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Aerial firefighting decisions to be referred to province

News Briefs: Community recovery plan endorsed; new wage agreement; Sturdy named environment minister

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After hearing duelling proposals to provide Whistler with aerial firefighting support in March, the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) will refer such decisions to the British Columbia Wildfire Service (BCWS).

"BCWS is the most appropriate agency to review the proposals for aviation firefighting resources for many reasons," said emergency management coordinator Erin Marriner in a report to council at its June 6 meeting.

The agency has a deep resource pool and can identify if, when and how additional aircraft are needed, as well as ensure they meet all the necessary requirements of the Aviation Safety Program to avoid miscommunications, accidents or injuries, Marriner noted.

There's also the issue of cost.

"The province will fund all costs incurred by (BCWS) fighting wildfires within the RMOW, but Wildfire will not reimburse the RMOW for aviation resources contracted without the permission of the Coastal Fire Centre," Marriner said.

"We don't have jurisdictional authority to dispatch an aircraft on Crown land, and a vast majority of forested areas in Whistler are on Crown land."

After the presentation, Councillor Jack Crompton asked if Whistler has guarantees from BCWS that there will be aircraft nearby during high-fire season.

"I guess we don't have anything saying specifically that aircraft would be within the area, but... they always do make sure, once we get to high and extreme, then they're bringing resources back into this area," Marriner said, adding that she has confidence in BCWS.

"They're really on it, they're really professional," she said.

"I have a very high level of confidence that they will be here with the resources when we require it... the Sea to Sky is very important to them as well, so they're always keeping an eye on this area."

COMMUNITY RECOVERY PLAN ENDORSED

Marriner was also in front of council on June 6 to present the Community Recovery Plan, an annex to the RMOW's Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan.

The plan aims to coordinate local recovery resources and match them with people's needs after an emergency — specifically beyond the first 72 hours.

"Between Whistler Fire Rescue, emergency social services, RCMP, victim services, we're really strong in the first 72 hours in terms of resolving the emergency, providing people with immediate accommodations, immediate needs, food and clothing, but what we hadn't looked at in great detail was what happens after those 72 hours," Marriner said.

"People who are displaced from their homes often can't get back for a couple of years, so obviously, 72 hours in, there is still a lot of work to do."

The community recovery plan hopes to address that gap by establishing a Community Recovery Committee made up of the Community Foundation of Whistler (CFOW), the Canadian Red Cross, Emergency Social Services, the Whistler Community Services Society (WCSS) and the RMOW.

"This group will connect and collaborate with many other government and community organizations that may be active in the recovery or have recovery resources to offer," Marriner said.

The recovery process is split into three phases: initial response (resolving the emergency and providing immediate needs), 24 to 48 hours (bringing evacuees together to assess needs and providing information), and 48 to 72 hours (identifying unmet needs and available resources and matching them with evacuees).

The plan also includes a donation strategy — money being the preferred option.

"The CFOW will collect cash donations and work with WCSS to distribute donated funds to disaster clients according to their needs, and the in-kind donations will not be accepted," Marriner said.

"The Community Recovery Committee will do their best to match the needs of the clients with available local resources."

Targeted donation drives could be done for specific needs in some cases, for things like winter coats, "but really trying to keep it organized," Marriner said.

The plan also includes cost reimbursement information — if the process is started within 72 hours it can be claimed under a provincial task number — as well as information on "spontaneous volunteers" who arrive on site and want to provide assistance.

For more on Whistler's emergency services, head to www.whistler.ca/services/emergency/emergency-program.

RMOW AND STAFF REACH WAGE AGREEMENT

The Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) has reached a wage agreement with its staff.

The four-year deal (2016 to 2019) includes wage increases of 1.5 per cent in 2016 and 2017 and increases of two per cent in 2018 and 2019.

The raises are based on a wage pattern seen in the Lower Mainland, the RMOW said in a release.

"Our discussions with staff have resulted in a balance between finding organization efficiencies and meeting the needs of our employees. We believe the increases are fair and reasonable," Chief Administrative Officer Mike Furey said in a release.

"We are dedicated to delivering quality and effective operations in our work on behalf of the resort community, and our staff are a significant element of ensuring we achieve this."

The 2016 Statement of Financial Information — which includes details about the municipal staff payroll — will be presented at the June 20 council meeting.

Sturdy named Minister of Environment

Local MLA Jordan Sturdy has been named Minister of Environment — but there's a very good chance the minority government of his BC Liberals will be toppled once the house returns on June 22.

What that means for his new role going forward is not immediately clear, Sturdy said the day after his official swearing-in as minister.

"We'll get back to the house and there's an expectation that there will be a challenge to the throne speech at some point in the week following, and I guess we'll see where we go from there," he said.

"It's a privilege, first of all to be elected to represent West Vancouver-Sea to Sky as I've said many, many times before. It is an amazing place to represent and obviously to build on the work that I've done in the past, and certainly an interest of mine and a real privilege and honour to be asked to serve as the Minister of Environment."

Though the official vote took place on May 9, there has been little certainty for Sturdy in the weeks that have followed.

"It's an evolution, certainly," he said.

"It has been an uncertain time, no question about that, but I think things will all become clear in the not too distant future."

And with an NDP/Green Party alliance set to seize control of the legislature, it remains to be seen what the results will be for West Van-Sea to Sky or the province as a whole, Sturdy said.

"Clearly stability and a long-term vision for the province is important, and I have my suspicions about how that may play out in the future, but it's an open question right now," he said.

For now, Sturdy's message for constituents is that he's here to serve them as their MLA, and he doesn't expect much to change.

"I continue to work hard, I'm committed to the riding, committed to the people in the riding, and my staff in the office are already putting my schedule together going forward," he said.

"So I'm anticipating to be just carrying on as the MLA, obviously for now with additional duties, but you really won't see much change from me."

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