The existing CBT offices relative to Valemount. /RMG MAP

By Laura Keil

Columbia Basin Trust is inviting you to have your say about the future of the region. You will soon be able to share your ideas as the organization embarks on its Our Trust, Our Future initiative to gather input on the future of Columbia Basin Trust.

It wasn’t until after 1973 that the lush valley south of Valemount flooded behind the newly-built Mica Dam, turning the serpentine Canoe River into a vast reservoir that irreparably changed the landscape. The new reservoir wreaked havoc on ecosystems, wildlife and future logging and hunting opportunities.

It’s been well documented that little thought was given to the environmental impacts of the dams at the time, and the human impacts were handled as unfortunate but necessary collateral damage. The Mica Dam was one of three projects built by BC Hydro under the 1964 Columbia River Treaty to help manage flood control mainly in the U.S. and to generate electricity on both sides of the border. The other two treaty dams are Duncan Dam and High Arrow Dam (later renamed the Hugh Keenleyside Dam).

Since the 1990s, Valemount has been rightfully included in the Columbia Basin Trust, an organization that supports economic, environmental and social projects in the regions affected by the dams. The organization was created with an endowment from the Province, aimed at soothing some of the grievances locals still had regarding the way they and the landscape was treated when the dams were built.

Today, Columbia Basin Trust has four offices, all located in the southern part of the Basin—in Castlegar, Nakusp, Cranbrook and Golden—with the vast majority of CBT employees in Castlegar. The northern end of the Basin’s reservoirs doesn’t have a CBT office.

Is it time for CBT to solidify its presence in the northern half of the Basin? In my view, opening a CBT office in Valemount wouldn’t just benefit us, it would benefit the Columbia Basin Trust as a whole.

The Columbia Basin is a massive area, since the dams and resulting reservoirs had such a massive impact. But CBT’s brick and mortar locations appear in only a small fraction of the area affected. Opening a Valemount office would help cement in people’s minds the actual footprint of the Columbia River Treaty’s effects.

For Valemount, it would obviously be a win: professional jobs, additional incomes in the community, and a stronger connection to CBT programs. Even two new professional jobs would make a difference in our small village. Many existing jobs they advertise are not linked to a specific location and can be “based out of any of our four offices: Castlegar, Cranbrook, Nakusp and Golden.”

It would also strengthen the CBT’s awareness of issues occuring in Valemount, especially ones pertaining to Kinbasket Lake.

The driving distance to CBT’s existing locations puts this picture into relief: Valemount residents who sit on Columbia Basin Trust boards must drive five hours to Golden, seven hours to Cranbrook and Nakusp, and nine hours to Castlegar for in-person meetings. Most representatives from CBT don’t make the drive to Valemount, except for the occasional AGM.

While Valemount CBT employees would be far from their colleagues, if COVID has taught us anything, it’s that we can collaborate despite long distances.

In fact, I believe it would enrich and strengthen the end result.