The proposal to build an RCMP building on a corner of Somenos Marsh is something I would have said a definite NO to from the get go before sitting in a Council seat. As a Council person I am required
to keep an open mind on all matters, gathering information from many sources along the way that will ultimately help me make a good decision.
At this point, NC doesn't know if this site is even a possibility as the land is in the ALR -- hence the application to the ALC to find out. It is by no means a done deal.
As per OCP policy, a successful application would put another, larger piece of land, (on the 'wet' side of the dike) into the ALR, resulting in no net loss to agriculture. That land is currently farmed, but is not formally protected under the ALR.
I support a public process that will hopefully result in a good decision that builds
community instead of dividing us. (no matter where the RCMP is ultimately located)
And I support factual and complete information getting out to the public so we can get informed feedback.
NC staff brought forward a recommendation at its April 17th regular Council meeting
Watch the presentation and subsequent Council debate here
. (It begins at 16:11 minutes and is about 20 minutes long) North Cowichan has also published an information sheet here.
Personally, I have considerable reservations on this site because of my concerns about the impact on a valuable ecological resource. I'm also somewhat concerned that this area is likely to liquify in a large earthquake. There are many questions in my mind.
Ideas about using a very small footprint, building a Platinum Leeds structure and putting the rest of the piece, and the rest of the marsh under a conservation covenant pique my interest. Doing remediation on the marsh, including dealing with invasive species has also been bandied about. I'd like to hear what conservation groups feel about the proposal in light of those kinds of possibilities.
There has been some initial community input at a meeting that around 30 people attended -- most of them not in favor. North Cowichan's Agriculture Committee and Community Planning Committee, both which have community members serving on them, have endorsed the application.
Council voted to take the idea to the next step by sending in the application to ALC. If approved, it would remove that part of the marsh from the ALR while adding the other, larger piece -- presently farmed -- but not zoned into the ALR, thus supporting the OCP's no net loss policy.
Should the ALC approve the application -- NC will probably investigate the feasibility of building on a small corner of the lot. Should the ALC reject the application, NC will have to look at other options. If other viable options were to come to light, they could also be looked at on their own merits.
Proponents point out that one of the attractive aspects of this location is that NC owns the property, which could save $ 1 + million. It's close to the highway. Near the University Village, a concept that envisions a dense mixed use development area -- and in the core, which is a logical good home to the RCMP station.
And so we wait to see what the ALC rules before we can decide next steps.
In the meantime, many people in the community are weighing in and that is as it should be. This is democracy in action folks. Though Council has the ultimate responsibility to make the decision, it is each Councillor's job to weigh all the facts, to listen to all the input from all directions and make the best decision. As I mentioned at the start, we are required to keep an open mind while gathering all that information. I think it's important that citizens have the facts as well and that they get engaged and share their opinion I look at Councillors as public servants, taking their turn to help the community move forward together.
No decision will make everyone happy. There are those who think this is a good idea as well as those who don't. Hopefully, listening to one another, and respectfully communicating with one another, we will come to the best decision.
There has been some inference that NC has already started clearing this land for the RCMP building. That is not correct. The only land that has been cleared is the land in the pathway of the dike. The process for dike construction is to remove all trees where the dike is to go, and then to strip off the topsoil, placing it on either side of the dike alignment so it can be used to finish the dike berms for grass planting. An environmental monitor is ensuring construction of the dike follows Ministry of Environment rules.
The ALC approved the dike construction over ALR land. No additional clearing has been done other than what is required for the dike. A photo has been posted on FB that makes it look like a huge swath of the marsh land aside from the dike was dug up. This is misleading and I have to say, I find it upsetting. The soil in the photo was placed there, to be put back on the edge of the dike once it is constructed. A pre-construction nesting survey was completed by a qualified consultant to ensure there were no nests in the dike alignment. Nesting season is until August and there is an environmental monitor ensuring that construction follows Ministry of Environment rules.
Please inform yourself of all the facts. And if something is confusing to you, never hesitate to ask.
We are all neighbours. Let's work together for the health of us all.
Would you like to know how to create a more sustainable life and reduce your ecological footprint while having a good time with your friends and neighbours? We can help!
North Cowichan Council has adopted a Climate Action and Energy Plan and its Climate Change Advisory Committee is working on a series of public events to share the findings, the plan and to engage public support in meaningful behaviour change.
The first event -- Community4Climate -- will be held between 1:00 and 4:30 p.m on Saturday, June 8, 2013 at Vancouver Island University, 2011 University Way, Duncan, B.C. The afternoon will have an exhibition-like atmosphere with various agencies sharing information and offering interactive activities to help people learn more about their carbon footprint and how they can make it smaller. This free community event will also include a presentation of the plan, live music by Masimba Marimba, family games, prizes and food. To get things started, Council has established an Climate Action and Energy Reserve Fund for municipal projects that will reduce annual energy costs currently estimated at $1.7 million. “It is expected that selected projects will have a payback time of five to seven years,” said Mayor Lefebure, “but the long-term benefits to our residents, our communities and our planet are timeless.”
Close to 80% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in North Cowichan come from private homes and vehicles. “The Climate Action and Energy Plan (CAEP) provides information on how simple changes can not only save our residents money, but also reduce their carbon footprint,” said North Cowichan Climate Change Advisory Committee Chair, Councillor Kate Marsh. She added, “Public support is critical for us to meet our target to reduce emissions 33% by 2025.”
Come out, bring your family, friends and neighbours and learn ways to decrease energy use and emissions, encourage a local green economy and support a high-quality, sustainable, healthy, safe life in the valley. Spread the word!
Want to help? Contact: email@example.com
Wow -- can it really be over two months since I last blogged. My bad. That would be the life thing. I want to get this out to you even though my head is slightly foggy from the flu virus that has swept the valley. And ask you to pass it on to your contacts too, even if your opinion differs from mine, because its important Council hears from as many folks as possible.
At a special Council meeting on the capitol budget -- February 12 -- North Cowichan passed the following motion:
That Council begin a public consultation process, including an IPSO Reid survey, to determine public support for an additional 1% property tax increase to build up a climate action reserve to fund projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and energy use.
The property tax increase without this 1% is in line with the 2102 - 2016 Five Year Plan, presented to the public last year -- a 3.8% increase. This would be in addition to that -- and if adopted, would bring the tax increase up to 4.82%.
If Council adds this 1 % it would be used for projects that would reduce, not only emissions, but energy bills. Did you know our yearly energy bill is $1.6 million dollars? This represents about 7% of all the taxes we collect. It includes all our facilities and streetlights as well as the municipal fleet.
A 1% increase would be about $ 13 on the average house (valued at $ 340,000).
CAO Dave Devana estimated the types of projects selected would have a 5 - 7 year pay back period, which is a pretty good return on investment.
You may know that Council (with 1/3 funding from BC Hydro) hired a Vancouver group -- Sustainability Solutions -- to come up with a Climate Action and Energy Plan. (CAEP)
This plan, now in its final draft form, is expected to come forward for consideration at the regular meeting on February 20th. (3pm) Though its not exactly a tome, it is over 130 pages, so I can only give you a brief glimpse. You can find a link to the plan here.
It is the first plan in British Columbia to take an integrated approach to climate change mitigation for the broader community as well as municipal operations.
It also clearly outlines an economic and community development agenda along with a plan to reduce GHG emissions.
The CAEP received input from over 400 people in one form or another. (the consultants say that is amazing)
One goal they were charged with -- to come up to ways to reduce emissions by 33 % by 2020 is an ambitious one, and the committee and consultants realized it would be too hard to meet. So it's been moved to 2025.
Business as usual scenarios predict our emissions would climb to 15% over 2007 levels by 2020, so if we are serious about this, we must
According to the BC Government (CEEI) data, 76% of North Cowichan's emissions come from on-road transportation -- the provincial average is 59%.
So that's one aspect. Then there's the cost. No matter what is causing the climate to change -- the cause debate is irrelevant to this -- we do know it is changing.
Its become well accepted that the less we do now to adapt and mitigate, the more we'll have to do later and the longer we wait the more it will cost.
And, sadly, the longer we wait, the people who have to pay (in more ways than dollars) our today's children and their children. To me, that is unjust.
If you'd like your voice heard on this matter, consider sending a letter to Council at
firstname.lastname@example.org or drop by our February 20th meeting. You can ask to be a delegation by contacting the Municipal Clerk the Friday before the meeting, or come early and sign up to give your 2 minutes input before the business of the meeting starts. Whatever your thoughts, I hope we hear from you.
As far as agendas go this past week's appeared to be short -- but that didn't prevent Wednesday's Council meeting from going for almost six hours!
Still on my learning curve I'm open to expanding my viewpoint -- but from my present vantage there was a decision taken that I could not support and honestly don't understand.
In its efforts to streamline the development approval process, North Cowichan -- traditionally understaffed in relation to comparable communities -- recently hired a new planner. The Deputy Director position, too long vacant, was also filled.
As well as successfully clearing backlog, this more sustainable staffing level allows more time for best practices to be reviewed. As a result, the Planning Department recommended that fees be brought closer into line with comparable communities.
On average, only 17% of the cost of planning services are paid by developers in North Cowichan, while similar communities have an average cost recovery rate of 63%. That means our taxpayers subsidize the lion's share of development planning costs, picking up more than twice as big a share of the tab as taxpayers in comparable communities do.
And the report only encompassed the Planning Department, which means the full processing costs are underestimated. The time and money spent on development applications by other municipal departments, through the Planning referral process, were not counted.
The report outlined 4 options for Council consideration:
Option 1 -- Continue the current high subsidy from taxpayers.
Option 2 -- Increase cost recovery rates from 17% to the 22-40% range.
Option 3 -- Increase cost recovery to the general average of 63%.
Option 4 -- Increase cost recovery to 100%.
Staff recommended Option 2, suggesting it be reviewed in two years' time. I supported this. It seemed the best course of action, and more than fair to the development community, going to the average rate in one fell swoop would not be -- but to my surprise, Council voted to postpone this recommendation for a year.
The arguments against raising fees were for the most part some version of: "Times are tough," and "Keeping these fees artificially low will attract investment."
I know that times are tough -- they're tough for many of us, including property tax payers. Should our taxpayers directly subsidize developers and purchasers of their products? And if so -- by how much? Development fees are a cost of doing business which are likely passed along to the homebuyer -- and, I might point out, they are also a tax write-off for developers.
North Cowichan already has low planning fees and low development cost charges (relative to comparable municipalities). Yet growth here has long been much slower than in the rest of the island, including those communities who pay much more in property taxes and charge developers much higher fees.
Our taxpayer-subsidized rates haven't appeared to create more business.
Don't get me wrong, I realize that the mark of a civil society is collectively paying for services for the good of the body politic. I realize that sometimes that means subsidizing private business to a degree. But this seems excessive to me, and unfair to the taxpayer.
As the planning report said, "Comparable municipalities have an average cost recovery rate of 63%. For North Cowichan to reach 63%, an additional average of approximately $277,000 must be generated from application fees, [for] a total annual average of about $372,500."
(Note that $277,000 represents approximately 1.3% of our municipality's annual property tax revenue.)
Raising the rates to the modest level recommended by staff in Option 2 would not generate that preferred number ($372,500) But improving our cost recovery to somewhere between 20% and 45%, as suggested, would noticably reduce the demand on taxpayers, while keeping a lower than average charge for development applications.
Instead, a chance to reduce the burden on taxpayers was missed.
Like Ben Franklin said, "In this world, nothing can be said to be certain but death and taxes." North Cowichan Council has begun the annual process that will culminate in the setting of next year's property taxes.
Though property taxes were the hot topic at Council last year and chambers was often full to the brim with residents -- surprisingly less than a half dozen people came out Tuesday night to hear the 2013 - 2017 Capital Budget Review. This was the first of 11 scheduled meetings
that will culminate in the adoption of next year's Tax Rate Bylaw on May 1, 2013.
If you have been following North Cowichan's direction the last few years there are no surprises. (unlike last year, when Council faced the Catalyst Pulp Mill in Creditor Protection -- its future viability uncertain) The proposed tax increase presented to Council for 2013 is about 22% lower than projected in the 2012 - 2016 plan that Council endorsed earlier this year -- if passed the proposed budget would see an uplift in North Cowichan residential property taxes of 3.69%.
Whatever the final outcome, some of that money is to be set aside for future capital projects. On the advice of then newly hired CAO Dave Devana (a chartered accountant), Council of the day instituted a progressive policy target that would put aside 15% of property tax revenue for capital projects. What that means is that out of every $ 100 NC collects in property tax, $15 dollars would be saved for future capital projects. Things like road replacement, facility upgrades, sea walks, skateparks, town revitalization etc.
The current Council endorsed that target. Last year we were at 12.7%.
In recognition of the current economic climate and the 2012 tax shift away from heavy industry to homeowners the amount was slightly decreased this year to 12.16% of property tax revenues. However, 15% is still the targeted goal for the future and when realized would put us on very good financial footing going forward.
North Cowichan Council will be debating the proposed net tax increase of 3.69% -- which works out to $ 48 a year or $ 4 a month, per average assessed home of
$ 340,000 -- over the coming months.
At the risk of complicating things even more, the proposed $ 48 increase on the average home is on the North Cowichan portion of your tax bill. (excluding parcel taxes for sewer and water)
North Cowichan also collects taxes on behalf of the CVRD and School District 79. We can't know for sure what their tax requisition requirements will ultimately be, but North Cowichan CAO Dave Devana has suggested he expects those increases could bring the total tax lift to North Cowichan residents living in an average assessed home to around $ 100 a year or $ 8.50 a month. (this includes North Cowichan's $ 48)
North Cowichan's rate increases could be significantly lower if we were growing faster. In spite of lower than average property taxes for comparable homes and services, our growth rate at about 1.25% is low compared to many communities on Vancouver Island.
We believe this is in part because we are somewhat behind on the kind of community development projects that other communities have invested in. Driving through Ladysmith or Qualicum Beach, one can readily see the difference. Revitalization projects such as street beautification, sea walks and walkable town centers have made these communities more attractive to residents, businesses and tourists.
North Cowichan residents have said they want us to invest in community development. This means revitalization projects as well as amenities that attract people, like sea walks, skate parks and the proposed Sherman Road all weather field. The funding for most of these projects comes from a mixture of grants, reserves, fuel tax, development cost charges and contributions from other governments and community groups. Only about 19% of the costs over the next five years would be paid out of any given years property tax revenues.
For instance, a new regional visitors centre is being built at the BC Forest Museum. The total price tag is $ 2,000,000. North Cowichan is contributing $ 325,000 from money we have set aside over time. The CVRD is contributing $ 293,000 and the remaining $1,232,000 comes from grants and the Duncan Chamber of Commerce, who will ultimately run the facility. No new
property taxes are involved.
It can be challenging to be sure of what the community wants. We often hear from the folks who are against any kind of tax increase. Yet people usually want the services they have come to rely on, and opposition is swift when those services are cut. Many people who attended last year's open house on the 2012 - 2016 five year plan expressed the desire for investment in revitalizing our town centers to make us more attractive to outside investment.
Check out the meeting schedule
and come out or write to give your input.
At its regular Committee of the Whole meeting of October 9th, North Cowichan Council recommended that a Communication Committee be struck.
The municipality has been working at improving communication with constituents for several years now and several sitting Councillors, myself included, made it a platform plank in the last election.
Lots has been happening, but it's felt that we could do better.
The siting of the Chemainus Library was a case in point. The Chemainus Advisory Committee and Council both thought they had taken the pulse of the community and there was support for the parking lot site. An 800 plus signature petition indicated pretty staunch opposition to that site. Did they have all the facts? Maybe -- maybe not -- but going ahead with a project against the will of so many people would not have been a wise decision when an alternate site was already identified in the Chemainus Town Centre Revitalization Plan. Lessons can be learned and hopefully, going forward, consultation and communication will be improved on the next big project.
As another way to improve communication, the aforementioned COW meeting was the first to be live streamed on North Cowichan's website. Each and every Council meeting will now be live streamed. Just log onto the website during regular Council meetings at 3:00 pm on the 1st and 3rd Wednesdays and you will see and hear the whole thing. In the near future, all Council meeting video will be archived and you will be able to zone in on the agenda item you are most interested in, rather than having to sit through the whole meeting. And there may even be a way for you to give your input during the meeting via the internet down the road. These are the kinds of things a Communication Committee could consider.
I've already blogged on Council Matters, the twice monthly communication you can sign up
for to receive information on what Council is debating. It is published on the 1st and 3rd Thursday. And North Cowichan has Facebook
feeds and you can also sign up for traffic alerts.
Shortly after being elected, the current Council separated out regular Council meetings and Committee of the Whole (COW) meetings -- holding regular Council on the 1st and 3rd Wednesdays -- starting at 3 pm (rather than the NC traditional 1:30 pm start time) and holding COW meetings on the 2nd and 4th Tuesday from 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm.
After much debate at last week's COW meeting, a motion to return to 1:30 Council meetings failed, but a motion to drop the regular 2nd and 4th Tuesday COW meetings in favor of rolling COW back into regular Council meetings passed.
Some Councillors felt it was not necessary to have separate COW meetings. They felt that since the public wasn't showing up in the evening in any great number and we didn't always have enough items to justify two COW meetings a month it would serve us better to include COW in regular Council meetings once again. I would have liked us to keep one COW meeting a month in the evening -- I like the idea of having dedicated, less formal time to brainstorm and plan -- but the majority felt that could happen during regular Council meetings.
This decision shouldn't effect communication with the community. CAO Dave Devana made a good point -- some of the most effective communication a council can have is to go out into the community to seek input and share plans.
Look for several special meetings coming up. There will be meetings in Chemainus to plan the Festival Square on the Waterwheel parking lot and meetings, probably at Municipal Hall, to get input on next year's budget. And the Climate Change Advisory Committee will be hosting a meeting with the consultants that have created the draft Climate Action and Energy Plan, probably this November.
COW also recommended that Council reinstate the Economic Development Committee. Economic Development issues and ideas were meant to come through COW this past year, but so far, nothing has been brought forward. Hopefully, a committee that includes experienced and interested citizens will bring forward ideas that will help us attract and support businesses in North Cowichan that will provide livable wage jobs.
When I think about all the experienced experts that have retired here in the last several years I feel hopeful that working with them we can attract some progressive, sustainable and green industries who are looking for just the kind of community of communities we have to offer.
Have an idea for improving communication? Council values your input. Send us an email at: email@example.com
Last night, Council debated a motion that would oppose projects that further the expansion of tanker traffic in coastal waters. It was a motion that mirrored the one narrowly passed by councillors and regional directors across the province last week at UBCM.My motion came as a result of a letter council received from Kinder Morgan, the company that wants to twin its pipeline from Alberta to Vancouver in order to ship 'dilbit' products from the tar sands to China and the United States. After about half an hour of rigorous debate at North Cowichan -- ultimately the motion failed. There were many different reasons and I won't attempt to speak for any individual councillor on why they voted they way they did.The opinion was expressed that the issue should be left to senior governments to decide on, that it didn't really belong at a local table.I take a different view. Local politicians are elected where they live, by their neighbours, to look after our commons. Sure looking after roads, garbage and sewer, zoning, policing, fire protection and development are a large part of our job. North Cowichan's 40 + km of oceanfront, its river deltas and deep sea ports represent substantial assets that require special attention and management as they are of significant importance to us all. And to tourism businesses that depend on them as an attraction as well as commercial businesses that depend on them to provide much needed local jobs. Stewarding the environment we all depend on is one of my personal passions. Charged with helping my six colleagues and district staff steward and protect the environment in North Cowichan, I take any issue that might affect our ability to do so as part of our 'business'. I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on it.If you want to read the rationale behind my motion, (my talking points) I include them below this post.As we head into what promises to be a beautiful thanksgiving weekend, I'd like to wish you all a wonderful celebration. We are blessed with so many natural bounties here in North Cowichan -- I hope you get a chance to get out and enjoy some of them over the next few days. _________________________________________________________In recent weeks, before the UBCM convention, we received numerous letters from constituents asking us to support resolution A8 -- calling for a moratorium on tanker traffic.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exxon_Valdez_oil_spill Twenty-three years after the Exxon Valdez spill the area has not yet recovered.
Just two years ago the Deepwater Horizon spill caused extensive damage to the ecosystem as well as the fishery and tourism industries -- affecting Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Texas and Florida. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deepwater_Horizon_oil_spill Most of that 5 million barrels of oil is still on the Gulf of Mexico’s seabed.
Kinder Morgan’s proposal for a second pipeline to Vancouver would more than double present capacity -- to 750,000 barrels a day. Some estimate it could go to a million. At least 300 tankers a year would traverse the narrow waters of Burrard Inlet -- a 13-fold increase since 2005. Economist Robyn Allan, former CEO of ICBC, suggests that added pumping stations could increase traffic to 475 crude oil tankers a year through those waters.
Longer than Vancouver’s tallest skyscrapers, [Aframax tanker 220m - tallest bldg 201m] this tankers would carry heavy, thick, contaminated bitumen -- not oil -- through an area at the edge of the proposed National Marine Conservation Area Reserve.
Vancouver’s harbor area presents unusual challenges and risks. The shallow waters of Second Narrows, which ebb and flow through the heart of the city, are only 120 metres wide -- the proposed tankers are more than 32 metres wide. In places, there is a little as 1.35 metres between the bottom of the oil ships and the rocky ocean floor. Dredging the ocean floor would destroy the natural habitat.
After the Gulf of Mexico disaster, the Vancouver City Council held a public hearing. Mind you, this was to address concerns about the present level of tanker traffic. A marine biologist from North Van, Peter Baker, gave a detailed presentation on the risks. He stressed that with larger tankers, there is less room for error. A worst-case scenario involves a tanker grounding in the Second Narrows as the tide rushes out, taking the oil with it.
Collision is another major risk factor. According to the BC Ministry of Environment, the Kinder-Morgan proposal would add at least 600 tanker trips a year (one in and one out for each ship) to the already heavy traffic in the Vancouver-Juan de Fuca Strait area -- where there are already nearly half a million vessel movements each year.
And these tankers would carry bitumen mixed with surfactants -- what has been dubbed “tar sands crude.” It is definitely not the oil that fouled Alaska, or the Gulf Coast.
Bitumen is a thick, sticky, rarely-used fossil fuel. In mining it, large amounts of fresh water and heat are needed to melt and separate it from the surrounding clay and sand, and to remove some of its sulphur and heavy metal content.
Bitumen is also hydrogen-poor -- so it must be mixed with natural gas to become a viable fuel. A barrel of “oil sands crude” is 2-3 times more carbon intensive than a barrel of conventional oil (Petroleum Technology Alliance of Canada).
I won’t get into the hazards of the chemicals, often proprietary, that are added to make the bitumen viscous enough to flow in a pipeline.
A bitumen spill on the southern BC coast would be a game-changer.
If just one tanker collided with another ship, or ran aground -- as a Shell oil ship did this summer in Alaska -- the leaking “tar sands crude” would unleash a cloud of toxic fumes that could envelop metro Vancouver and force a mass evacuation.
Bitumen is also heavier than oil, and more likely to sink. After it has been “scrubbed” -- and then diluted for pipeline transport -- it contains more contaminants than crude oil, and presents a greater environmental threat. (“Requirements for BC to Consider Support for Heavy Oil Pipelines,” Ministry of Environment, 2012).
A bitumen spill in BC’s coastal waters would trigger a massive kill-off of fish, shellfish, marine mammals, amphibians, reptiles, birds and plants.
Light crude oil -- what most tankers carry -- kills wetland grasses and other plants, causing root structures to decay and soil to erode, destroying whole plant communities. In animals -- including humans -- it is known to cause cancer, liver decay, tumours, ulcers, respiratory failure and narcosis.
“Tar sands crude” is even more toxic.
It is also harder to recover, particularly once it sinks into the water column and into marine soils. Light crude remains in the substrate after 30 years. Researchers estimate that bitumen, once spilled, may persist for a century.
In the area where the Exxon Valdez spilled, only six of the 26 most-impacted species and habitats have recovered, and some continue to decline. This is due, in part, to the persistence of spilled oil in the environment and the food chain.
Then there are the economic impacts.
Several years ago, the state of Washington’s Department of Ecology conducted a study and found that a major spill in the Washington-BC inland waterway would cost 165,000 jobs and $10.8 billion dollars.
Canada has a “limits of liability” rule, which means that the company responsible for such a spill would not have to spend more than about $1.3 billion cleaning it up. The lion’s share of the costs would fall to local, BC and federal governments -- as well as local businesses and residents.
These would include clearing the thick oily waste from beaches and disposing of it; rehabilitating damaged coastlines and wildlife; salvaging wreckage; rebuilding businesses, and many other costs.
Depending on when and where a spill occured, and the weather conditions, experts estimate that a full-scale response may recover less than 10% of the spilled material. Even in a best-case scenario, perhaps only 25% of spilled toxic oil may be recovered.
In 2008, Stafford Reid, a marine risk expert with 20 years experience, wrote a report www.bcwaters.org/LOS_marine_vessels_report.pdf highlighting the fact that BC was unprepared for a marine emergency. Recent cuts to Environment Canada and DFO have further weakened our emergency preparedness.
In 2012, the BC Ministry of Environment warned that our capacity for handling crude oil spills – everything from training to equipment – may not be appropriate for a bitumen spill. They called this “a major gap” in preparedness.
Don’t think a Vancouver spill will affect us here?
A large spill would spread for up to 3 days before the full emergency response could get underway. That’s 12 tide changes -- enough for the currents in this region to carry even heavy “tar sands crude” far and wide.
That puts the whole Salish Sea at risk -- including North Cowichan’s 40 kilometers of coastline, our river deltas, our marinas, and our deep-sea ports.
I would like to see North Cowichan Council take a position to protect this precious and irreplacable eco-system.
Been busy with the harvest the last few weeks. Early spring conditions weren't ideal so we had to give up on some of our best laid plans. Regardless there is still enough bounty to keep us well fed and enough drying, canning and freezing to keep us busy.
The September 19th Council meeting produced a harvest too. After a year and a half process it became very clear that the conditions to plant the new library in Waterwheel park were not there. The result? A unanimous vote of Mayor and Council to site the library where it is supported by hundreds of residents -- the old firehall -- and to redevelop part of Waterwheel parking lot (sans library) as a Festival Square.
The new library is just one part of North Cowichan's Chemainus Town Centre Revitalization Plan. Designing a Festival Square that supports community events as well as day to day activities is another critical piece of that plan.
The idea is to create beautiful street scapes and public spaces that are vibrant and safe, and invite all-day, all week, all year activity. Spaces all over town that will keep our residents shopping here while attracting tourists, new residents and businesses. A downtown can only thrive when it provides safe, comfortable and attractive environments for locals as well as visitors. The Municipality will be seeking input this fall on what this space will look like. The goal is to have it ready to welcome next year's tourists. (we're also working hard on getting the skateboard park planted)
Governing is a bit like gardening. We make plans, prepare the soil and plant -- yet our work is shaped by conditions around us that we don't control. If we collaborate well with those conditions, what we plant will sprout, grow roots and eventually bear fruit. That's democracy. Sometimes slow, sometimes messy. If we accept that and we all keep communicating and working together, the harvest can be bountiful and rewarding.
If you live in Chemainus I hope you can come out to the planning meetings for the Festival Square and help to create the conditions for Chemainus to continue to be a vibrant cultural garden that supports residents and visitors for decades to come.
My family and I have had a wonderful summer -- I hope you can say the same. I do feel that annual bittersweet feeling that summer is coming to an end just a little too soon.
The change of pace was very welcome -- fitting a hefty part time job into a full time life took some adjustment and there is a pretty steep learning curve. The answers to any issues looked a lot simpler from the other side of the table.
I often said in the pre-election days that until one sits at the table and learns all the complexities of each issue and everything a Council is charged with doing, it's hard to make hard and fast promises about specific issues. The old 'you don't know what you don't know.' The Catalyst situation and resultant tax shift was a case in point. It never occurred to me I would be advocating to increase my and my neighbors' taxes by $275 (on the average home).
Now, 10 months into the job, I know a wee bit more. And after the summer hiatus I'm eager to get back to helping to fulfill some of the things that drew me to run for this gig. I got involved as a citizen over an issue I cared about and along the way discovered what an amazing municipality we live in -- and I'm not just talking about our idyllic setting. The people who provide the many services that support a civil society do a great job. They are so busy doing it, they aren't always good at what my grandmother would call 'tooting their own horn.'
And most of us who are privileged to live here don't follow local politics very closely -- unless we hear about something that upsets us or want to create something that excites us. Those who do follow often rely on second- and third-hand reports of what's up, via media or the slant of the groups they belong to, or what they hear over the fence.
Sadly, this can result in people forming opinions on issues without having all the facts.
That's another thing I'm discovering. It takes some time and attention to get all the facts, and most of us are just too busy to attend Council meetings. So how can the average citizen become better informed?
If you've read much on this site, you know that I believe 'communication is key' -- which makes me particularly excited to announce a new regular feature on the Municipality's website. Council Matters
is a newly launched newsletter (only one issue out so far), to be published twice monthly on the 1st and 3rd Thursdays -- following Council's regular Wednesday 3 pm meetings.
You can receive Council Matters
automatically in your inbox, by signing up through the North Cowichan homepage
. Just click the "Notify by Email"
button (it's right under the Facebook
tabs, in the top right-hand corner of the page). Fill in your info, then every two weeks, you'll receive the newsletter directly in your inbox.
You can also sign up there for updates on other matters, such as --
+ Traffic Alerts -- Note: The intersection at Chemainus, Oak and Victoria will be closed until September 28th, for building a new round-about;
+ Info on the draft Climate Action and Energy Plan -- It'll be out for public review sometime this fall; sign up, and you'll be notified when and where; and
+ Employment Opportunities.
While you're at it, I hope you'll like us on Facebook
and follow us on Twitter
Council meetings are open to the public, and Committee of the Whole meetings (also open) are normally held on the 2nd and 4th Tuesday of the month, at 6 pm, in the Municipal Hall.
Another thing I've discovered is how challenging it can be to 'take the pulse' of a community. I hope you will sign up to receive Council Matters
and let us know what you think of plans early in the process. Engaged citizens can do so much to inform council decisions before they get too far down a road that is not publicly supported.
We're facing such an issue in Chemainus. It was believed there was pretty broad support for the siting of a new library (as part of a revitalization process which includes the creation of a festival square) on the Waterwheel parking lot -- yet a year and a half into the process, a growing number of people are expressing concerns about that site. Some of the opposition appears to be based on incomplete information. Would more complete information change their views? What's a Council to do? This item will be discussed at a special Committee of the Whole meeting, after the regular Council meeting on September 19th.
I don't have all the answers on how citizens and their local governments can communicate better and earlier. Part of it is that people don't tend to get involved until there's something they feel passionate about, particularly when they are passionately against it. One thing I truly believe: As we move ahead, we will do better if we work together.
All regular, special and committee meeting times, agendas and minutes are posted on the Municipal website. So are By-Laws, Forms, Programs (such as "Kitchen Pitch-In,
" which has already diverted 48% of our garbage away from the landfill), Schedules and much more. Just use the "Quick Links" button at the top left of the homepage
to find them.
If you're a photography buff, and willing to share any great shots of anywhere in North Cowichan you've taken, you can upload them onto the website by clicking the "Share Your Photos"
tab. They'll appear (in random rotation) on our home page.
We're in the process of updating the website, too. So I promise, it will be more user-friendly soon. Council values your input. If you'd like to communicate in writing, click here for your options
I hope you'll consider taking advantage of these new opportunities to get more engaged. And there are more coming down the pike, so stay tuned.
The more we as citizens are aware and involved, the more we can work together collaboratively and openly with our local government and each other -- and the more our community becomes resilient and our future stronger.
That is the question -- or one of them -- on the minds of North Cowichan Council this week.
At its meeting last night, North Cowichan passed this motion:
"WHEREAS the Municipality of North Cowichan supports working with the Cowichan Valley Regional District to develop a regional recreation funding model;
AND WHEREAS the Municipality of North Cowichan recognizes that the Two Tier Fee Structure at the Cowichan Aquatic Centre is a barrier to increasing access to recreational, skills and social development programs for all citizens in the region:
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Municipality of North Cowichan, working with its partners, aim, through discussion, to put in place a single fee policy for the Cowichan Aquatic Centre before the end of 2012."
The Cowichan Aquatic Centre has been one of the hot topics in local valley politics for the last six years.
It was hoped that everyone in the CVRD would pay a share on their taxes for this regional facility, through some kind of regional recreation model -- yet so far, the capital and debt costs, as well as operational costs of the pool, are paid for by three partners: North Cowichan, Duncan and Cowichan Tribes.
Valley residents in areas of the CVRD that don't already pay for a pool on their taxes pay a higher cost at the gate -- unless they annually purchase an access card, which entitles them to the lower fees. Unfortunately, this has resulted in declining numbers of patrons and consequently declining revenues at the pool.
North Cowichan Council heard from one taxpayer at yesterday's meeting who opined that many families find the fee for the access card too steep, and are taking their business elsewhere. She pointed out that for it to pay off for her family, they would have to use the pool three times a week.
I empathize with her, and with all those who find that access fee onerous; and I would prefer it if everyone paid the same rate for the pool. And the reality is that if and when North Cowichan, Duncan and the Tribes decide to drop the two-tier pool fees without regional buy in, their taxpayers will be the ones paying more to access the pool. North Cowichan property owners pay $50 per $100,000 of assessed value directly to the pool, whether they use it or not.
Last night, Council directed staff to prepare a report outlining whether there is business case for dropping the two-tier system, in advance of a meeting with its partners to discuss the issue.
This is one of the taxation topics that I feel it's important for residents of the municipality and Valley to understand -- though I myself am still struggling to completely understand it.
It's complicated. Under the current recreation funding model, how much you pay for recreation overall depends on where you live. For instance, if you live in Saltair, you pay $10 a year (per $100,000 of assessed value); if you live in Cowichan Bay, you pay $129.
The other areas range somewhere in between:
Area F - $106,
Area I - $106,
Cobble Hill - $91,
Duncan - $99,
Glenora - $57,
Ladysmith - $92,
Lake Cowichan - $106,
Mill Bay - $88,
North Cowichan (North end) - $69,
North Cowichan (South end) - $117,
North Oyster - $15,
Shawnigan Lake - $122.
(These figures are taken from the CVRD 2012 - Cowichan Valley Regional Recreation Funding
I can't begin to tell you in one blog post how all of this came about. I'm pretty certain it was meant to create fairness and equity throughout the region.
The question is -- has it ?
As one North Cowichan taxpayer recently pointed out in a letter to Council (speaking about the pool and the sportsplex) -- "We all pay for hospitals and schools, even if we don't use them. Recreation is essential to a healthy and prosperous community, but no they say, [meaning CVRD directors and residents
] let North Cowichan pay for it." [meaning the pool]
-- Rob Stanley, Maple Bay
I should point out that CVRD residents use other North Cowichan financed facilities, such as the new ball fields, at no charge -- neither per use nor via taxation.
I look at the current recreation funding formula in the Valley and I shake my head.
Is it really fair that Cowichan Bay residents pay 13 times as much as Saltair residents?
I'm curious to hear from people around the Cowichan Valley on this issue.
* What do you think about two-tier fees at the pool? About regional recreation funding in general? If you live in one of the CVRD electoral areas, would you be willing to pay for the pool on your taxes?
* Do you think North Cowichan and its partners should drop the two-tier system? Should residents of the Valley who don't pay for the pool on their taxes get in for the same price as those who do?
* What ideas do you have to make the pool funding equitable and affordable for all?
If you don't feel you have enough information on recreation funding, call or write your Area Director or a Council member. And consider taking a read through the report linked above.
I look forward to hearing from you. Together we can make this valley a vibrant, resilient community of communities that collaborate and cooperate on those wonderful things that make up a healthy civil society.