Fire board considers island’s future infrastructure needs

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Salt Spring Fire Protection District trustees continue to grapple with infrastructure replacement concerns, as demonstrated by discussions about future spending that took place during  Monday night’s board meeting.

Planning for a new fire hall or “protective services building” is officially underway with first reading given to the 2019 budget bylaw passed on Sept. 11. The board is holding a special town meeting to discuss its proposed $3.16-million budget at the Lions Hall on Oct. 1. In particular, trustees will seek input on the plan to start setting aside up to $300,000 per year in a fire hall replacement reserve fund.

Trustee Rollie Cook reported that he had taken a “straw poll” of about 35 local residents during the past weekend’s fall fair to ask about the reserve idea, and was pleasantly pleased to find overall support.

“I have a sense that there is good will, but also a caution that we have to be responsible, open and fair,” Cook said, adding the Oct. 1 session is being planned to offer that transparency.

Trustee Ron Lindstrom reported on other aspects of planning for the new hall. The board received a box of documents from Hans Hazenboom related to the most recent failed project that will greatly aid the new Brinkworthy site feasibility study. Lindstrom concluded that “a lot of due diligence” had been done, and said the board should turn the information over to the fire hall advisory working group for follow-up.

Lindstrom also went over some points in the draft terms of reference suggested for the new working group or advisory committee. As drafted by the strategic planning committee, the new working group would be composed of the chairs of the board’s three major committees plus a minimum of seven members of the public who have relevant knowledge and skills. Membership could include officials from the Islands Trust, the Capital Regional District and the North Salt Spring Waterworks District. The committee has suggested an independent facilitator be appointed as chair.

A timeframe of six to eight months is suggested for the working group to accomplish its job, at which point the project would be turned over to a construction committee, Lindstrom said.

The board has also started to think about what to do with the existing hall if the new hall project should fail once again. A report on the seismic upgrades needed to meet the BC Building Code was commissioned in 2005 but never acted on. The building code has changed several times since then, Lindstrom noted.

“If a referendum fails again or the process gets bogged down, we have a responsibility to remediate the building,” he said.

The board passed a resolution stating that it would take on the necessary seismic upgrades if a fire hall borrowing referendum fails; if a referendum date is not set by June 30, 2019; or if construction documents for a new hall are not commenced by March 31, 2020.

Trustee Howard Holzapfel voted against the motion, saying he could not support the plan until a referendum actually fails. He said the cost of doing the work is unknown but could be guessed at around $2 million, and that the fire department would have to completely leave the hall while renovations were taking place. The project could also mean losing one truck bay, he said.

“There could be all sorts of logistical issues,” Lindstrom agreed. “Nevertheless, we need to be on record that we’re going to do something about it.”

Fire department equipment replacement needs are another constant looming expense for the board. Trustees asked staff for a report on which fire trucks the department considers to be front-line or priority for replacement using the capital reserve fund, and which they should keep using “until the wheels fall off,” as district CAO Andrew Peat described it.

In other business from Monday’s meeting, firefighter Warren Nuyens thanked the board for committing staff and the reserve tender to help fight wildfires in the B.C. Interior for the second year in a row. Nuyens was part of the second team of two deployed to Burns Lake this summer, along with Eric Taylor. Patrick Byrne and Doug Ponsford were the first team to go out, while Mitchell Sherrin and Jason Gaffney were the final crew deployed.

“It’s an opportunity for us to take our skills up there, and our skills improve immensely with 10 hours a day on a truck minimum. What we bring back to the community is invaluable,” Nuyens said.

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