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Regional district protests bill for forest fuel work

Jim Garth of Debri Resources worked on a fuel mitigation program at Rosemont’s Art Gibbon Park last year. The regional district says such work is important, but the province should foot the bill. - Bob Hall photo
Jim Garth of Debri Resources worked on a fuel mitigation program at Rosemont’s Art Gibbon Park last year. The regional district says such work is important, but the province should foot the bill.
— image credit: Bob Hall photo

The Regional District of Central Kootenay will continue to play a role in managing forest fuels on Crown lands to prevent wildfires — but they’re unhappy about paying for it.

Directors wrestled Thursday with the urgency of the work versus their desire to have the province cover the full cost.

Following a rule change last year, local governments are now required to pony up 10 per cent for fuel management projects under $100,000, and 25 per cent above that.

“The province has downloaded responsibility of interface work on Crown lands to local government,” regional district administrator Jim Gustafson wrote in a memo to directors.

“Potentially this situation could rub electoral areas and municipalities the wrong way.”

He says the issue “becomes perplexing” if some areas want to participate and others don’t, and the costs might be unaffordable unless the entire tax base is included.

The issue touched off a long debate.

“We’re being asked to take on more responsibility that’s not ours,” said rural Creston director Larry Binks. “I’m opposed to paying to do their job.”

“We can’t continue to roll over and accept the status quo from the province,” Nelson mayor John Dooley added.

Rural Kaslo director Andy Shadrack also said he couldn’t agree to participate without settling the funding question first, while Kaslo mayor Greg Lay said the province should be taken to task for not fully implementing the Filmon report, commissioned after the massive forest fires of 2003.

However, rural Castlegar director Andy Davidoff said the work’s importance outweighed any dispute over the bill.

“I can’t wait in my area to protect my water systems,” he said. “I have to do something now.”

The motion to stick with the fuel management program passed with Binks, Dooley, Shadrack, and Lay opposed.

A separate motion to be brought before the Association of Kootenay Boundary Local Governments asking the province to pick up the full tab passed almost unanimously. So did Dooley’s motion that chair John Kettle take up the issue with forests minister Steve Thomson face-to-face in the coming weeks.

“Fire doesn’t have politics attached to it,” Kettle says. “When fire hits and Nelson loses its watershed, all the debate in the world is pointless.”

He hopes other regional districts back them up.

“This is a common sense thing. It crosses party lines and regional districts. Every one of us in a rural area has an exposed watershed. We need to protect those.”

Kettle adds their participation in fuel mitigation must be “consensual, not based on dictate.”

According to a consultant’s report received Thursday, a large program in 2010-11 resulted in completed prescription burns of about 650 hectares in the RDCK, fuel treatment of another 200 hectares, and preparation of another 440 hectares for further treatment.

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