By GEORGE GRAMS, PETER GROVE and WAYNE MCINTYRE
In his March 29 opinion piece titled “Water supply and incorporation: are they compatible?”, Hugh Greenwood poses two questions. The first — whether a municipality would have the powers to regulate potable water on Salt Spring Island — can be satisfied by examining the facts assembled by the Incorporation Study Committee. As the committee was dissolved at the conclusion of its report to the minister, it falls on the elected officials to answer questions that relate to the work of the committee and its consultants, Urban Systems.
Hugh Greenwood’s second question — whether a mayor and council would have the “will” to regulate water — is conjectural and applies equally to both our current governance structure and a municipal one. In answering this and future queries from island electors we will confine our answers to factual matters.
Under a municipal structure a mayor and council would inherit the powers to regulate and legislate on water related issues that currently attach to our local government agencies.
Those agencies comprise the Salt Spring Island Local Trust Committee and the several water improvement districts (of which North Salt Spring Waterworks District is by far the largest) that treat and deliver potable water through piped distribution systems. In addition, responsibility for the water commissions currently operated by CRD would transfer to a Salt Spring municipality.
Some further benefits would attach to a municipality that are currently unavailable, or have obstacles to their introduction, as a result of the configuration of our existing service agencies.
For example, improvement districts, including our water improvement districts and our fire improvement district, are ineligible for infrastructure grants. Accordingly, the upgrade works comprising new treatment plants on St. Mary and Maxwell lakes, and the raising of the weir on St Mary Lake, must be funded entirely by NSSWD subscribers.
Under an incorporated form of governance those improvement districts would be managed by the municipality, which would be eligible for infrastructure grants. Those grants can be significant. In the case of Bowen Island, for example, the municipality was recently awarded grants of over $3.89 million towards water treatment plant improvements costing $5 million, saving Bowen taxpayers nearly 80 per cent of the cost of the upgrades.
When the Salt Spring Local Trust Committee sought in 2012 to form a committee of the several agencies that have a responsibility to legislate and regulate on issues related to fresh water and watersheds, it was required to obtain the consent of Islands Trust Council to levy the tax requisition that funded the coordinated management of those agencies. That consent requires to be renewed each year. A municipality would have the power to protect its watersheds through convening and funding such a committee without seeking off-island consent.
Similarly, an incorporated Salt Spring Island mayor and council would have the power to introduce special measures of environmental protection and management for our water resources such as those that the township of Gibsons has introduced through its eco-asset strategy. Under our current governance structure an eco-asset strategy might be possible but only with the consent of the majority of the CRD board comprising 24 directors, 22 of whom are elected to represent constituencies on Vancouver Island.
The writers are Salt Spring’s three locally elected officials.