Talking valley politics

Local politicians offered an update on their communities and progess.

The Columbia Valley Chamber of Commerce hosted its 10th Annual Local Government Update with seven local leaders sharing about their work in 2019 and their hopes for 2020 at a luncheon on Thursday, January 30.

Shuswap Indian Band

“We’ve had a really good year,” said Barb Cote, chief of the Shuswap Indian Band.

The band built eight new homes with eight more to come, is getting a waterline to run to the north end of the reserve and is looking into locations for a hall.

The band is also involved in safety conversations related to construction along Highway 93/95.

Canal Flats

Karl Sterzer, mayor of Canal Flats, said the community has a zero percent vacancy rate and that property values are up seven per cent. It’s an exciting time for the community, he said, citing three planned new homes, a digital marketing class at the Columbia Lake Technology Centre, the recent sale of PodTech to Australia’s Iris Energy and the “amazing” new Viibrant Earth Cafe.

“To us, the best way to predict the future is to create it,” he said.

Radium

It was a less-rosy story when Clara Reinhardt, mayor of Radium, offered her update.

“We’ve had a couple of pretty good honeymoon years,” she said, adding that the community is dealing with a few challenges: how to regulate the “proliferation” of short-term rentals in a way that’s fair to everyone and that could be consistent across the valley; preparing for upcoming highway construction; and dealing with the “pretty awful” impact the Radium Hot Springs pool closure has been having on the village.

Akisq’nuk First Nation

Councillor Theresa Kains represented Akisq’nuk First Nation at the lunch.

In 2019, the First Nation opened its new recreation centre and a six-plex. Now she said the community has two three-plexes in the works, is hiring for economic and lands advisors and is developing a prosperity plan.

“There’s going to be a mountain of change,” she said. “We’re starting to be less shy.”

She said the First Nation has been approved for a Ktunaxa language hub and that “it’s going to take the whole valley” to help revive the language.

In response to an audience question about indigenous tourism opportunities, she said it’s something the First Nation is working on with the Lakeshore Resort and Campground and other opportunities.

“For ourselves, we’re just starting … We ourselves are just healing,” she said. “We’re still struggling with people starving, housing (and their) hierarchy of needs.”

Invermere

Al Miller, mayor of the District of Invermere, said: “I’ve been able to have the hands on the steering wheel for a year now and it’s been fun.”

Miller said the district is working on plans for the Lake Windermere Resort Lands, figuring out what to do with the old community hall site and striving to fill the new community centre. He also shared that his housing task force is moving forward.

Surprise pending

Miller said Shuswap Indian Band and the District of Invermere are working on a secret big-deal collaboration, but had no information to share at this point. Stay tuned.

Area F

Susan Clovechok, Area F director, said she is involved in working towards a diversified economy, supporting a local food hub initiative and looking to keep the Fairmont airport operational. “It’s a critical community asset,” she said of the airport.

Vivek Sharma, CEO of Fairmont Hot Springs Resort, used the question and answer period to voice his support for a diversified economy so the valley wouldn’t be so dependant on visitors from Alberta. Economic development should be addressed as a valley, not as individual communities, he said.

Area G

Gerry Wilkie raved about how well folks in the valley are getting along and supporting each other.

“There’s a real strong sense of optimism here, and I think we’re coalescing as a valley,” he said. “I really am proud to be a part of that.”

He highlighted two big projects: updating the Steamboat Jubilee community plan and developing the Columbia Valley Recreation Access Management Plan.

“We’ve been a little irresponsible touting the valley as a mecca for outdoor recreation when we don’t have a plan,” adding he’s glad that planning is underway.

As his time at the podium wound down, he said: “I urge us all to acknowledge the imperative of limits to growth and our moral responsibility to conserve in all endeavours.”

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