The CCRD will soon begin the process of asking Valley residents whether or not they are in favour of the CCRD becoming a diking authority.
Given its significance to the Valley’s transportation system and therefore its relevance to the entire community, the CCRD has chosen the airport dike as its first potential project. The dike was originally constructed around 30 years ago, but only protects two-thirds of the runway, and is characterized as ‘failing’.
“We pursued an application in 2005 to fix the airport dike, but the CCRD wasn’t ready to commit to being a diking authority at that time,” said the current manager of the Airport Dike Project, Stephen Waugh of Spiritscape Ventures. “If the Valley decides to become a diking authority, the airport dike would be constructed to the new 200-year flood standards.”
Although the Valley’s Flood Response Advisory Committee (FRAC) identified the Hagensborg ‘gap’ as the highest priority in the Valley, this project was not pursued as higher levels of government refused to fund it.
“The CCRD and FRAC’s top priority was the Hagensborg gap,” said Waugh. “But the federal and provincial governments wanted the airport dike addressed first. However, the gap project is still being pursued, and some separate funding may be available to fix it.”
Two bylaws were passed in recent months paving the way towards the referendum. Bylaws 415 and 416, which would establish the Bella Coola Dike Service and authorize the borrowing of over one million dollars respectively, were passed earlier this year.
One of the most significant considerations the Board faced in the passing of these bylaws was the perceived ‘unfairness’ of including on-reserve Nuxalk Nation members in the vote. Given that on-reserve Nuxalk Nation members do not pay property taxes, and therefore are not required to financially contribute to the construction and maintenance of an airport dike, should it proceed, it was decided that the Board amend the bylaws to read: “excluding the boundaries of IR#1.” This took place at the February 14 board meeting.
The regional district did send a letter to the Nuxalk Nation last September requesting financial consideration for this project, as it would benefit the entire Valley. However, as the federal government is already contributing to the project, the Nation has no means by which to contribute to the project, and have requested assistance from their federal MP, Nathan Cullen.
Valley residents may now be grappling with the pros and cons of becoming a diking authority, as this the only surefire way to ensure the airport dike and any others will be expanded and repaired. Since the provincial and federal governments refuse to take ownership of dikes and have essentially left them ‘orphaned’, flood-prone communities are left with some complicated choices.
If the community does vote that the CCRD become a diking authority, the district will be eligible to borrow the $1,150,000 to repair and expand the dike, and this cost will be borne by residents in the form of a tax increase. The total cost of the project is $3,000,000, however, the federal and provincial governments have committed to funding the remaining two-thirds of the project.
“There are several things the taxpayer will be considering during this referendum,” said Waugh. “However, it is important to note that the intention of the regional district is to have the work done by local contractors, and this will mean that the $3,000,000 will be spent in the community. In any other option, the province would simply bring in a general contractor from outside.”
The tax increases and subsequent maintenance costs that would be required by the project have yet to be made public, but firm estimates of these numbers are expected to be available at the upcoming public meeting.
Many residents may also wonder what obligations come with becoming a diking authority, and how much responsibility they may have to bear. In considering the aftermath of the 2010 flood, remaining with the status quo would result in pretty much the same response, as there is no clear ‘owner’ of the dike at this time.
“The Ministry of Transportation basically did a ‘patch job’ on the airport dike after the 2010 flood, and this was a huge act of goodwill,” said Waugh. “Nothing has been done since.”
If the CCRD does become a diking authority, they will be responsible for the basic maintenance, such as cutting the brush and completing required repairs, and conducting annual inspections. These costs would also come in the form of a tax increase.
If the dike does fail in a future flood, the CCRD would be eligible for Disaster Financial Assistance of up to 80 percent of the cost to repair the dike, and would be eligible to apply to the province for the remaining 20 percent.
There are many questions that still remain unanswered, and residents will have the opportunity for an in-depth discussion about the pros and cons of this endeavour at the public meeting, slated for Tuesday, April 30, 6:30pm at Lobelco Hall.