MLA updates RDEK on regional issues

Kootenay East MLA Bill Bennett stopped by the RDEK last week to update board members on regional and provincial issues.

The Regional District of East Kootenay board of directors had some questions answered by Kootenay East MLA Bill Bennett at a monthly meeting in Cranbrook on Friday.

According to chair Rob Gay, who was re-elected chair for the next year, the board invites the regional MLA out to a meeting once every six months to keep directors updated on provincial initiatives and issues that affect constituents within the riding.

“He asks us for our issues, so we gave him a list of 13 issues and he goes away and does homework on them and comes back and presents on them or brings back material on them,” Gay said.

“…Today he gave us a few ideas that we need to get back to him on so he’s asking us for our opinion on how he would like to approach other ministers within the government to help solve our problems.”

Before the meeting, the RDEK had sent a list of 13 questions to Bennett on a range of topics such as energy policy, treaty negotiations, off-road vehicle legislation and winter road conditions.

One specific topic that Bennett raised with the board had to do with land inside the Agricultural Land Reserve.

The sticking point involves the fact that landowners within the ALR, which is specifically set aside for farmland use, enjoy a tax break. However, a recent redrawing of ALR boundaries will exclude a number of existing properties within the ALR, and those landowners will lose the tax break.

The advantage of being excluded from the ALR means that landowners have more freedom to develop and increase the value of their land, according to Gay.

“He’s [Bennett] asked our board for advice to say, ‘Do we take all these folks out and say now you’ve lost your tax advantage?’,” said Gay.

“Or do we say, ‘If you want to come out, you lose your tax advantage, but maybe increase the value of your land, maybe do some different things with your land that you couldn’t in the past…'”

Gay specifically identified areas near Baynes Lake and Meadowbrook, near Kimberley as property that landowners may want removed from of the ALR because of the development possibilities.

Bennett floated the idea of giving property owners the option to chose whether or not they wish to remain within the new ALR boundary.

Another topic of interest to all board members was winter road conditions and the future of keeping highways clear as the government’s contract with Mainroad Contracting will expire next year.

“He talked about the new Request for Proposal with the new highways contract,” Gay said. “Really, who they choose is not our decision, but we, as citizens, live with the results of our maintenance contractors, so  we are interested that it’s a fair process.”

Given the closure of the Canal Flats sawmill, Bennett also touched on the sustainability of the forest industry in our region, along with agricultural production, fire fuel management and treaty negotiations.

At the beginning of the meeting, Gay was re-elected chair of the RDEK board, while Wendy Booth was also re-elected as vice-chair.

Board members also celebrated the RDEK’s 50th anniversary last Thursday evening, which was officially created in 1965 by the provincial government.

It was marked by a staff dinner and speeches from board members.

“From Day One, the regional district has been about providing service,” said Gay, in a excerpt from his speech. “From our roots in planning and the first building and plumbing bylaws passed in 1966, there’s no question we have grown and changed and our services have become more diverse.

“From specific, low cost, small service areas light street lighting in Moyie to the more regional solid waste, recycling, emergency program and 911 services, today, every resident in the East Kootenay is served in some way by the RDEK.”