Submitted by Rob Gay
Back in 1982, Juno award winning Canadian band Doug and Slugs debuted their iconic hit “Making It Work” and I feel like that could be the chorus for 2020 as we have all faced, and adapted to, an ever-changing world around us.
Our East Kootenay Emergency Management Program and emergency response personnel played a very active role throughout 2020, responding to a wide variety of emergencies. From coordinating the response to the global COVID-19 pandemic, to responding to flooding events, providing support to the BC Wildfire Service and evacuees on the largest fire in BC this year (Doctor Creek), and assisting in smaller events such as the recent Cranbrook Hotel Fire, our RDEK teams have been busy this year. Our Regional Emergency Operations Centre was open for a total of 107 days and we want to acknowledge the incredible work done by everyone involved in the Emergency Management Program for their role in supporting people throughout 2020.
The pandemic certainly changed the way we do business, but it has been very rewarding to know that in spite of the many challenges we’ve faced, we have been able to rise to the challenge, maintain our service delivery and keep moving the region forward. Whether that means going to “Plan B” and hauling in drinking water when a debris flow impacts a drinking water source, such as happened in Edgewater in early June, or getting innovative by using technology to stream meetings and support a remote working model, we have worked hard to be agile and adaptable to ensure services continue, even in extraordinary circumstances.
And, in spite of the challenges this year, there has been a great deal to celebrate.
Our Engineering Services Department completed the large Windermere Water Upgrade project and is currently undertaking the Cold Spring Creek Debris Flow Mitigation Project.
Our Development Services Department has utilized technology to ensure community consultation and engagement on our planning processes could continue. In 2020, the Panorama Official Community Plan (OCP) was adopted. Work continues on the Steamboat Jubilee Mountain OCP and Columbia Lake Management Plan. For the second year in a row, the RDEK saw over $200 million in construction value in 2020, thanks in large part to a boom in Cranbrook. In the rural areas of the RDEK, we had over 430 building permits issued and 112 dwellings created, accounting for over $76 million in construction value.
On the recreation side, we opened a new park in Waldo Cove in Electoral Area B and we were honoured to participate in the grand opening of the Markin MacPhail Westside Legacy Trail. Our arena staff have done an outstanding job of adjusting to the changes COVID-19 has required and continue to provide a safe space for our public. Planning is underway for a new trail from Fernie to the ski hill and there have been a number of improvements completed by the Cranbrook Community Forest Society and Recreation Sites and Trails BC in the much-loved community forest. These amenities in our communities would not be possible without the vision, efforts and support of the many volunteers who contribute to our quality of life in the East Kootenay. A sincere thank you to all those who have volunteered.
A number of communities have been making improvements to FireSmart around their homes and properties and, with support from our FireSmart coordinator, we have several communities in various stages of working toward getting national FireSmart recognition. Congratulations to all those champions out there working to increase awareness and reduce wildfire risk in your communities! Looking ahead to 2021, the RDEK will continue to seek additional funding to help support FireSmart initiatives. The addition of some new equipment was welcomed for our rural fire departments, including a ladder truck for Windermere/Fairmont and new Jaws of Life for the South Country fire departments.
Our paid-on-call firefighters responded to over 313 calls in 2020, including structure fires, motor vehicle incidents, first responder calls and still-water rescue. Thank you to all of our firefighters for your dedication and outstanding service. In 2021, we will be undertaking a recruitment drive as we need more firefighters. If you are interested in becoming a part of our fire services, please contact your local fire department.
As we continue to adapt to climate change, it was an honour to be recognized alongside the Regional Districts of Kootenay Boundary and Central Kootenay as the winner of a 2020 Sustainable Communities Award for exceptional work in the Visionary Award category for our Accelerate Kootenays project. A number of new charging stations were installed this year. In 2021, there will be new energy efficiency Step Code building regulations.
In 2020, the RDEK’s Environmental Services Department successfully opened new Recycle BC Depots at our staffed transfer stations in Cranbrook, Kimberley, Fernie, Sparwood and Elkford, and at the Invermere Transfer Station located in the Industrial Park near the Public Works yard. As markets have changed, the RDEK can no longer recycle glass through its yellow bin program, so early in the New Year the yellow GLASS recycling bins will be removed; however, this affects only the glass recycling bins and glass can still be recycled at all Recycle BC Depots. Work will continue in 2021 on regional composting plans and this spring, the City of Cranbrook will begin a curbside recycling program.
Communications is always an important part of everything we do, and this year we learned a lot about different communication tools thanks to COVID. We’ve added an entirely new vocabulary including Zoom, GoToWebinar, Skype, FaceTime and Whova. Many of us have also coined some new popular phrases, including: “your line is muted. We can’t hear you,” “click on share screen,” “find your login ID” and more. Our online engagement software has helped us continue to use technology to highlight our programs and engage with you, and our Communications Department provides ongoing education and updates on a wide range of RDEK issues and emergencies.
Our Evacuation Notification System is fully up and running and was tested for the first time this year during evacuation alerts and orders during flooding, debris flood and wildfire events. This free service is available to anyone in the RDEK and you are strongly encouraged to sign up whether you live in a municipality, rural area or First Nation community. Details can be found on the Emergency Information page on our website.
Looking ahead to 2021, some of our priorities include continuing to: focus on business continuity and adapt our business to deal with COVID- 19; build lasting relationships with our First Nations; retain and grow our community partnerships; create new opportunities to involve our public in decision making processes; champion new ways to further reduce greenhouse gases; implement plans to deal with the impacts of climate change; and, enhance connectivity.
As we move into the new year, I will be patiently waiting for my COVID-19 vaccination. The Province hopes the vaccine will be available by September for all those who want it. Please use solid research when making your decision. And, while we look forward to better days ahead and the pandemic being over, we still have some time before that happens. As Doug and the Slugs said “making it work takes a little longer. Making it work takes a little time.” We need to continue to support each other, our local businesses and our communities. We need to take it done day at a time and dig deep within ourselves as we continue to practice kindness, compassion and understanding. We will get through this unprecedented time – and we will get through it together.
On behalf of the RDEK Board and staff, we wish you and your family all the best in 2021.
Rob Gay is the director for Electoral Area C and chair of the board for the Regional District of East Kootenay.