AWARE Feedback on 2019 Municipal Budget

At the beginning of each year the municipality releases a municipal budget for public comment. This is a great opportunity for community members and organisations such as ours to provide feedback on identified projects for the coming year (and 5 years out). We provide comment each year and below is the feedback we shared regarding the 2019 Budget.

 

 

Dear Mayor & Council,

Re: 2019 RMOW Budget Feedback

 

We write to you as our communities elected officials to provide feedback on the draft 2019 Municipal Budget and some of the projects therein.

 

On Climate Change Action and Capacity –

Firstly, we would like to highlight our full support for the creation of a new role within municipal hall to work on progressing the recommendations of the Community Energy and Climate Action Plan (CECAP), as committed to in the 2019 budget. Incumbents on Council will likely recall that AWARE raised concerns about the lack of a dedicated staff person and advisory committee to support the CECAP at both the 2017 and 2018 Budget Open Houses and it is good to see this gap start to be addressed.

 

Following further discussions with RMOW staff we would like to highlight the following observations – as our understanding is that Mayor and Council are committed to pursuing a course of aggressive actions on climate change.

 

1.     The CECAP includes 94 emissions ‘mitigation’ recommendations and 40 ‘adaptation’ actions. In the years since CECAP was adopted in 2016 we have seen four action areas receiving significant investment: wildfire & FireSmart; housing; waste; and transportation. We believe further investments in any of these action areas would be strongly supported by the community. There are however, many short-term recommendations highlighted in the CECAP that we do not see project budget allocations for in the 2019 Budget. Significantly, we do not see sizable new investments in mitigation recommendations – which are fundamental if we wish to achieve our GHG reduction targets and which community performance indicators show we are currently trending negatively against – with an actual increase of 16% in total emissions from 2015 to 2017[1].

 

2.     Discussions with staff highlighted that the new Climate Change Officer role will sit as a mid-level position in the Environmental Stewardship Department. We question whether the positioning of this role reflects Councils intention for this file – given that opportunities for climate actions will need to continually advocated for, identified and enacted with senior managers within municipal departments but also (and perhaps more importantly) outside of the RMOW. The lead on climate action will need allocation and control of a budget associated with this file, they need to be able to direct work and they need to be embedded in strategic decision making at the highest level – because we need to start designing climate goals into all aspects of our community. We question whether a mid-level role will be positioned to effectively drive climate action within and (again more significantly) external to the RMOW.

 

3.     Within the CECAP, actions were allocated across RMOW departments and external organizations either for leadership or as key partners in delivery. We encourage Mayor and Council to use the new CECAP quarterly updates to council as the opportunity to ensure the aggressive action you hope to see is being reflected and that updates highlight actions not just across municipal departments but also that have been triggered in external bodies (resort partners, targeted sectors, businesses, community members, etc). This will also provide clarity of responsibility for actions and will assist all those involved in supporting CECAP implementation as well as ensuring ongoing accountability for actions.

 

4.     A recommendation of the CECAP that we have repeatedly supported and that to date we have been told will not proceed is the need to create a CECAP Advisory Committee of Council. We recognize that the formation and oversight of committees requires capacity and resources. However, we continue to believe this is a vital step to engaging key external organizations in continually pursuing CECAP recommendations, similar to the work we have seen come out of the Transportation Advisory Committee. We would also question what message we are sending about community priorities when people look at the list of council’s advisory committees and climate change is not represented in that list.

 

On Alpine Trails –

5.     The 2019-2023 budget forecasts an expenditure of $430,000 on item X008 ‘Recreation Trail Program’ and $950,000 on item X055 ‘Alpine Trail Program’. Prior to construction of Lord of the Squirrels we were told we could expect around 1000 users on that trail over the course of a season. In reality we have seen exponentially greater use with over 5500 users in the 2018 season, which was 57 days long (giving an average of nearly 100 users per day). Our group continues to have ongoing concerns regarding the intensity of use of alpine trails and construction of new trails.

 

6.     We commend the recognition of the need for a management strategy for trail networks. As we continue to encroach on and fragment habitat we should have plans in place to manage people as needed, in the interests of protecting other values. We recognize the conversations sparked by alpine trail closures for Grizzly Bears last fall but we believe this type of trail management action will continue to be necessary and should be supported into the future. There are a number of background contexts that support this:

a.     Grizzly bears are an umbrella species and indicator species meaning the conditions needed by these bears (seasonal food sources, safe areas to raise cubs, connected habitats, etc) are also needed by many other species of wildlife. So by safeguarding their habitats we are supporting many other species;

b.     Past Council passed a resolution to support actions to allow for recovery of the local population which is registered as threatened;

c.     When we build trails into known grizzly bear habitat areas we have a responsibility to take on additional user management and public behavior education efforts (meaning ongoing costs over and above trail maintenance and signage);

d.     As a bear smart community we made commitments to avoiding and wherever possible designing out human-bear conflict; and

e.     Given investment in RMOW budgets of well over a million dollars over the lifetime of the Alpine Trails Program there may be risk and legal factors that emerge if we fail to keep people and bears safe.

Discussions with staff have highlighted that other then completion of the trail to Beverly there will be no further development of alpine trails this year until work is completed on a bear hazard assessment of existing and proposed trails and subsequently a bear management plan relating to the trails. We would recommend the hold on alpine trail development be extended beyond the 2019 year so that there is significant time to implement recommendations of these two human-bear conflict avoidance plans and to monitor for effectiveness. We would suggest a period of at least 3 years to allow for changes in annual food availability (e.g. changes in berry crops), weather patterns (e.g. early / late thaw and now) and pregnancy cycles for females (links to defensive behavior and food sourcing) as well as the time it can take to change human behaviors.

 

7.     In the 2019 budget there is $85,000 allocated to item P073 ‘ Recreation Trails Access and Management Strategy’. We understand from staff that the scope and parameters of this strategy is yet to be confirmed. AWARE holds a seat on the Forest Wildlands Advisory Committee and we have seen the conversation around access evolve in that group for over a decade. FWAC has previously submitted a set of guiding principles to Council that could be used as a basis for a comprehensive access planning process. We are providing these as an annex to this letter for reference and to convey the scale and scope of work that is needed if we are to effectively balance the diverse mix of values we currently see on the landscape (recreation, biodiversity, commercial, industrial, etc).

We recognize that to create a comprehensive plan around managing all types of access – i.e. determining how we are going to distribute increasing numbers of people, where access infrastructure should and should not go, what types of access are appropriate in which areas, where are there values (ecological/cultural/etc) that we want to safeguard for the future and how access controls can support that, management of jurisdiction and enforcement – represents a huge amount of work and would require significant investment. While item P073 is undoubtedly a good start at tackling existing trail access gaps the funds allocated are specific to recreation trails and would not therefore enable the steps mentioned above in terms of budget or scope (based on our understanding following questions to staff). We would recommend that project P073 be recognized as an initial step and not interpreted as completion of actions still needed to develop a comprehensive access management strategy for Whistler.

 

We hope you will find this feedback useful in your review and consideration of the 2019 Budget.

Sincerely,

Claire Ruddy

Executive Director,

Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment (AWARE)

 

[1] RMOW emissions reports show total CO2 emissions of 111,043 tCO2 in 2015 and 129,080 tCO2 in 2017 and increase of 18,037 tCO2 in just two years.

 

Full Letter to Council Including Appendix

Link to RMOW Budget Page

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