Citizens taking action ~ Vancouver, Lower Mainland, and beyond.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Metro politicians buried under piles of paper

Imagine if you were a Metro politician.

Off the side of your desk, on top of all the work you do governing your own city, you are responsible for oversight of a regional utility with an annual budget of nearly half a billion dollars.

You fulfill this duty by attending monthly meetings of one or more committees -- such as the Waste Management Committee. The Waste Management Committee oversees the solid and liquid waste utilities provided by the Greater Vancouver Sewerage and Drainage District. These utilities account for over half of the total spending by the regional district ($278 million in 2009).

This month you receive an agenda package for the October Waste Management Committee that is 254 pages in length.

Buried in this package (Item 5.1) is a 108-page report summarizing your committee's Programs and Priorities for the coming year.

Buried in this report are some staggering facts. On page 42-43 you are advised that $1,134,000 will be spent on "Ashcroft Ranch - Operations." The purpose of this expenditure is "to continue the traditional agricultural use of the Ashcroft Ranch in order to preserve the ecological heritage, protect and enhance the sensitive grasslands communities, and improve agricultural productivity."

GVS&DD bought the ranch in 2000 to build a new landfill -- a project that was shelved in January 2008.

How many politicians -- to say nothing of their citizens -- know that we are spending over a million dollars a year to operate a ranch? At this rate we have spent more than twice as much operating the ranch as we paid for it originally ($4.5 million).

That is for the scrapped landfill project. On pages 53 - 54 we read that we must spend $19,361,000 to "maintain ISO 1401 certification" of the Burnaby incinerator and to "complete test trials of a dry treatment system for bottom ash."

That second cost is apparently on top of a $630,000 expenditure on page 39 for "Trial post-processing of bottom ash and use as a higher value product," and "Secure alternative disposal site for stabilized fly ash," and "Trial post-processing of fly ash and use as a higher value product."

What a heavy burden we impose on our elected officials. I spent most of the Holiday weekend trying to get my head around this agenda package. Surely there is a better way for Metro to work with its Board and committees.

1 comment:

sparklejess said...

I didn't know this about the Ashcroft ranch, thanks for the information. I feel torn on this issue.

It seems that the preservation of the red-listed species there, salamanders and toads, is worthwhile, as is preventing contamination of ground water on first nations land.

The SPEC article I found on it: says that any money made is being put back into maintaining it. I imagine that this isn't much considering that the price of calves is about $175 each? and this wouldn't be the entire herd of 850 cows, of course, just the calves. I imagine the $1 million would have gone to the initial cost of farm machinery, labor, hay, grain, and fencing, which is astronomical, and probably not the actual long-term cost of the ranch.

Something to think about: Cattle ranching at the moment is not an extremely profitable business (low price of cattle, extremely high overhead) and who would purchase this land at 4 million dollars so close to the Cache Creek landfill, and one at that that appears not to be making a profi t:most likely, NOT a local owner, someone looking for an investment property.

Currently, some of the bigger ranches in BC are owned by American investors. Even when the kids want to take over the business, there is not enough income to support multiple families and thus, parents end up selling to American investors. Locals do make a good income working for American owners, while at the same time, next door smaller Canadian ranchers will sell to foreign owners as well when they have to retire. A working ranch sadly would not just be bought and turned into something more eco-friendly, when it is attractive to an investor whether it makes a profit or not.

If the BC government was to list this for sale, I think this might happen, and I think that would be terribly unfair to the First Nations living around the ranch, that the fate of their water would rest so heavily on the owner of this ranch who doesn't even live here. At least the control remain local, at the moment.

(And, sadly, to put 1 million in perspective, is isn't that much when you consider than currently a 3 bedroom townhouse condo in the Strathcona neighbourhood costs you $600,000.)