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RDCK Roundup: Waterfront regulation for Arrow Lakes encouraged

All the news from the May 18 board meeting
The Regional District of Central Kootenay’s Nelson office. File photo

by John Boivin

Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Valley Voice

An environmental monitoring and protection organization would like to see stronger regulatory protections in place for waterfront development on the Arrow Lakes.

Nelson-based Living Lakes Canada suggested a 15-metre Development Permit Area from the lake’s high-water mark, where development cannot occur unless approved through an application process.

“Given the significant natural shoreline loss we’re seeing in the Kootenays and the Okanagan … it is a critical opportunity to strengthen regulation and promote an integrated approach to foreshore management as opposed to a lot-by-lot basis,” Georgia Peck, program manager with Living Lakes Canada, told the board May 18.

Living Lakes did a foreshore inventory of the Arrow Lakes last summer, inspecting 425 kilometres of the shoreline from near Castlegar to the upper lake’s reaches. The group found 87 per cent of the lakes’ foreshore was still in a natural state, while 13 per cent had been disturbed by humans. In some areas, sensitive wetlands had had boat basins dug out to improve mooring for boats.

Peck said it was important to put regulations in before the problem gets worse.

“Unfortunately, the ‘death by 1,000 cuts’ analogy is one that we use, because what we are seeing across the Kootenays, as well as observations in the Okanagan, is that shoreline disturbances do tend to trend along properties and into neighbouring areas.

“So getting a head-start on conservation such as Arrow Lakes is an important opportunity.”

Endorsing a 15-metre setback recommendation instead of the usual 30 metres takes into account the entire lake is now a hydro reservoir, Peck noted. Flooding from the Columbia River project in the 1960s significantly altered the lake’s shoreline.

The board received her presentation as information.

Housing action

The board of directors endorsed a new Affordable Housing Action plan report, freeing up staff to move forward with strategies to encourage new affordable units in the regional district.

The report, developed by M’akola Development Services, a Victoria-based housing consultant, offers several avenues for the regional district to support affordable housing.

“The housing crisis is too significant for regional and local governments to address alone,” the report notes. “Implementation of the tools in this guide will require partnership and collaboration with member municipalities, the non-profit sector, senior levels of government, and other housing partners.”

It adds the RDCK is well-positioned to lead this work by facilitating information sharing and engagement, identifying and acquiring land for affordable housing, coordinating housing provision, and strengthening regional partnerships

This is just the draft report from the consultants. There’s more time for feedback on the plan from directors before the final report is delivered next year. However, endorsement by the board lets staff move forward on aspects of the project before that happens.

Pilot program crashes

RDCK directors reluctantly pulled the plug on a pilot program that saw an in-house construction crew hired to work on water system projects.

The three-person crew – along with an excavator, truck, and all necessary equipment – was assembled in 2021 as an experiment to see if the RDCK could save money on spiralling construction costs on water systems. With $40 million in projects predicted over the next 10 years, having an in-house team seemed to be a good way to try.

But the pandemic hit, and staff got sick. With only seasonal work to offer, the RD couldn’t keep an experienced team together, and then crew members started to leave, attracted by higher wages and more steady work in private industry. Headquartering the team out of Fauquier didn’t help in attracting recruits to the project.

“We are at the point now where we have to decide whether to end the pilot, and say it was not successful, or alternatively approach this with a more aggressive approach with regards to hiring and finding suitable staff,” Uli Wolf, the manager of water systems, told the board.

That “more aggressive approach” would mean paying much higher wages to attract a crew. But that could affect wage demands and raise fairness issues with other staff as well, he noted.

“The original idea of cost reduction and increased project control through in-house services continues to have merit. However, in the current labour market, it appears that the RDCK cannot be competitive enough to have continuous success,” a report from staff noted. “Staff acquisition and retention approaches would have to reviewed in order to make this approach successful in the future.”

Not ending the program now also created problems – it’s too late in the year to hire anyone for the construction season – and the equipment would sit idle for a year, but with the lease payments still due.

The board reluctantly agreed with staff, and ordered the project ended, and the assets disposed of.

Vax mandate

The RDCK board briefly dipped its toes into the debate over hiring back health care workers fired for not getting their COVID-19 shots during the pandemic.

“I did some research on this, talked to the mayor of Merritt, and they are putting forward a similar resolution,” said Area H director Walter Popoff, in introducing a motion he wanted to board to endorse. “He told me he was completely disenchanted with the provincial government and the regulations … there is a shortage of workers. If you go through our emergency wards in Nelson and Castlegar, the wait periods are a lot longer than they were pre-COVID. That’s because of the shortage of workers.”

Popoff’s motion followed the wording of a similar motion that was rejected by delegates at a recent meeting of Kootenay-Boundary municipal leaders. Popoff’s motion called on the province to “rescind the COVID-19 vaccine mandate for health care professionals and rehire the terminated workers.”

But those last five words – “and rehire the terminated workers” – concerned several directors.

“This falls squarely in the realm of labour relations; it’s not in our lane,” said Area J Director Henny Hanegraaf, a former labour leader. “These workers all have representation of some kind. It’s up to those unions to determine whether or not they will bring forward grievances for those workers. I don’t think it’s our business… I think it is inappropriate.”

The motion was amended to remove the offending clause, and passed. The proposed motion will be forwarded to the Union of BC Municipalities convention for debate this fall.