Representatives discuss Elk River clean up

Several parties agreed that a united front with a plan and a budget would be better received by government than simply asking for funds.

River cleanup was the hot topic at a council meeting in Fernie Monday morning.

There was a joint local government discussion regarding the cleanup of the Elk River with representatives from the Regional District of East Kootenay, the District of Sparwood, the District of Elkford, Teck Coal Ltd., Canfor Corporation, Tembec Inc and the Elk River Alliance. Representatives discussed short and long-term goals for flood mitigation in the Elk Valley.

Fernie Mayor Mary Giuliano welcomed input from all present and at times it seemed there were more questions than answers. Who owns the actual river? Does this need to be on the flood’s coat tails?

Individually municipalities have applied for funding that is intended for recovery of the June flooding. The District of Elkford for example has applied for half a million in recovery costs. However, prevention and long term planning to mitigate future flooding is not eligible. “The funding is not for enhancement. It’s for recovery only,” said Dave Cockwell, Director of Operations.

The general consensus was for a Memorandum of Understanding to be created with terms of reference detailed by the CAOs with guidance from councils and boards.

“All I can commit to is taking this notion back to Teck. As a publicly traded company there are strict rules of conduct (with lobbying),” said Nic Milligan from Teck.

Canfor is happy to participate using the debris for chipping or salvageable timber. They have looked into this in the past. The cost of extraction will likely exceed the value of the product.

With climate change, experts are forecasting an increase in weather events and flooding. It’s possible that government will provide funding but they will want specific information. Several parties agreed that a united front with a plan and a budget would be better received by government rather than simply asking for funds.

“By forming a joint lobbying group we will be able to work for the safety of our citizens in our valley,” said Coun. Joe Warshawsky.

Mapping information is available from different stakeholders so one concern is if they don’t work collaboratively it could mean duplication of costs and efforts.

“We will go in circles. It’s going to cost money to come up with a plan so we can provide the science and data required. This is a larger problem than flood recovery,” said Coun. Dan McSkimming. “This is fresh in our minds. I’d like to see a resolution including Fernie, Sparwood and Elkford with a dollar amount. I think we have to jump on it now.”

“We need a framework to put forth. We will need a Section 9 (to do any work in the river). We don’t necessarily have to wait for the Union of B.C. Municipalities. We could invite the Minister (of Environment) here. August 14 is the tentative date for MLA Bill Bennett to come survey the flood damage,” said RDEK director Mike Sosnowski.

Before anyone could commit, they had to put it to their council and board members for resolutions. Sparwood Mayor Lois Halko will take the issue to council during a special meeting and RDEK representatives will take it to the board for resolution to agree to an appointment with the Minister of Environment at the Union B.C. Municipalities conference in the fall.