It has been a busy month for the Regional District East Kootenay. On Friday, they announced their five-year financial plan while on Monday, they announced that Dawson Contracting won the bid for Phase 1 of the West Fernie upgrade project.
The Free Press sat down with Mike Sosnowski, Director of Electoral A (Elk Valley) to discuss some of the RDEK’s projects and work in the past months.
West Fernie Upgrades
The West Fernie Servicing and Restructure project is close to Sosnowski’s heart, as he has worked on it since its conception nine years ago. Ground will officially be broken for the first phase of the project in April.
“The worst thing about West Fernie is that every one of those houses, every single house has a septic tank for sewage, and lots of them are in the flood plain. They have worked for years and years but now there are lots of them that are 60 years old and they are failing,” said Sosnowski. “If their septic fails, it’s really costly.”
The RDEK will upgrade all of the residences in West Fernie, which will be connected to the City of Fernie sewage system.
“Part of the reason it is being annexed is they have a policy to not service areas outside of the city boundaries. The Regional District is doing all of the servicing – we got the mandate from the people, went through all of the process and will do construction. Once the construction is complete [and] the streets are repaved, they will have new water lines, new city sewer,” he said.
The old septic tanks will not need to be dug up from people’s yards. Sosnowski says the RDEK is asking for people to have their old septic tanks pumped and filled with sand so there is no danger of people falling into old tanks in the future.
In addition to upgrading to a sewage system, the project will also install storm sewers in the street, which will enable people to pump floodwater into the storm sewer rather than into their yards.
“In the flood plain in West Fernie, which is mostly in phase one on the lower side of the highway, everybody’s basement floods almost every year because of groundwater. What they do is they get a sump pump and pump their basement out and it runs in their yard and into their neighbours’ yard and into his basement and it is just a continuous cycle,” said Sosnowski.
“What they will do now with the new storm sewer is they will actually have a pipe that goes from the basement out to the storm sewer so when there is flooding, or they want to keep it from flooding, they can actually pump the groundwater out of the basement and into the storm sewer and it will be gone,
After nine years and multiple grant applications, Sosnowski is happy that the project is something the residents of West Fernie want and that it is coming to fruition. Because of his grant raising efforts, Sosnowski says that he has raised 85 per cent of the approximate $20 million costs, which includes the previous project to dike around West Fernie.
“We’ve got to do this in phases. There is a saying, if you’re going to start eating an elephant, how do you eat an elephant? You start one small bite at a time, and it worked. And I’m so happy.”
Sosnowski has recently appointed two new members to the Advisory Planning Commisisons (APC) for Electoral A, Steve Hill and Karen Alexander.
“[There are} two new members to my APC advisory commission so they are like my council, except their appointed, not elected,” he said.
Sosnowski is not obliged to follow their advice at all times, but he does appreciate and respect their opinions. On the committee, he has two members who specifically look at all issues from an agricultural angle.
“We still have to look at the 100-mile diet so everything really has an agriculture focus. If it’s good for agriculture, we should be looking at it through that lens,” he said, referencing the lifestyle of supporting local produce and food.
Elk River Watershed Study
Under Sosnowski’s direction, the RDEK partnered with the Elk Valley River Alliance to complete a survey on the Elk River.
“The Elk River Alliance was doing the Elk River Watershed study this year so we partnered with them because after the 2013 floods, we needed to do a plan for the Elk River as a regional district. I was working on getting it on the priority list,” said Sosnowski.
The Elk River Alliance contacted Sosnowski to inform him of their plans to do a study, and he saw an opportunity to work together to make a more comprehensive study. Sosnowski wanted the study to identify the hazards in a priority sequence, which the Elk River Alliance was open to.
“We partnered with them with another $100,000 so they could hire engineers to do that portion. It expanded the whole program,” he said.
Sosnowski and the Elk River Alliance have seen a draft of the study and expect the final version to be completed in June, at which time they will approach governing bodies with funding applications to implement some of the suggestions made by the study.
“Once we have that on the shelf, then I will be able to go to the province and the feds and say this is our study, these are our priorities, and we want to do this and this,” he said.
Elk Valley Trail System
Another project Sosnowski was proud to work on was the Elk Valley Direct Community Funds Committee. The aim of the committee was to complete a project that would benefit all communities in the Elk Valley.
“After community consultation, it was determined by the community that the most important single thing for one project was a non-motorized trail from the tunnel to Elkford,” said Sosnowski.
The communities partnered with Columbia Basin Trust, who provided grant funding of $430,000 for the project. They then partnered with the TransCanada Trail, who matched CBT’s funding, resulting in over $900,000 of funds put towards the project.
“So we turned our $430,000 in grant funding from Columbia Basin Trust into $900,000 worth of work in the Elk Valley wide trail system. I was really happy to participate in that.”