RDN Director Report for June

Vanessa Craig, Director, Electoral Area B

Regional District of Nanaimo

Wednesday, June 9 2021

Upcoming opportunities for public input

Please feel free to contact about anything RDN related. Meeting agendas are typically posted about 5 days prior to a meeting and are available through the online RDN calendar. All items are open for public input – whether you contact me, send a letter to the Board, or appear as a delegation. Information about some of the projects the RDN is tackling is here: https://www.rdn.bc.ca/get-involved-rdn. There are a few formal opportunities for public input coming up:

The fuel management assessment project for the 707 Community Park will be happening this summer. The beginning of the project will include a virtual public engagement process where you can provide input about management of the 707 Community Park. The Gabriola Fire Department will be included in all phases of this project, and BC Wildfire will also be consulted about their plans for work in the park in collaboration with GVFD and because they are an important responder to wildfires. 

You might have participated in the workshop or answered a survey about the regional parks and trails strategy. The project was put on hold due to COVID but is re-starting. There will be a public input opportunity this summer to comment on the summary of what was heard last time, and Goals identified through the first public input process.

Village Way Path

The Village Way Path is almost complete. I committed additional Community Works Funds to the project to address the visibility issue at the Island Home and Garden entrance to North Road, improve the pathway entrance at Church Rd., and improve the connectivity of the path to the businesses in the Madrona Marketplace at the corner of North/South Roads. The project’s initial contingency funds were used to conduct hydrovac explorations of the tree roots along the path to retain as many trees as possible, and for additional costs where rock was encountered. To address visibility at the Island Home and Garden entrance, approximately 12 fence panels will be removed and the ground on the inside of the retaining wall will be built up to address the fall hazard. One tree will need to be removed to address safety in that section. Friendly reminder – the path is for pedestrians not parking!

Huxley Park Phase 2

The Board approved contracting Radius Contracting to develop Phase 2 of Huxley Park, which will include a long-awaited skatepark. The RDN submitted a grant application in early 2019 and was successful in receiving over $560,000 from the federal and provincial governments for the project. Committed community groups Ride Free and the Gabriola Skatepark Fundraising Association contributed $69,000 to the project and the rest of the budget was raised by taxation (the grant required that 27% of the project cost was provided by the community). Unfortunately, with the recent escalation of building costs, the bid exceeded the budget for the project. The project will still go ahead, but some items such as a shade structure, fencing, seating, coloured concrete, and landscaping were eliminated from the contract for this initial phase. We are working with Radius Contracting to determine whether there are more cost-effective alternatives for some of these items. Some of the contingency budget is meant to cover rock breaking if it’s required – if rock is not encountered (and initial surveys suggested it might not be an issue), then the savings can be applied to add back some of these elements. Work is anticipated to begin mid-late August and be complete by the end of the year. 

EV Chargers

As you know the RDN received a grant to support installing 10 electric vehicle charging stations across the RDN, and one of the stations will be installed on Gabriola. The goal of the project is to develop a network of chargers across Vancouver Island and the islands. Because residents will be able to charge their vehicles at home, these chargers will likely primarily be used by visitors. Based on suggestions from community members, I asked staff to investigate installing the charger at Huxley Park so that people could charge their vehicle while being active in the village core. Upon further consideration, I’ve requested that the charger be installed at Descanso Bay Regional Park for the following reasons:

There are already 2 chargers installed at the Madrona Marketplace

In speaking with businesses and the Islands Trust I’ve realized that, because businesses expanding/developing may be required to install an electric vehicle charger as part of the development permit process, the potential for additional chargers to be installed in the core is high relative to other areas on the island without commercial development

The redevelopment of Huxley Park will result in more limited parking. Installing the charger at Huxley could result in non-park users using spots while charging, reducing parking for people using the park

The caretaker’s cottage at Descanso Bay is going to be replaced in 2021 or 2022, meaning this is an opportune time to redevelop the area and install the charger. Placing the charger at Descanso Bay will provide people camping or hiking in the area the opportunity to charge their vehicle and will be the first charger placed outside the village core.

Budget 2021

You will have received your 2021 RDN tax assessment by now. The final budget for 2021 resulted in a 1.1% increase over 2020, which means that the average home in Area B (valued at $449,037) paid $4 more in 2021 than 2020. COVID had quite a big effect on the budget, with one-time savings for the Gabriola Taxi Saver, Southern Community Economic Development, and Southern Community Recreation (the amount we pay to the City of Nanaimo for use of the pools and arenas). These items will go back to “normal” for the 2022 budget and will therefore appear to increase in 2022. Considering we were able to purchase an addition to the 707 Community Park, we were able to keep the parks budget (which is our largest expense in Area B) increase low.

Budget 2022

We’re already starting planning for the 2022 budget. I’m interested in hearing from you – what are your priorities? 

Items for the Village Way Path and Huxley Park that could not be completed in 2021 will be considered for 2022. New for consideration in the 2022 budget I’ve included investigation of a car top boat lunch on Mudge Island. The fuel management assessment in the 707 community park may include some recommendations to be addressed starting in 2022, and the evacuation route planning project for Area B in 2021 may also identify some projects. The assessment of a potential path between Maple Lane and Degnen Bay Rd may also identify some actions that could be undertake in 2022. 

Other updates

The Board supported my Motion asking staff to provide a report that outlines the current status of the legality of people living in tiny homes — with and without wheels — in the RDN; provides information about the approach of other local governments to tiny homes; and identifies potential actions that could facilitate making living in a tiny home legal. I am not sure of the timing of when we can expect a report. Although any zoning recommendations will not apply to Area B because planning is the Islands Trust’s purview, recommendations re. advocacy about the building code or RDN approaches to building permits will benefit our area as well.

The Board approved a 6 month trial of having two Board meetings per month instead of one Committee of the Whole (CoW) and one Board meeting a month. Committees of the Whole meetings will be called where we need to have more in-depth discussion about specific issues or agenda items. 

Decisions of committees are recommendations to the Board, which means that there were only 11 opportunities a year (the Board does not meet in August) to make decisions and move the business of the Board forward. 

When we discussed this idea there was concern from various Directors (including me) that we need to ensure that this change does not limit public input and good discussion and debate. 

Key to this will be to ensuring that our committees are robust and that we call a CoW when necessary. After 6 months we will re-evaluate whether this change is useful and is meeting its intended purpose. 

The Area B Parks and Open Spaces Committee (POSAC) met in May and received updates from GaLTT, Islands Trust Trustee Scott Colbourne, and the Gabriola Recreation Society, as well as updates from staff on park activities, including a presentation on the upcoming 707 community park fire prescription project. 

We discussed projects still outstanding for 2021 including the development of a trail through Captain Ahab’s Community Park, investigating a trail between Maple Lane and Degnen Bay Rd., as well as completion of the Village Way Path and Huxley Phase 2 upgrades. 

We are still waiting to hear if we received grant funding to replace the Rollo McClay portable – that might go ahead this year too if we receive funding. 

We received a request about developing a trail in Town Ho End Community Park, which was assessed by RDN staff and GaLTT at the same time they assessed Captain Ahab’s park. 

The recommendation was to not proceed with a trail in Town Ho End because of the wet site conditions and numerous deciduous trees, many of which are declining and pose a hazard. The correspondence indicated that the park has been gradually drying over the years so the POSAC agreed that trail development in the park might warrant reconsideration in future. We also received a letter indicating continued interest in an off-leash dog park. The POSAC had previously decided to hold off on developing a dog park until we receive the addition to Cox Community Park, which might be a suitable location for a dog park. 

We had quite a bit of discussion about the demands on staff and their capacity and our interest in ensuring that we complete the projects we currently have on the go before starting new projects.

We’ve recently received a series of delegations requesting the RDN address the sale and discharge of fireworks. This week we received a staff report with an overview of the issue. 

In SD68 the sale and discharge of fireworks is governed by the provincial Fireworks Act, which says that fireworks may only be sold or discharged between October 24th and November 1st

Discharge of fireworks is prohibited in parks. 

There is currently no regulation in place for the northern electoral areas. 

The Association of Vancouver Island Coastal Communities’ annual conference at the end of May. This is a local government meeting where representatives of the coastal communities meet and get to discuss resolutions and discuss issues. We had interesting speakers including Josie Osborne and panels on UNDRIP and Reconciliation, climate leadership, and mental wellness and resilience which included Sheila Malcolmson. 

Resolutions that are endorsed by the membership move on to UBCM in the fall where they have the direct ear of the provincial government. The membership endorsed both RDN resolutions: one asking for greater powers to manage trees, and another requesting greater involvement by the province in addressing illegal dumping in electoral areas. For more information about AVICC and the resolutions considered, see www.avicc.ca 

Previously the Board received a report that identified problems in regional park funding equity and recommended that funding be changed from a parcel tax to a split 50/50 assessment and population. Typically parks funding and other “public good” items consider property assessment instead of relying solely on parcel tax. Because Area B has many parcels but not necessarily high assessment or population, the report suggested that we were paying more than would be considered equitable under this different system. I asked for more information and updated numbers based on 2021 assessments, with the result that if a change had been applied in 2021, Area B would pay approximately $26,000 less to the regional parks system. The Board supported changing the funding formula for regional parks and trails as of the 2022 budget.

The Nanaimo Regional Hospital District Board has the same representatives as the RDN Board. Recently we’ve received delegations from Island Health and NRGH doctors about plans for improvements at the hospital including a new patient tower, a new cancer treatment centre, and improved cardiac care with the overall goal of becoming a tertiary care centre for the mid and north island. Currently the province requires that regional hospital districts provide 40% of funding for capital equipment and projects. Island Health submitted a long-term capital plan which proposes $2.6 billion in capital improvements by 2035, which would mean that taxpayers within the RDN would be responsible for approximately $1 billion in costs. While the Board is supportive of the idea of a tertiary care hospital, the costs are extremely high. The Board will be submitting a resolution to UBCM in the fall calling on the provincial government to review this cost-sharing system in consultation with the Regional Hospital Districts, because the current model is unsustainable. We are also investigating other advocacy methods with part of the focus being that an expanded hospital will serve much of the central and north island and determining whether there is a broader cost-sharing opportunity.

We received the 2020 annual report which provides an overview of the RDN’s services and 2020 highlights as well as the audited financial statements. You can find it on the RDN website under Financial Reports/Other Financial documents/Annual Report.

Upcoming

The Electoral Area Services Committee meetings are on July 8th and Sept 9th  (1 pm start)

Board (1 pm start) upcoming meetings are June 22nd, July 13th, and July 27th  

If you have any thoughts or questions about this update or anything else RDN related, please contact me at vanessa.craig@rdn.bc.ca or 250-741-4589. 

Vanessa Craig is the locally elected Director for Electoral Area B of the Regional District of Nanaimo, which includes Gabriola, Mudge and DeCourcy islands.