Plenty of reasons to feel good about our community

Looking back, looking ahead: Your mayor’s take on the state of Lake Cowichan

  • Dec. 31, 2013 12:00 p.m.
Lake Cowichan's Mayor Ross Forrest.

Lake Cowichan's Mayor Ross Forrest.

On behalf of the Town of Lake Cowichan, I am pleased to recap for your benefit the major events and highlights of 2013 that have impacted our beautiful town.

I am also excited about our plans for 2014. The changes the Town experienced in 2013 gives me much optimism that these will lead to the rejuvenation of the local economy.

The streetscape project and the new library are a couple of the key projects that have instilled in us a great sense of community pride.

The mill closures and the decline in the forest industry have caused an economic downturn that lasted the last decade. While we still, and always will, rely a great deal on the benefits derived from our forests, we can no longer be solely dependent on just one resource to drive our economy.

Having an open mind and looking for other potential opportunities will make it feasible for our community to prosper both now and into the future.

The natural resources we are surrounded by gives us an advantage over many other communities that have lost their primary industry, or have seen it in decline.

There is much work to be done as we move forward. We have already seen what can be accomplished with positive, forward looking citizens.

Choosing good health

Most of you were well aware of the dire straights we were in less than one year ago with the announced closing of our medical clinic.

With the consequential forming of the Choose Lake Committee, and the very positive community promotion undertaken, we have not only seen our medical family practice clinic re-open, but we also now have, in addition, a walk-in clinic.

Soon we can look forward to multi-integrated health services.

By July of 2014 we will more than double the health care services available  to our residents from where we were last year, with the three doctors we were so fortunate in having until their departure.

I mention this issue only because of the value we place on the health of our citizens which is also at the top of our priority list. All of our decisions are based on ensuring a healthy, happy and sustainable community.

A B.C. Healthy Community grant of $4,500 has been particularly helpful in that regard.

A determined committee — the Choose Cowichan Lake Committee — recognized the value and need for good health care and hence has worked hard with other organizations towards attracting the health care professionals and the support services we require and need.

This is one example of having a positive attitude, setting a goal, and working to bring that goal to fruition.

One thing the members of The Choose Cowichan Lake Committee learned from hosting potential doctors from all over the globe, during this worthwhile promotion exercise, is that the doctor candidates all view our community in a much more positive light than we sometimes view ourselves.

These physicians were all unanimous in describing  the natural beauty that surrounds us, and more importantly, the friendliness of our citizens.

It is time we recognize this is why we choose to live here, and take the necessary steps to make continuous improvements to the strong base that already exists.

The possibilities are endless in what we can accomplish with the natural assets — the lake, the river, the mountains, forests and the wildlife — that we are surrounded by.

There are many ways to invest in a community, and not just financially. Establishing a goal to do what it takes to make your community just a little bit better each day is the best investment you can make, and collectively we will all  benefit from working together to strengthen and improve our natural environment and our well-being.

Grants fund improvements

Council and staff have worked diligently to maximize the level of grant funding for  its residents for various capital and other projects.

Many of the improvements we completed in 2013 were because others also recognized opportunities in our community and invested or supported us in making them happen.

The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure at our request expended $2.8 million to pave South Shore Road and partnered with the Town to construct the roundabout at the intersection of South Shore and North Shore Roads.

ICBC provided the Town with $65,000 grant towards the roundabout expense and paid the balance of $20,000 on a $100,000 grant for safety improvements on the road improvements which began in 2012.

BC Hydro and Tree Canada granted the Town $9,400 for tree planting. The Fraser Basin Council provided $8,000 for the dual electric car charging station that is located at Saywell Park.

These are the type of improvements that are  visible and easy to recognize on a daily basis. There are also other projects that are essential to the health and well-being of our Town and which have been recognized and are responding to.

We have recognized the need to upgrade our Wastewater Treatment and in that regard the the Federal Gas Tax Fund approved a grant of $1, 001,200, in addition to their previously committed grant of $350,000. We have plans to expand our treatment plant in 2014 to allow us to meet our present and future requirements.

The Federal Gas Tax Fund will also provide $172,450 for an Integrated Urban Drainage / Rainwater study which is currently underway. The Town also received grants in 2013 from Service Canada for summer student employment in the total amount of $4,422 and $37, 826 from the Province of BC for the Saywell Job Creation Programme. TimberWest donated a water lot to situate the new dock and also donated the cedar logs we milled to construct the dock.

Other grants ranging from $500 to $10,000 can be listed as follows:

• $1,500 mapping grant from Integrated Cadastral Information Society;

• $10,000 grant from the Province of BC to undertake an organic waste to compost and energy study;

• $5,158 rebate from the Carbon Action Rebate Incentive Programme;

• $1,000 grant from BC Hydro to deal with graffiti’ and

• $500 being a Canada Day grant.

The Town is most appreciative of all the financial and in-kind assistance we receive, both large or small.

We are able to make positive improvements to our Town because of the generous assistance we receive from other organizations.

I should also note that Island Coastal Economic Trust has committed to providing the Town with $126,500 for our Town Square project when that is completed.


The public steps up

The year 2013 was a very special year for groups and organizations volunteering their time to benefit their community. I have mentioned the importance and success of Choose Cowichan Lake. More and more people are taking positive actions when they recognize opportunities and potential for improvements.

Another example I will mention is the Cowichan Lake River Stewardship Society and its work at Saywell Park. After learning about our project to install a dock by the park, it recognized the need for improvements to the foreshore and requested to assist us.

After much planning and its success in accessing the funds to purchase plants, it has removed the invasive Himalayan Blackberry bushes and replaced them with over eleven hundred plants more native to that habitat.

It is even more gratifying to know that we did not search out their assistance, but they recognized that need and approached us with a great plan to enhance the park. That is an example of great citizens helping their community and we are all the beneficiaries of their generosity.

The Lake Cowichan Secondary School graduating class also chose to donate $5,000 to offset costs associated with the floating dock and they will forever be appreciated for their generosity.

Our Minor Baseball Association also did the right thing when they had a need. When we told them we only had a budget for one of their proposed projects, they took action and enlisted volunteers and donations to complete all of the works they had prioritized at the Little League ball field.

They could have just accepted us turning down their full request and waited for the next time monies were allocated for parks but instead the members were determined to accomplish their mission through volunteer contributions and worked in partnership with the town and many others to achieve their goals and needs they deemed necessary to accomplish a safe playing field and batting cage.

A similar situation presented itself with our fire department. With an increase in lake and river emergency situations, it requested a rescue boat. When informed that our budget would not allow for this request in the current budget year, the members did not just sit by and wait for the next opportunity to ask again. Instead, the volunteer firefighters went out and raised the necessary funds to purchase the boat, and purchase the boat they did.

The Palsson Playground Improvement vote through the Aviva Community Fund sends such a strong message on how working together can help reach unthinkable heights. Our population number certainly did not favour us for the Aviva vote, but with sheer determination and the challenging of each other the result of being a finalist was achieved.

Everyone who participated should be extremely proud of us reaching the finals and putting the final decision in the hands of a panel of judges.

I’m sure we are all anticipating a favourable decision on Jan. 28, that will surely result in a new playground for the students at Palsson Elementary School.

I have mentioned these recent experiences because these best exemplify the community spirit. Projects big or small and our prosperity, growth and excellence all depend on us.

It takes dedicated community members to initiate projects and community members to support such projects so that we the community members can all jointly benefit from these projects.

Working together can only benefit everyone and this is why we are so pleased to have signed a protocol agreement with our Lake Cowichan First Nation this year.

The recognition of support for each other is strong and our opportunities will only grow as we continue to work together for our mutual benefit.


Positives despite controversy

The year 2013 saw additions to the Town that should have a positive impact on us for a very long time. Our new library is going to provide a valuable literary service to our residents and we are extremely proud of it.

As much as people were hesitant about the roundabout being built, we were sure that their angst would subside once motorists began recognizing the benefit of it.

This traffic feature has surely improved traffic flow at the intersection now and will do so even more in future years, given the increased flow of traffic, especially during the busy summers.

When we made the decision to go with water meters four years ago, only a few citizens spoke up against the project when we were successful in obtaining the first grant of $400,000 for water meters. It is only in recent months that some others have expressed their personal concerns on this subject.

We have experienced a huge reduction in water consumption, mainly through leakage identification and proper management of water consumption. This will surely benefit everyone of us in the future with climate change ever a growing concern to all of us.

Our water and sewer infrastructure have limited life spans; the use of these has an impact on those systems and that  is what to a great extent determines the life spans of these infrastructure.

The majority of our residents respect the monthly usage allotment permitted them and they should not be held financially responsible for wastage and unnecessary expenses to our system as a result of extreme usage by some others.



Looking ahead



The New Year looks to be a promising year. We can look forward to street lights being erected in the medians of the Town’s main thoroughfare and the completion of the road project from the Town’s perspective.

A tender should be issued for the construction of the Town Square sometime early in the New Year.

This new amenity once completed should greatly complement the new library and Forest Workers’ Memorial Park and serve as a gathering place for residents and visitors alike.

A new rescue truck for the Fire Department is now being built and delivery of it should occur early in the New Year. This will be a very beneficial piece of equipment for our Fire Department.

This vehicle is expected to respond to and assist with every call the department has to attend. These includes fires , first responders or rescues.

Finally there are so many of our citizens who have done outstanding things for our community; some have been recognized for their achievements, but all of you are appreciated.

This past year saw us lose many of our neighbours and friends but they and their contributions to make our lives better will always be remembered.

On behalf of Council, our staff and all of our employees, we hope everyone had a merry Christmas and wish everyone an exceptionally happy and prosperous New Year.