Towns for Tomorrow: official launch

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Story and photos by Mary P. Brooke      |         November 16, 2009

Hon. Bill Bennett and Sooke Mayor Janet Evans. Photo copyright MapleLine Magazine 2009In the pouring rain there were 'new' sidewalks, curbs and a one-way street inaugurated on November 16, 2009 as part of the Towns for Tomorrow provincial funding program aimed at small and rural communities in BC. Funding for Sooke fell into the program's 5,000 to 15,000 population grid, allowing up to 75% financial subsidy from the province; Sooke received $230,000 earlier this year, which according to Al Fontes, Director of Engineering, District of Sooke, represents 66% of the funds actually spent on the project. The remaining funds came from within the District operating budget.

Construction of sidewalks, curbs, and road improvements -- including transposing Shields Road into a one-way street -- took place this past spring and summer. The undertaking was officiated today, to fit within the schedule of the Hon. Bill Bennett, Minister of Rural and Community Development who came to Sooke in the pouring rain to attend the event. Hosted by Mayor Janet Evans, MLA Bennett was guided on a short walking tour of the Towns for Tomorrow sign at Eustace and Otter Point Roads, as well as the sidewalks, curbs and paving on Eustace and Shields Road. The brief walk was punctuated by a viewing of the murals behind Sooke Community Hall, followed by a District-hosted lunch at Mom's Cafe.

Hon. Bill Bennett and Sooke Mayor Janet Evans. Photo copyright MapleLine Magazine 2009"The grant funding is to help smaller communities with quality of life issues and overall liveability," said Hon. Bill Bennett to those in attendance over lunch. The official event was attended by District staff (including Director of Engineering Al Fontes, Municipal Engineer Elisabeth Nelson, CAO Evan Parliament, and Corporate Services Manager Bonnie Sprinkling; District of Sooke councillors Sheila Beech, Dave Bennett, and Bev Berger; and EPCOR government relations rep Terrie Moore, Sooke's historian Elida Peers, and other officials as well as local media).

"I'm here to share in the celebration of the sidewalk project," said MLA Bill Bennett, who himself is from a smaller town (Cranbrook, BC). "Usually funding for infrastructure projects is done in thirds  -- federal, provincial, and municipal," he said in an interview, in which he was clearly pleased that the Towns for Tomorrow initiative by the province was insightful and supportive to smaller municipalities which cannot find the money to participate in the 'three thirds' process.

The MLA, accompanied to the event by his executive assistant Richard Davis, listed a few benefits to Sooke that are already evident as a result of the sidewalk installation. He highlighted that seniors can more easily travel by foot or on motorized carts to services in the downtown core, and reach the post office more easily. "The sidewalks will encourage pedestrian use of the Sooke town centre, with people leaving their cars at home more often -- an element of reducing greenhouse gases," he said.

Hon. Bill Bennett and Sooke Mayor Janet Evans. Photo copyright MapleLine Magazine 2009"The sidewalks contribute to the health of the community -- people are walking instead of using their cars," said Hon. Bill Bennett who stayed for lunch and thanked the group for the opportunity that "got me out of the office", which drew a chuckle from the crowd of about 20 at one end of the busy Mom's Cafe. Bennett, a Queen's University-trained lawyer and a former Cranbrook Chamber of Commerce president (1997 and 1998), between 1977 and 1993 owned and operated a fly-in wilderness lodges business in the Northwest Territories and Manitoba. He was sworn in as the Minister of Rural and Community Development by Premier Gordon Campbell on June 10, 2009. First elected in 2001 as the MLA representative of the riding of East Kootenay, Bennett was previously the Minister of State for Mining (appointed June 2005) then Minister of Tourism, Culture and the Arts (appointed June 2008).

When introducing MLA Bennett to the group, Mayor Evans suggested to the Minister of Community and Rural Development that "you'll see how much we need that road" as he was to soon depart to drive back to Victoria on Highway 14 in heavy rains. The mayor's convivial funding pitch for improvements on Highway 14 was part of a longstanding effort on the part of Mayor Evans to see improvements on the primary (if not only) road to approach and depart out of Sooke.

Sooke Historian Elida Peers and District of Sooke Councillor Bev Berger. Photo copyright MapleLine Magazine 2009Only four streets were included in the Towns for Tomorrow grant that was celebrated on November 16. A main thoroughfare with many new residential properties is Grant Road but it was not part of the Towns for Tomorrow grant funding project. The extent of necessary work on Grant Road was too great to fit within the current District budget, explained District of Sooke Councillor Dave Bennett. "Grant Road needs to be widened and have drains installed, ditches need to be widened -- at present there is no place to put sidewalks," he said.

Fontes outlined that drainage, sidewalks and street lighting are part of a future plan for Grant Road, but that funding will come from DCC's (development cost charges) to be paid by developers as more housing construction occurs on that road, as well as on Maple Avenue South. Some street lighting improvements might be possible outside of DCC dependence, but the rest is too expensive and must be done as part of the road construction. "The CRD is (currently) changing some pipes on Maple," said Fontes. Multi-use trails alongside curbs are possible on some streets, he said, which are suitable for cyclists and pedestrians. "These initiatives are part of the Transportation Master Plan," said Fontes on his way out to attend to drainage issues on the excessively rainy day that was November 16.

Hon. Bill Bennett, Sooke Historian Elida Peers (middle) and Sooke Mayor Janet Evans. Photo copyright MapleLine Magazine 2009Rains on Highway 14 often necessitate the closing of that roadway due to flooding or accidents related to flooding or high winds. When detours are required through Metchosin and East Sooke (unfamiliar routes to many), "it's easy to get lost", said Sooke Councillor Dave Bennett. He has suggested to Sooke engineering staff that permanent detour signs be installed at various points along the route that reconnects drivers to homes, families and businesses in Sooke when the main highway is unexpectedly closed.

Over lunch Mayor Evans mentioned that she and District Chief Administrative Officer Evan Parliament will be making a presentation at a lunch meeting of the Urban Development Institute (UDI) - Victoria Chapter, on Wednesday November 18. Evans and Parliament will promote Sooke's stimulus plans and that Sooke is "open for business" and looking for new smaller businesses to come to Sooke.   MM


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