Ian Morrison is the chairman of the CVRD. (Submitted photo)

Guest column: A year of progress at the Cowichan Valley Regional District

I’m excited about what we can achieve together in the year ahead.

By Ian Morrison

What an honour! On Nov. 7, 2018, the directors of the Cowichan Valley Regional District chose me to lead the board for the next 12 months.

My first responsibility was to listen to the new board, and begin work with staff and directors on individual and organizational priorities, and to start work on the people’s business. Committee chairs and vice chairs were appointed and directors were chosen to represent the CVRD on the many agencies and organizations we work with, like the Municipal Finance Authority, Vancouver Island Regional Library Board, and Treaty Advisory Committees, to name just a few.

Together, directors began to work on a “made in Cowichan” Code of Conduct for Elected Officials. We completed this work and our new policy came into force July 25.

Two community priorities were approving the bylaws for the two referendum questions: the Drinking Water and Watershed Protection and Affordable Housing functions. Both items stimulated much thoughtful discussion and debate, and we ultimately came together and approved both. The board then began to collectively focus on the 2019 budget process.

Regional district budgets are extremely complex. The very steep local governance learning curve for new directors, combined with the added pressure of two new functions, made limiting the size of the CVRD’s 2019 tax increase no easy task. We had a good mix of new and experienced directors around the table, and after much gnashing of teeth and wringing of hands, a hard won budget was approved by the March 31 deadline.

A major public hearing (Cowichan Bay’s Western Stevedoring) was held this spring at the Cowichan Community Centre. Hundreds of people came and spoke or submitted comments. The board understood tensions were high, on both sides in the community, yet we ultimately approved the high profile rezoning in October.

In the early spring of 2019, the federal and provincial governments announced a new grant program called the BC Salmon Restoration and Innovation Fund. The CVRD, Cowichan Tribes, and Paper Excellence jointly applied for $4.4 million over three years, for the preparatory work to make a new weir project in Lake Cowichan, “shovel ready”. Our application was approved and almost $1 million will begin flowing into our community by March 31, 2020.This is HUGE!

We’re working to keep Cowichan Lake clean. A project to rehabilitate and upgrade the Mesachie Lake sewer system is underway. It can expand capacity to provide Honeymoon Bay and Mesachie Lake and everyone in between a modern sewer alternative to antiquated and often failing and smelly septic tanks and fields, in place today. Another 1.2 million grant dollars flowing into the Cowichan Valley!

A great example of local governance done well, is the Malahat Skywalk project rezoning. The applicant and staff worked together to present an application the whole board could get behind. It has just been approved and will not only improve economic prospects for the Malahat Nation, it will positively impact businesses across the whole regional district.

More recently, the CVRD board has agreed to fund and coordinate a full suite of well/aquifer monitoring tests in Cobble Hill over the next two years. It’s expected to be funded jointly by the South Cowichan Water function and the new Drinking Water and Watershed Protection function.

On Wednesday Nov. 13, the annual election of the chair and vice chair of the CVRD’s board will take place at the CVRD boardroom at 6:30 p.m.

This past 12 months has been full of long hours, sleepless nights, long meetings, and numerous learning opportunities (mistakes)! While we have all had our individual challenges, and accomplished much, the young people of Cowichan, our children and grandchildren expect and deserve so much more. I’m excited about what we can achieve together in the year ahead.

I hope to again serve you as CVRD Chair, in 2020, and I encourage everyone to come out and see your local regional government at work.

Ian Morrison is the chair of the board of directors of the Cowichan Valley Regional District

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