By Heather Ramsay–“Islanders accept that change is inevitable, but they want control over what the future looks like,” says Bill Beldessi, co-chair of the Community Viability Strategy, when asked for a summary of the recent community viability strategy public consultations.
He said that over the past several weeks the strategy team met with more than 160 people in all communities on the islands.
Another theme that came up time and time again, he said, was what islands governance would look like.
Mr. Beldessi said a lot of thoughtful information came out at the focus groups, whether the meetings were on arts and culture, forest tenure, small business or tourism.
“These are our bright lights, the doers. They are already doing what a lot of people are talking about could be done,” he said of the participants.
As an example, he mentioned the small business forestry group. The many small mills or other operators that are out there said they could be roaring along if they had a guaranteed 80,000 cubic metres cut to work with. The businesses said they would have the opportunity to grow and employ more people with this type of certainty.
Steve Nicol of Lions Gate Consulting said there is still a survey out as part of the community engagement process, but now he is working on compiling the information.
He says there was a lot of focus on the land use plan and the implications that the working land base would have for resource management.
Infrastructure issues such as ferries, power and roads were also common concerns at the meetings.
The next big step is a planning workshop that is scheduled for the end of this month or early December.
This is when all the data will be looked at and strategies will be fleshed out.
He said the weeks he and consultant Victor Cumming spent on the islands were “pretty intense” with meetings morning, noon and night, but it was a super productive time too.
“These processes are critical for putting community context around words,” he said.
The challenge for the future is finding the body or bodies who will be responsible for seeing through the strategies that come out of the work he said.
In Bella Coola, where he has worked on a similar process, the community had an economic development office, which was able to take the lead on seeing the strategy is put into action.
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