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Monique Keiran: We depend on regional infrastructure

Here on the coast, where concerns about frost pass sooner, the warm-weather construction season begins earlier than most places in Canada. At home, Nature Boy and I are moving on to Book 3 in the ongoing saga of our kitchen renovation.

Here on the coast, where concerns about frost pass sooner, the warm-weather construction season begins earlier than most places in Canada.

At home, Nature Boy and I are moving on to Book 3 in the ongoing saga of our kitchen renovation. Outside, we get to experience snarled-up traffic due to the year-by-year march of road-repair projects throughout the region.

According to my property-tax bill, the region and municipalities accepted the necessity of upgrading subsurface infrastructure years ago. Those upgrades (and the tax bill) are other seasonal highlights.

And of course, we have two major bridge projects to make tempers boil. Drivers already must find alternatives to the Craigflower Bridge. And even though the Johnson Street Bridge will stay open during construction of its replacement, crossing the region’s core-area waterways is sure to become an interesting adventure.

Roadways. Water mains, sewer lines, storm-water systems. Sidewalks. Bridges. Sewage-treatment plants and holding tanks. It’s the infrastructure that enables us to live close together, work next to each other, and get around. It tethers us physically and financially to the region and the community.

Planning, building, maintaining and now upgrading infrastructure employ thousands throughout the region. It often requires co-ordination among multiple layers of government and between governments.

Metchosin Mayor John Ranns recently proposed to reorganize the region into a mere six municipalities. During this latest debate about amalgamation, some people have gone on record equating a merger of municipalities with obsolescence of the Capital Regional District.

Delight and enthusiasm at the prospect has been expressed. No doubt the unending wastewater treatment debacle contributes to that feeling.

I’m hardly a devotee of the CRD. Nonetheless, I point out that little real discussion has occurred regarding how the region’s truly regional infrastructure and services would be managed under amalgamation. At no time during the exchange of opinions has anyone explained how this particular amalgamation configuration could make redundant the need for a regional government of some sort.

Even with only six municipalities instead of the current 13 plus three electoral areas, infrastructure and service will still have to be managed and provided across the entire region.

By this, I mean provision and treatment of drinking water. I mean solid-waste management — the Hartland landfill, in particular. I also mean support of the region’s hospital network.

And, despite the protests, a higher level of wastewater treatment around here is going to happen. Federal and provincial governments have made the requirement clear and non-negotiable. And that service, in whatever form it happens, and that infrastructure, wherever the holding tanks and treatment plants are to be located, will need to be delivered and managed to all regional residents hooked up to the system now and in the future.

No single municipality now or under Ranns’s reconfiguration has the population base to underwrite any of those services for itself.

Providing high-cost, high-infrastructure services across the region’s many small municipalities is one of the reasons the CRD was established.

Sure, some other services and resources the CRD is responsible for could be hived off to the municipalities. I suspect that so-far hypothetical solution would result in less service. For example, even though CRD has reduced its park-education programming in recent years, it still provides more person-to-person contact with residents and invests more in parks and park education than any municipality does.

The current mix of local and regional government is cumbersome and needs improvement. But if we’re serious about finding solutions to make it work better, we need to consider what local municipalities and residents need, what the entire region needs and how the region can best serve the municipalities — both now and in the coming decades.

If citizens insist, local politicians act and some form of amalgamation actually happens, it may well result in a reconfiguration of regional government. Not, however, necessarily an end to regional government.

Because each municipality in the region is tethered and networked to each other through the regional infrastructure and services we all depend on.