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Posted on: September 29, 2016

West Kelowna Presses for Further Wildfire Mitigation Funding

For Immediate Release
September 29, 2016

WEST KELOWNA UBCM MEETING NEWS

On September 29, at the Union of BC Municipalities Convention, members of West Kelowna Council met with Premier Christy Clark and BC’s Ministers of Transportation and Infrastructure and Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations to discuss key transportation and wildfire concerns.

West Kelowna Council is attending the UBCM convention in Victoria this week and members are provided with short face-to-face meetings with provincial government representatives. Council members discussed the following items with Premier Clark, Minister Todd Stone and Minister Steve Thomson:

  • Ongoing concerns regarding the Highway 97 Couplet through Westbank Centre: The couplet, two one-way streets (Main and Dobbin) through the heart of West Kelowna’s downtown, was created in the 1980s. Council believes the auto-oriented Couplet is the cause for a decline in commercial activity in the area and is unfriendly to pedestrians and cyclists. Council reiterated its request for the province to co-fund a socio-economic impact study of the removal of Highway 97 through Westbank Centre.

  • “We’ve been on this road for a long time, but I think the province is hearing us,” says Mayor Doug Findlater. “We know it will be an expensive undertaking, but with all things considered, like the potential of a second crossing, and the struggles our downtown business community is facing, we know this change is needed, and a study that clearly shows how the Couplet is negatively impacting our economy would be very enlightening. We hope to hear soon if this is something they will help us undertake.”

  • Second Crossing: Collaboration with West Kelowna on the Okanagan Lake Second Crossing/Corridor Project is ongoing. West Kelowna Council believes that this continued collaboration will ensure all parties can better anticipate benefits and challenges of various options under consideration.

  • “We’re saying to the province that we want to be informed as topics are being considered and solutions are being proposed regarding a second corridor and crossing,” says Mayor Findlater. “We are subject matter experts as it pertains to transportation throughout our community and believe that we could shine a lot of light on this study as it develops.”

  • Secondary Evacuation Route for Glenrosa: West Kelowna Council is requesting that the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations maintain Jackpine Forest Service Road as a secondary evacuation route out of the Glenrosa neighbourhood. The area experienced a significant wildfire event in 2009 which forced the evacuation of 6,150 people and highlighted the concern that the community is essentially a large one-way-in, one-way-out neighbourhood. In 2009 the route was nearly blocked by wildfire. Jackpine Road, a gravel forest service road, is currently not maintained to a standard required for a second evacuation route.

  • “Any resident of Glenrosa who was in that traffic jam on Lower Glenrosa Road, watching that fire coming closer and closer, will know exactly why we are asking for this,” says Mayor Findlater. “The road is a Crown road, servicing important forest resources, and a road that only 4 x 4s or logging trucks can safely access. But it is also another connection to this large neighbourhood that needs more than one safe point of egress in the event of wildfire. We want them to grade the gravel road to make it safe for all vehicles to travel.”

    Mayor Findlater pointed out that the need for a secondary evacuation route would be resolved should a second corridor route be established around West Kelowna.

  • Wildfire Mitigation: West Kelowna Council is asking the province to establish, fund and conduct a comprehensive, BC-wide wildfire proofing program on public and private interface lands to protect residents and infrastructure. Current programs serve only public lands.

  • “We can plan for community wildfire protection, and we are currently intending to update our wildfire protection plan, but many of our areas of concern involve private land and there is no funding for this,” says Mayor Findlater. “We want the province to help us encourage private residents to conduct wildfire mitigation on their lands; something that I believe simply won’t get done without funding support.”

Earlier in the day, the City of West Kelowna’s resolution, which was passed at the Southern Interior Local Government Association convention earlier this year, was submitted for consideration at the UBCM convention. UBCM delegates endorsed the resolution, and it will next be submitted to the Province of British Columbia for a response. West Kelowna's resolution is:

    WHEREAS local governments within the Province of British Columbia are responsible for essential infrastructure in areas such as water, sewer and storm sewer mains as well as roads;

    AND WHEREAS these critical infrastructures, which were constructed years ago using a dollar which had a greater purchasing power, are subject to provincial health and safety regulations which require local governments to upgrade or replace the infrastructure despite limited funds and grant opportunities;

    THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Union of BC Municipalities lobby the Ministry of Finance to provide a Provincial Sales Tax exemption on the upgrade or replacement of local government infrastructure projects.

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