The Cowichan Lake Sports Arena’s eco-friendly parking lot was brought back to the table, during the Cowichan Valley Regional District’s Wednesday, March 23, Regional Services Committee meeting.
That is, thanks to a push by Honeymoon Bay/Skutz Falls area director Ian Morrison and other Cowichan Lake area elected officials.
The $367,000 project is important, not only because of the environmental implications to the local watershed, but because of previous commitments from the Cowichan Valley Regional that have led Cowichan Lake Recreation to spend $55,000 on the project thus far.
“Because of the commitments of this board, we’ve already taken action and spent money,” Morrison said.
“We knew that money was coming, but (the Union of BC Municipalities) did some tweaking to the criteria,” CVRD manager of corporate planning Jacob Ellis said, adding that the parking lot project was on the list of approved projects brought forward to the UBCM last year.
Since then, he clarified, criteria as to what projects may make the list hasn’t changed, but the criteria as to how projects can be selected has changed.
Instead of the selection of which items receive funding being a CVRD-driven project, a working group made up of municipal employees had to be created.
The Town of Lake Cowichan’s contribution to the working group was made up of chief administrative officer Joseph Fernandez and director of Public Works Nagi Rizk.
Having met several times, the group decided upon a priority list of items, selecting a list of 11 that the CVRD’s elected officials discussed during their March 23 meeting.
The intention of involving municipal members was so that the distribution of the $4,134,974 allotted through the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) to the CVRD was not just a CVRD-driven project, Ellis said. It’s helped take the politics out of the decision making process.
But, politics were brought into the process during last week’s Regional Services Committee meeting, during which time the CVRD’s elected officials talked for over an hour on the issue, hashing out the ins and outs of adding the parking lot to the staff-selected list of 11 regionally significant projects.
During the conversation, it became clear that not everyone at the table understood just what an eco-friendly parking lot consists of, with Ladysmith board member Mel Dorey asserting that a gravel parking lot at the Cowichan Lake Sports Arena would be just about as green as it can get.
“It’s an environmentally-friendly area, with a rain garden – it’s not a parking lot, per-say,” Town of Lake Cowichan board member Tim McGonigle clarified.
Whereas most parking lots allow things like oil to flow directly into storm drains, the proposed eco-friendly parking lot includes a catchment that collects contaminants.
CVRD chair Gerry Giles suggested that the board stick to the 11 projects the working group came up with.
“The facility is beautiful,” she said, of the Cowichan Lake Sports Arena. “But… our staff looked at all of these projects and came up with what they thought was top priority.”
“It’s a good thing to do, but we can’t do them all,” Town of Ladysmith board member Rob Hutchins said.
After a few failed motions, Morrison’s motion to have the Cowichan Lake Sports Arena integrated into the proposed project list, as a 12th item, narrowly passed.
As such, the parking lot’s $367,000 cost will be taken away from other projects within the existing list, at the will of the working group, in order to balance the list at its total cost of $4,134,974.
Next, the altered list will go before the board of directors during the next board meeting, to be held April 13, at 6:00 p.m., at the CVRD board room in Duncan, during which time an official vote will take place.
The agreed upon list will then go on to the UBCM for approval.
Although the parking lot is back on the list of approved items, Cowichan Lake Recreation Commission chair Sheila McFarlane is still skeptical as to whether or not they will receive the funds.
“I won’t believe it until we have the money in our hands,” she said.
After spending $55,000 for an architect to draw up plans for the project, McFarlane said that she was shocked when she found out it was no longer on the list.
“We spent (the money) on the assumption that we would get it,” she said, of the funding.
Should the CVRD ultimately decide to include the parking lot on the list, McFarlane said that Cowichan Lake Recreation still has enough money set aside from the arena’s $7.6 million upgrade budget to do the front parking lot, though upgrades to the back parking lot would have to be delayed.
But, the ball is now in the CVRD’s court as to whether or not the parking lot will remain on the list of projects to receive gas tax funding from the UBCM.
CVRD Youbou/Meade Creek area director Klaus Kuhn cautions people to not count on the funding, yet.
“I never predict the board, because it’s a futile task,” he said.
This, despite the regular board being made up of the same members that make up the Regional Services Committee, which narrowly approved of the parking lot’s inclusion.
McFarlane said that the Cowichan Lake Recreation Commission has planned an emergency meeting for Thursday, April 14, in order to discuss the results of the previous evening’s CVRD meeting.
Another Cowichan Lake-specific item on the approved list, which the CVRD’s elected officials didn’t raise much of a fuss about during their March 23 meeting, is $380,724 toward upgrading the Town of Lake Cowichan’s wastewater plant.
“If a sewage treatment plant doesn’t meet that criteria, I don’t know what does,” McGonigle said, of the criteria that projects must be regionally significant. “Because, it all floats downhill.”
Constructed in 1975, the town’s waste water treatment plant currently includes two cells, which is not adequate for the town’s current needs.
As such, a sewer parcel tax of $50 per serviced lot was implemented last year, though this brings in nowhere near enough money to cover the full cost.
Over the course of the past three years, the town has spent $184,500 to prepare the site to make it shovel-ready.
Although the total project cost is $5.35 million, the first phase, which includes the construction of the third cell, is $1,649,000; part of which the town hopes will be covered by the gas tax grant.