Twelve for ’12

Roszan Holmen, Laura Lavin and Erin McCracken – identify the top issues that will affect the lives of Victoria and Esquimalt residents

If you live in Victoria or Esquimalt 2012  will be a year of celebration.

Both municipalities celebrate landmark anniversaries this year, with Victoria blowing out 150 candles and Esquimalt, 100.

But 2012 will also be a year of decision and change.

Front and centre for both communities is policing.

Esquimalt is looking to hire the RCMP for policing, moving away from a partnership it has had with VicPD since 2003.

Victoria city council will also be looking at replacing or renovating Crystal Pool. A decision on the pool is expected early in the  new year.

Over in Esquimalt, another hot-button issue is development, as the township looks to secure more affordable housing and moves forward with its Esquimalt Village plan.

A new year brings genesis for change, and 2012 will be no different as our communities and region move forward into the future.

Take a look at how we see 2012 taking shape, with our special Twelve for ‘12 feature.

1.

Landmark anniversaries – Victoria celebrates its 150 birthday and Esquimalt marks its centennial in 2012.

In Victoria, expect special events such as Symphony Splash on Aug. 5; and celebrate the Capital’s birthday on Aug. 2 with a day-long bash. On this anniversary of incorporation, Centennial Square will see clowns and activities. Also, scattered about downtown and beyond, art installations and performances will highlight the history and significance of special landmarks throughout the city.

In Esquimalt, the township celebrates the anniversary of its Sept. 1, 1912 incorporation as a municipality. While there will be activities all year long, the major celebration takes place Sept. 8. Esquimalt is also preparing memorial walk and centennial book projects.

2.

Crystal Pool – Early in the new year, Victoria city council will set its infrastructure priorities, and Crystal Pool will weigh heavily in these discussions. At issue is whether to entirely rebuild the aging recreation facility, or to pump big bucks into repairs to extend its life.

A consultant’s report brought to light in November reconfirmed what was already known: the building is at the end of its useful life and serious action is needed, pronto.

Pool lovers need not worry, however. In one of council’s last decisions before the municipal election, it voted to keep the centre alive, in one form or another, no matter what. Simple demolition is not an option.

Beyond just the pool, Victoria’s infrastructure will be the hot topic in 2012. This includes the main fire hall and, more significant but less flashy, is the state of sewer and storm drains. The result of this condition assessment could seriously impact the city’s estimated $467 million infrastructure deficit. Expect funding for these and other infrastructure projects to dominate budget talks.

3.

Johnson Street Bridge – No discussion about Victoria’s infrastructure would be complete without mentioning the Johnson Street Bridge – likely the most expensive project in the city’s history.

Of course, 2012 won’t be a momentous year for the bridge: the big decisions have already been made and the public won’t see any new construction until early 2013.

Most visually significant will be the decommissioning of the rail bridge, currently locked into the raised position. The work will likely be done in February and isn’t expected to cause any major traffic disruptions.

Contractors will also spend many months relocating underwater Telus utility lines. In the spring, the city will begin pre-qualifying companies wishing to secure the contract to build the new bridge. The city plans to award this contract by the end of 2012.

4.

E&N Rail Line – Rail enthusiasts have February circled on their calendar.

The Island Corridor Foundation has pledged to release the results of a report on the condition of all of the bridges and trestles along the E&N Rail Line in February.

A lot rests on a getting a passing grade.

The province has pledged $7.5 million in funds for tracks upgrades, with two caveats.

One, the federal government must pledge the same amount; and two, the bridges and trestles must not require any major investments.

The Island Corridor Foundation says it can get the E&N train up and running in 2013, should it secure the $15 million grant.

So far, no word from the feds on the likelihood of seeing any money.

5.

Transit – How to deal with transit on a regional level is a question that remains unanswered in Greater Victoria.

An independent review of B.C. Transit scheduled to be released in 2012 will address funding formulas and governance hopefully giving Greater Victorians more control of their transportation options.

The review is being done with an eye to moving control of transit from the Victoria Regional Transit Commission to the Capital Regional District.

Light rail is being touted as the most effective remedy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve transit ridership, reduce roadway congestion, increase property values, generate jobs and provide more cost savings over the long run.

Also driving the light rail project is a forecasted boom in the West Shore’s population, which is expected to climb to 122,000 by 2038. Transit has proposed a $950-million electric light-rail transit system for the region.

6.

CPR building – Following successful completion of lease negotiations, the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority plans to have the CPR Steamship Terminal operational and open to the public by July 2012.

The plan will see the renovated CPR building become a vibrant community hub for visitors and local residents offering a mixture of retail, service, exhibit attractions, food and beverage and office use.

Initially, GVHA will focus on re-opening the CPR terminal with food, beverage and retail operators, which will serve as a stepping stone to advance its plans for a consolidated common-use ferry terminal.

7.

Jeneece Place – Jeneece Edroff has gone from a little girl collecting pennies for Variety the Children’s Charity to a young woman able to make a difference in the lives of families.

Jeneece Place, a home-away-from-home for children requiring medical services in Victoria, is a project of the Queen Alexandra Foundation for Children.

Due to open in January, Jeneece Place is located on the grounds of the Victoria General Hospital and includes eight bedrooms to accommodate families who need to travel to Victoria for care at the hospital. It will also have a kitchen, living, dining and play areas. More than $4 million has been raised to build the home.

Jeneece led the efforts on the project and rallied the community alongside the Queen Alexandra Foundation to help make her dream a reality.

The project attracted significant support from Telus through the 2010 Telus World Skins Game, a $1-million gift from the Norgaard Foundation, and a matching gift of $1 million from the Queen Alexandra Foundation’s endowment to support operating expenses.

Many other individual and corporate donors have come together and there is $1.6 million left to raise from a goal of $5.5 million.

8.

Victoria-Esquimalt policing – The township of Esquimalt will follow through with a look at policing in the new year.

Mayor Barb Desjardins said that council and the Esquimalt Policing and Law Enforcement Advisory Panel are prevented from releasing its report by the Community Charter and confidentiality agreements with the Victoria Police Department and the RCMP, until the solicitor general makes a decision, which should come in mid- to late-January.

“We have conducted a process of integrity and high quality and we will see it to completion,” Desjardins said during the township’s inaugural council meeting.

The township was asked to provide further information to the solicitor general, who will make a decision on policing in the area.

If the province approves the township’s RCMP recommendation, the union says its collective agreement would continue, and the union would apply to the B.C. Labour Relations Board for successor rights to represent the non-unionized RCMP officers who would work in Esquimalt.

The union representing Victoria police officers has warned Esquimalt that if it contracts RCMP services, there could be serious financial, administrative and legal repercussions.

9.

Film industry – It’s hoped the busy pace of Greater Victoria’s film and TV production industry in late 2011 will continue into 2012.

There was a rebound in the number of projects filmed in the region in the last quarter of 2011, making up for a lacklustre 2010, when projects pumped just $6.7 million into the local economy, down from $13 million in 2009.

Several film projects caused a stir in Greater Victoria in 2011, including several commercials, documentaries, made-for-TV movies, episodes for a TV series, as well as major motion pictures.

The Greater Victoria Film Commission has its fingers crossed that a made-for-TV movie, which is about Victoria, will be filmed here, said Kathleen Gilbert, Greater Victoria film commissioner.

The commission sent out several film location packages to producers in December, an encouraging sign that there is interest in bringing more projects to the region, she said.

“I think it’s going to be a good year,” Gilbert said.

10.

Shipyard jobs – The phone has been ringing off the hook at Victoria Shipyards with calls from people around the world interested in working on a slate of new ships ordered by the federal government.

Seaspan Marine Corp., which owns and operates Vancouver Shipyards and Victoria Shipyards in Esquimalt, was awarded an $8-billion contract in October to build Canadian Coast Guard and non-combat Royal Canadian Navy ships over the next 15 to 20 years.

Work will begin on the coast guard’s offshore fisheries science vessel later this year, but Victoria Shipyards union officials expect to see a hiring blitz of several hundred workers leading up to that.

Millions of dollars in infrastructure projects are also planned for the two shipyards.

11.

West Coast Naval Fleet – The Royal Canadian Navy’s fleet of ships stationed at CFB Esquimalt will again see quite a bit of action over the coming year.

HMCS Vancouver will be welcomed home in February, marking an end to a seven-month patrol mission in the Mediterranean Sea.

The West Coast fleet is sending its biggest-ever contingent of vessels to the world’s largest military exercise that involves Pacific Rim allied nations every second summer off Hawaii’s coast. Under U.S. command, the Rim of the Pacific mock war will involve hundreds of ships, submarines and aircraft, as well as tens of thousands of personnel.

More naval warships will receive mid-life maintenance and upgraded combat systems. HMCS Calgary is expected to leave maintenance on June 15, then its combat systems will be overhauled. The vessel will conduct sea trials in February 2013.

HMCS Winnipeg is next in line for the extensive overhaul, followed by HMCS Vancouver, which will be prepared in November to go under the knife.

The only submarine permanently stationed on the West Coast, HMCS Victoria, is expected to return to full operational status this year, ending a massive six-year-overhaul.

12.

Esquimalt development – Esquimalt is trying to position itself as a municipality where there is abundant affordable housing, especially timely with the Victoria Shipyards’ creation of hundreds of new jobs this year to help build a slew of new ships for the federal government.

Plans to build two 12-storey residential towers on Esquimalt Road near Head Street have been given the green light, though no construction date has been announced.

Voters showed support for the Esquimalt Village Plan in a November referendum. Mayor Barb Desjardins hopes to move the project forward so that two mixed-use buildings up to eight- and 12-storeys tall can go up near municipal hall on Esquimalt Road. A second public hearing on the issue will likely happen next month.

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