By Greg Amos

Special to the Pioneer

The Union of B.C. Municipalities’ annual convention last week (September 22nd to September 26th) produced plenty of direction and ideas for rural B.C. communities, including the Columbia Valley.

While many valley residents may already be familiar with Invermere mayor Gerry Taft’s unanimously-supported resolution to oppose provincial funding of municipalities without residents (see the October 1st, 2014 Valley Echo), the conference was also an opportunity to advance agendas on other issues that resonate locally.

In 15-minute meetings with provincial ministers and through panel discussions and workshops, local elected officials were able to get answers on the Multi-Material BC (MMBC) recycling program, Windermere Creek flooding issues, local roadway concerns, and a set of controversial municipal spending reports.

Regional District of East Kootenay Area F director Wendy Booth took aim at the much-maligned MMBC program, joining regional district board chair Rob Gay in a short meeting with Environment Minister Mary Polak. Ms. Booth contended the program’s inflexibility makes it expensive and impractical in the East Kootenay.

While (Minister Polak) made no promises on any level of service, she recognizes that there have been flaws with the roll out of the MMBC program and to be patient as solutions are found, Ms. Booth told The Pioneer. She is well aware that the level of service for the East Kootenay is not adequate.

Mr. Gay having recently been named to the MMBC advisory committee on behalf of the Union of B.C. Municipalities means a competent voice will be advocating for the East Kootenay on the issue said Ms. Booth.

A long-term solution to the nearly-annual flooding on Windermere Creek remains on the radar of Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Steve Thomson.

Minister Thompson is well aware of the situation with Windermere Creek, said Ms. Booth, who was elected a UBCM director at large during the meeting. The challenge is we currently do not have a local service area in place enabling us to raise the required one third locally for any grant application.

This is a project that Im continuing to work on; at present we do not know where to draw the lines for a service area, she added.

Invermere mayor Gerry Taft met with Transportation Minister Todd Stone to discuss a dangerous S-curve on Panorama Drive, on a section of road previously part of the provincial highway system.

The land near the (S-curve) is still undergoing remediation from minor contamination and (the province) indicated that at some time in the future, they would transfer the land needed to correct the corner to us, he said. We again commented that we would rather give the entire road back, and that we would hope that they would pay to fix the (S-curve). They laughed; we will continue to work on this.

An issue that created a buzz throughout the convention was the UBCMs Strong Fiscal Futures report, which was tabled last year and called for a new method of financing municipalities, in which the province would share revenues when growth exceeds three per cent.

Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development Coralee Oakes announced her government is acting on a number of the reports findings which came as news to UBCM, who had heard no feedback prior to that.

The strong Fiscal Futures report is a very well-researched policy paper, and it is disappointing that for the last year the province has been unwilling to meet with UBCM on this, commented Mayor Taft. Although it sounds positive that they will now look at some of the recommendations, I think most people in local government are a bit skeptical as to how serious and genuine they are in that promise.

Minister Oakes indicated the province will only look at the SFF report in conjunction with the Taxpayer Accountability Principles report, prepared for the government without any municipal consultation.

(That) report is flawed; it includes statistics from BC Ferries and Translink which embeds that information into local government figures, noted Mayor Taft.

While the (taxpayer accountability) report has some good points, there are noticeable flaws in it, said Ms. Booth.

In a few cases such as with the proposed changes to Columbia Lake access through the seldom-visited provincial park at the north end of the lake ministerial meetings showed that progress has been as slow as was suspected.

Canal Flats mayor Ute Juras and Ms. Booth, both of whom were seeking an update on how the feedback received from their communities will factor into the proposed upgrades for the Columbia Lake provincial park, received a rain check from Environment Minister Mary Polak.

She assured Director Booth and I that an update will come shortly, citing that her staff has been busy dealing with the Mount Polley (tailings pond) disaster, said Mayor Juras.