RDN Candidates Q&A: Parks; Water; and Emergency Planning

Derek Kilbourn

Sounder News

Wednesday, September 26 2018

Howard Houle and Vanessa Craig are the two candidates running for Director of Area B (Gabriola, Mudge, DeCourcy) for the Regional District of Nanaimo (RDN) in the local government election. They were provided with questions on the three topics this week: Parks; Water; and Emergency Planning.

Parks: If elected, do you plan to move forward with the five-year parks plan as recommended by the Area B Parks and Open Spaces Advisory Committee (POSAC), including the plans for the Huxley Skatepark and Village Way Trail? As well as updating the Management Plan for the 707 and new lands involved with the Potlatch application? 

Houle: I am very supportive of the skateboard park as we do not have enough recreation facilities for youth. I have been pushing this project forward for a number of years now and would love to see it in use. The addition of a playground at Huxley has made a big difference in recreation facilities for the 5 to12 year olds. Go there any day after school and the place is full of laughing, happy children.

The Village Trail is also one of those projects that has taken a lot of time and energy but we finally got the changes we need at the provincial level to make it a reality. We are just waiting for the revised drawings to meet MOTI’s new guidelines.

Gabriolans love their parks, and with the additional park land from the density transfer means we will need to review the 707 management land. That review will involve the community with several public meetings. In these meetings we will need to be careful about what we ask for as we now pay $289,000 in taxes for parks on Gabriola.

Craig: Yes, I plan to move forward with the committed projects for 2019 as the POSAC committee has recommended, and the RDN has already agreed to. I will work to ensure that those projects to which the RDN has committed funds and/or staff time are completed. The community groups who are putting all of this planning and effort into these projects have relied on this agreement and I intend to meet the agreements. As priorities may shift in 2019 (e.g., due to additional funding becoming available, projects reliant on grant funding not receiving funding, staff resources or emergent issues), I will be flexible in the approach after 2019, recognizing that POSAC has identified several high and medium priority projects that we’d like to keep making progress on.

Water Issues: The RDN has been pushing the province to move forward with allowing rainwater catchment for potable use (currently it’s only allowed in single-family homes occupied by the owner). Is that something you would continue to advocate for? What other changes would you want to see made to building policies to allow for more creative or modern or environmentally-friendly construction?

Craig: I think the biggest progress in water security on our islands will be made with rainwater, so yes, I would definitely advocate for a more innovative approach to how we can use our rainwater. The province is responsible for setting drinking water standards which considers rainwater allowable as potable water for individual homes but not for commercial/group purposes. The province is currently reviewing the guidelines, and I hope they will change. If not, at the RDN and the Union of BC Municipalities I would advocate for a results-based approach to water treatment objectives and standards. As John Peirce and others have said, the technology to address water quality has improved markedly in the last few years. Are there ways we can address the concerns with community use of rainwater? In addition to advocating for changes to regulations around rainwater use, I plan to research ideas such as community wells (many gulf islands have them and I understand Gabriola used to have them), community water systems, and water users’ communities, and then share that information with the residents of Area B. 

Although this isn’t directly within the purview of the RDN, I am committed to ensuring that our communities receive information that can help us in understanding water security options.

In addition to being more innovative in our approach to rainwater, I agree that we need to be more innovative in our building approach. The RDN is currently reviewing its Green Building Incentive Program which originated from a 2010 document, “Overcoming Barriers to Green Building.” The review will be focused on whether the current incentives are adequate. I think that the review should compare incentives to the original barriers identified, and consider expanding the incentives where appropriate. The building code is established at the provincial level; however, the RDN as a municipal government can work with others in the Union of BC Municipalities to advocate for innovation. Changes are occurring, for example: within the last two years the provincial government has published a manual* on composting toilets and grey water use. However, although composting toilets are now permitted, the property is also required to have a septic system to handle grey water from kitchen sinks, which reduces the benefits of having a composting system. Is there a way that we can address that issue? Another example: the province recently stated that it was looking to modify BC Building Codes to allow local governments to adopt solar-ready requirements for single family homes. 

As an RDN Director, I would advocate at the RDN for continued improvements to the building code to meet our needs, and look at options for the RDN to promote innovation through incentives and/or education.

Houle: I started advocating for adoption of rainwater collection regulations that would allow rainwater as a potable water source back in 2015. What I have been asking the province for is rainwater source characterization protocols, rainwater collection infrastructure guidelines, and rainwater treatment objectives and standards. I met with the Minister at UBCM in 2016 and again in 2017 to discuss what was needed and nothing further happened. In 2018, I met with Minister Adrian Dix and found the province was now working on my request and I am hopeful these changes can be made. These changes would affect the whole province, and on Gabriola it would mean opportunities for large businesses to use rainwater and not groundwater.

The RDN building inspection services work with homeowners on alternative home construction. We have cob homes, earth ships and several other kinds of owner-built homes of very creative designs in the regional district.

Emergency Preparedness: Can you identify how Gabriola might better prepare for emergencies - what the RDN is working on, and what you think should be pushed forward for Gabriola?

Houle: We are ready for a local emergency with well-trained ESS volunteers, an emergency reception centre at the north end (Rollo Centre) and a mobile one in the south end. These dedicated volunteers study and train for an emergency we hope does not happen and there is comfort in knowing that. What we are not prepared for is a region-wide emergency (earthquake). The RDN emergency plan only covers local emergencies. Anything bigger, the response comes from the province and they tell us that you need to be able to take care of yourself for up to a week. The community would need to have that conversation about what they can do in a regional emergency as there is no telling when we would get any response from the province.

Craig: The RDN recently released a Neighbourhood Regional Emergency Preparedness manual, which is focused on helping neighbourhoods develop a plan and “develop resiliency within their neighbourhood.” This will be a useful document for us going forward as we update an emergency preparedness plan on Gabriola. The RDN is looking to get grants to review its evacuation route plans which were completed approximately 10 years ago, and I think it’s important that our islands are included in this review. In addition, the RDN is just completing an RFP for a fire governance review across the region; the Gabriola Fire Improvement District is a stakeholder in this. Part of the fire governance review will be the identification of gaps in our fire coverage and discussion of how those gaps could be addressed. The Mudge Island Citizen’s Society is currently excluded from support from the RDN. I would work to include the Mudge citizens in this gap analysis and advocate for them to be able to receive funding from the RDN.

My focus will be on working with community groups, our fire department, and RDN staff to facilitate the development of a robust emergency preparedness plan for our islands. We have very committed volunteers who have worked to develop a plan, but without someone promoting the concept and annual updating, the plan can become outdated quickly. In addition, it is essential that islanders know the plan and where to get information in case of emergency - one of my core platform components is an improvement in communication between the RDN and Area B residents. Currently, we have a gap in that we don’t have a structure identified as an emergency reception centre in the south of Gabriola. Even though we have a mobile emergency centre I believe it is important to have a building identified which has the potential to address more needs of islanders in the event of an emergency. As part of my focus on emergency planning I will work with community groups and RDN staff to identify an emergency reception centre in the southern half of Gabriola. 

There are three editions of the Sounder left prior to the October 20 General Voting Day. To have a question posed to the candidates through the Sounder, email it to derek@soundernews.com.

Keep questions focused on topics specific to jurisdiction of the position being run for by the candidates.

There will be an All-Candidates Forum hosted by the Gabriola Ratepayers on October 13, from 1:00 – 3:00 p.m. at the Gabriola Island Community Hall. All candidates running in the Gabriola-specific elections have confirmed they will be in attendance for that forum.