As the new council for the District of Sechelt met for the first time, their inaugural meeting drew a crowd of nearly 100 people to the seniors centre. With a few new players among them, some familiar faces returned to power — and one is trying to revive an old idea.
On Nov. 2, John Henderson’s mayoral address touched on two of the biggest election topics: water and community safety.
His campaign materials said wells would be drilled in 2023, and a location has now been specified: Henderson wants to drill a well at Dusty Road in Sechelt.
“While I'm open to other options, it is clear to me that the easiest and fastest solution is to drill a well on the District of Sechelt land of Dusty Road. Immediately,” he said. Although he didn’t specify an estimate, he called the cost “affordable” and said the “best news is that drilling can be completed in less than three months, which could provide additional water supply before next summer.”
He continued that “all orders of government” will need to acknowledge the urgency.
Dusty Road has been suggested as a potential water supply before. As recently as Oct. 2021, the Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) addressed that site in a report to council. Although a 2018 test well found a potential yield of 64 litres per second, the SCRD identified complicating factors: overlap with Chapman Creek, the landfill, current and future gravel extraction and low potential for contamination.
Before that, the SCRD board chose in 2019 not to pursue the Dusty Road location because of its proximity to the Lehigh quarry, then decided to conduct a feasibility study. At the time of the 2021 report to the board, staff said the province has a substantial backlog of two to three years for processing such an application, which would require the approval of the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (FLNRORD) and shíshálh Nation.
“I think for now, there's nothing more important to all of us than water. And even since the election, this issue has become more serious,” he said. In his address, Henderson expressed the need to diversify water sources away from Chapman Lake to make the system more resilient.
Henderson called for action and “No more studies.” In search of a long-term solution, Henderson said he will put forward a motion to the regional district board proposing the creation of a water agency made up of elected officials and with input from industry experts.
“Water is simply too important. It must be the focus of a standalone agency whose sole mandate is to deliver the long term supply, adequate to meet our needs for many decades to come,” Henderson said.
Henderson also announced his intentions to create another committee, this one focusing on community safety with himself as the chair. That committee “will focus on protecting our residents and businesses in what seems to be an increasingly lawless environment” but will not address homelessness or supports for mental health and additions. Henderson said that falls instead under the responsibility of the provincial government.
As the Nov. 2 gathering was the council's inaugural meeting, these ideas have yet to come to council or the SCRD as motions. The newly sworn-in councillors did not comment on Henderson’s address.
Provincial court Judge Merrick conducted the swearing in ceremony for the mayor and six councillors. As he congratulated them, he also thanked the other candidates who ran in the election “for participating in and strengthening the democratic process.”
To outgoing mayor Darnelda Siegers, who was in attendance at the ceremony, Henderson gave “a very special thank you” for her work over the 11 years she dedicated to Sechelt council.
“There are no words that can express this debt of gratitude that Sechelt has for you,” he said with emotion in his voice.
Henderson commented that the new council is a diverse group and “by no means united”, which he positioned as a good thing. “I expect we will have vigorous debates on many issues. But I promise you we’ll be decisive and results oriented.”
The new council’s first few motions were unanimous.
Councillor Brenda Rowe has been named as the deputy mayor, while Alton Toth and Henderson will sit on the SCRD board of directors. Henderson’s position on the SCRD board comes with a caveat: he shared his intention to sit as a director for only six months in order to address water supply on the Coast. Then he plans to turn his seat over to an alternate (Rowe and Darren Inkster were appointed as alternates).
Henderson and councillors Adam Shepherd and Toth were also named as signing authorities for the District of Sechelt.