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February 2008 Newsletter

Welcome to the February Issue of the UrbanWorkbench Newsletter – keeping you informed on sustainability issues in the Kootenays. If you’ve got a moment, please check out our survey here, (powered by Google Docs).

It’s been over a year since we made the move from the beaches of Newcastle, Australia to the Mountains of the Kootenays in Canada; and in that year we’ve met some great people and had some amazing adventures. To list a few of the highlights…

  1. We bought a house
  2. We grew a fruit and veggie garden
  3. Robyn started work as an engineer again
  4. We caught up with old friends from around the world
  5. We made new friends in the Kootenays
  6. We collected fruit from bear-scat-filled orchards around town
  7. We canned lots of fruit
  8. We traveled around the region
  9. We skied
  10. We relaxed, fishing, camping, and enjoying some fine cafes

Now, in my new role as Manager of Engineering for the City of Rossland, I travel to one of the most beautiful communities in the area every day, and there is an abundance of recreational opportunities available in the area. I try to fit in a lunchtime cross country ski at Black Jack at least once a week in the winter months, and with the weather we’ve had recently, it’s hard to come back to work after soaking up the sunshine out on the tracks.

It’s been an interesting transition for me, from consulting to this position as a manager and approving authority. I’m excited to be part of the management of the city in a time of change such as this. Development continues to dominate much of the local rumor-mill, with Red Resort teaming up with Annika Sorenstam to design the proposed golf course up at the ski hill. If approved, this course would compliment the winter activities of the resort, as well as add to the summer recreation capacity of the city, which features numerous mountain-biking trails and the recently expanded Redstone Golf Course.

Infrastructure capacity and condition remain hot topics, (as in many municipalities and cities around North America). Who pays for the upgrades and when they will be needed have been regularly questioned in the local media, and forming a clear picture of the questions, assumptions and known facts is a big part of my job.

Kootenay Regional Economics

Around the region, we’ve had some interesting news on a proposed local abattoir co-op, which would encourage locally grown meat to be slaughtered locally under the new BC meat regulations.  The region appears to be weathering the  US housing market slump relatively well as a whole. There are notable exceptions, particularly in the forestry industry which has the double blow of the Mountain Pine Beetle and reduced demand for product south of the border.

In Rossland, there has also been recent news of renewed interest in mining in the area. With the price of gold increasing and the trend expected to continue, the possibility of mining in some of the hills around the town could be a reality.

From a population perspective, a local expert, George Penfold, from Selkirk College claims that we will need over 13,000 workers in the West Kootenays in the next five years. Much of this will be required to replace retiring baby-boomers, but also to fill jobs that will provide a level of service to this demographic.

National and International Sustainability News

Sustainable and affordable housing have been on my radar for the past couple of months. With housings starts in the US bottoming out, foreclosures up across all of the states, and the affordability of buying into your first house beyond the reach of most families; housing has reached a crisis point. I’m not exactly sure where all of these people are going, there is certainly an increase in the desirability to be in an urbanized setting, however, this now is on average 40 to 200% more expensive than buying a house in the burbs! It turns out that the least affordable city to purchase a house in, (in Canada) is Kelowna, a three and a half hour drive from our house. For a while we were seriously considering a couple of jobs there, but found that the idea of trying to support a family on one income was pushing our chances of buying a house out the window.

Here in BC, the throne speech and provincial budget were recently announced. With "green" promises forming the basis of much of the budget, I’ll be interested to see how far we get. The introduction of a carbon tax on fuels is a good start towards accountability of non renewable fuel sources.

oval_on Links

My favorite link this week would have to be LiveNeutral’s Carbon Calculator, and the ability to purchase offsets for your vehicle or flying. I’ve also started reading and tracking more blogs focusing on environmental and engineering issues. I’ve been pretty neglectful in keeping up with what others are writing about and commenting on their blogs. In this newsletter, I’ll keep up to date on which articles I’ve read stand out from the crowd through the inclusion of my del.icio.us links, as seen below.


I’d like to thank everyone who has supported this blog and encourage you to email and leave comments for us. If you’ve got any projects or articles that you’d like featured on UrbanWorkbench, let me know, I’d love to feature engineering, environmental and sustainability projects from anywhere in the world.

Mike Thomas

Mike Thomas P.Eng. ENV SP, is the author of UrbanWorkbench.com and Director of Engineering at the City of Revelstoke in the Interior of British Columbia, Canada. If I post something here that you find helpful as you navigate the world of engineering, planning and building communities, that’s wonderful. But when push comes to shove: This is my personal blog. The views expressed on these pages are mine alone and not those of my employer.