Trust fine with reduced funding

KASLO — A funding agreement between the Columbia Basin Trust and provincial government is in its final throes, but the Trust’s chair says it will have little effect on them.

Columbia Basin Trust chair Garry Merkel

Columbia Basin Trust chair Garry Merkel

KASLO — A funding agreement between the Columbia Basin Trust and provincial government is in its final throes, but the Trust’s chair says it will have little effect on them.

Garry Merkel says when the Trust was established in 1995, the province agreed to give them $2 million per year for 15 years.

“That was really to cover our overhead until we got self-sustaining,” he says. “This is the last year of that. But it won’t have any impact on our operations at all. We have made plans, and it’s easily absorbed.”

The founding agreement also included $276 million to finance power project construction and $45 million to be used as an endowment.

The Trust has since been involved in four major power projects: the Arrow Lakes generating station, Brilliant dam upgrade, Brilliant expansion, and Waneta expansion. The first three have been completed, while the latter is well underway.

The Trust budgeted $17 million to pay out in community benefits this year, and Merkel says the loss of provincial funding will not change that. “That number’s not going to go down. Our projections right now are it will be $25 million in six years. It could even be earlier.”

Merkel adds if the Trust never made another investment, when its current portfolio matures in 25 years, the projected benefits budget will be $100 million.

The Trust held its annual general meeting in Kaslo last month, which drew a sizeable crowd.

“The room was almost too small,” Merkel says. “We had people from the East Kootenay as well. They all had suggestions and questions. I thought that was really valuable.”

Merkel says while there was a wide range of topics, one area of concern was the Trust’s involvement with land conservancy, which will be scrutinized as part of a regular review.

The Kaslo meeting also saw the board paperless for the first time. They’ve switched to using laptops and iPads.