North Cowichan will grant up to $82,000 from the Climate Action and Energy Plan’s reserve funds to cover building and development permit fees for Cowichan Green Community’s food hub project on Beverly Street.
Council made the decision in a 3-2 vote in its meeting on Nov. 17 after Coun. Kate Marsh made a motion to grant the funding for CGC with money available under CAEP’s Corporate Energy and Emission Reduction Projects fund, which currently has $540,000 in reserves.
Marsh said she is aware that the money from the fund is intended to assist with corporate studies and projects initiated by the municipality, but there is currently no funding available from CAEP’s community funds to assist CGC because the money has been mostly dedicated to building environmental retrofits in the municipality, which she agrees with.
“But creating an agricultural centre in North Cowichan was one of the nine goals of our climate action and energy plan,” she said.
“We are one of only eight regions in B.C. to receive a grant of $800,000 to build a food hub [CGC received the funding in March from the province] here and, as [Mayor Al Siebring] has pointed out, there has never been a time to recognize the importance of local food like we have over the last 72 hours.”
Begun in 2001, the non-profit CGC has grown to become an important hub for sustainability in the Cowichan Valley, with a strong focus on food security.
CGC has established farming initiatives and other programs, including an incubator seed farm and an agricultural equipment library at the Beverly Street site, and has expansive plans for the future.
Siebring said he would like some questions answered by staff before a vote was held on the motion, and made a motion himself to send the issue back to staff for a report.
He said it’s not clear to him what impacts granting the CGC the funding would have on the corporate side of the CAEP funds.
“If we allocated this funding to CGC, what are we not allocating it to?” Seibring asked.
“I’m sure staff have plans for the corporate side of the CAEP funds but they are not prepared right now to provide us with a comprehensive list, so I’d like to see a staff report.”
Marsh responded that in the past when priorities came up, council has often put off funding parts of capital projects to the following year to deal with situations.
“The last 72 hours have shown the need for more local food,” she said.
Coun. Tek Manhas said granting the finding to CGC from the corporate fund would violate the terms of reference of that funding source.
He also pointed out that funding for CAEP comes from North Cowichan’s taxpayers, and that the annual contribution to the CAEP fund is one half per cent of taxes each year.
“This should be taken into consideration here,” Manhas said.
“Our taxpayers are also funding the land [on Beverly Street through a long-term lease with North Cowichan] by giving the CGC a lease of $10 a year, so we are already funding this business and leaving out other agricultural producers in the community. We’re picking winners and losers and I can’t support that.”
Siebring added that CGC is a well funded organization that is good at fundraising.
“They’ve shown their chops and I’m sure they have other options,” he said.
“I’m not saying I’m voting against [Marsh’s] motion, but I’d like to do some due diligence first and see what specific impacts on our corporate interests will be if we do this, and I don’t have that information in front of me today.”
Siebring and Manhas voted against the motion, while Marsh, Christopher Justice and Rob Douglas voted for it.
Over the last few years, CGC has raised more than $1.2 million for its projects from a number of funding agencies, including $800,000 from the Ministry of Agriculture and $225,000 from the Federal Local Food Infrastructure Fund, and, as Marsh pointed out, is establishing one of just eight agricultural hubs in B.C. that has been designated so far by the province.