Written by Bill McQuarrie
With COVID-19 restrictions making it impossible to hold public meetings, Port McNeill council made the decision at their Dec. 8 (Zoom) meeting, to ‘hit the pause button’ on the continued development of the Town’s Official Community Plan (OCP).
Work on the OCP will not come to a complete halt but the public engagement process, which to date has been severely hampered by COVID-19 restrictions on public gatherings, has concerned all councillors.
In the face of those health restrictions and given the plan’s reliance upon community engagement, councillors felt the impact of the pandemic made the current process untenable.
Councillors Derek Koel and Ryan Mitchell felt all OCP activities should be halted until the community can again meet in public, while Mayor Gaby Wickstrom and Coun. Shelley Downey felt a partial pause would be sufficient. Coun. Ann-Marie Baron was looking for a revised work plan before agreeing to the idea of a pause instead of a full halt.
Kevin Brooks of McElhanney Consulting, the company charged with managing the OCP process on behalf of Port McNeill, agreed that direct or in-person public engagement was very difficult at this particular time.
Despite the inability to meet with residents face to face, Brooks advised council that preliminary analysis of written survey results were beginning to show certain trends. Specifically, Port McNeill residents had identified their number one issue as being the need for a comprehensive downtown and waterfront revitalization plan. A user friendly downtown was how Mr. Brooks summarized the responses.
Number 2 on the list was seniors housing and activities followed by number 3; economic development with a focus on the tourism sector and business innovation.
And the 4th on the list of top needs was a plan that would see the effectiveness of the Town’s current parks improved while also providing more access to outdoor activities.
Following Mr. Brooks’ summary, council voted three to two in favour of pausing portions of the plan, including the public consultation component.
Koel and Mitchell opposed the motion, preferring a complete halt until such time as public meetings were again permitted.
In other news from the meeting, Koel sought the support of council for the development of the Hoy Bay parkland. The 15-acre property, at the end of Beach Drive, is owned by the town and was identified in the 1997 OCP as a municipal park site.
In his presentation, Koel explained: “I feel Indigenous knowledge of Hoy Bay and the surrounding areas would be an asset as we plan for the future of this property; it could offer vision and opportunities not yet considered.
Prior to development, a formal consultation with First Nations on the future of the Hoy Bay property is the first logical step.”
Koel went on to describe how a proposed 2020 budget item of $10,000 for Hoy Bay Development was deferred until the 2021 budget but pointed out that the current budget has, “…significant, unallocated funds earmarked for planning that could now be utilized for Hoy Bay planning.”
Following Koel’s presentation, and 23 years after first being identified as a park, council voted against the motion to have staff begin consultation with First Nations regarding future development of municipally owned land at Hoy Bay.
Opposed were Baron, Downey and Wickstrom, with Wickstrom noting she wasn’t opposed to consultation on the Hoy Bay development, but more so in favour of a general conversation with First Nations about the history of the area as a first step.
Downey then made a motion for staff and council to have a general engagement with First Nations partners instead of direct consultation, which was passed.
In other reports to council, Chief Financial Officer Claudia Frost advised council of an additional unbudgeted expense of $10,228 needed to bring the new water tender to a serviceable condition.
The cost was on top of the original $20,000 allocated for the purchase of the vehicle and council approved the additional expenditure, with the monies to be withdrawn from the department’s reserve funds.
Council approved a tourism development/marketing budget for 2021 in the amount of $37,000. Funds for this expenditure are derived from the Municipal Regional District Tax (MRDT) of 2 per cent, charged on hotel room revenues.
The Council Portfolios for 2021 were posted and liaison and representative assignments are:
Wickstrom – RCMP, Youth, Regional District, Transit & Hospital, VIR Library Trustee, Community Forest.
Baron – Fire Department, Harbour Advisory Committee and Museum.
Downey – Chamber of Commerce, MH Health Network Steering Committee, Tourism Advisory Committee, Senior.
Koel – Public Works, Parks & Recreation, VIN Tourism Advisory Committee, Vancouver Island North Training & Attraction Society.
Mitchell – Ferry Advisory Committee, Emergency Management BC, Airport, Not-For Profit.
Duties and committees common to all councillors are: Finance & personnel Committee, Advisory Planning Committee, and Economic Development. The duty of acting mayor is rotated between all four councillors.
(Editor’s Note – Bill McQuarrie will again be covering the Port McNeill council meetings for the Gazette. We welcome Bill back and encourage readers to contact him with questions or concerns they may have about Port McNeill council. He can be reached at email@example.com)
* This story has been updated to clarify the second motion with regards to Hoy Bay