Courtney McKay

Sproat Lake Marine Patrol funding goes to referendum

Alberni residents will decide how the SLMP is funded.

The Sproat Lake Marine Patrol’s future will be in Alberni residents’ hands when they go to the polls in November.

Due to a vote made by the Alberni-Clayquot Regional District (ACRD) at their Aug. 13 meeting, the decision whether to pay for the $30,000 per year service will be left in voters’ hands, though at a price.

Penny Cote, Vice-Chairperson of the ACRD and the elected official for Sproat Lake, had argued for the ACRD to use the alternate approval process in order to avoid paying for the $10,000 referendum.

The SLMP provides an essential service to not only locals but everyone who comes out to Sproat Lake, said Cote of the service which is currently funded by federal grants. While the SLMP is looking for ACRD funding, they’ve also asked the province for funds.

But regardless of who pays, Cote thinks the SLMP is worth it.

“[They help with]jumpstarting, assisting boaters in distress and providing providing valuable safety information,” she said, and “they do a school education program for all the different age groups for ‘Kids don’t float.’”

They also do more than just provide information.

“The other day someone cut his foot open,” said Ashley Jones, one of the four SLMP volunteers, “so we helped him.” They make sure that boats keep out of the swimming area and keep the water clean and report any invasive species that they see out on the lake.

The SLMP also rents out free lifejackets at the lake for anyone who doesn’t have one.

By keeping an active presence out at the lake, the SLMP is preventing drownings on the lake.

“I would really attribute a lot of the safety here to the education programs and the presence of the marine patrol on the lake. People don’t do silly things while there’s someone out there that looks authorative,” said Cote.

“We’re actually gathering some information right now on drownings, because really we haven’t had any drownings in the area,” said Cote. “When you look around the province at other lakes there’s been terrible tragedies here and there and Transport Canada is using us as an example of the right thing to do [in terms of] educating locals about water safety.”

The program, which started in 2002, is funded by grants up until 2017 but Coun. Jack McLeman, who represents Port Alberni on the ACRD, said that the way the service is funded needs to change after that date.

“I support that we have a Sproat Lake Marine Patrol,” he said, “but what we’re told by the CAO of the regional district is that we can’t keep doing grants and aid to ourselves for one of our services.”

“I really hope that people understand the value that this service provides for everybody and they’ll support it,” said Cote.

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