Penticton Herald

Environmental groups looking to tap into a new $450,000 South Okanagan Conservation Fund will be invited to submit project proposals beginning in September.

The program, however, is not open to Osoyoos groups or residents.

Directors on a committee of the board of the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen on Thursday tentatively approved the terms of reference for the fund, which will cost the average property owner about $10 per year.

The cash – raised only from Areas A, C, D, E and F, plus the communities of Summerland, Penticton and Oliver – will be used to purchase and restore environmentally sensitive habitats and protect water resources.

The Town of Osoyoos is not included in the program, Council opting out last fall with plans to create its own dedicated conservation fund.

That program is still in the planning stage as the community has since turned its attention to other matters, explained Mayor Sue McKortoff.

Earlier this year, the Town learned it had topped 5,000 population, meaning it would not be responsible for providing for its own policing.

Mayor McKortoff did suggest the Town could still join the RDOS conservation program if necessary.

In a separate vote, the RDOS board tentatively agreed to sole-source the contract for fund administration to the non-profit South Okanagan Similkameen Conservation Program, the driving force behind the project.

Administration costs will be capped at seven per cent ($31,500) and come off the $450,000 contributed by taxpayers.

SOSCP program co-ordinator Brynn White said administration costs will include staff time spent shepherding proposals through the process, advertising and reimbursing expenses for a technical advisory committee that will evaluate applications.

Tom Siddon, the director for Area D (Okanagan Falls/Kaleden), urged colleagues to think carefully about directly awarding a $450,000 deal without putting it to tender.

“I just want to be sure all the directors are comfortable with that. I myself am still getting questions from taxpayers saying … I don’t agree with this, so I think we have to be transparent and we have to be fully aware of the fact that the taxpayers are paying for this,” he said.

However, RDOS chief administrative officer Bill Newell said the contract – which will be renewed annually – presented one of the rare occasions when sole-sourcing is the preferred method of award.

“We believe it’s of such a specific nature that the knowledge and expertise of SOSCP with conservation funds – let’s face it, as champions of development of the conservation fund – put them in a position where they fall into that very narrow perspective of being the one party that could do it best,” explained Mr. Newell.

“I’m sure if we went out to proposal or tender there may be other parties that would bid less in order to do it, but we don’t think we’d get best value through that.”

The committee eventually voted unanimously to refer the contract and terms of reference to the full board for formal approval at its next meeting.

Those terms of reference leave financial management and final approval of funded projects to the RDOS board, which will receive recommendations from the technical advisory committee composed of local experts in fields such as hydrology and ecology.

The call for proposals will got out each September, with winners chosen in November and announced in January.

Successful applicants – which must be non-profits or attached to non-profits – will receive 70 per cent of the cash up front and the balance after project completion.

The fund is modelled on two already in place in the Kootenays, which were the first of their kind in Canada.

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