edition of the event.