The present dike only protects two thirds of the airport runway

Community asks hard questions at airport dike referendum meeting

Community asks hard questions at airport dike referendum meeting

The community turned out last week for the CCRD’s information session on the proposed airport dike upgrade project. A referendum is planned for May 25, and the meeting was intended to be an information session as well as an opportunity for questions from the community.

The evening began with a presentation by the CCRD, Stephen Waugh of Spiritscape Ventures, and David Matsubara of Kerr Wood Liedal Consulting Engineers on the history, current state, and proposed work on the dike.

Built in the late 1970s, the airport dike was chosen as the first project as it represents a significant transportation link to the Valley and services all residents. However, Waugh has characterized the dike as ‘failing’ and in need of expansion and repair.

The total cost of the project is just under $3,000,000 and would be partially funded by the federal and provincial governments. The CCRD is required to fund one third of the project and would have to borrow $1,150,000, which would result in a debt to taxpayers that would take 30 years to repay.

Naturally, there were multiple questions on exactly how all this money would be handled. As the airport services the entire community, every property owner and resident, (excluding the Nuxalk Nation on IR#1 as they do not pay property taxes) would be eligible to vote on whether or not the CCRD should proceed with the project, and all residents would share the financial burden.

However, if there were more projects in the future, such as the Hagensborg gap, the cost would only apply to those living in that area. “The province likes to see a map drawn up around the specific properties a proposed dike would protect,” said Acting CAO Donna Mikkelson. “Unless a strong case could be presented otherwise, it’s likely the province would determine only those in the specified area would have to pay for it.”

The airport project would result in a tax increase of approximately 32 percent, and varies according to the area you reside in. For example, those living in Area E (Townsite) will pay an extra $67 per year, but if you live in Area C (Augsburg Church east to the Hill) or Area D (Augsburg Church west to Tatsquan Creek), your costs will be $153 and $129 respectively. The costs are calculated based upon the average value of your home and how much industry and business are located in your area.

This new tax would only be applied to the airport dike project, and does not include the additional 30 percent tax increase the CCRD already passed in their 2013 budget. However, the total portion of taxes you pay to the regional district is also determined by your electoral area.

“I think it is important to note that it is the regional district’s portion of taxes that will increase by 31 percent. That does not mean that everyone’s property tax bill will increase by 31 percent,” said Mikkelson. “For example, I live in Area C, and my assessment value from BCAA stayed the same from last year.  If all other taxing authorities on my bill don’t increase their levy, my total tax bill will increase by 14 percent from 2012. This does not including the dike taxes if the referendum passes.”

A cost breakdown was provided that included firm estimates on design, construction, materials, and maintenance. The design portion of the dike has already cost $106,000 and was funded separately. The construction is slated to cost $1.95 million, and engineering and construction management is at $220,00 (with a contingency fund of 30 percent), for a total cost of $2.75 million.

There were also questions raised on the process of hiring contractors to complete the work, and how this would be done to ensure fairness. In the proposed project, the CCRD would be the main contractor and manage the project. The CCRD has stated that they would use local contractors, equipment, material, and labour as much as possible.

“We have emulated the Ministry of Transportation’s hired equipment policy, and people are invited to register with the CCRD,” said Waugh. “There will be notices advertising this, if the project goes ahead.”

There were also questions concerning the rewarding of the Airport Dike Management Project Manager position to Stephen Waugh, as this position was not posted in the community.

“At the time, this project was part of Stephen’s former position as Emergency Program Manager,” said Acting CCRD CAO Isabell Hadford. “So, no, it was not posted.” It was not clarified whether or not the position would be posted if the referendum were to pass.

One audience member also asked very bluntly whether or not the CCRD could handle a project of such magnitude, to which Hadford emphatically replied, “yes.”

The financial contribution from the Nuxalk Nation was also addressed. It is generally understood that any contribution from the Nuxalk Nation would have to come from the federal government, who is already committing a third of the funding for the project.

“We did approach the federal government for support and response wasn’t negative or positive, but the federal government is already contributing $1 million,” said Archie Pootlass, Capital Projects Manager with the Nuxalk Nation and Area D Alternate Director. “We feel we need to make a bigger contribution, as our population is 50 percent or more.”

However, as one community member pointed out, the federal governments portion is intended to cover all citizens of the community whether on reserve or off. This leads one to assume that perhaps an additional portion should be expected as part of the federal governments commitment to First Nations residents.

When asked this question, Acting CAO Donna Mikkelson agreed that, in her opinion, a case could be made for the federal government to contribute additional monies on behalf of First Nations residents. At present, however, there is no strong indication that they will.

There are many other questions that were addressed at the meeting, and the CCRD has posted many of these online at www.ccrd-bc.ca. Advance voting can be done on Wednesday, May 15, 8am – 8pm at the Regional District Office. Regular voting day is Saturday, May 25, 8am – 8pm, at SAMS School. You must have two pieces of identification (one with a signature) that prove identity and residency.