Cellular service, road paving, drunk driving, emergency services and dog control were among the most discussed topics heard at Ahousaht's annual general meeting this month. The community's growing contingent of children gave input during the three-day event. (Denise Titian photo)
The 2019 Ahousaht AGM, held Sept. 10 – 12 in the village, had a relatively small turn-out ranging between 60 and 100 people in a community with about 1,000 residents. Ahousaht leadership introduced new methods of engaging the people in order to draw opinions from a larger segment of the community. This included the use of break-out groups to brainstorm ideas and solutions and reaching out the local schools to get opinions from the children.
Elected Chief Greg Louie told the people that voices are important, so this year Ahousaht’s AGM will feature new ways to conduct the meeting allowing citizens to be heard.
The smaller discussion groups, he said, would allow people less inclined to speak in a large, public forum a more comfortable setting to share their ideas. In addition, council engaged with both the elementary and high schools, asking the students to share their visions of what they wish for in their community.
The three-day event started with a chant from Ha’wilth Hanuquii, Nathan Charlie. The people were asked to observe a moment of silence for members lost in the past few days, including an elder who lived in Port Alberni and a family that lost a baby through pregnancy complications.
In his opening comments Chief Louie outlined some of the progress that his council has made over the past few months.
Last November, he said, Ahousaht council met with Premier John Horgan to press for cell phone service in the community. At present, there is no appreciable cellular service in Ahousaht. The premier responded that he would see what he could do, Louie said. Louie was pleased to announce that construction on a new Telus cell tower will begin in October near the Ahousaht Fire Hall. Cell service for the village should be up and running by end of year.
Construction crews have started building Ahousaht’s new $21-million wastewater treatment plant on the north edge of the village at the former sawmill site.
Construction on new housing, a family safe house, and a wellness centre are underway or about to begin. In addition, Chief Louie announced that contractors will arrive in Ahousaht in October to begin paving roads which will cost $1.5 million.
Chief Louie announced that the province has come to an agreement regarding gaming revenue sharing and Ahousaht will receive a share after necessary legal paperwork is done.
Louie said that this will be extra revenue for the community and that his council would do some strategic planning for how to best use these dollars. Ahousaht will receive funding from this source for the next 25 years. According to Louie, the annual amount will fluctuate.
Band business got underway as the crowd was divided into four groups. Each group spent time discussing emergency services, fisheries, family care, or vehicles and road safety. After about 40 minutes each group was rotated to the next topic while someone made notes of all suggestions, which were posted on the walls at the end of the exercise.
Some issues came up repeatedly in group discussions. With Ahousaht’s roads soon to be paved, residents shared many concerns. One was derelict vehicles. Residents must bring vehicles in by barge but when they break down for the final time, they are usually abandoned. It was pointed out that during a major community clean-up in 2018, 130 dead vehicles were removed from Ahousaht.
While there was funding in place at the time, there is nothing to deal with the ongoing and costly issue.
Another concern at the top of the list was drunk drivers. In general, people said that the local RCMP is not responding in a timely manner to reports of drunk drivers. Councillor Sabrina Campbell noted that council receives complaints about drinking drivers but needs more information to file a complaint with the RCMP.
“We need a vehicle description,” she said, along with the name of the driver and where they were driving, in order to properly follow up with the RCMP.
The members also want bylaws created to set age limits and licensing for drivers in Ahousaht. They raised concerns about pedestrian safety. Chief Louie said the new paved roads will be too narrow to allow for sidewalks.
Members called for new signage to set speed zones, no parking zones and more. People asked about road maintenance; would the roads be sanded in the winter? Will the roadsides be cleared of brush?
Curtis Dick led the discussion on Ahousaht’s emergency services. He said Ahousaht spent more than 15,000 man hours responding to eight search and rescue cases in Ahousaht last year. His department is documenting all resources that go into searches.
Dick is taking applications for volunteers to fill positions both in the Ahousaht volunteer fire department and search and rescue teams. He and Ahousaht council are lobbying political officials for emergency services resources.
James Rogers from CARE Network joined Deputy Chief Councillor Melinda Swan in a presentation about a proposed Animal Control and Care bylaw. The 12-page document was written by Ahousaht people in consultation with the CARE Network.
The CARE Network is a non-profit organization based in Tofino that runs with the assistance of volunteers. They have heard about Ahousaht community concerns regarding abandoned animals, dog bites, dogs jumping up on people, overpopulation, dog fights and infectious illness. In addition, Ahousaht has seen a parvo virus outbreak that killed several puppies in the village. Vaccination is the only way to prevent the spread of the disease. Parvo can be spread to the wolf population, Rogers warned.
Most of the village dogs roam freely and many have been hit by vehicles. With no veterinary services in the village, the animals can suffer for extended periods of time if they aren’t killed by the impact.
Ahousaht plans to introduce a licensing program that charges pet owners annual fees for their pets. The fee schedule has incentives built in to encourage pet owners to build enclosures and to have their pets sprayed or neutered. People who have their animals sterilized and keep a fenced yard or enclosure will pay substantially less for licensing fees than others.
Ahousaht council is asking people to review the draft bylaw and send their input to council or post on the open Facebook page for Ahousaht pets that will be created.
Chief Louie said that all member input collected at the AGM will be put to good use. Ahousaht council will host a strategic planning session Oct. 24 where they will sort through the information and prioritize community requests.
The next Ahousaht Annual General Meeting will be in September 2020.