It may be first, but restoring Kwuna ferry sailings isn’t the only “to do” for regional district candidates running in Sandspit.
Affordable housing, more policing, better water treatment, and improved planning for tsunami and wildfire are also top issues, judging from an all-candidates forum held at the Sandspit Inn last week.
Moresby Islanders voters will see three candidates on the ballot when they elect a local director to the North Coast Regional District this Saturday, but only two were at Oct. 9 forum: Ellen Foster and Evan Putterill.
Bill Beldessi, who is running for re-election, was unavailable for the forum and did not send a statement.
Ellen Foster said reversing the 2014 service cuts to the Kwuna route is her top concern, noting that medical visits to Queen Charlotte now take a full day and after-school activities are sadly out of reach for local high school students.
Foster also mentioned several concerns raised by residents at a meet-and-greet she held before the forum.
“I thought I knew everything — apparently I don’t,” Foster said, noting that Sandspit also needs more streetlights, better playground equipment, and speed bumps near the elementary school.
Evan Putterill agreed that restoring ferry service is the top priority, and he complimented the grassroots Kwuna campaign started this summer by residents Joni Fraser and Rachel Houston.
“I think task number one… has to be to continue to embarrass the NDP on that,” Putterill said, noting how the B.C. New Democrats criticized the Kwuna cuts as a “travesty” when the B.C. Liberals oversaw them in 2014.
“The NDP were fighting against it then, they’ve been in power for over a year, and they have not changed it,” he said.
Another common concern is an apparent lack of affordable housing in Sandspit. Both Foster and Putterill pledged to work with a local group to study options that include provincially-funded social housing.
Other shared concerns include fixing up the Sandspit tennis courts and doing more to protect the Shingle Bay shoreline from erosion.
On Shingle Bay, Foster asked voters to imagine a boardwalk stretching from the airport grounds to the Sandspit marina — it may take years, she said, and the funding may be hard to come by, but tourists and locals would love it.
Putterill agreed a boardwalk is part of strengthening tourism in Sandspit, an expensive part. If elected, Putterill said he would focus on reviving plans for a network of hiking trails on north Moresby.
One area where Foster and Putterill disagree is on the value of creating a new official community plan for Sandspit. The current one dates back to 1995.
“It’s going to take a long time, but I think it’s a worthwhile project,” Foster said.
“I think it’s a visioning for all of us, for our future.”
Putterill said while he welcomes more public meetings, official community plans take a lot of time and money given the legal requirements involved and are not always effective.
“In a lot of situations, those official community plans sit on shelves,” he said.
“I really want to run with things that positive people today want to make happen.”
On tsunami planning, Foster said the evacuation last January made her painfully aware how ill-prepared Sandspit is, adding that she will work toward a better plan whether she is elected or not.
Putterill said wildfire risk is another growing concern.
“For two summers now we’ve had ‘extreme’ wildfire risk, so I want the regional district to bring in a wildfire prevention plan and take steps to make Sandspit a fire-safe community,” he said, adding that it would involve voluntary wildfire risk surveys for home and business owners.
Speaking about her background, Foster said she moved to Sandspit three years ago from Queen Charlotte, where she was a village councillor and chair of the North and Central Coast Ferry Advisories Committee. A part-time physician support coach with Northern Health, Foster also chairs the Hospital Day committee and is a member of the Gwaii Trust Wellness Committee.
Earlier this year, Foster successfully petitioned for the Gray Bay road to be graded and brushed using a Gwaii Trust grant. More is needed, she said, but it was a good start.
On a personal note, Foster noted that the NCRD didn’t have a single female director last term.
“I think it’s time for a woman on that board,” she said, quoting singer Helen Reddy.
“I am woman, hear me roar!”
Born and raised in Sandspit, Putterill is an airport services manager and long-time community volunteer who previously served as a regional district director from 2009 to 2014.
Chair of the islands’ non-profit telecom society, GwaiiTel, Putterill is also a volunteer firefighter who helped certify and equip the Sandspit department for road rescues and a founding member of the Sandspit Community Society, which now runs the Sandspit Inn and bus service.
Putterill said he has heard loud and clear how important it is to hear comments from everyone in the community, criticism included. Still, he said, it’s important to stay upbeat.
“The best way to get stuff done in a small town like this is to be positive,” he said.
“Try to be positive, and work with positive people. Because it’s positive, action-based people who get stuff done.”