A little less than half of those who attended a recent community meeting regarding the Mesachie Lake fire department indicated they wanted the department to continue to provide services, with a replaced fire hall and engine.
According to a staff report that was tabled at the Cowichan Valley Regional District’s meeting on Aug. 8, 48 per cent of those surveyed at the meeting chose that option, while 45 per cent indicated they would choose integrating the Mesachie Lake and Honeymoon Bay fire protection services into one.
Approximately 50 people attended the meeting that was held last month in which Brian Carruthers, the regional district’s CAO, and John Elzinga, the district’s community services general manager, jointly presented the information, provided by independent consultants Behr Integrated Solutions Inc., and facilitated a question and answer discussion.
The staff report said that with the results of the community polling, staff is currently compiling information that will allow for a more accurate cost analysis of the option of keeping the Mesachie fire department with a new fire hall and equipment, and expects to have this completed in September.
“Staff will then begin to gather information for the second option in the fall of 2018,” the report stated.
“It is expected that further consultation with the community will take place once the cost analysis for both options are complete.”
CVRD Chairman Jon Lefebure said that while the viability of keeping the Mesachie fire department in place with a new fire hall and equipment will be considered, the expense and subsequent increase in taxation to Mesachie Lake residents to cover the costs may be too high to seriously consider.
“A full-meal day upgrade would be very expensive and I don’t think that is really in the cards,” he said.
“Staff is presenting a number of options and no commitments will be made until we have more community discussions on this issue.”
The CVRD announced last January that the Mesachie Lake volunteer fire department would be put on an “operational pause” as of Jan. 24 to allow an independent consultant to conduct a third-party review of the department.
The district also announced that fire chief Gary Eve and deputy chief Owen Robertson, long-time members of the fire department, were being terminated at the same time, but provided no explanation for the firings.
After a public outcry, the fire department resumed operations on Feb. 2 under the temporary leadership of former fire department member Kevin Smith.
According to a press release from the CVRD months later, factors that prompted the independent review included aging infrastructure and apparatus replacement costs at the Mesachie fire department, low firefighter recruitment and retention, increasing training costs, unattainable asset management plan objectives, and a very low annual call volume.
Other options presented by Behr Integrated Solutions Inc. include extending the Cowichan Valley Regional District-contracted area with the Town of Lake Cowichan, rescinding Mesachie Lake and Honeymoon Bay fire protection local services areas and establishing an integrated local services area, and keeping the station at status quo.
Gary Eve said that, for him, the most obvious option is for the CVRD to apologize to the citizens of Mesachie Lake and resume normal operations at its current fire department.
He said the department would do just as well with a second-hand fire truck as a new one, and he sees no need to replace the existing fire hall.
“There’s nothing wrong with the fire hall and the district has provided no details as to why it should be replaced,” he said.
“It makes more sense to just leave it alone and that would result in no increase in taxes to the residents.”
Eve said it’s a fact that development in the area is increasing, and that requires more fire-fighting infrastructure to be in place, but developers are usually required to cover the costs of the new and improved infrastructure.
“Why should the residents be expected to pay the developers’ bills?” he asked. “People are getting very tired of all this.”