• The more things change: Before the May provincial election, BC had a Liberal government and Nelson-Creston and Kootenay West were represented by New Democrats Michelle Mungall and Katrine Conroy respectively.
Only the first part was a surprise, as all signs pointed to an NDP victory, leaving leader Adrian Dix to wonder what went wrong and what might have been.
Mungall in particular could have been in line for a key role had the NDP won, given her strong support for Dix during his leadership campaign.
• Sayonara to Slocan’s sawmill: Fifty years of sawmilling in Slocan ended this year with the buyout of the Springer Creek Forest Products workforce, the sale of its timber licenses, and the beginning of demolition work on the mill site.
Early in the year, the 75 or so remaining employees on the seniority list overwhelmingly accepted a reduced settlement package in lieu of severance, entitling them to three-quarters of what they might have been entitled to. It came after Springer Creek reached a deal to sell its timber holdings to Interfor.
In late summer, the village issued a demolition permit for the site. The work is expected to continue into the spring, but the future of the land is unknown.
• Dog debate revisited: Following the National Post’s front-page indictment of Nelson’s downtown dog ban, city councillor Deb Kozak let it be known she would be willing to relax the rules for a six-month trial.
After 75 minutes of presentations from businesses supporting the change as well as police and bylaw enforcement, Kozak introduced her motion. And then … silence. No other councillor was willing to entertain the idea and it died on the vine.
“I think we could have learned a lot more if [the trial period] happened,” Kozak said afterward. “I’d hoped council would have had a little more faith and confidence in the support of the business community to make a positive change.”
For now, Fido remains unwelcome on Baker Street.
• Power outage: The longest-running labour dispute of the year saw FortisBC’s electrical workers locked out for nearly six months.
The company closed the gates on members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 213 on June 26, affecting over 200 employees in power generation, transmission, and distribution, including at South Slocan.
Talks had barely begun before the two sides saw a widening gap between their positions, generally around the introduction of a two-tier pay and benefit package for newly hired employees, contract language around travel pay, and discussions around a compressed work week.
Twice during the lockout workers rejected offers from the company, but this month the parties agreed to go to binding arbitration. In the meantime, employees have returned to work under the terms of their expired agreement.
IBEW business manager Rod Russell said he was glad the lockout is over but disappointed they couldn’t negotiate a settlement. “It was a war that nobody won and could have easily been avoided,” he said.
• Map moves: Changes to federal electoral boundaries were confirmed this year that will see Nelson, Kaslo, and Salmo added to the Kootenay-Columbia riding and Castlegar, Trail, and the Slocan Valley join Penticton in a new riding called South Okanagan-West Kootenay.
The proposal was panned for separating Nelson from Castlegar and Trail and for lumping local communities in with much larger centres, but the electoral boundaries commission insisted its hands were tied by population quotas.
“I think this is a disaster,” said Southern Interior New Democrat MP Alex Atamanenko (seen at left), who acknowledged it will be harder for his party to win given strong Conservative bases in Cranbrook and Penticton — although he insisted that isn’t the reason he recently announced he won’t run again.
Atamanenko’s predecessor, Conservative Jim Gouk, said partisanship aside, the new boundaries are a disservice to the area. “It’s absolutely absurd — terrible. We’re two parts at the hind end of different ridings.”
• Timber tussle: An industry group lobbied government for access to more fibre this year but critics called it a timber grab.
The Interior Lumber Manufacturers Association approached the Regional District of Central Kootenay in July, saying their economic viability was threatened due to the difficulty finding enough wood to operate their mills.
“We believe it’s because of restrictions on the land base,” Ken Kalesnikoff of Kalesnikoff Lumber (seen far left with ILMA president Jim Hackett) told the board. “We need an area we can work in and farm the land, but those areas are being taken away. It’s becoming very hard to deal with.”
The group won support from the board, but Nelson city councillor Candace Batycki, who was long involved with ForestEthics, said timber supply reviews shouldn’t be based on market demand. “The problem is that running all the mills at full capacity is not sustainable,” she said.
The ILMA met with forests minister Steve Thomson in August, which one industry professional described as “very positive,” but he made no promises.
“While a full re-opening of the Kootenay-Boundary higher level plan is unlikely, Minister Thomson has asked staff to look at options to address timber supply constraints and opportunities,” a spokesman said.
• Winlaw walk-out: Winlaw firefighters walked out this year in solidarity of suspended chief Jon Wollenberg.
The trouble began when regional chief Terry Swan ordered Wollenberg to provide traffic control at a public meeting on the Lemon Creek fuel spill. He refused on the grounds that it wasn’t their job, and further his members wanted to attend the meeting themselves.
Swan suspended Wollenberg for three months and required him to complete a fire service supervision course before returning to duty. “The reason is insubordination — willingly disobeying a direct order,” Swan said.
Wollenberg said he understood the chain of command in the case of a fire but “if no emergency exists I do not believe the regional fire chief should demand actions from volunteers … I have done nothing wrong in refusing to respond to a non-emergency event.”
In support of their chief, Winlaw firefighters announced they would not respond to calls. Although the Passmore and Slocan departments were willing to pick up the slack, residents could have lost their fire insurance.
Instead, the regional district revoked the suspension and referred the matter to a committee of chiefs. That satisfied Winlaw’s firefighters, who returned to duty.
The portion of the committee’s report made public revealed nothing more about the specific dispute, but suggested a review of RDCK fire service bylaws and job descriptions.
• Community in limbo: Johnsons Landing residents devastated by a deadly landslide in 2012 (below left) didn’t get much good news this year.
First, someone robbed several affected homes (although most of the stolen property was returned). Then a geotechnical report released in May found the risk of further landslides remains high and didn’t give evacuated residents much hope of returning home — or of disposing of their now-worthless properties.
Government agencies provided financial support to residents whose homes or businesses were destroyed but stopped sort of buying unsafe properties.
“Nobody’s going to buy land they can’t occupy,” said resident Kate O’Keefe. “I would like to see the land purchased by the crown.”
But David Curtis of Emergency Management BC said that was unlikely as there was no mechanism to buy neighbourhoods affected by disasters.
This month, the Regional District of Central Kootenay announced it was continuing the evacuation order.
• Dredging Grohman Narrows: Following the highest water levels on the Kootenay River in nearly 40 years, BC Hydro began looking at deepening the bottleneck at Grohman Narrows, about three kilometers downstream of Nelson (seen below).
Based on encouragement from local government, they spent about $70,000 on riverbed surveys and sediment evaluation to determine if it was feasible.
But the Star received letters from several people who thought it was a bad idea. “The adverse effect … will change the West Arm of Kootenay Lake forever,” wrote Vern Hellekson. “It will do more harm than good.”
There wasn’t a lot of overt support for the project at a public meeting in June either. Skeptics thought it had more to do with increasing power production than flood control, although BC Hydro insisted that wasn’t the case.
Not all were against it. “I think it’s a worthy project. Go for it,” said Beasley resident Al Craft.
• Pot petition: The Sensible BC campaign to decriminalize marijuana in BC fell short province-wide, but succeeded in Nelson-Creston and Kootenay West, where canvassers secured the signatures of more than 10 per cent of voters.
Nelson-Creston actually topped all ridings with 16 per cent, while Kootenay West met the target with only a few days left before the deadline. Overall, 210,000 people signed, but only 19 of BC’s 85 electoral districts met the threshold.
Had the campaign succeeded, it would have forced a referendum on the issue.
“We find a lot of people are concerned about the soaring police costs related to cannabis prohibition,” Nelson-Creston canvasser Herb Couch (seen at far left) said early in the campaign. “Those people, like us want to focus on real crimes. Cannabis prohibition causes way too much harm. It doesn’t work.”
Sensible BC’s Dana Larsen says another attempt is likely.
• A Royal mess: A popular Nelson music venue was closed much of the year following a nasty dispute between the owner and leaseholders.
Paul Hinrichs and Howie Ross, who brought many big-name acts to town, cleared out when their lease-to-own arrangement expired and they couldn’t afford to buy.
Their exit was hastened and several shows were moved or cancelled when building owner Luke Menkes demanded the pair transfer the liquor license back to him. Ross had his own demands: quit the eviction threats, return a financial deposit, and stop copying their emails to the media.
When the venue reopened in May for an all-ages party, it was marred by people who decided to drink en route to and outside the event. Police issued several tickets, but Menkes said it was a case of a few bad apples ruining it for all.
In September, new tenant-operaters were found: Shane Dayman moved here from Langley while Shane Vassell has a telecommunications company in Fort McMurray. “We’ve heard from a lot of bands that can’t wait to get back here,” Vassell said.
The Royal reopened this month — and cleared out its basement with a garage sale that benefited the BC Firefighters Burn Foundation. A new liquor license is still in the works.
• Duhamel Creek dispute: North Shore residents around Duhamel Creek worried this year that logging above their homes could increase the risk of landslides.
“The people who live below are asking, begging them not to do it,” longtime resident Glen B. Jones said of Kalesnikoff Lumber’s plans for the Lower Duhamel watershed.
However, district forest manager Garth Wiggill said the company conducted a full terrain assessment: “Kalesnikoff’s preparation for logging in Duhamel is consistent with current procedures for managing timber harvesting on provincial forest land.”
The geoscientist the company hired to assess the risks said residents should be concerned for their safety — but from flooding, not logging-related slides.
By fall, the Duhamel Watershed Alliance decided to draft its own long-term logging plan with professional help and asked Kalesnikoff to meet with them to jointly plan the next cut block. The company was willing to meet but said the group didn’t have the right to impose its own plans.
• Dock debate: A proposed dock at Five Mile on the North Shore had locals in an uproar over access to a popular beach (seen below). The applicants, summer residents Jane and Mark Andreychuk, wanted to build private moorage that would bisect the beach.
“This dock would clearly make a statement and ruin the public swimming access in this area,” fumed Debbie Bird, who started a Facebook campaign to kibosh the idea, which was then open for public comment.
“It’s totally changed from the original plan,” Jane told the Star, adding the proposal to build a dock had “nothing to do with the beach. It’s in the water on the edge of the spit.”
But residents were still worried. “To even contemplate building a structure that serves only one family out of all of us … is to interfere with the righteous stewardship of the lake,” said Jody Leila Howard.