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Ferrymen visit Comox Valley Regional District members in person

BC Ferries Commissioner Gord Macatee and deputy commissioner Sheldon Stoilen paid a Tuesday visit to the regional district committee of the whole following a provincewide tour that wrapped up Monday on Cortes Island.

The purpose of the tour was to garner feedback from ferry-dependent communities about user rates and other topics as they review the Coastal Ferry Act.

Macatee is a former deputy Minister of Health Services who operates a management consulting business in Victoria. The Coastal Ferry Amendment Act (Bill 14) enables him to review the price cap and the act. By Jan. 24, he is to provide recommendations to Transportation Minister Blair Lekstrom as to how the act could be amended to "balance the interests of ferry users with the financial sustainability needs of BC Ferries," as stated on the BC Ferry Commission website.

Courtenay director Larry Jangula referred to increased ferry costs as a "negative spiral."

Committee chair Edwin Grieve and other coastal district chairs met last month with Lekstrom and Premier Christy Clark at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in Vancouver, where they presented a policy paper to consider ways to improve the ferry situation.

BC Ferries announced in August plans to cut up to 400 sailings to deal with a $35-million deficit. No cuts are planned for smaller routes such as the Gulf Islands.

At UBCM, Lekstrom said ridership is down seven per cent on interior freshwater routes, which Grieve said is an "interesting conundrum."

The province has indicated it will increase ferry transportation fees in order to compensate for legislated reduction in price caps for minor routes.

• • •

A Blue Carbon Pilot Project would remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, decrease fossil fuel dependence and create jobs, Project Watershed chair Paul Horgen said in a presentation.

The proposal deals with blue carbon storage by estuaries. The project would assess the effects of restoration efforts on eelgrass beds and salt marsh riparian zones on CO2 removal over time.

"Hopefully you see this as a win-win situation," Horgen said. "I believe we can do something very special in the Comox Valley."

Blue carbon occurs in aquatic environments where plants such as eelgrasses and sedges store carbon in soils and sediments. A blue carbon offset is a credit for greenhouse gas reductions achieved through uptake by plants and sediments.

The society hopes to reap $100,000 from carbon offset funds.

The committee approved sending a letter to the province requesting local governments be allowed to invest carbon offset funds into blue carbon projects.

• • •

The Vancouver Island Mountain Sports Society has requested $50,000 to assist with operating the Vancouver Island mountain sports centre, which is due to open at Mount Washington in December. The aim is to provide a training/meeting facility for athletes and the community. The estimated annual operating budget is $254,600.

The request will be forwarded to member jurisdictions for feedback about funding options.

The district board authorized $5,000 grants in 2010 and 2011 to support the society.

• • •

The Comox Lake Watershed Protection Plan will be referred to the water committee for consideration and forwarded to municipalities and the province. Watershed protection is a key component of the Vancouver Island Health Authority 4-3-2-1 water treatment policy.

• • •

The committee approved a letter of support to help the Dawn to Dawn Action on Homelessness Society secure funding for its Care-a-Van program, specifically to pay the nurse co-ordinator's salary. The program relies on donations, but continued funding is uncertain due to difficult economic times. Letters of support are needed to secure long-term funding and to apply for grants.

The Care-a-Van tends to the homeless three times a week, using a volunteer team of nurses, doctors, drivers and a social worker. It offers assessment, monitoring, treatment, referral and case management. It also links to the society's housing program, and offers dental and optometry programs.

reporter@comoxvalleyrecord.com

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