Conservation group disputes aerator-funding cuts

One-year reprieve: aerator is back in Higgins Lake

The Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation (HCTF) is disputing the provincial government’s claim it cut funding that contributed to the controversial removal of the Higgins Lake aerator on Aug. 1.

This follows Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations (MFLNRO) public affairs officer Brennan Clarke’s recent response to requests for comments.

“The decision to remove the aerator came about due to increasing operating costs and declining grants from the [HCTF], which has provided funding for five aerators in the Cariboo Region for close to a decade,” said Clarke.

However, HCTF chief executive officer Brian Springinotic said this isn’t the case.

“We haven’t cut funding to the province; we’ve capped it at the same level we’ve had it at for the past three years.

“We haven’t removed it. We have no plans to remove it.”

He explained the actual problem is the MFLNRO’s Fish and Wildlife branch is struggling with increasing costs for maintaining those aerators.

Springinotic noted these escalating operating expenses are mainly for the BC Hydro service and the contractors to monitor and manage the aerators.

“As I understand it, the regional staff in Williams Lake has said ‘Well, with that funding cap, we can’t run all five aerators, we can only run four’.”

While Higgins Lake residents report the Fish and Wildlife staff told them four other lakes are slated to have their aerators removed, Clarke said government has no plans to remove any more “at this time.”

After the aerator was removed on Aug. 1, Cariboo-Chilcotin MLA Donna Barnett convinced the ministry to replace the aerator for the short term.

She said it was “absolutely ridiculous and unacceptable” to remove the aerator, especially without prior public process.

“I talked with the people of Higgins Lake about what really shows the arrogance of it all, that there was no consideration and no consultation with, or for, the community.”

Springinotic explained HCTF is a not-for-profit charity funded mainly by hunters, anglers, trappers and guide-outfitters’ licence fee surcharges, which has flat revenues that can’t cover cost increases.

While it was advised what the province intended to do, he said HCTF has no control of that and no fisheries biologists on staff to effectively question the removal.

Springinotic noted MFLNRO Minister Steve Thomson’s subsequent order that the aerator be put back into Higgins Lake for at least one more year is “short-term good news” for its residents and anglers.

The HCTF doles out some $250,000 a year to the government for similar projects across British Columbia, he added, but with rising costs, operational shortages will be seen again.

“We’re going to continue to have to grapple with this.”

Clarke explained the funding model is “unsustainable and pressures still exist,” so over the next year its staff will be discussing options and possible alternative funding solutions with the local community.

“In other areas of the province, the local community and regional government have chipped in money to pay for aerators, an option that the province would support moving forward, since local authorities are the main beneficiaries of associated property value lifts.”

However, Cariboo Regional District (CRD) Area L Director Bruce Rattray said this is neither within its mandate nor its capacity to take on this expense and it has never before been asked to help fund aerators.

“I recognize the province has funding constraints; however, so does the CRD.

“For the province to expect local governments to jump in and fill the gap is really, simply another case of downloading costs to local governments.”

 

100 Mile House Free Press

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