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Pemberton, SLRD identify priorities ahead of UBCM convention

Officials looking to make progress on regional transit, childcare following flood mitigation funding
Pemby valley
Pemberton and the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District are focusing on regional transit and childcare, among other issues, with the annual UBCM convention approaching.

Officials from the Village of Pemberton (VOP) and the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District (SLRD) are mapping out their priorities ahead of the annual Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) Convention next month.

Near the top of that list is regional transit.

“It has definitely been an issue for the corridor for years, and especially since Greyhound service ended,” said SLRD board chair Jen Ford (who will also be acclaimed as UBCM first vice president during the 2021 convention, scheduled to take place virtually from Sept. 14 to 17).

After years of stalled progress and rejected funding proposals, Sea to Sky municipalities are expecting an increased level of commitment from the provincial government this time around, Ford explained, after Premier John Horgan dropped the writ and called an election on the first day of last year’s UBCM convention.

The game-changer? The NDP government’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy George Heyman and Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Rob Fleming now have regional transit—particularly for the Sea to Sky corridor—listed within their mandate letters, Ford said.

“This is our first time in front of the new ministers,” she said. “Of course with COVID and all the other things that we’ve had to focus on for the last year, regional transit hasn’t been pushed forward very aggressively, not for lack of want, but just [because of] many, many other priorities. So this is sort of our first opportunity to work with the ministries and understand how we can collaborate.”

The Sea to Sky municipalities “are going to head back in there and have, hopefully, a very constructive meeting,” agreed Pemberton Mayor Mike Richman.

The two local governments each have a long list of other issues they’re hoping to address over the four-day convention, as well. For Pemberton, a big-ticket item on the docket again this year is childcare.

“We’re still banging on that door,” Richman said.

While the municipality still has an application currently under consideration for the Childcare BC New Spaces Fund, Pemberton remains hampered by the province’s criteria requiring building costs to remain under $40,000 per childcare space.

With sky-high costs for land, building and natural disaster mitigation, “there are a lot of construction costs, and higher costs than perhaps the average community,” Richman said. “As much as we’ve sharpened our pencils and tried really hard, there’s no way we could fit [the building application] in under that $40,000 number.”

The VOP has joined forces with the District of Squamish in requesting a meeting with ministers to discuss funding options, considering the similar challenges the two municipalities face. Pemberton has also put forth a resolution on the UBCM floor asking that the ministries work together to come up with additional childcare funding options, Richman said.

Amid increasing backcountry tourism, the VOP has also put forward a resolution asking for more funding and resources to support natural assets like recreation sites and parks. Further, Pemberton officials plan to advocate for maintained or increased ambulance service levels at this year’s UBCM Convention, following BC Emergency Health Services’ announcement earlier this year that it plans to shift Pemberton to a Scheduled On-Call service model, potentially increasing response times.

The SLRD, meanwhile, will continue its push for the province to recognize broadband internet access as an essential service for remote areas, and has also requested a meeting to advocate for a provincial ban on the sale of invasive plant species throughout the corridor—“a big threat to our agricultural land,” Ford noted—after previously putting forth a resolution on the issue in 2017. At the time, retailers were asked to stop selling the species on a voluntary basis.

But “that hasn’t worked,” Ford said. “So we’re asking the province to be a little bit more firm.”

The SLRD is also looking for provincial support to implement an extended producer responsibility policy for items like motorhomes, RVs and trailers, which are currently being illegally dumped—particularly in Area A—or otherwise ending up in landfills, Ford said. Ideally, it would function similarly to policies that already exist for products like mattresses, bottles and aluminum cans, she explained.

On a positive note, the local governments are heading into this year’s convention with their emergency preparedness budgets newly bolstered. The provincial government announced this week that Pemberton, Lil’wat Nation, the SLRD and Whistler are among 38 B.C. communities awarded funding for flood planning, as part of the UBCM-administered Community Emergency Preparedness Fund.

Lil’wat Nation and the Village of Pemberton are each receiving $120,000 for flood mitigation, while the SLRD will receive $99,500 for Ryan River modelling and floodplain mapping. Whistler has been approved for $147,400 in funding for Alta Creek flood mitigation.