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Okanagan, Similkameen to benefit from provincial Forest Employment Program funding: RDOS

A view from the Kettle Valley Rail Trail. The RDOS says it will receive $450,000 in funding from the province’s Forest Employment Program. The RDOS says the money will towards projects throughout its trail program. Carlos LeGuerrier

The Okanagan will see some financial benefits from a provincial economic recovery program for workers impacted by COVID-19.

On Thursday, the Ministry of Forests announced that 180 land-based projects throughout B.C. are helping people financially recover from the ongoing pandemic.

“We’re working hard to support workers and contractors who have been impacted by the pandemic, while also creating more good job opportunities and building stronger communities,” B.C. Premier John Horgan said in a press release.

“These new and immediate jobs are another sign that there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Together, we can build an economic recovery that works for everyone.”

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According to the province, the projects include improving recreation sites and trails, forest service roads, wildlife areas and wildfire safety.

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“Forest-dependent communities were especially hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said forests minister Katrine Conroy.

“This program has created opportunities for workers and contractors to support their families and employees and begin to build, while completing priority land-based projects near rural communities.”

For the Okanagan and surrounding areas, projects, either completed or ongoing, include:

  • Repairs to Trout Creek bridge, a key structure on the Kettle Valley Rail Trail;
  • Prescribed burns and fuel-management risk to reduce wildfires in Manning Park near Princeton and Merritt;
  • Bridge maintenance and repair in the Okanagan-Shuswap Natural Resource District, from Salmon Arm to Keremeos.

The projects are funded through the Forest Employment Program – a three-year program created in 2019 to provide short-term work for contractors and workers throughout the province.

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Karla Kozakevich, chair for the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen, said the RDOS “relies on support to ensure trails and amenities continue to be maintained and enhanced across the region.”

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In an online meeting, Conroy said the wood industry was facing a series of crises – low lumber prices, wildfires and pine beetle devastation — prior to the pandemic, which then made things worse.

“Communities that depended on tourism and outdoor recreation have also been impacted as we closed our borders and limited non-essential travel,” said Conroy.

“The pandemic has affected every British Columbian, but we recognize that some people and businesses have been impacted more severely than others, and we are committed to addressing the needs of the hardest hit and ensuring that our recovery works for everyone.”

Kozakevich said $450,000 in program funding will support a variety of work on underfunded and incomplete projects throughout the regional district’s trail program.

“This funding will help cover costs associated with additional staffing, inspections and equipment,” said Kozakevich. “And the regional district has taken several initiatives to maintain and enhance our regional district trails program and services throughout all nine electoral areas of our region.

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She noted that some of the projects funded through the program include maintenance of the KVR Trail, repairs to the canyon-section of the KVR Trail through Faulder, bridge-decking repair in Tulameen, information signage, invasive plant removal, removing danger trees and the installation of accessible picnic tables.

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“The regional district operates and maintains 230 kilometres of provincially owned rail trail,” said Kozakevich. “And the operation relies on a partnership between our local government and the provincial government.

She said that work is done by RDOS seasonal workers, but is also supplemented by contractors that the regional district has now been able to bring on board.

“During the pandemic this past year,” said Kozakevich, “we have seen a huge increase in the number of folks that want to get outside for recreation and make use of our beautiful regional trail system.”

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