Columbia Basin Trust president Johnny Strilaeff says COVID-19 recovery initiatives will be a focus over the next two years. Photo: Submitted

Columbia Basin Trust president Johnny Strilaeff says COVID-19 recovery initiatives will be a focus over the next two years. Photo: Submitted

High-speed internet, business support among Columbia Basin Trust’s new priorities

The Trust has released a planning document targeted at pandemic recovery

The head of the Columbia Basin Trust says funding and initiatives will prioritize pandemic recovery efforts through 2022.

The Trust, which manages a share of revenue earned by the Columbia River Treaty for the Kootenays, released its strategic priorities plan in September. The document, which sets out goals for the next two years, can be read online here.

CBT president and CEO Johnny Strilaeff said the last strategic plan was for five years and ended in 2020. But an inability to travel for public consultation, plus an inundation of support requests during the COVID-19 pandemic, pushed the Trust to think short term.

“It allows us to take action in areas that residents felt the most important,” said Strilaeff, “but let’s do it knowing that at some point in the near-term future, we’ll be able to return again to start talking about five, seven, 10 years, longer-term visions, longer-term priorities of residents.”

The six priorities laid out in the plan are: local food production and access; support for business renewal; community well-being; ecosystem enhancement; housing; and high-speed connectivity.

Several of those categories have already been included in Trust’s past scope, but Strilaeff said they are now being viewed through the perspective of COVID-19 recovery.

Funding efforts, he said, will also focus on areas not currently being covered by provincial and federal relief programs. Child care, he said was an example that might be applied to support for businesses.

“I know that that seems a little bit distant from business renewal, but we consistently see a linkage in terms of being able to retain key employees,” he said.

“So many are just incredibly challenged, being able to access affordable childcare, and having that available is important more than just for the social reasons but just freeing up parents to take on employment opportunities.”

Among the priorities, Strilaeff said the need for high-speed connectivity was an unexpected request made more urgent by the pandemic.

“The requirement for this connectivity is not about Netflix anymore. It’s required to participate in society,” he said.

“We saw this as a real spotlight [issue] during COVID. If you wanted to access government services, or supports or employment insurance, you basically needed to have that reliable connection. Health care, medical visits were being conducted virtually.”

The focus on high-speed internet comes as a plan to install fibre-optic internet in the Slocan Valley and Nakusp was delayed to March 2023 by the Columbia Basin Broadband Corporation.

Strilaeff said both urban and rural communities in the Kootenays have requested improved internet, which he initially thought was surprising. But as businesses adapt to a loss of in-person customers, he said a need for high-speed connectivity in the region has become apparent.

“A big part of the business renewal is having to adapt to a world that is based on more than just face to face interaction to sell your product or service.”

Related: Columbia Basin Trust announces $11.7 million in COVID-19 support funding

@tyler_harper | tyler.harper@nelsonstar.com

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