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Consider Columbia Basin Trust’s future, RDCK urged

Former Nelson-Creston MLA Corky Evans and past Columbia Basin Trust chair Josh Smienk appeared as a joint delegation at the Regional District of Central Kootenay table last week. They say it’s time to rethink the Trust’s future. - Greg Nesteroff photo
Former Nelson-Creston MLA Corky Evans and past Columbia Basin Trust chair Josh Smienk appeared as a joint delegation at the Regional District of Central Kootenay table last week. They say it’s time to rethink the Trust’s future.
— image credit: Greg Nesteroff photo

By their own admission, Corky Evans and Josh Smienk don’t run in the same circles. So when the former Nelson-Creston MLA and former Columbia Basin Trust chair speak as one, people take notice.

The pair are appealing for public consultation on the future of the Columbia Basin Trust and its joint venture partner, the Columbia Power Corporation.

Last week Evans and Smienk addressed the Regional District of Central Kootenay board, calling for a symposium to discuss the next stages of the crown corporations’ existence.

Columbia Power, which splits its power-generating profits with the Trust, is seeking ideas on what it should tackle once the last of its initial projects — the Arrow Lakes generation station, Brilliant dam expansion and Waneta dam expansion — is completed in 2014. Suggestions so far include adding generators to the Duncan dam and developing or buying hydroelectric facilities in the East Kootenay.

But Evans and Smienk, among the architects of the Trust’s establishment in 1995, think it’s time for broader soul-searching.

Smienk said when the Trust’s management plan was created, it was believed the organization would earn $12 million to $15 million per year by now, when in fact it has doubled those projections, and last year generated $29 million.

“Last time we didn’t dare dream as big as what the Trust has become,” he said. “With this opportunity comes a responsibility to go back to people of the Basin to say ‘What is that grander, larger vision?’”

Smienk added the regional district, as one of the partners in the Trust’s creation, could provide regional input into a new management plan. He said questions might include whether the Trust should diversify its portfolio and whether it continues to partner with Columbia Power or seeks new partnerships.

Evans said the completion of the third major hydroelectric project should be cause for a “massive celebration … Hold the biggest street dance ever. What happened here has been wonderful. We, they, you, deserve the credit.”

But he said it’s also important to consider what happens next, and wants to see less of a business plan than a regional vision for the next 25 years.

Evans acknowledged their joint submission has already raised eyebrows: “In elections we tend to vote differently. When people with our two different backgrounds appear [together], lots of phone calls start to happen.”

While they may have created some anxiety, Evans said he has no objections to Columbia Power’s work and isn’t criticizing the corporation’s current process.

Following the presentation, the regional district board passed a resolution endorsing a “broad public engagement process” that allows Columbia Basin residents “to consider and articulate a vision for the future of power investments as a Basin asset.”

It further supported a “renewal of the original vision as articulated in the Columbia Basin management plan.”

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