Local government shares its plans for the future

The Columbia Valley Chamber of Commerce held their seventh annual local government meeting, discussing future issues within the region.

The Columbia Valley Chamber of Commerce recently held their seventh annual local government update discussing the major developments made in communities of the Columbia Valley in 2016 and some of the potential business opportunities ahead in the future.

Speaking in front of local business leaders, each government official was afforded the opportunity to update the community on developments made within their jurisdiction such as the community hall that broke ground in Invermere or the first full year without the mill in operation in the Village of Canal Flats.

In communities like the Akisqnuk First Nation, there were more opportunities to look towards the future with the land code scheduled for a vote in September 2017 in addition to potential expansion of the resort campground.

When it came time for questions from the floor, several issues stood out as opportunities for improvement. The first of those issues surrounded the potential for increasing the amount of affordable housing in the Columbia Valley.

Invermere mayor Gerry Taft responded, noting that the Columbia Valley directors have provided funding to Family Dynamix located in Invermere to conduct a feasibility study of the affordable housing issue in the Columbia Valley, which he said he expects to see the results of in the near future.

The Columbia Valley landed its first affordable housing project in 2014—as an 18-unit complex located in Invermere. According to Michele Neider, director of program management and affordable housing project director at Family Dynamix, there is still a significant need for affordable housing throughout the Columbia Valley.

Taft said that they hope to work with Family Dynamix in the future to create more affordable housing in the Valley.

“It’s still a work in progress but we are aware that that’s one of the big challenges when it comes to people staying in the Valley but also in attracting new people to come and work here,” Taft said.

One of the ways to help mitigate this issue, suggested by mayor of Radium Hot Springs Clara Reinhardt, would be to increase accessibility through better transportation throughout neighbouring communities in the Columbia Valley.

“There are places in the valley that have housing that would be considered more affordable,” she said. Right now the focus on affordable housing just by virtue of the services around it is focused on Invermere but it doesn’t have to be if we can somehow figure out the transit.”

Susan Clovechok, executive director for the Columbia Valley Chamber of Commerce agreed that there is affordable housing available with transportation representing a major roadblock in that goal. She said that the Chamber of Commerce has been working with local stakeholders over the past nine months and is close to reaching a potential solution to create better transit routes in the Columbia Valley in addition to scheduled trips to Calgary for those looking to access medical services.

Beyond vehicle transportation though, several in attendance were interested in discussing the possibility of bringing air transportation to the region’s two airports in Invermere and Fairmont.

To this Taft was quick to respond that it would not be the best use of local government’s funds to subsidize local privately run airports that are expensive to maintain.

“There’s two areas local governments can blow a lot of money really quick and that’s swimming pools and airports,” he said. “Fairmont is a private airport that belongs to the resort so if there was subsidization for one airport, there would probably be an expectation that there would be subsidization for another airport.”

The airport in Fairmont Hot Springs is owned and operated by Fairmont Hot Springs Resort and is used primarily as a medical evacuation airport despite being constructed to handle 737 aircraft in 1986. Pascal Van Dijk, chief executive officer of the resort, said that it costs approximately $150,000 per year to run the airport and motioned that they have to look to improve the business side of the airport if they are going to be able to keep it operational in the future.

“We can’t sustain this airport forever, let me put it that way,” he said. Where we’re seeing the community benefit from the protection aspect of medical evacuation, our responsibility from the resort’s perspective is to work on the business side of it and that’s certainly a conversation I’ll be having in the next year or so.”

Despite his concern, no government official was willing to advocate for the creation or increased accessibility of air travel at the meeting.