A remote Vancouver Island cottage community is wondering why the heck it is paying for a public transit system 45 minutes away.
As the West Coast gets set to to welcome its first public transit service in 2021, residents of Salmon Beach are pushing for a review of the alternative approval process that gave the Alberni Clayoquot Regional District permission to tax them for a BC Transit Service between Ucluelet and Tofino.
The remote recreational community is not included on the proposed bus route, but is part of Electoral Area C, one of the five taxpayer pools now on the hook for the roughly $500,000 annual cost to run the transit service.
The estimated annual costs per community break down to roughly: $274,319 from Tofino, $183,922 from Ucluelet, $74,130 from Electoral Area C, $16,498 from the Ucluelet First Nation and $1,131 from the Toquaht First Nation. Area C residents including Salmon Beach, can expect to pay roughly $88 a year for the service.
“If we’re going to be paying for a bus out at Salmon Beach, then they should bring that bus down that rocky road and run it through our community,” said Terry Graff, a member of the Salmon Beach Advisory Board. “What are we paying for? Why are we paying for it and why weren’t we informed?”
Rather than host a referendum for residents to vote on paying for the service, the ACRD chose an alternative approval process, which gave anyone opposed to the plan an opportunity to submit opposition forms. The ACRD received 336 such forms by a Nov. 29 deadline, which fell short of the 601 forms needed to defeat the service.
Since the results were announced, Graff has maintained that Salmon Beach was not told the process was underway, so did not have an opportunity to participate.
In a presentation to the ACRD board on Dec. 11, Graff asked for a three-week extension on the deadline for submission forms, but her request was denied. The Salmon Beach Advisory Board has since reached out to the Inspector of Municipalities and requested a review of the ACRD’s alternative approval process.
“We mulled it over for some time and decided that that would be our next option, to have another entity look at the situation and decide whether or not things had been conducted properly,” Graff told the Westerly News. “We represent the community members and we just felt that, given our special situation, we needed to try to do something and we felt that was our next option.”
The ACRD’S Chief Administrative Officer Doug Holmes told the Westerly News that the regional district is confident it fulfilled its obligations through the alternative approval process, but acknowledged communication could be improved.
“We’re listening to these people when they’re talking about this, but in terms of the legislative requirements, we’re very confident that we’re solid,” he said. “There’s no question that the requirements to make this a legal process were done. There is no question about that, that was absolutely done…We can always do more with respect to communication and we acknowledge that we can do more and would do more in the future. It would not be an onerous thing to always try to improve communications, but there is no question that it was a legal process and met the requirements under the Local Government Act.”
Graff suggested Salmon Beach is “off the beaten path” and its recreational zoning mandates that residents are only permitted to spend 180 days per year in the community, so many were outside the West Coast when the alternative approval process unfolded. The most recent civic address map available at the ACRD’s website is from 2010 and lists approximately 376 properties in Salmon Beach.
“If they’re going to have an alternative [approval process] vote, they need to make sure that everyone is informed, that’s the fair thing to do. They have to find some way to ensure that people are aware,” she said. “We don’t get the newspaper, we don’t get the local radio, we weren’t informed by anyone that this was happening…I think they need to start over from square one and give people a chance. The transit bylaw could still be passed, but at least then people would feel that they had their say.”
Holmes said the ACRD board viewed the potential transit service as “something that was super positive” and opted for the alternative approval process because of the support for the public transit they had heard from the communities.
He added the transit service would expand the workforce employers can draw from and facilitate trips to the Tofino General Hospital.
“We’ve got lots of folks who are trying to afford to live close to their work, but that’s not always possible in resort communities. So, we’ve got a lot of people hitchhiking up and down the highway…We also have people who are eventually aging out of driving and so the longer they have some mobility, the longer they can age at home,” he said. “There is all kinds of reasons why public transit is making a lot of sense on the West Coast. With that in mind, giving the positivity with which the board viewed this, they elected to use the AAP process. It’s all perfectly legitimate, it was all followed properly. Not everybody likes that process because they say, ‘I’m not giving you permission, I can only tell you if I don’t like it’ and they don’t think it’s a high enough test, but we have to remember that these people on our board are elected to make decisions and elected to provide municipal leadership and that’s what the board did within the confines of the Local Government Act which, of course, were followed in this instance.”
He acknowledged Salmon Beach residents would not likely be able to use the service due to the community’s distance from the bus route, but suggested Area C as a whole will benefit.
“They raised some valid points and the elected leaders have to struggle with these things all the time,” he said. “People complain sometimes about having to pay school tax, but there is a broad social good to the school tax…What the board concluded on is essentially saying, ‘Maybe, for much of people’s lives they won’t benefit from this and maybe they will never benefit from this, but there is a broad social good that requires participation from these areas.’”