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RDCK board roundup: Busy inaugural meeting for new directors

All the news from the Regional District of Central Kootenay’s Nov. 17 meeting
The Regional District of Central Kootenay board office in Nelson. File photo

by John Boivin

Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Valley Voice

With more than half of its directors new to the board of the regional government, the Nov. 17 meeting of the Regional District of Central Kootenay saw a lot of questions asked by the newbies and explanations offered at a very busy meeting.

Five of the 11 area directors are new to the board, as were six of the nine appointees from municipal governments. That made for a busy time for chair Aimee Watson, explaining the procedures and practices of the board as they worked their way through a more than 600-page agenda. Incumbent directors also added historical context to some of the issues at hand.

Land-use assessment for safety

The RDCK is moving forward with plans to identify and assess the risk of building in certain types of landforms in the region.

The board approved a plan to apply for $130,000 to “characterize what the RDCK considers acceptable or safe when developing in areas exposed to geotechnical hazards.” The money will come from the Union of BC Municipalities’ Emergency Preparedness Fund.

With its mountainous terrain prone to flooding, landslides and washouts, it can be tricky building in some parts of the RDCK. While the regional government has had staff identifying flood-risk areas for the last five years, there are no clear rules for mitigating risk in geotechnical areas where landslides and avalanches can occur. The regional government relies on qualified experts to rule if a building site “may be used safely for the use intended,” a report to the board states.

“The challenge that arises, and what this grant application intends to resolve is, the RDCK has not defined what it considers safe in the aforementioned context,” the report continues. The board will hire a consulting firm to draw up a more clear and concise policy to help it determine risk in the future.

“Once established, these criteria will provide greater clarity concerning how development can occur in areas exposed to hazards and can be applied by a [qualified professional] to determine if a proposed development is safe for the use intended,” the report says. “This clarity will support residents, the development industry, local professionals, and our Building and Development staff.”

The policy work will be developed over the next year or so, if the grant is secured. The public will be consulted to help determine an appropriate definition of risk in our area.

Axing Red Cross contract

When disaster strikes in the RDCK, the Emergency Support Services program kicks in to aid victims, providing emergency access to necessities such as food, lodging, clothing, emotional support, and family reunification services.

For the last five years, the RDCK has contracted the lowest level of emergency support – Level 1 – to the Red Cross, for about $15,000 a year. “This provided leadership to existing ESS teams and a call-out process that could not be provided by the RDCK Emergency Program at the time given the staffing,” says a staff report.

But while it was useful at the lowest level (a Level 1 emergency is the equivalent of a house fire), the agreement with Red Cross required levels of training for volunteers that didn’t quite fit with the RDCK’s needs.

“While the added workload on the volunteers was never popular, it wasn’t without reason, and therefore the agreement was extended in 2020,” notes a report. “However, over the last agreement period of two years, the impacts of COVID and new online processes has made this situation overly onerous on our volunteers and has become a deterrent for some, resulting in resignations.”

It didn’t help the business case when the Red Cross wanted to double its contract fee to $30,000, noted program co-ordinator Jon Jackson. With the RDCK’s ESS program now able to manage Level 1 calls itself, the contract was no longer needed, and staff recommended it not be renewed when it expires at the end of December. The board agreed.

FireSmart plans

Directors got their first look at – and approved – the Regional District’s 2023 FireSmart and Wildfire Mitigation program projects.

The regional government is applying for nearly $900,000 in grants to support wildfire mitigation projects on the individual, neighbourhood and community level over the next year.

The 2023 FireSmart program will be run by six wildfire management specialists and one FireSmart coordinator. It will offer free home assessments to all residents within the RDCK with cash rebates of up to $1,000 per household to do work recommended in the assessment. It will also offer up to $3,000 to neighbourhoods pursuing Neighbourhood Recognition.

The 2023 Wildfire Mitigation program will focus on updating Community Wildfire Protection Plans throughout the district and developing a regionally prioritized list of potential treatment areas. Areas of interest will be identified in the one-kilometre wildland-urban interface, where local governments can influence wildfire mitigation projects.

Area H joins conservation fund

Property owners in Area H will now be charged an extra $15 on each parcel of land they own to help finance environmental projects in the area. The board gave final reading and adopted Bylaw 2811, 2022, to add the Slocan Valley to the Local Conservation Fund Service.

The passage of the bylaw – approved by voters in a referendum held during the Oct. 15 local government elections in Area H – means the area joins Areas A, D and E in supporting local environmental projects. The LCF has raised a half million dollars since it was first implemented in 2014 around Kootenay Lake, and has used that to leverage more than $2 million for various environmental projects in that time.