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Council approves loan of $35,000 to Cottonwood society after some debate

Following a long debate that push the meeting late into the night, a new motion to offer the society a loan was passed by council.

The subject of saving a unifying piece of natural beauty nearly divided city council when an ‘ask’ for support had no supporting documentation.

A municipal contribution of $35,000 to the Cottonwood Lake Preservation Society’s (CLPS) campaign was approved as a loan — to reach the first goal of $180,000 in an effort to purchase 40 hectares of forest above Cottonwood Lake and save it from being logged — but the society did not provide a budget, timelines and any supporting documentation for their ask, a usual requirement of a request to city council.

The society needed the sum to add to the $140,000 they had already raised to meet the deadline.

However, the contribution came at some cost, as councilors locked horns over the process in the manner of how the society’s request came before council.

The late item was brought forward at a recent council meeting by Coun. Rik Logtenberg, but not as a representative of the society, but as a concerned councilor.

He noted that it was imperative to save the privately-owned forest above Cottonwood Lake from logging in order to prevent future flood events in the south end of Nelson, through which Cottonwood Creek flows out of the lake.

Although Coun. Jesse Woodward agreed with Logtenberg, Coun. Keith Page wondered where the documentation was for the request, which he said was only received verbally through Logtenberg.

“I am wondering did we receive anything from the society to tell us what happened with the fundraising and how much further they need to go, and is there going to be another ask within six months and another deadline?” he said.

The only other deadline was in December when the entire amount of $700,000 has to be raised to complete the purchase of the land, said Logtenberg.

“But this ($35,000) gives them the chance to make it to December,” he said.

“If the city does not step up with funding it sends a message to other funders and citizens that this is not a priority. My question is, is this a priority, and is this priority worth $35,000?”

But the city had already made a commitment, said Coun. Janice Morrison, through the regional district to the tune of $255,000 for the first 21 hectares of the park, of which Nelson paid 50 per cent of that amount.

She questioned the latest fundraising campaign by CLPS to purchase more lands around the lake.

“You may not be involved directly with this group but you do know some of the primary people in this group, but I still haven’t seen a written request other than you brought this motion forward on a piece of letterhead, or a motion coming forward from the CLPS asking the city of Nelson for some additional money,” she said.

“I would have expected that we would have gotten a letter from the society asking for this money.”

Mayor John Dooley said all he saw was a request for money, no budget as far as the deadline went, nor any evidence of any regional district directors contributing funds to the campaign.

“There is nothing to base a decision on here other than they want $35,000 and they will give it back if it (bid) doesn’t work,” he said.

Dooley noted that this was the second time CLPS had made a request to council, explaining that it was the first step of a campaign.

“We heard that the first time around, ‘that this was the only piece that we wanted was around the lake,’ and then the group decided that they wanted to go beyond that,” he said. “I just want to see some meat on the bones here. I haven’t seen that (fundraising) effort from this group here.”

“But they have done that,” Logtenberg replied.

“Am I the invisible man here in Nelson?” Dooley said.

“You might be. This has been an active process. You don’t judge the merits of this based on who is fundraising or not, or how much time they have, do they have experience,” Logtenberg countered.

“But we haven’t seen a budget here. We have someone offering us a pig in a poke, ‘give us $35,000 and if it doesn’t work we’ll give it back to you,’” Dooley said.

“There is no budget, there is no timeline. I don’t know what the timelines are.

“We cut back on pay increases (at City Hall), freezing our hiring within the municipality, we’ve cut back to the bone, zero per cent tax increase, and people seem to think they can waltz through this door here and ask for $35,000 just for the hell of it?

“Honest to God, if someone had the time to write this motion that you had, the least they could have done is furnish you and help you make your case by giving you the budget, timelines and everything else. But nobody had the common sense to put that together. To me, that is flawed.”

CLPS directors believed they have provided information to the city, Logtenberg said, to each one of council, and they have made themselves available for conversation.

“But again, I want to stress this is not about making a decision on their ability to fundraise, we are making it upon is there a vital interest to the City of Nelson? Is $35,000 a good investment in protecting ourselves from future floods?” he asked.

“All this comes down to is this worth saving? For $35,000 we are saying yes or no, it’s as simple as that. It’s a point to be made.”

Page had a problem because he did not see the society presenting with a budget, timelines or an in-person presentation to council on the matter.

“You are speaking like you are not associated with them, but we have you speaking and not them, and that, to me, is a very big problem in terms of if we give the $35,000, and if it does not succeed they will just give it back,” he said.

“I do not want to say yes to something like this … there is a process that needs to be followed and we need to hear from the society and they have obligations under the Society Act to speak. You are not part of the society and you don’t have those obligations.”

But the city had sent a signal to CLPS not to come to the municipal table, said Logtenberg.

“We said ‘go and raise it in the community.’ And they did. They took that on and they respected the signal we sent them. Is it worth saving for $35,000? We need to say that.”

“We never sent them off to raise more money and buy another piece of land,” Dooley interjected. “We never did that. They decided to go off and do that. We committed to the piece that we were asked to commit to.

“Now we are at this point where we are being asked if we want to protect that and risk what we have purchased?

“Without a plan, without seeing a budget, without a timeline we are in a really tough position because we are saying to this community ‘we cannot afford to do a lot of the stuff you are asking us to do’ … and now we are going to take a request for $35,000?

“Now we are being asked again that if we don’t come to the table this is going to collapse? This is unfair and it is disrespectful for this council.”

The debate continued until Woodward pointed out the lateness of the hour.

“This is not good. This is not a good situation for making a decision. It’s not. We are at each other here. This is a lot of money and we have said no to other people,” he said.

“We are not at a good place to make a decision. You can see the divisiveness that is happening here.”

The first motion for a direct contribution was defeated, but a new motion to offer the society a loan was passed by council.

Making tracks

In February 2019 city council provided a letter of support for the Cottonwood Lake Preservation Society in their effort to save the recreational area from logging.

The CLPS will be advocating to the various levels of government to encourage the establishment of regulations or standards that would not allow for the kind of “dangerous and irresponsible logging practices that are currently happening across B.C. on private land, including these parcels,” noted CLPS member Paula Kiss in a letter to city council.

History

The “Save Apex to Cottonwood” campaign kicked off in response to an awareness campaign that had concerns about logging in the Cottonwood-Apex corridor.

In order to get the land in question into public stewardship, the society needed to fundraise at least $50,000 from the community as seed money to leverage grants and create a community-owned park.

The Regional District of Central Kootenay board of directors negotiated to buy the land in question that was being logged by the Nelson Land Corporation. The RDCK borrowed the money to buy the land.

The Nelson Land Corporation has been logging since for two years on land it owned on both sides of Highway 6 near Cottonwood Lake. The land is private and, as such, is not regulated by the province for logging practices.