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Province begins dropping onus for wildland fire risk management in regional district's lap

One quarter of $5 million is a lot of money.

It’s more than the regional district has lying around, but it is a number that the Province of B.C. is now expecting the Regional District of Central Kootenay to cough up for wildland interface fuel treatment.

Last year the Province funded West Kootenay projects — fuel treatment strategies to mitigate wildland fire risk in the urban interface and preserve old forest structure — for the total shot of $5 million.

However, the provincial government has begun the download of the program onto municipal governments, requiring local governments to pay 10 per cent of the program costs under $100,000 for next year, and 25 per cent of the costs over $100,000.

That cost could spell the end of wildland fuel treatment, a necessary adjunct to continued safe rural living from the potential spread of forest fires in the West Kootenay, said Area D director Andy Shadrack.

On Sept. 19 Shadrack chaired a meeting with several of the companies that carried out the project, including community forest groups.

“I don’t know how we’re going to continue beyond this year,” he said. “This year’s projects will go ahead, but the question is, ‘What will we do for future use?’”

The province needs to make up its mind over whether the regional district can use money left over from last year to fund their percentage share of what they have to cough up this year, said Shadrack.

Regarding the money left over from last year, Shadrack had proposed at the Oct. 20 regional district board meeting to allow directors to use Community Development funding to get people back to work on carrying out the fuel prescriptions if and when the province released some funding.

It was voted down as not being a “priority,” leaving few options for the continuance of the fuel treatments, said Shadrack, the least desirable of which is to tax for the service.

On one hand voters are saying not to raise taxes, he said, but provincial and federal governments keep downloading responsibilities to local governments.

“And all of this fuel treatment takes place on Crown land,” he said.

There are difficulties in creating a tax service for this work, said RDCK chief administrative officer Jim Gustafson, since they would need a referendum for the entire regional district.

Five projects on list for this year — in areas B, E and K — will go ahead.