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Liability, financial concerns delay Squamish’s adoption of trail standards

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Squamish council deferred the adoption of a municipal Trail Standards Manual on Tuesday over concerns about liability and long-term costs associated with the standards.

While councillors praised the manual in principle, there were some obvious stumbling blocks.

"(In the manual there are) standards for trail maintenance and inspection, and I want to be clear on what responsibility that puts on the District of Squamish," said Mayor Greg Gardner. "I'm concerned from a liability point of view."

Other members of council seconded that concern. Paul Lalli added that, after recently going through two months of intense budgeting, there is no indication what the standards will cost.

"I commend staff (for the manual), but along the same lines it's very important as we develop new standards or maintenance programs that we attach a costing of these things so council has an idea what we're getting ourselves into because we're responsible to the taxpayers," he said.

Lalli added that he would not approve the manual if it meant that he was automatically approving any expenses that go along with a program to upgrade trails to district standards, and then pay for their ongoing maintenance and inspection.

Even if the money can be found in the current budget, Gardner also wondered what the district's liability would be if they let funding lapse for inspections in the future.

Councillor Corrine Lonsdale also expressed concern over liability for trails on privately owned lands, some of which exist without the permission of the homeowner.

Bob Kusch, director of recreation parks and tourism, explained that the inspection and maintenance regime would not kick in until trails have been officially brought up to the standard, and to date only the new corridor trails have been built to any standard whatsoever.

"Other trails are not to that standard yet, so there is an expectation of capital going in," said Kusch.

Kusch also outlined the possibilities for covering costs, including provincial funding for trails on Crown land, various grants from non-profits and using volunteer organizations and trail user groups to help with the work.

Councillor Bryan Raiser did not have a problem with the wording of the manual, viewing it as the start of a long and much needed process. However, he cautioned the district about relying too much on volunteers.

"We've been relying on volunteers for years and years, and because of that we have our fantastic trail system," he said. "But as long as we're relying on vollees to continue maintaining our trails the process can't be so onerous that nobody will do it.

"Financially, the first step is to find other sources of funding, and they're out there... and to determine where the trails are and how they are maintained."

Council then weighed whether to change the motion in support of the trail standards manual to read "in principle," but later decided to refer the document back to staff for a cost analysis as well as to seek the permission of private landowners for trails. Raiser was the only councillor to vote against the motion.

The standards manual will be back before council in the fall, along with the trail master plan also being produced by staff.

Squamish council backs leaky condo owners

Squamish council was unanimously in support of condo owners at the Marina Estates housing complex, after the strata was unsuccessful in accessing a provincial fund created to support victims of leaky condos.

The Marina Estates have been suffering from leaks for a decade, forcing the strata to start an expensive renovation that could cost each unit from $50,000 to $90,000 to complete. Given that few residents can afford the extra cost, the strata unsuccessfully applied to the Homeowner Protection Office (HPO) for assistance.

"We've been informed by a letter that the province is in a position where there is currently no funding available," said Mayor Greg Gardner, approving the strata's request for a letter of support to take to the provincial government.

Since the HPO is funded by levying $750 on every unit constructed in the province, Councillor Corinne Lonsdale recommended that they include an accounting of Squamish's contributions in that letter.

"I wonder if in the letter we can get staff to determine the number of units built in the community in the last decade," she said. "We have contributed to that fund, but to my knowledge it has not been drawn upon by us. We need to know what we put into it, and let the province know that we expect it."

Mayor Gardner agreed, adding that it would be compelling to have those financial figures in the letter.

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