The Village of Queen Charlotte reactivated its emergency operations centre (EOC) at the regular council meeting on July 20, which means the COVID-19 Helpline is once again being monitored by EOC staff and a community support worker is available to any businesses that need assistance.
A spokesperson for Emergency Management BC confirmed the division of the B.C. Ministry of Public Safety was providing approximately $8,100 — subject to change — to support the village in reactivating its EOC, including staffing of the director and community support worker positions.
But there was another reason Mayor Kris Olsen said during the Monday meeting that he was “very, very, very excited” about the EOC being reactivated, because it might mean “making sure that projects can be approved and supported in a timely fashion.”
One such project is the 19-unit Kal Naay, Alder House modular housing project for individuals experiencing homelessness at 135 Oceanview Dr., led by the Queen Charlotte Heritage Housing Society with BC Housing.
During the public input part of the meeting, Greg Martin, president of the housing society, said they had been trying to bring off-island workers for the “badly-needed” project back to the island, but they were delayed because they had not been able to attain essential service work permits from the Council of the Haida Nation (CHN). The Horizon North Logistics workers had started deconstruction of the former ATCO building when they were sent home in March, as part of CHN state of emergency measures.
The ongoing measures state those coming to Haida Gwaii to conduct essential service work must apply through the CHN. Essential workers also need to self-isolate and/or follow requirements according to work permits issued, follow physical distancing measures, and hygiene guidelines both during and after isolation. For applications for essential service work in Queen Charlotte, according to a June 3 post on the village Facebook page, the CHN would forward them to the village to make a decision based on whether or not the work was essential, and if the workers had a Safe Work Procedure and Safe Community Plan in place.
“I was told last week by the Council of the Haida Nation that they couldn’t issue permits because the Village of Queen Charlotte no longer vets the applications,” Martin said during the meeting. “We are willing to follow the CHN guidelines, including the 14-day isolation, and take full responsibility. How can you help us bring these workers here?”
In response, Olsen said Martin had contacted him earlier about the matter, and referred to an in camera report from the previous council meeting that was included in the July 20 agenda.
It stated council had approved a letter to be sent to CHN President Gaagwiis Jason Alsop, informing him they had decided to withdraw from the essential work permit process. The letter, based on legal advice reviewed by the village, said the decision was made due to liability concerns.
“The process was helpful in the early stages of the pandemic response, however, the fact that it does not align with the current phase of B.C.’s restart plan now poses a liability risk to the community,” the letter stated. “As a result, the Village of Queen Charlotte council has made the decision to withdraw from that process, effective immediately, to protect the interests of the village and our taxpayers.”
Olsen said the legal issue arose with the scaling back of the village EOC, announced on June 2.
“Tonight we’re going to be reactivating our EOC and that will allow us to sit at the table of Unified Command and have the discussions so important projects like this can hopefully get moved forward,” he said.
Unified Central Command is being operated by the CHN.
After the meeting, Martin told the Observer it seemed to be good news for the society that the EOC was back in business.
“I was told … the CHN didn’t feel comfortable issuing permits for workers in Charlotte because Charlotte wasn’t vetting them, because the EOC had shut down a few weeks ago,” he said.
“What we’re really keen on is … to get the new [Alder House] units installed, get the crane here and get a roof on it before the rains come. That’s why an August start is really important.”
He said the modular units are currently in storage in Kamloops.
If the society is able to bring the crew back in August as hoped, completion of the project would be expected before the end of December.
Martin said the other project between the society and BC Housing, the four-unit affordable housing project for families and seniors at 302 2nd Ave., also had its off-island workers sent home in March, but that smaller, two-person Katawa Construction Ltd. crew was able to return in May when the village EOC had not yet been scaled back, through the CHN essential work permit process.
“They isolated for 14 days and have been flying at it,” he said.
However, the price of the COVID-19 delay was not insignificant. Martin said the extra mobilization and demobilization costs to the society for the project have been over $40,000 to date.
According to a spokesperson for BC Housing, the cost of COVID-19 delays for the larger Alder House project are still being assessed. Final costs will be shared when they have been determined.
The BC Housing spokesperson also told the Observer the four-unit affordable housing project is on track for homes to open in early October.
Martin added that he is hoping to bring two surveyors from Terrace to the island so that design work on the proposed townhouse complex for affordable housing at 609 Second Ave., a property owned by M’akola Development Services, can go ahead.
To reach the Village of Queen Charlotte COVID-19 Helpline by phone, call 250-637-1780.
The Observer has reached out to the CHN for comment.
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