NSSWD withdraws from watershed alliance

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The North Salt Spring Waterworks District will no longer be a part of the Salt Spring Island Watershed Protection Alliance, after the board of trustees voted to resign from the Islands Trust-funded agency last week.

NSSWD trustees and staff cited jurisdictional issues and staff capacity as the main reasons for their decision at the Oct. 25 meeting. Trustee Michael McAllister advocated for staying in the alliance, but Marshall Heinekey and Chris Dixon voted to leave. Trustee Les Howell abstained from voting, which according to procedure counts as a vote in the affirmative.

“Subscribing to the distraction of SSIWPA is probably not a good investment of our time, our energy and our resources,” said Dixon.

McAllister is part of the SSIWPA steering committee, as was former trustee Robert Steinbach. Steinbach resigned from the waterworks board in August.

“If we withdraw now, SSIWPA’s dead,” McAllister said in the meeting. “I don’t want to be the cause of SSIWPA dying. We would be looked at in a negative light.”

The district has been discussing its involvement in SSIWPA since the summer of 2017. That’s when a special meeting was held to talk about withdrawing from SSIWPA, and the board determined at the time that it was premature to decide. Last week the board decided that SSIWPA participation demanded too much work of their staff and that other initiatives, including other community projects, could be jeopardized by the additional workload.

The Salt Spring Island Local Trust Committee is requesting a property tax requisition of $98,500 for the 2019/2020 fiscal year to continue coordination of the alliance. The alliance has been supported by tax requisitions since its inception.

George Grams, outgoing Islands Trust trustee for Salt Spring and chair of SSIWPA, said there was friction between the two agencies, and that the move was not unexpected.

“I do appreciate NSSWD’s position. They are not responsible for overall strategic planning for water supply on the island,” he said. “It’s almost been an anticipation of the island that somehow NSSWD would do more than that . . . We have to bear in mind that if they do that then the burden of the cost would fall only on their subscribers. If we’re going to undertake strategic planning on the island with regards to the water resource, it really is a cost that the whole island should bear, because the whole island benefits.”

SSIWPA was initiated in 2014 to help support watershed management, and in response to toxic algal blooms occurring in St. Mary Lake.

For more on this story, see the Oct. 31, 2018 issue of the Gulf Islands Driftwood newspaper, or subscribe online.

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