Balance of power could change at Cultus Lake

The proposal to divide the Electoral Area E district in two had new life breathed into it by Chilliwack-Hope MLA Laurie Throness.

Chilliwack-Hope MLA Laurie Throness is urging residents to attend Town Hall meeting

Once again the balance of power at Cultus Lake Park could be in flux.

A town hall meeting set for Wednesday night will hear feedback from the public on proposed boundary changes to see the FVRD Electoral Area E split in two.

It’s all happening very quickly, but governance changes and boundary realignments under consideration right now could impact both Cultus Lake and Chilliwack River Valley.

The proposal to divide the Electoral Area E district in two is not a new idea, but is one that’s recently had new life breathed into it by Chilliwack-Hope MLA Laurie Throness.

First the composition and size of the Cultus Lake Park Board is set to change.  Bill 27, the legislation shifting the balance of power on the Park Board, was the very last order paper to be introduced, and passed, in the spring session of the B.C. legislature.

The upshot is that this November, five park board commissioners – down from seven – will be voted in during the 2014 election. Three commissioners will be elected by Cultus Lake voters, with two elected by Chilliwack residents.

Now in the latest twist, if MLA Throness is successful in this bid, there will be a new Electoral Area director on the FVRD board to specifically represent the Cultus Lake area.

“It’s my hope that in the following year, we will be able to start new era of co-operation and accountability,” said Throness.

The current FVRD rep, David Lamson, has been Electoral Area E director for nine years, and has supported the idea for years. However, it didn’t get any serious momentum provincially until the new MLA picked it up and ran with it.

“I’m in favour of the idea,” Lamson said, about splitting the electoral area, which he has served for three terms in a row.

“The two areas are very different, even if they do share some similarities,” Lamson said about Cultus and the CRV.

“We are an outdoor recreational centre as well, but we’re different in that the Chilliwack River Valley focuses on its many river activities, fishing, kayaking, and its streams.

“Cultus has its situation with the lake, the sockeye, the milfoil, keeping the lake pristine. There’s a different emphasis in each.

“It should be an interesting meeting, and I think we do need more equitable representation.”

Health considerations make it unlikely he will seek re-election this fall, he said.

Throness said he has framed the whole governance issue at Cultus as a matter of increasing “accountability” for lakers, with less legal liability for City of Chilliwack, which technically owns Cultus Lake Park.

He saw the park board changes not only as a reflection of growing independence and sense of identity by the community of Cultus, but also something larger.

One of the reasons why this is necessary is to ensure that the Park Board is not able to pass bylaws that it might not have the legal authority to approve.

“At the Town Hall meeting, the idea is to listen. Maybe we have to put it off into the future, like after the election.

“But to my view it has already been well received and may not generate any real opposition.”

Throness heard the suggestion about splitting Electoral Area E from provincial, regional district and City of Chilliwack reps, and discussed it with Cultus Lake Residents’ Association and more. So far everyone is in favour of the idea.

“That said, it’s not a done deal,” Throness said. “We have to hear that this is something the people think is a good idea as well.

“It all could be done at once before the next election, but we have to ensure this is what they want.”

The thorny governance issue for Cultus is something that many community leaders and residents spent a lot of time trying to resolve over the years, to no avail.

Throness spoke to The Progress Monday to explain that timing is of the essence. He urged people to attend the meeting on Wednesday, July 30 at the Cultus hall.

“To me, the timing is key.”

After he managed to get the park board changes through this spring, he wondered what else could be accomplished, and this is the result.

He also met with Soowahlie First Nation chief Brenda Armstrong, he said, to broach the topic of how to resolve long-term questions about land tenure.

“I encouraged the Soowahlie chief to consider entering the treaty process,” Throness said, adding that would go a long way toward providing some certainty on the land question.

Two years ago, during a provincial byelection, the MLA was approached by Gary Lister, a Cultus resident, who along with his wife Sue, gathered more than 900 signatures on a petition calling for a restructured Cultus park board, with increased accountability and democracy for lakers.

Now that those park board changes are done, and possibly another area director coming on board, “it’s an additional piece of accountability in place,” Throness added.

Wednesday night at the Town Hall meeting, the residents and leaseholders of Cultus Lake will consider the idea of the Electoral Area E of the Fraser Valley Regional District being divided in two electoral areas.

The Town Hall meeting hosted by the FVRD is slated for 7 p.m. July 30 in Cultus Lake Community Hall.

If successful, the new FVRD electoral area director, and the park board reps will “discuss the apportionment of responsibility,” Throness said. “That’s for them to work out. It’s not an area I have any authority over.”

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