Canal funding 'political'

Exasperation is growing around the council table in Oliver over the lack of federal help being offered to reroute the town’s irrigation canal away from a rockfall prone area at Gallagher Lake. 

Town manager Cathy Cowan delivered an update Monday, explaining Ottawa has shot down Oliver’s grant request through the Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund.

She said she remains in regular contact with federal representatives, but they don’t seem to be getting the message.

“They were still of the understanding it is a private utility,” Cowan said, adding she repeatedly explained to them; “this is not a private utility, this is a public utility paid for by user fees. It’s not a private utility at all.”

“I really stressed that with them.”

It's a point the Town of Oliver has been trying to communicate with the federal government for years.

As one of his last tasks as the Mayor of Oliver in October after losing his re-election bid, Ron Hovanes traveled to Ottawa for a meeting with the federal infrastructure minister. During that meeting, Hovanes told Castanet the minister was suggesting the canal is a “private interest” because it provides farmers with water.

“It shows the level of communication over in those departments, three years in, here we are, they still think it's a private utility,” Coun. Petra Veintimilla said.

Water councillor Rick Machial said the entire situation can only be blamed on politics.

“Everyone said ‘yes yes yes’ but how did that disintegrate into now we’ve got a big fat no,” he said. “It’s political I think. Not a whole lot we can do as a council.”

Cowan told council the $5M the provincial government has promised for the project doesn’t have an expiry date, but it won’t be available “for a long period of time like 10-20 years.”

The project has an estimated price tag of $11.5M. Should the Town of Oliver borrow $5M to complete the project is will cost ratepayers an extra $98 per year.

The nearly 100-year-old Oliver canal brings water to 1,400 hectares of farmland along its 17.4 kilometre route between Vaseux Lake and Hester Creek. In 2016 a rockfall damaged the canal, and since then, the municipality has been working to secure funding to reroute the canal away from the rock face.

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