By Will Johnson, from a series by the Nelson Star
It’s a lot of money.
When the provincial government signed the Columbia Basin Trust Act in 1995, they received $250 million to finance power projects and $45 million intended for reinvestment in the community.
On top of that, the Kootenays received $2 million annually until 2012.
“When the Trust was created it was a social experiment. We’ve looked all over, not just in Canada but across the entire world, and this is not a model we see anywhere else,” CEO Johnny Strilaeff told the Nelson Star.
“This Trust was created in response to the needs of the residents in the region, and that does set us apart. There is a real ownership that’s embedded right in the act that created the trust, and we’re not being directed by other levels of government.”
This was all a part of the multi-faceted dealings that surrounded the Columbia River Treaty, which may be coming up for renegotiation in the coming years. The funds were intended to compensate residents for the ill effects of the multiple dams installed by the U.S. and Canadian governments.
So where does all that money go?
According to the Columbia Basin Trust website, they’ve broken down their contributions into nine categories: broadband, climate action, community, economic, environment, housing, investments, social and youth.
“We have a defined direction and now we’re in the stage of action, developing programs and supports, and making sure we’re meeting the expectations that have been set.”
The Columbia Basin Trust (CBT) owns a subsidiary, the Columbia Basin Broadband Corporation, which is working on providing high-speed Internet to all residents.
Recently a fibre optic service has been introduced in Rossland, and last July former MP David Wilks and Minister James Moore announced an investment from the Canadian government that provided a $3.4 million boost aimed at providing 11,000 households with the service.
Under the Connecting Canadians program, they aim to connect residents from Ainsworth, Baynes Lake, Blewett, Boswell, Fruitvale, Thrums, Yahk, Ymir and many other rural communities. They will be working with 12 internet service providers to accomplish this.
Last year the CBT announced a new initiative aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and preparing for the changing climate as part of their Environment Strategic Program.
Building on the work they accomplished through the Adapting to Climate Change Initiative from 2007 to 2014 as well as the Carbon Neutral Kootenays campaign in 2009 to 2012, they aim to build awareness and support scientific advancements that aim to change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Distributing grants is a large part of what CBT does, and through the community portion of their mandate they send cash in the direction of arts organizations and community groups.
Some of these grants are small, intended for individuals and small organizations, while others are significant. For instance, earlier this month it was announced that the College of the Rockies will construct a new trades facility with the assistance of CBT and $10 million from the provincial and federal governments.
Currently the CBT is offering grants through the Columbia Kootenay Cultural Alliance for arts, culture and heritage programs, and they’re ultimately going to dispense $751,000 in 2017.
Ensuring the Kootenays has strong businesses and a well-trained workforce is one of the priorities of the CBT, with the aim of creating a “diverse and resilient Basin economy.”
Currently the Trust is exploring the concept of developing market rental housing, investigating regional shipping logistics to see if they could play a role in mitigating barriers to business growth, and they will be supporting the Cranbrook/Kimberley economic initiative and the MIDAS lab in Trail.
“Enhancing employment opportunities and supporting the business community are at the core of our work in economic development.”
Distinct from their climate change initiatives, the CBT also partners with local organizations to “implement projects and initiatives that address environmental priorities.”
Currently they are looking for feedback on how to manage recreation opportunities in the Koocanusa area. Recently they completed seven years of work on conservation model Water Smart, which has reduced consumption in local communities from two to 39 per cent.
As part of that program they provided a technical support team and an outreach program called Water Smart Ambassadors.
The CBT has made affordable housing one of their 13 strategic priorities. They have committed $15 million to the endeavour and are about to create 150 new housing units by 2020.
“Providing capital grants to help create housing units is part of the initiative, and the Trust will work in partnership with communities, funders and other organizations with complementary housing objectives,” reads their website.
They have brought 405 units to 13 communities in the Columbia Basin since 2009 with the help of local housing organizations, the federal and provincial governments, and local post-secondary institutions.
A key part of the CBT’s funding structure involves generating an income stream that can be converted into cash for the community. They invest in power projects, businesses and seniors housing facilities.
“By carefully investing this money, we have brought the book value of assets to $720 million, which will generate a return of $55 million per year starting in 2017,” reads the website.
One of the most significant investments is the Waneta Expansion Limited Partnership, which saw a $900 million powerhouse constructed downstream of Waneta Dam.
In December CBT approved $1 million worth of funding for 28 projects that address social well-being, with funds funnelling into an early childhood education pilot project, outreach programs and the North Kootenay Lake Community Services Society.
A month earlier they took part in the opening ceremony for the Canadian Mental Health Associations’ new multi-purpose Cranbrook facility, which has 18 affordable housing units inside.
Last year the CBT announced the formation of a Basin Youth Network, which aims to enable youth to learn new skills and engage with the community. Over the course of the next three years they’ll receive $4.65 million, which is just over $1.5 million annually.
“We know youth need a range of local opportunities and resources to be happy and engaged in their communities, and we’re committed to working with communities to achieve this,” said CBT senior manager Lisa Kilpatrick.
They have also maintained a youth hub called The Outlet Youth Centre in New Denver since May 2012.
Looking to the futureStrilaeff was close friends with former CEO Neil Muth, who passed away in November, and he believes his colleague left the Trust in a good place.
“It was seen by some to be losing its way, and Neil was able to come in and course-correct.”
He plans to continue the work Muth started.