Q&A with Salt Spring CRD director Gary Holman compiled by ASK Salt Spring volunteer Gayle Baker.
Q. What are the most effective actions that have you taken to address the impact of this pandemic on Salt Spring?
A. This pandemic is unique because the provincial government and health officer have declared it a province-wide emergency, actually precluding local governments from making local declarations. The province delegated some authority to the CRD and Islands Trust to educate and inform people about provincial directives and guidance from the Provincial Health Office, but actual enforcement authority rests with the RCMP and Island Health.
The primary role of the CRD during the pandemic has been to ensure continuity of essential services. In addition to CRD services, services provided by other organizations (e.g., recycling, library, ArtSpring, transit) that are funded by the CRD through contribution agreements are managed by these organizations, consistent with provincial direction. I have focused CRD grant-in-aid funding to the Salt Spring Foundation’s Emergency Fund and organizations like Community Services and Copper Kettle.
In electoral areas like Salt Spring, regional districts are also responsible for emergency planning and coordination through emergency operation centres that have been opened in Victoria and on Salt Spring. Our local emergency program has been leading inter-agency meetings (including Island Health, BC Housing, fire district, RCMP, ambulance and paramedic services, CRD Housing, bylaw enforcement, PARC, Islands Trust, Community Services and Harbour Authority), which provide a useful forum to exchange information, identify service gaps and make recommendations to provincial authorities.
Shelter and hygiene facilities, as well as health checks for the homeless, were identified as key concerns in EOC meetings, and a separate task force has been established by CRD Housing that is helping to secure funding. These EOC meetings also clarified that the economic impacts of the pandemic needed a particular focus. A Farm and Business Economic Recovery group, established under the leadership of Islands trustee Laura Patrick, CRD Community Economic Development Commission, Chamber of Commerce and Agricultural Alliance, is coordinating local recovery efforts including an online gift card program, a farm coordinator and an information hub for economic support programs.
The Federation of Canadian Municipalities has called on the federal government to increase funding for infrastructure and transit. I’m hoping that CRD Board support of a resolution to FCM by Southern Gulf Islands CRD director Dave Howe and myself to allow more flexibility in federal gas tax spending will enhance our ability to support local initiatives.
Q. What are the areas in which you have not been able to be as effective as hoped?
A. As previously reported by the Driftwood and in my last ASK Salt Spring responses, finding shelter and housing alternatives for the homeless has been an ongoing issue, on which we’re now starting to see some progress. Repeated public statements by the Premier of B.C., the Provincial Health Office, Islands Trust and CRD, BC Ferries, local Chambers of Commerce, and tourism groups has significantly reduced the number of visitors to Salt Spring, but there are still a few who aren’t getting the message. I am concerned that as we gradually open up our economy and services, non-essential travellers will be drawn to Salt Spring, risking their health and ours.
Q. Safety was a big concern before the pandemic and continues to be a problem. What are your plans to address this concern?
A. My plan prior to COVID, to establish a CRD safety service with modest, ongoing funding for both security and support measures, was not supported by voters. In some ways, COVID has exacerbated safety concerns by creating a vacuum in public spaces. RCMP and CRD bylaw enforcement have increased their presence in our local parks. I will continue to support incremental budget increases for bylaw enforcement and park maintenance, including the United Church meadow. Basic services such as washroom/porta-potty, cleaning stations, garbage/recycling receptacles are provided in local parks. Beginning this week, free pool showers and washrooms are also available for those in need.
Q. Please tell us more about timing of the release of the water management study and a bit about its scope and what you expect this report to recommend.
A. A preliminary report has been completed and is being reviewed internally by the CRD and North Salt Spring Waterworks District. The study examines the merits of establishing an island-wide water and waste utility that would include NSSWD as a partner (possibly as a CRD entity), and reconstitute the inter-agency Salt Spring Island Watershed Protection Alliance under the auspices of the CRD. It is also hoped that the provincially funded study could result in much-needed infrastructure funding for NSSWD and CRD utilities.
Q. What is happening with our long-delayed liquid waste plant?
A. Upgrades to the receiving and trans-shipment infrastructure in Burgoyne have been completed. A new bylaw has also been established to better manage what was largely an unregulated facility that was impacting the neighbours and creating operating difficulties for CRD staff. The Liquid Waste Commission continues to work with CRD staff to explore options for reducing liquid waste disposal costs.
Q. What important projects will not get funded as a result of expenditures to address this pandemic?
A. The main impact of the pandemic on CRD-funded services resulted from provincial directives. For example, expansion of transit throughout the province has been cancelled by BC Transit, including planned extension to the Beddis area. The closure of the swimming pool, library, recycling centre, Centennial playground, local administration, and building inspection offices all resulted from provincial social distancing directives. Because we successfully “bent the curve,” most of these services are being reinstated under strict management protocols. All other CRD services and capital projects are continuing as planned.
Q. Many appear to question rebuilding our old economy, preferring to define a more sustainable and resilient economy. How do you envision CRD being part of this conversation?
A. The pandemic is a warning about our need to be more self-reliant. It has also spurred an unprecedented and innovative economic response from senior governments, the formation of new relationships among local organizations, a renewed interest in food security and “buy local” initiatives, and re-purposing of small businesses and short-term tourism accommodations. Our updated area farm and climate action plans point the way forward in terms of sustainability and resilience but also to economic opportunities. The CRD and its various commissions have a key role to play in all of these initiatives, including as the conduit for further senior government support for infrastructure, public transit and affordable housing.
What’s next for ASK Salt Spring?
Would you like to be part of the conversation about Salt Spring’s economic recovery? Send your questions for Jessica Harkema, executive director of our Chamber of Commerce, to firstname.lastname@example.org by 5 p.m. on Tuesday, May 18.
And, participate in a Zoom conversation with Harkema and Francine Carlin, chair of the Community Economic Development Commission, on Friday, May 22 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. by clicking: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/82678886165
Any questions anytime: email@example.com.