From the Desk of Mayor Brad Unger
I would like to take this opportunity to let you know about our meetings with both Ministers of Transportation and Infrastructure and Forests, Lands, Natural Resources Operations and Rural Development as well as our meetings with the Parliamentary Secretary for Emergency Preparedness. As COVID-19 has impacted every facet of how we operate, meetings were held over conference phone instead of face to face. These meetings took place over the week of September 14-18.
Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure
Our first meeting was with Minister Claire Trevena, Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure. Members of Council and the CAO discussed the overall condition of Highway 28 as the road is heaving substantially (not only the main portion linking Campbell River to Gold River) but also the road towards the wharf, Grieg Seafood, West Coast Terminals and Mowachaht/Muchalaht properties. The Village of Gold River relies on the highway to be safe, and in good condition for not only our residents, but for visitors and for those providing services or goods to the community. We have asked that the Ministry complete an over all road assessment, and provide upgrades, and review with Village staff. The Ministry’s response was that they will review their plans for overall works, and are aware that the roads extending to Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nations and Tahsis need to be addressed. The Ministry was somewhat unaware as to the boat visitor traffic to our area and will begin a review of the highway towards the Village wharf.
Council and staff then broached the subject of the increases of tourism to our area and the increased traffic/parking issues that this has presented; specifically, at trail heads and pull off areas. Safety and congestion were identified as the two key drivers for this discussion. We have asked the Ministry to either expand the parking lots at trail heads, or widen the shoulders to create parking off of the highway.
Finally, Council raised our concerns again over access to the Village wharf due to the contested piece of roadway which runs through Mowachaht/Muchalaht Territory. Council reiterated that this was in fact a Provincial Highway and that this needs to be clarified with all parties as uncertainty creates a significant difficulty in future planning the Village wharf. The Minister acknowledged this issue and indicated negotiations were underway to once and for all, put the issue to rest.
Parliamentary Secretary, Emergency Preparedness
Council and staff met with the Parliamentary Secretary responsible for Emergency Management/Response in the Province. Council gave an explanation of the current problems with the fire underwriter model of vehicle replacement, in that rural municipalities cannot afford to replace low milage, low use apparatus at the current costs. The model requires replacement based on age, not use, and this ends up costing small municipalities a significant portion of its finances. Council requested the Parliamentary Secretary work with the Fire Underwriters to re-evaluate its model of apparatus replacement so that providing emergency services does not become a financial impossibility. Council pressed the Secretary on the costs of road rescue in which the Village equipment/services leave the municipal boundaries. The Secretary provided some information of new funding models for ground search and rescue, and that road rescue was next to be addressed to provide sustainable funding.
Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development
Our final Ministers meeting was with Minister Donaldson, Forests, Lands, and natural resources.
This meeting was Friday morning, and after hearing the news regarding WFP, our agenda items changed.
Council again raised the issue of stumpage funding allocation with the Minister as the Village sees large dollar figures paid into stumpage fees, however the Village does not see any direct injection of support from those dollars collected. Council impressed upon the Minister that rural communities such as ours struggle to find new revenue sources(as we are limited in this capacity) to support both our infrastructure and overall health of the community.
Council has again asked the Province to address the need of direct stumpage contribution to Gold River and similar small communities. Council was very clear with Minister Donaldson that if the rhetoric of small resource communities is in fact the backbone of the Province, then it was time to prove it by giving the Village their fair share.
While the next agenda item was Community Forest Agreements, Council shifted the agenda to make the Minister aware of the decision of Western Forest Products to change operations, and essentially contract all the works out. Minister Donaldson and his team were unaware of the events that had unfolded. Council provided as much information as available and the Minister stated he would provide staff resources from his Ministry to the Village administration for assistance and further review. Based on this turn of events, Council implored Minister Donaldson to suspend the 2/3 “fee in lieu of” for raw log exports, and suspend any action on the new forestry management survey as Council believed the questions were both misleading and were of a pre-determined nature.
Council briefly discussed the Community Forest License process and relayed the struggles of multi-partner requirements as well as a further divvying up of available forest for this type of license. The Ministry provided some forms of explanation; however, Village staff will follow up for clarification on specifics.
Council finished with an overall synopsis of the status of the community and the importance of forestry for our residents. Council challenged the Minister on his assertions of “looking at other options” by asking to have some provided to us. The Village did not receive a response to the questions.
On Behalf of Council,
Mayor Brad Unger
Village of Gold River