By Lyonel Doherty

[email protected]

Let’s face it, you don’t normally come back from a UBCM convention doing the “happy dance” or fist-pumping the air with exuberance. But RDEK chair Rob Gay gave this year’s experience an eight out of 10.

“I’ve been doing this for a number of years, and I think it’s a real eye opener for the newly elected,” he told the Pioneer upon reflection of the recent gathering of B.C. municipalities in Vancouver. Gay noted it was nice to see so many people at the convention devoted to public service in trying to improve the lives of citizens they represent.

He and local area directors attended the annual event with several requests and concerns on their list of items scheduled for discussion with provincial ministers and their staff.

Gay said there were more than 2,000 delegates and more than 200 resolutions on various topics including wildfires, housing, the drug crisis, and mental health. When all was said and done, the RDEK contingent managed to have seven meetings with the powers that be.

“You only have 15 minutes (per meeting), so you can’t waste a lot of time,” he said, noting the ministers already know what you’re after because they’ve had a peek at your speaking notes.

“When you ask for money, you never get a ‘yes’ right there, [and nobody has a spare $3 million sitting on their desk].”

One of the first issues the RDEK brought up to the Ministry of Agriculture and Food was a concern about motorized recreational vehicles and their impact on grazing lands. Gay said there has been unauthorized use of ATVs on ranch lands, even to the point of “cutting fences.” That’s why the Kootenay Livestock Association is undertaking a study to determine the real effects this is having on range operations and livelihoods. 

“If something comes out of that, we’re looking to the  province to help secure a solution,” Gay said. “Is it more enforcement or public education?” We’re trying to determine the size and scope of it and come back (to the province) for assistance.”

Another meeting addressed the Kootenay River dike in Canal Flats. Gay told the Pioneer that the RDEK would like to see the dike extended for another three kilometres to provide more protection for the village and its assets that are in a flood hazard position. 

The RDEK is asking for $3 million for the first phase of dike enhancement, Gay said. 

The chair alluded to this summer’s Mia Creek wildfire that has burned approximately 5,400 hectares of forest. “Many trees are gone, and with spring runoff, and my experience in hydrology, without the tree canopy, the snow melts quicker, and with larger and earlier runoff, we need to improve the diking . . . there is some urgency there.”

The next meeting was with Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth regarding funding for victim services. Gay said the RCMP are not funded enough to help victims for an extended time period, and now community groups are asking for funds to assist victims of crime.

“Our long-term wish is to see the province provide funding,” Gay stated, explaining that the RDEK doesn’t have the expertise or the skills to work with these victims.

“We all agree this is a very important service, but the question is how do we deliver it, who pays, and where does the money come from?” 

Gay said this is an ongoing issue, and with what they are seeing on the street relating to the drug crisis, the need for victim services is increasing.

Another meeting focused on BC Hydro pole rental fees and the frustration with trying to bring broadband connectivity to homes. The wish is for the province to establish affordable rental rates to accelerate broadband service in rural communities.

Yet another challenge is the impact that wake boats have on area lakes and rivers, which was the subject of another conversation at the convention. 

The RDEK would like to see the Ministry of Environment consider new legislation that regulates the use of wake boats in shallow water bodies where erosion is a concern. Gay said they don’t really know the totality of the impacts but would like to secure some funding to research the issue.

One issue of discussion that Gay said the RDEK is “having second thoughts” on is the decommissioning of Wilmer Dam. He noted the orphan dam built in 1902 has been deemed unsafe by the province and instructed it to be decommissioned. But now with climate change and drought rearing their ugly heads, instead of deconstructing, maybe it’s time to “reconstruct” the dam to provide much needed water, Gay pointed out, adding that more discussion is needed with the community. 

Gay said the highlight of the convention (for him) was the Highway 3 Mayors and Chairs Coalition, which he is an avid member of. 

This group meets to discuss ideas and priorities to enhance Highway 3 for the motoring public and wildlife safety. For example, he cited passing lane projects, bridge replacements, and safety overpasses for sheep.

This year’s meeting with Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Rob Fleming ending up with five priority projects identified: Creston Highway 3 alignment, Morrissey eastbound passing lane (west of Fernie), northbound passing lane near Brilliant Dam (Highway 3A between Castlegar and Nelson), Yahk river crossing curves, and Whipsaw curves in Princeton.