The Thompson-Nicola Regional District (TNRD) has hired a recovery manager to coordinate efforts with property owners in the TNRD who suffered damage to, or total loss of, structures during this summer’s wildfires. More than 210 structures—including cabins and homes—were lost or substantially destroyed in the TNRD, with 20 additional structures suffering minor damage.
Bob Finley—who spent more than 30 years in the planning department of the TNRD—has been hired as recovery manager. TNRD board chair John Ranta says that there will be a focus on recovery for those who last cabins and houses.
“There are significant challenges [to rebuilding],” he says. “Many of the cabins and structures were built long before the TNRD [which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year]. They weren’t built with an eye on riparian setbacks or building codes, and were in some cases built too close to rivers and streams. We can help locate better sites on properties for rebuilding.”
Sukh Gill, CAO of the TNRD, says that while the Regional District has assisted with recovery efforts in the past—notably during the 2003 wildfire season—they have not seen this scale of structural damage before. “This is a little bit new to us,” he says of the recovery program. “It’s new to the province.”
Gill says that the TNRD has learned from other jurisdictions, such as Alberta and Southern California, when it comes to fire recovery. “We’re trying to utilize what they’ve done.”
He notes that while Finley has been retired for six years, he worked through the 2003 wildfires. “He’s familiar with the response and planning side, which is where the challenges will be. He has a vast amount of experience, and understands the government side.”
Like Ranta, Gill acknowledges that many of the structures that were lost at sites such as Pressy Lake, Loon Lake, and Boston Flats were built decades ago under old regulations. “If more than 75 per cent of a structure is lost, then owners have to abide by the current regulations.
“Bob will reach out to those who lost structures, help identify their needs, see what’s in the jurisdiction of local government, and guide them through the process.”
Finley started as recovery manager on November 6, and funding for the position through Emergency Management BC will run through March 2018. “We’ll see where we’re at then,” says Gill. “We may need additional funds.”
Other steps the TNRD has discussed taking, in order to help landowners who were adversely affected by the wildfires, include the possible reduction of, or sourcing alternative sources for, permit fees; the acceleration of application processing; potential new zoning for “dry cabins’; and lobbying the provincial government for relief and Building Code changes.
“We feel for those who lost structures, and want to help them and ease the process as much as we can,” says Gill. “Our heart goes out to them. Compassion and caring: those are the reasons we put Bob in place. Residents can work one-on-one with him, rather than going through a bureaucratic process.”
Finley will be reaching out to residents whose properties were affected by the wildfires, but residents can also reach out to him. He can be contacted by phone at (250) 377-6296, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.