Which is better: hyperlocal or a streamlined board?

TNRD board during 2016 inaugural meeting.

TNRD board — too many or not enough?

“You don’t even live here.”

Ouch. I received that comment from a resident on a community concern I was dealing with awhile back. While I certainly live in Area P, she was referring to the fact I don’t live in her particular community.

Residents sometimes feel their community should have more direct representation on the TNRD board, but on the other side of the argument are those who wonder if the board, at 26 members, is already too big.

Let’s look at both points of view. Regional districts are a hybrid ward system in which rural directors are elected to represent electoral areas, and municipal councils appoint representatives to the board from amongst themselves. Continue reading

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Pro-pipeline stand questioned before panel

TNRD Chair John Ranta speaks to panel on Trans Mountain pipeline expansion Wednesday.

TNRD Chair John Ranta speaks to panel on Trans Mountain pipeline expansion Wednesday.

I was able to attend Wednesday’s pipeline panel for a short time but just missed the presentation by TNRD board chair John Ranta. However, Mike Youds has written a good account for NewsKamloops.com.

By MIKE YOUDS

TNRD board chairman John Ranta stepped unwittingly into the centre of a rigorous debate Wednesday as the second and final day of panel sessions on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion got underway at TRU.

Ranta, mayor of Cache Creek, outlined the promised economic benefits of the project, noting the challenge of maintaining jobs in small Interior communities such as his, but his views were challenged by others in the round at Barber Centre.

“There’s a huge sucking sound that you hear from the Lower Mainland and from the larger centres … It’s very difficult to employ our young people at home,” he said, citing potential for 108,000 jobs in the first 20 years. Continue reading

Not much promise seen in biosolids review

(File photo)

(File photo, Mel Rothenburger)

Published July 18, 2016 in NewsKamloops.com.

By MIKE YOUDS

After rallying support from local governments that want to see biosolids better managed in B.C., a TNRD director said he was disappointed by the Ministry of Environment response to his UBCM resolution.

Randy Murray, director for Lower Nicola (Area M), said it’s a sign that the issue will have to be pursued though other channels, possibly as a political issue during next spring’s provincial election.

Murray said he’s tried every avenue of possibility in an effort to get the provincial government to undertake a comprehensive review of the practice of land application of biosolids but without result. Continue reading

The fight to fund rural fire protection

Paul Lake fire truyckFor all the benefits of living in a rural area, there are some obvious compromises that have to be made. One of them is fire service.

Some rural communities have excellent fire protection, some have a little, and others have none.

Communities in Electoral Area P have been having a range of experiences with their fire protection service, or with their efforts to get it.

Whitecroft, for example, is fortunate to be close enough to Sun Peaks that an arrangement to receive protection from the Sun Peaks Fire Department made sense.

Earlier efforts to create a new service that included Heffley Lake homes were unsuccessful, and those homes remain without fire protection.

So does Evergreen just north of Heffley Creek. Several overtures have been made to the City of Kamloops to provide protection, and I recently discussed it again with the City and with Kamloops Fire Rescue without success — the City simply doesn’t feel it’s in a position to put an extra load on its fire department. Continue reading

Trying to figure out what enviro minister said

Ajax-dangeropenpitSaying nothing while using a lot of words isn’t new for politicians. However, when I made a motion several weeks ago that the TNRD ask for a federal panel review of the Ajax project I was hoping there would be either a yes answer, or at least an explanation if the answer was no.

Instead, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna gave no answer at all. Or maybe the answer was no, without using the actual word. Or was it maybe?

Her letter, dated June 9, to TNRD Chair John Ranta is a masterful exercise in fuzzy-worded avoidance. It does include some bafflegab about comprehensiveness of the current federal-provincial process but makes no attempt to answer the actual question that we asked. Continue reading

Ajax isn’t just about the city of Kamloops

Old Ajax pit.

Old Ajax pit.

EVER SINCE the Ajax mine issue came into the public spotlight five years ago, public debate has centered on its potential impact — good and bad — on the city of Kamloops.

In reality, though, Ajax is a regional issue, beginning with the fact that the mine, while very close to Kamloops, would actually be located in an electoral area of the Thompson Nicola Regional District.

That in itself makes it a regional issue. But, of course, there are many possible impacts to rural residents. Negatives include the loss of ranchland and at least one lake, loss of wildlife species, and dust pollution carried on winds that don’t recognize municipal boundaries.

On the other side of the argument is the creation of jobs and economic development that would benefit residents on a regional basis. Continue reading

Pritchard meeting lively, now let’s move forward

Pritchard fire burned down outbuilding on New Year's Day.

Pritchard fire burned down outbuilding on New Year’s Day.

An editorial by Area P Director Mel Rothenburger.

PRITCHARD — About 50 people attended a lively meeting Monday night in the Pritchard Community Hall to discuss issues of concern to Pritchard North.

We talked for about an hour and a half, mostly about the community water system and the hydrant that wasn’t working the night of the New Year’s Day fire.

I asked for the meeting so residents would have a chance to ask questions directly and, hopefully, to provide a better understanding of the water system, what’s involved in maintaining it, and what happens next.

Some of those answers are clear: the TNRD takes responsibility for the hydrants, the hydrant in question has been repaired, checks and maintenance will be continued. As well, communications between the TNRD and the Pritchard Volunteer Fire Department will be improved. Continue reading

Searching for answers on participatory budgeting

BudgetPoliticians sometimes like to say that a poor turnout at budget meetings means taxpayers are happy with the way their money is being spent.

If that’s the case, TNRD residents must be really happy — nobody attended an open house Friday (Feb. 26, 2016) morning in the TNRD board room that was called to allow the public to come and ask questions about this year’s budget.

The provisional 2016 budget was approved by the board at the end of last year, and the final budget will come forward for approval in a few weeks. The provisional version is pretty much status quo compared to last year, though the final budget is seldom the same as the provisional one.

It would be nice indeed if regional district taxpayers looked upon the budget and decreed that it is good, but the truth is we’ve yet to find a way to effectively engage people about the annual financial plan. Continue reading

Board’s Sun Rivers position disappointing

sign-entrance

sign-entrance

An editorial by Electoral Area P director Mel Rothenburger.

SUN RIVERS — A proposal to get stakeholders together to discuss the priorities of Sun Rivers residents was shot down in flames at a meeting of the TNRD board of directors today (Thursday, Feb. 18, 2016).

In response to a letter from Sun Rivers resident L. Dawn eTaylor, I made a motion “That the TNRD facilitate a meeting among the TNRD, City of Kamloops, Sun Rivers Development Corp., Sun Rivers taxpayers’ committee and Tk’emlups Band to address inter-jurisdictional service priorities in Sun Rivers and possible ways in which to accommodate them.”

Nothing much surprises me in politics anymore, but I thought directors would have trouble objecting to discussing solutions. Instead, my motion was trounced 25-1 against. Continue reading

Media missing in action at TNRD

TNRD chair John Ranta speaks on TV at major Kinder Morgan announcement earlier this year. Media cover major events but rarely attend regular TNRD board meetings.

TNRD chair John Ranta speaks on TV at major Kinder Morgan announcement earlier this year. Media cover major events but rarely attend regular TNRD board meetings.

 This column was first published in the Sun Peaks Independent News.

By MEL ROTHENBURGER

The Thompson-Nicola Regional District board has held its annual inaugural meeting, chosen its chair and vice chair for the coming year, and begins work on what will undoubtedly be a busy agenda in the coming months.

Very little of what goes on in regular board meetings will be reported in mainstream media, and I see this as a problem.

A look at typical minutes will include the notation “Press: None” under the section that records who attended the board meeting. That’s because reporters seldom show up.

Occasionally, one will come for a few minutes before the meeting starts to get some quotes from directors on certain items from the agenda, then go back to the newsroom to write them up. Otherwise, there’s usually nobody at the press table.

It wasn’t always this way. Years ago, reporters from several local media would attend all the meetings. The fact that they always managed to find three or four items each to write about suggests there’s enough news material in an average TNRD meeting to make it worth their while.

Yet, ask a reporter why nobody from the media shows up anymore and he or she will likely begin by labeling TNRD meetings “boring.” Well, okay, but that’s the case with 80 or 90 per cent of any public-body meeting. You have to be there for the whole thing to get the stuff that’s newsworthy.

At a time when the broad news menu is ever-increasing, mainstream media don’t have as many reporters as they used to, so they assign them to cover easier, quicker news from sources that reliably deliver a headline every time — such as police, the courts, the Ajax project, provincial politics and City council.

Regional community media would be hard-pressed to send reporters to the TNRD anyway because of travel time and gas costs, so I point no fingers at them, and I’m thankful for the opportunity to write this column for each edition of the Sun Peaks Independent News. I try to write about issues of interest to SPIN readers but, admittedly, I’m not an unbiased source.

The fact that Kamloops-based media have largely forsaken the TNRD for all but the most tantalizing stories — bio-solids, directors’ pay raises, major economic announcements and so on — leaves the public in the dark about what this particular level of local government is doing most of the time.

The TNRD itself certainly does its best to be transparent, and the new communications/ engagement strategy helps ensure that. Issues, expenditures and policy decisions are open to public scrutiny. Let’s face it, though, not many people delve into the TNRD website for leisure reading.

Without the media sitting there at public board meetings, two things happen. One is that the people served by the TNRD simply don’t have a clear view of what this body — which spends their tax dollars — is doing. (Those folks, by the way, are major consumers of news and represent a significant audience for those same urban-centric news outlets.)

The other is that we directors are left to debate and make decisions in the comfort of an empty boardroom — and letting politicians at any level become too comfortable isn’t a good thing for democracy.

 

Doctor shortage is big, but how big?

Walk-in

By MEL ROTHENBURGER

Something is broken with the health care system when 30,000 patients in the Kamloops area are without a family doctor.

That 30,000 figure is the one commonly used nowadays, but it’s more of a guestimate than a real number. It may or may not, for example, include communities like Sun Peaks and those in Electoral Area P such as Sun Rivers, Pinantan, Rivershore, Heffley Lake or McLure, where most residents access there GP and the medical system in Kamloops.

It baffles me how Interior Health can get a good handle on the extent of the doctor shortage — and, therefore, target the need — when it has no science on how many residents are looking for doctors, let alone the demographics.

Yet that’s apparently the case. Dr. Curtis Bell, the executive medical director, community and residential services for IHA, is in charge of recruiting doctors. He has a tough job.

Finding doctors for rural areas is especially challenging because many of them would rather practice closer to a major hospital with better medical facilities and the backup of other doctors.

There’s been some success in encouraging doctors from overseas to come to B.C. to fill vacancies in rural as well as urban areas but it hasn’t filled the gap.

Dr. Bell acknowledges the reputed 30,000 shortfall in Kamloops but when I asked him at a Thompson Regional Hospital District meeting if it included rural residents who access medical care in Kamloops, or refers just to Kamloops residents, he wasn’t sure.

One thing that’s certain, he said, there’s a significant shortage.

He’s right about that. I also pointed out that the GP For Me program run by the Division of Family Practice is a failure when it comes to assessing the size of that shortage.

Patients who have no GP are supposed to be able to phone the Division and register. There’s a misunderstanding that you will be put on a list and when a doctor has an opening for a patient, you’ll get a chance at filling it.

That’s not the case. The list, as far as I can tell, is only for the purpose of getting an idea of what the demand is. But it doesn’t even work for that. If you call the number, you get an answering service, which promises to send you a form, in about a month, to fill out.

Why it’s necessary to mail a form instead of email it, I don’t know, but chances are you won’t get one anyway. I know.

As Dr. Bell explained, A GP for Me operates independently from health authorities under the Divisions of Family Practice.

A GP for Me needs either to do the job it’s supposed to do on generating data on the need for doctors or shut down that part of the program because as it stands it’s a waste of money and patients’ time and, secondly, Interior Health needs to incorporate reliable stats on the shortage into its recruitment strategy.

As it stands now, that 30,000 number — which is shocking — is little more than an approximation with no useful details attached to it.

This column first appeared in the Sun Peaks Independent News.

Gas pump stickers an idea too soon?

I’ve always believed that to change things for the better, taking a stand is a good place to begin.

There are few people on Earth who still believe that climate change is a myth, and that we should keep relying on fossil fuels.

Small label, big message.

Small label, big message.

On Thursday (Aug. 20), a young man came to the TNRD board meeting with an idea.

Matt Hulse of Our Horizon, a non-profit group, wanted us to endorse a plan to put stickers on gas-pump handles warning consumers that the product they’re about to put into their tanks contributes to the denigration of our environment in various ways.

I thought it was a good idea. The cost was low — about $14 per pump — and it was an awareness builder. I figured there was no need to worry about the gas-bar owners because their pumps are already loaded with messaging for everything from how gas taxes work to admonishing us to turn off our engines to cheap deals on slushees and potato chips.

Since there are few gas pumps in rural areas, it would be a tough sell at the regional district level, and Kamloops council had already turned down the idea the day before. But I made a motion anyway to support the concept at September’s Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in Vancouver.

It already has quite a bit of support at the municipal level. The West Vancouver council passed a resolution in January “that all vendors of retail petroleum products in Canada be legislated to provide warning labels on all pump handles.” Fifty communities across Canada have endorsed it.

The process is simple — make the labels a condition of business licences.

In making the motion, I fully realized that individual directors aren’t bound to vote in a particular way at the UBCM convention. It might have been better to propose that the board support the concept in principle and leave it at that, but talk is cheap unless you attach some sort of action to it.

Kamloops director Tina Lange seconded the motion and supported it, but that’s about as far as it got. Every other director who spoke on the motion opposed it for various reasons and it was overwhelmingly defeated.

I understand the reasoning: the gas-pump strategy is incomplete in that there obviously must be a much broader strategy. It would be best if senior levels of government took the lead. We can’t tell individual directors how to vote. And so on.

I just figured it was a way to say something, instead of nothing. Matt Hulse and his group are trying to do a small and easy thing about a big problem; I think we as local politicians should try, too.

You win some and lose some, and the good news is that the proposal will be on the agenda at the UBCM convention anyway. The bad news is that it will probably be shot down there, as well, and for similar reasons.

Sometimes, we get so tied up in the details that we lose sight of the big picture. I’m hopeful the Our Horizon initiative will gain momentum and become part of a much bigger campaign that will change our assumptions about caring for our planet.

Maybe next year, a year closer to all the bad outcomes of our reliance on fossil fuels, Mr. Hulse will have better luck.

Rally protests use of biosolids

Rally on Victoria Street protested biosolids.

Rally on Victoria Street protested biosolids.

The street outside the TNRD office became the location today for a protest against the storage and use of biosolids in the Nicola Valley.

About 40 protesters carried placards that said Science Says No to Sewage Sludge, Respect First Nations Moratorium and Bye Bye Jackie — the latter an apparent reference to Fraser-Nicola MLA Jackie Tegart — and chanted and mingled on the street in the 500 block Victoria Street for several hours as RCMP and passersby watched.

MLA Tegart has been under fire for not taking a strong enough stand on the biosolids issue. Kamloops MLAs Terry Lake and Todd Stone stopped to talk with the protesters Friday.

TNRD board directors encountered the protest rally as we walked from the Civic Building, where we’d been holding a Committee of the Whole meeting all morning, to an informal luncheon with Lake and Stone in the Hotel 540.

Chief Aaron Sam of the Lower Nicola Band, one of the main organizers of the rally, introduced himself to me and I enjoyed talking with him for a couple of minutes. I also spoke with Kamloops environmentalist Ruth Madsen, who is involved in the Blackwell Dairy biosolids issue.

The rally was lively, but I commend the protesters for keeping everything respectful and non-confrontational, focusing on the message and handing out information leaflets to residents walking by.

 

Earlier this week, Tegart and B.C. Environment Minister Mary Polak announced the provincial government will establish a technical working group to conduct a scientific review of the use of biosolids in the Nicola Valley.

The review will focus on developing a monitoring and testing regime for biosolids, reviewing the effectiveness of the current requirement for a land application plan, and reviewing research on how biosolids impact wildlife and determine if any monitoring or testing is required.

The working group will include staff from the ministry, First Nations Health Authority and Interior Health Authority. An advisory committee will oversee the working group.

TNRD reviews bylaw on biosolids

The Thompson-Nicola Regional District is reviewing its zoning bylaw in the wake of the biosolids controversy near Merritt.

A press release Thursday (May 21, 2015) said the aim is to regulate commercial composting and to limit the scale of agricultural composting. The amending bylaw, if supported by the TNRD board, will limit the sale or export of agricultural compost, such as processed manure, food waste, or biosolids, from an agricultural operation.

Protests against bio solids  in the Nicola Valley have been passionate.

(Friends of the Nicola Valley photo)

In 2012, and later in 2014 when it was amended, changes to Bylaw 2400 did not restrict composting activities.

“The new amending bylaw is being prepared in response to board direction to consider how and if the TNRD can lawfully regulate biosolids,” the release said.

The issue was brought to the board as a result of the controversy surrounding the BioCentral composting facility in the Nicola Valley, which has recently been the focus of protests from area residents objecting to the importation of biosolids due to the impact on their way of life.

At the April 23 board of directors meeting it was decided to proceed with an amending bylaw, Bylaw 2516, that will prohibit composting on a scale beyond what can be spread on the given ranch or farm.

“The proposed changes go as far as the local government can in respect to compost regulation,” the release said.

The TNRD cannot license, manage, or issue permits for farm operations, including composting, but the TNRD can prohibit the commercial sale and export of compost produced on the farm. Local government does not receive notifications regarding composting and biosolids applications.

It is expected that the amending bylaw will be forwarded to the TNRD board for first and second readings and then proceed to a public hearing.

Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 9.12.25 PM“A consultation process is already under way with TNRD member municipalities, First Nations, the Agricultural Land Commission and various provincial ministries.”

The board also sent a resolution, crafted jointly with the City of Merritt, to the recently completed Southern Interior Local Government Association (SILGA) Convention. The resolution requests the province establish a committee to examine and recommend changes to the biosolids review process as well as changes to the Organic Matter Recycling Regulation and Agricultural Land Commission Act.

The resolution was passed unanimously and it will now be on the agenda of the Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM) in the fall.