Online Community News for Lumby, Cherryville, Rural Coldstream and Highway 6
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No Rules Carbon Offsets
A few things you may not know about corporate offsetting
By Don Elzer
We are now paying a Carbon Tax here in BC and the move represents one of many intended to bring about a new era of direct investment into our environment.

Between now and the end of this year just about everyone will know what a carbon-offset is. Carbon-offsets will be at the core of the US presidential race; they will be the chief point of discussion as we re-negotiate free trade; and they may be used to prime the financial resources to build Site C Dam here in BC if the province leverages its carbon tax with carbon-offset funds, a formula that could prime the construction of hundreds of other privately held energy related projects.

A carbon-offset is a financial instrument representing a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Although there are six primary categories of greenhouse gases, carbon offsets are measured in metric tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent (CO2e). One carbon offset represents the reduction of one metric ton of carbon dioxide, or its equivalent in other greenhouse gases.

There are two primary markets for carbon offsets. In the larger compliance market, companies, governments or other entities buy carbon offsets in order to comply with caps on the total amount of carbon dioxide they are allowed to emit. In 2006, about $5.5 billion of carbon offsets were purchased in the compliance market world-wide, representing about 1.6 billion metric tons of CO2e reductions.

In the much smaller voluntary market, individuals, companies, or governments purchase carbon offsets to mitigate their own greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, electricity use, and other sources. For example, an individual might purchase carbon offsets to compensate for the greenhouse gas emissions caused by personal air travel. In 2006, about $91 million of carbon offsets were purchased in the voluntary market globally, representing about 24 million metric tons of CO2e reductions.

Offsets are typically generated from emissions-reducing projects. The most common project type is renewable energy, such as wind farms, biomass energy, or hydroelectric dams. Other common project types include energy efficiency projects, the destruction of industrial pollutants or agricultural byproducts, destruction of landfill methane, and forestry projects.

For the most part carbon-offsets are purchased from a company or an agency that holds a carbon-offset portfolio which consists of a variety of projects all seeking to lower CO2e emission. The more emission reductions they can prove, the stronger their portfolio is. These companies now trade on various exchanges, one being the Chicago Climate Exchange, another being the Montreal Climate Exchange.

In 2007, consumers and corporations in the US spent $330 million on offsets, but this amount might dwarf the potential as the US congress will be debating competing carbon-reduction plans this summer. The leading bill up for debate is the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act which would require companies to reduce their carbon emissions a full 70 percent by 2050 and will more than likely serve as the core legislation that Canada will use as a foundation to a similar carbon reduction law.

The Lieberman-Warner bill will allow companies to use carbon-offsets to achieve up to 30 percent of their reductions. Other proposals to congress allow a much higher percentage of carbon-offsetting.

When adopted into law the federally regulated offset market will grow to 40 times what it is today and could amount to over $13 billion in the US alone.

Carbon offsets represent a new form of investment that could be described as a corporate controlled tax that can at the end of the day realize huge profits for companies. In the old days a government would implement a tax that would force compliance, then with that money they would implement a plan to fix the problem – or not.

The future under offsetting has governments creating a guidance framework, and handing the problem off to corporations who then invest in their own version of problem solving – or not.

Here’s an example.

One of the most potent contributors to harmful emissions remains industrial pollutants such as hydrofluorocarbons known as HFC-23. Between 2003 and 2012, carbon-offset investment will pay $6 billion to refrigeration companies to incinerate 43,000 tons of HFC-23 which in turn will prevent the harmful emission from entering the atmosphere.

It’s important to note that while such carbon-offsets may be a good investment, the fact remains that the actual price tag for incinerating this HFC-23 is about $150 million. This means that the refrigeration companies are realizing a profit of well over $5 billion along with carbon-offset management firms.

And here lies the problem.

Carbon trading could be a proliferation of the free market into public spaces and environmental policy-making. Right now, a handful of companies managing carbon offset portfolios are scurrying around to find projects to sell to investors all with a very thin level of accounting and accountability.

Many carbon-offset projects that are being sold as good for the planet follow a dubious science with destructive impacts on local people and ecosystems. Critics of carbon trading, such as Carbon Trade Watch, argue that it places disproportionate emphasis on individual lifestyles and carbon footprints, distracting attention from the wider, systemic changes and the collective political action that needs to happen in order to really tackle climate change.

The criticisms are many, however carbon trading and offsetting is here to stay and it represents a new era in big picture problem-solving driven by the will of corporations. This new framework also represents the foundation of our next economic bubble. If the system could truly grow stewardship and social responsibility it could evolve the corporate agenda into a new sort of social enterprise.

Really, what about “poverty offsetting” or “cultural offsetting” or even “community offsetting” all requiring corporations to voluntarily spend a portion of their revenues on social targets as though they were part of business core operations.

Such scenarios will be in our future, whether corporate integrity will deliver the goods, that’s the real question.

But in the meantime you and I should be very careful about what we’re investing in as we consider buying into a carbon-offset portfolio. It’s no longer retirement savings at risk, it’s the planet.


Part 1 – TOB Special Report:
Seniors Housing: What could we be thinking?
February 4, 2008

Local healthcare may be surfacing as the primary issue facing both residents and local government in 2008. After more than two decades it appears as though Lumby may be going back to the drawing board as it attempts to secure affordable seniors housing in the village.

Mayor Eric Foster was positive when he told us this past Fall, “I’m confident this will be our big deal in 2008,” but the mayor is now under pressure from residents who are beginning to believe that a local solution to seniors housing may not happen in their lifetime.

Currently, anyone needing an assisted living facility must leave the community and move to Vernon, Kelowna or even the Kootenays.

What 150 people learned at a public meeting last week was that the present proposal to build a facility in the village may be so far off the original community goal that it comes close to being simply another housing development.

Affordable housing for seniors in the Lumby region has been the subject of discussion and numerous failed attempts to get government support for over two decades. The most recent proposal by a private developer  has been under discussion and negotiation since 2005 with only occasional public information and discussion. Now, this latest proposal seems doomed to fall off the table as well.

In a last-ditch effort to raise public awareness and concern, local residents Pat Pointer and Cheryl Altwasser organized a public meeting at the Whitevalley Community Hall on January 31st to help the community find out what has been happening to a proposed seniors housing development in the Village of Lumby.

The 150 people who attended the meeting discussed the current proposal for a housing facility, and other potential options. The village has been in discussions with the Lumby Seniors Housing Society and Caretenders Inc. to construct a residential facility on publicly owned land on Glencaird Avenue next to the Lumby Health Unit.

“It brought out all of the questions that need to be answered,” said Cheryl Altwasser.

The audience had a chance to hear specific details and opinions regarding the current proposal from several interested parties that included representatives from the Lumby Health Services Society, Lumby and District Seniors Housing Society, Advocates for Seniors Care, Interior Health, the Village of Lumby and NORD. Also in attendance was a representative from the proposed housing developer, Caretenders.

Pat Pointer, chair of the Health Services Society, opened the meeting by saying, “I hope some form of affordable housing for seniors in the community will be built,” but expressed some doubt as to whether the current proposal will meet that need.

Pointer urged the community to come up with a development concept that could meet the needs of seniors, not only for affordability, but also for a range of care services that would include meals, housekeeping, personal care and medication assistance.

Judy Gibbs, chair of the Seniors Housing Society, presented a brief history of the attempts to get a new seniors housing development built in Lumby. Their original development was Saddle Mountain, a housing complex, consisting of 40 rental units for low-income seniors. Although the rentals are offered as independent living accommodation, some residents are receiving additional care services from Interior Health on an as-needed basis.

Over the past decade, the Society has attempted to obtain funding for a new seniors housing development, but have met only with frustration and repeated rejection by government funding sources.
Gibbs stated that the Housing Society's involvement with the current proposal is to leverage land for the development in order to secure an agreement with Caretenders. Based on an arrangement sanctioned by Lumby Village Council the society would contribute the 2 acres owned by the Village of Lumby to the project at its appraised market value of $400,000 in return for a pro-rata equity share in the development of approximately 2.5 per cent of the total value.

However Gibbs said that the Housing Society is mandated by their constitution to provide "low cost rental housing for low-income seniors". While not entirely happy with the current proposal, she felt it was "the best deal we could get under the circumstances".
Although not invited to the meeting by the organizers, Caretender representative Cindy Makarenko appeared at the request of Mayor Eric Foster, to provide specific details about the proposed development, which could be best, described as a strata title model with a term ownership option.

“This model serves to preserve the wealth of local seniors while enhancing their lifestyles through the provision of supportive services at reasonable rates,” said Makarenko.

She said the development would consist of 75 one and two bedroom strata title units in a multi-story building that would be for sale to the general public outright or on a life-lease with a guaranteed buy-back. Makarenko estimated the total development cost at around $15 million and said that Caretenders would raise the capital through private investors. She estimated the selling price in the range of $225,000 to $300,000.

The development would also include a 7000 square foot dining and recreation area for the residents. In addition to the unit purchase, all buyers would be required to pay for a service package that would include 2 meals a day, weekly housekeeping, laundry, and monitoring of an emergency alert system.

The cost for the service package would be in the range of $1,200 to $1,500 per month according to Makarenko.
“It will serve to assist many seniors within the community experiencing difficulties with their daily living activities,” she said.

When asked whether any units in the development would be made available as rentals for low-income seniors, Makarenko stated that it was not economically feasible to include rental units and that they could not offer any guarantees to the Housing Society. There were also questions about the availability of additional care services. Makarenko stated that Caretenders might apply for a license to provide assisted living services at a future date, but only if there was sufficient demand for it.

Mayor Eric Foster spoke about the involvement of the Village in the current project, saying that they were not able to offer any direct benefit to a private developer and could not negotiate directly with Caretenders. However, the Village had made a commitment to donate the 2 lots opposite the Village office to the Housing Society in 2005, provided the Society was able to conclude an agreement with a private developer.

“I’d like to see it go ahead,” said Foster of the project.

Speaking for Caretenders, Cindy Makarenko stated that they were "close to a deal" with the Housing Society.

But that comment didn’t sit well with Joe Deuling, the lawyer for the Housing Society, who responded to Makarenko's statement, saying that the Society had sent Caretenders a proposal in November of last year, and has had no response from them since. Due to the slow pace of negotiations, the Village Council passed a resolution in early January, advising the Housing Society that it would withdraw its land contribution if the Society could not reach an agreement with Caretenders by February 29th.

And that closing date leaves some residents wondering what the next step is.

“What happens to the land if it goes back to the village? What will they do with it?” said Cheryl Altwasser. She believes there may be other options for pursuing seniors housing, such as raising community funds.

“Some people want to go on our own with it,” she said, adding that there’s hope that a core group will be established to research various options.

Caretenders officials believe their project is the best alternative given that no government grants exist.

When the public was invited to ask questions after the presentations, most were skeptical as to whether the current proposal was affordable and questioned whether seniors who need low-cost housing would be able buy into a strata-title development. There was also considerable optimism expressed by some that it was possible to create low-cost housing for seniors here in our community if everyone was to get behind a development proposal that would meet the needs of resident seniors.

“We got a feeling of what the community wants,” said Judy Gibbs of the Seniors Housing Society leaving an impression that there may be a move to go back to the drawing board.

But for the mayor, he doesn’t believe there were any viable alternatives to the Caretenders proposal offered at the meeting.

“I’m discouraged but I believe that the Housing Society and Caretenders are still trying to work out an agreement,” he said and then added, “The message from the people at the meeting is that they don’t like the proposal - they think it’s too expensive and people can’t afford to live there.”

Meanwhile the February 29th deadline looms, and perhaps without any dialogue between the Housing Society and Caretenders, it remains an open question whether the current proposal will ever see the light of day.

A recent check of Cartenders website, shows a link to Lumby, which is advertised as "coming soon, check back for details".

And the 20 year legacy of disappointment continues as a work in progress.


Water is gold as a city emerges on Silver Star?
December 8, 2007
By Don Elzer

In the North Okanagan we have an issue that appears to be flying under the radar and it’s one that strikes at the core of community planning and habitat protection.

Silver Star Resort has been trying to construct a water reservoir on the mountain large enough to sustain 16,000 people, and there are additional wells that will accommodate even more people.

At this point, should we ponder that the housing and services required to accommodate such a population is going far beyond the scope of resort planning on the mountain and is now moving into the realm of constructing a city up there, complete with the potential sprawl that plagues us at the valley bottom.

Giving developers free rein as long as they can prove water and convince local government to carry the ongoing burden of such services is running rampant through the Okanagan.

Resorts such as Silver Star are important to our community, we recognize their contribution to the local economy and to the endless recreational services they provide residents and visitors.

But one local decision maker summed it up well when he told me, “It’s expected that developers will do everything they can to make their project happen, we’ve come to expect that, but it’s up to local government to watch them and regulate whenever there is a need.”

A year ago Silver Star Resorts took it upon themselves to build a dam in order to create the water reservoir that would allow the resort to proceed with new development at the ski hill.

However it was not to be, in January the North Okanagan Regional District and the provincial government discovered that no water license was approved for the project. At that point the public learned about a provincial stop work order on the project.

The provincial Ministry of Environment issued the order with a ministry spokesperson saying that an unlicensed dam can pose a threat to the public.

"Public safety was our primary concern,“ said Craig Beeson of the ministry's water stewardship division. "They shouldn't have started without first submitting an application." Beeson said that regulations require that developers must apply for a license first and then apply for a leave of construction as a second step.

The ministry found the project was already underway through ’word of mouth,' Beeson said. The reservoir is at Vance Creek overlooking Lumby and Beeson said some homes in the area were put at risk.

“If the dam had filled and then failed there is always the risk of property damage or injuries," he said.

Last January, the Environment Ministry expected to decide within six weeks if Silver Star's new reservoir could proceed or not.

Technical Officer Mike Edwards said their review would include how much water is available and what the impact will be downstream on other licensees and fish habitat. He also said the Conservation Service is investigating to see if charges under the province's Water Act are warranted against the resort, for proceeding with the project before getting approval.

That was a year ago, and now the resort is complaining that they don’t have a water license approved, development is on hold and that NORD is to blame. Now NORD appears to be scurrying to accommodate the resorts wishes.

Area D director Rick Fairbairn represents the part of NORD, which has residents who live below the reservoir and who have existing water licenses. Those residents have a say in any additional water license that may be applied for within the Vance Creek drainage.

Were those residents informed of the reservoir before the province blew the whistle?

“I know the water users in the Vance Creek watershed have had problems with the reservoir proposal and have made a comprehensive request to the province stating concerns, I believe an evaluation has been completed but I have no confirmation if the province has responded to them,” said Fairbairn.

There really appears to be a lack of public process on this issue, which is odd since at the end of the day, it’s our local government that will be required to take ownership of this reservoir or any other water system that is built by the developer.

At the time, Silver Star general manager Michael Sherwood said a water license application was made in September of 2006 and they were waiting for government approval. He said the lack of a license was the only thing standing in the way of opening the reservoir.

Sherwood said the reservoir is an important part of the future of Silver Star. The increased water capacity of the new reservoir will allow more accommodations to be built at the resort.

At the time he didn’t know how long the water license approval would take but believed the typical time period for the approval process can vary from months to years.

The engineer for the reservoir told the ministry that it was too dangerous to leave the project unfinished and so they were allowed to finish the dam. Beeson said Silver Star is not permitted to fill the reservoir with water and must provide weekly updates. "They have been complying with the order to not fill the dam," he said

The delay in providing the license is no doubt part of a bigger picture problem facing the entire Okanagan valley, an ever-expanding population with a limited amount of water.

This issue has to become a more public process; the new reservoir would represent the second on the mountain that depends on snowmelt. Is there enough snowmelt to serve 16,000 plus people while sustaining traditional users in the watershed?

Even when we consider that water use might be all about us, it’s clearly not.

Extreme interference with runoff will impact our aquifers, wetlands and our creek levels, and how will that impact habitat here.

So let’s ask the big question that needs to be asked. Do we want a city at the top of Silver Star Mountain?