The Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) is shifting tactics to raise extra funds for bicycle and walking paths along Marine Drive between Langdale and Gibsons.
The project is deemed a strategic priority for the board, but federal gas tax funds earmarked for West Howe Sound (Area F) to date would cover only about one-third of the estimated $1.5-million cost for the first of three phases, while engineering challenges have deterred a piecemeal approach.
Speaking at the Feb. 28 corporate and administrative services (CAS) committee meeting, Area F director Lee Turnbull suggested the SCRD look at accessing funds based on the project’s economic benefits to the area.
“I’m hoping we can look at Marine Drive as an economic development project,” Turnbull said.
Staff said Western Econ-omic Diversification Canada (WD) has generally funded projects of a larger scale, but is also open to developing new partnerships.
“So there may be some opportunities to partner with communities and non-profit organizations,” said Steve Olmstead, general manager of planning and development.
The project, he said, could also tie in with the car-free tourism initiative being led by the Gibsons and District Chamber of Commerce, which hopes to lay the groundwork this year and implement the promotion in 2014.
The committee agreed to have staff apply to WD and other possible funding sources, with Roberts Creek director Donna Shugar calling it “an interesting new angle.”
Turnbull flatly rejected an option suggested by staff to borrow the funds required for the project and repay the amount from taxation or gas tax funds over 10 or 20 years. Since the gas tax agreement is only in place until next year, the option was “not without risks” of taxation being the only source of repayment, CAO John France conceded.
“The option of borrowing is not for me,” Turnbull said.
Improved Marine Drive accessibility for pedestrians and cyclists was raised repeatedly at the Town of Gibsons’ March 1 economic development forum, with participants identifying it as a major gap in the area’s tourism infrastructure.
At the forum, Turnbull told Coast Reporter that she expects the SCRD will spend about $100,000 this year in gas tax funds on the project, targeting key improvements that will not increase the overall cost.
The $1.5-million first phase would cover more than two kilometres from North Road near Langdale to Soames Road. Engineering work has already been completed, unlike the two sections to the south.
The CAS committee, meanwhile, passed a motion authorizing chair Garry Nohr to meet with Sechelt Nation Chief Garry Feschuk, Gibsons Mayor Wayne Rowe and District of Sechelt Mayor John Henderson to discuss holding a joint meeting this spring to revisit the proposed regional economic development function.
Nohr said he would rather the SCRD not take the lead role in setting up the spring meeting, as some critics could misinterpret that to mean the SCRD was trying to push the initiative.
“If one of the municipalities came forward and ran this meeting it would stop that misconception that the RD is trying to run things,” Nohr said.
Late last year, the District of Sechelt and Town of Gibsons formally withdrew from the process, with Henderson rejecting the proposed model as “unworkable.”
At the CAS committee meeting, District of Sechelt Coun. Doug Hockley, an alternate director, said the makeup of the proposed governance body was too cumbersome for his council.
“I think I counted 20 people making decisions, which is way top-heavy from my point of view,” Hockley said.
Other directors disagreed, and some spoke in support of bringing in a facilitator for the spring meeting if grant funding can be secured.