Tuesday - June 11, 2024 - Harrison's mayor resigns

🌧 High 15C

Good morning!

We botched yesterday’s link to our June Perspectives call-out, so some of you eager beavers may not have been able to access it. Sorry! You can find a link that works here. We’d love to hear how you met your special-someone in the valley!

Now, to today’s newsletter: below, we have my attempt to explain the unexplainable. Last week saw plenty of discussion about Sumas Prairie flood defences and the suggestion that it may be a better plan to let Sumas Lake re-form. It’s a fascinating idea that has been repeatedly mentioned since 2021. The problem is that the conversations tend to miss miss the intensely complex nature of Sumas Prairie. The story is one of the longest we’ve published and there’s a reason for that: there are no good, easy options when it comes to a micro-region (one larger than just the Sumas Lake bed) stuck between two different flood-prone rivers.

If you like complex, detailed journalism that doesn’t settle for easy answers, we’d love if you became an Insider member. It costs a couple bucks a week and supports our ongoing journalism. You also get our weekly Insiders edition on Saturday. You can sign up here.

– Tyler

Traffic & Weather

🌤 Local forecast: Langley | Chilliwack | Abbotsford | Hope

🚘 Driving today? Check the current traffic situation via Google, and find DriveBC’s latest updates.

🛣 Click here for links to road cameras across the Fraser Valley, including those for the Coquihalla, Highway 7, Hope-Princeton, Fraser Canyon, and Highway 1 in Langley and Abbotsford.

NEWS

Should Sumas Lake return? The benefits, costs, challenges, and opportunities

📷 Google Street View/City of Vancouver Archives/Tyler Olsen

There’s no cheap—or simple—option for reshaping the future of Sumas Prairie.

The City of Abbotsford has been denied billions of dollars to build new dikes and a pump station to protect the prairie against a future flood. Meanwhile, a new study suggests that buying out properties on the former bottom of Sumas Lake and allowing the lake to return would come with a significantly lower price tag.

The twin pieces of news sparked a rash of commentary from provincial politicians. BC Conservative Party president Aisha Estey suggested that buying out properties in a form of “managed retreat” might be the best long-term option for the future. That led BC United to distribute a press release vowing to oppose what it said was the Conservatives’ “plan to flood Sumas Lake.” BC’s Agriculture Minister and Abbotsford-Mission MLA NDP Pam Alexis also described the suggestion as “shocking.”

It wasn’t really all that shocking. The idea of a reincarnated Sumas Lake has been percolating ever since the 2021 flood. And yet, as conversations about the future of Sumas Prairie—or Sumas Lake—took prominence last week, most failed to recognize the complexity of the discussion.

Having decided that it wants to preserve a key economic driver of Abbotsford’s economy, the city and fellow backers of stronger flood protections have never undertaken a full accounting of the costs and benefits of restoring the lake.

But the same can be said of proponents of reestablishing Sumas Lake. They have omitted considerations about the financial and economic costs related to re-orienting transportation and energy infrastructure, and re-imaging BC’s agriculture economy. And in making their case that buyouts would be cheaper, they have put borders on a lake that never had any.

Related

The future of Sumas Prairie is a multi-billion-dollar question. The Fraser Valley Current operates on a much, much smaller budget.

But we can’t continue to produce journalism like this without you. If you think this type of journalism is important and valuable for local people, governments, organizations, and businesses, you can support us with a one-time donation here. You can become a Current Insider member here. Or you can get in touch and advertise with us here. Your contribution proves there is demand for in-depth, thoughtful reporting. Thank you. - Tyler and Grace

Need to Know

👏 An Abbotsford artist won a prize at a Vancouver tattoo convention [Abbotsford News]

📞 Mission elementary and middle school students will be banned from having cell phones next year [Mission Record]

👉 An ATV rider was killed on a forest-service road north of Harrison Hot Springs last week [Agassiz-Harrison Observer]

📚 The operator of five “Little Free Libraries” in Chilliwack says one site has sustained repeated vandalism and won’t be re-installed [Fraser Valley Today]

⚖ A Chilliwack man received house arrest for his role in the kidnapping and killing of a man on Halloween five years ago [Chilliwack Progress]

🦉 A federal judge has ruled that Canada’s environment ministry took too long to recommend key protections for BC’s spotted owl [TriCity News]

✈ A float plane crash-landed in Manning Park; the pilot survived [Fraser Valley Today]

🚔 The driver of an SUV who rammed police near an Aldergrove School last Thursday has yet to be caught [Aldergrove Star]

🚂 CN trains have resumed whistling at crossings in Chilliwack following a recent fatality [City of Chilliwack]

🍦 A chain ice cream shop is opening in Abbotsford later this month [Abbotsford News]

🔥 Firefighters extinguished a small fire near Hope’s hospital [Hope Standard]

🛶 The continent's biggest race, the region's first public drone show, and more hit False Creek at the Concord Pacific Dragon Boat Festival June 22-23! Click here for info.*

*Sponsored Listing

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Fort Langley Community Park will come alive on July 26, with 5 blues bands, a beer garden, food trucks, a vendor market and artists like Tom Lavin and the Legendary Powder Blues, Rick Estrin and The Nightcats, Miss Emily, Silent Partners (in a tribute to B.B. King) and Kenny "Blues Boss" Wayne!

Get your regular, VIP or group tickets here.

The Agenda

Ed Wood’s resignation will leave a vacant space on Harrison council, and an upcoming byelection for the mayor’s seat. 📷 (Left) Tyler Olsen; (right) Harrison Hot Springs

Harrison mayor resigns

After two years of political division—featuring aborted meanings, states of emergency, staff departures, and allegations of coups—Harrison Mayor Ed Wood has resigned.

In an extremely brief statement posted to the Harrison Hot Springs website, Wood said he was resigning effective at the end of the day. He thanked Corporate Officer Amanda Graham and Chief Financial Officer Scott Schultz for their “professionalism,” as well as their “integrity, respect, and accountability.” He did not mention Harrison’s top bureaucrat—chief administrative officer Tyson Koch, with whom he had been at loggerheads for some time—nor any members of council.

(In March, council voted to hire a mediator for the mayor and the CAO. Wood later alleged there was a coup because he had not reviewed an agenda which included a CAO Covenant, outlining how council and the CAO should work together. Wood believed the covenant was an attempt to remove the mayor from a position of authority in the village.)

Wood’s resignation comes after he attempted to declare a State of Local Emergency (SOLE) to pass two fire safety contracts. The contracts were signed during the one-day declaration, and formally approved by council after Wood was forced to rescind the state of emergency. The approval passed 3-2, because Coun. Allan Jackson opted to side with the mayor. Although he normally sided with Couns. Leo Facio and Michie Vidal, and frequently complained about the mayor’s behaviour, Jackson had occasionally voted alongside Wood and Coun. John Allen. (During one such vote, he said about his change in position: “I just want to get on with this.”)

With Wood gone, Harrison council’s four remaining members will choose a deputy mayor. Meanwhile, the village will prepare for a by-election to fill Wood’s vacant seat. Current council members will be able to run in the byelection if they also resign within two weeks of a Chief Election Officer being appointed. If that happens, a by-election for that council seat would happen at the same time as the mayoral vote—meaning a councillor who runs for mayor won’t be able to return to their position if they lose. Once a Chief Election Officer is appointed, voting will take place within 80 days.

(Both Facio and Allen have run for mayor in four of the last five elections, and have been facing off in council for decades longer. It’s unclear if either would be willing to give up a council seat for a spot at the mayor’s chair.)

In March, Wood attempted to trigger an election by putting forward a motion to dissolve Harrison council, and have the Ministry of Municipal Affairs replace them with a trustee. (That motion failed, with Couns. Facio and Vidal opposed, and Coun. Jackson absent.) But Wood said the goal he wanted to give residents another chance to vote for who they deemed “fit.”

“I would run again for mayor,” he said at the time. “I think it’s an opportunity for the public, and the public would have to make the decision.”

Wood won the 2022 election with 43% of the vote. He beat out Facio’s ally Samantha Piper, who received 34% of votes, and Allen (22% of ballots). Allen later won a by-election for a council spot.

The Current contacted Wood for an interview after he announced his resignation, but did not hear back before its publication deadline.

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