Regional district split between Coast and Interior 

Study will look at whether or not the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District’s northern areas are better off joining another regional district

After more than 30 years, the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District, which encompasses an area of 16,000 square kilometres that stretches from the Coast to Interior, is looking at splitting up.

"This has been discussed since the 1970s," said Area B director Sheila McLean, who represents the rural area that surrounds Lillooet, including Yalakom, Bridge River, Seton, Shalalth, Texas Creek, Fountain, Pavilion and Duffey Lake.

The SLRD passed a motion at its July board meeting to ask the Ministry of Community, Aboriginal and Women’s Services (formerly called Municipal Affairs) to fund a northern governance study.

The study would determine how communities in the SLRD’s northern region – Gold Bridge, Bralorne, Lillooet, Fountain and Pavilion – would be best served, either within current regional district boundaries, with boundary changes or by leaving the SLRD altogether.

McLean and Area A director Russ Oakley proposed the study, which is also supported by Lillooet Mayor Kevin Taylor.

Whistler Mayor Hugh O’Reilly has also said that the current regional district boundaries do not make sense.

Oakley, who represents the Gold Bridge-Bralorne area, has said the northern areas might be better off by joining the Thompson-Nicola Regional District.

"This seems to make more logical sense," McLean told Pique Newsmagazine . "All our alliances are with Kamloops."

The SLRD’s northern areas already belong to the Thompson-Nicola health region and hospital district, and are in a school district with Ashcroft and Cache Creek.

The area is also part of the Kamloops forest, highways and parks districts and has a different telephone area code than the rest of the regional district.

As well, the only all-season access to the region is through Lillooet. The unpaved Hurley River forest service road from Pemberton to the Gold Bridge-Bralorne area is only open from May until the first major snowfall of the year, which can be as early as September.

"There was no link between Pemberton and Lillooet until the ’70s," said McLean. "Our only connection to Squamish, Whistler and Pemberton was the B.C. Rail line."

The Duffey Lake Road was opened to the public in 1975 and wasn’t completely paved until the mid-90s.

According to McLean, the interests of the northern areas can not always be properly served because the region only has three of the SLRD’s nine directors. The other six come from the Sea-to-Sky corridor.

"The current configuration has always been questionable," she said. "Our circumstances are so different."

The SLRD’s current boundaries were arbitrarily drawn and do not follow the natural flow of the region’s watersheds.

"We’re part of the Fraser Basin," said McLean. "Cayoosh Creek flows east from the height of land."

The northern area’s other watersheds – including the Bridge, Yalakom, and Seton – all enter the Fraser River near Lillooet.

The watersheds in the SLRD’s southern areas – the Squamish and Cheakamus – empty into the Pacifc Ocean at the head of Howe Sound, while the Lillooet River system flows into the Lower Fraser.

The idea of re-drawing government boundaries along more natural lines is starting to gain momentum in the U.S.

Dan Kemmis, director of the Center for the Rocky Mountain West – a public policy institute at the University of Montana in Missoula, promotes this philosophy in his new book, Watershed Democracy: An Idea Whose Time Has Come .

Kemmis argues that the American West, and by extension the Canadian West, would be a better place if government boundaries were drawn along the natural lines of watersheds, encompassing people and landscapes with common goals and needs.

The SLRD study, which will see if a split is feasible, is possible under provisions of the Local Government Act but the study could get bogged down by bureaucracy.

The new provincial government is in the throes of preparing a community charter, which will give local governments more say in their own affairs, to replace the Act and the SLRD is still waiting for a response.

But that doesn’t bother McLean – she’s used to the slow pace of the Interior.

"We’ve always had a different perspective here," said McLean. "We’re on the other side of the Coast Mountains."

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