Looking back on 2016, Sicamous Mayor Terry Rysz is proud of what was accomplished in the community.
Looking ahead, though, Rysz anticipates some political challenges.
In preparation for his annual year-end chat with the Eagle Valley News, Rysz reviewed his wish list for the community from the year prior, and found himself both surprised and pleased with the plans and projects that have come to fruition since January 2016. Examples include the completion of the Mara water treatment plant, phase 1 one of the waste treatment facility, the roundabout, the community marketing/branding strategy, an update to the official community plan and the purchase of a new portable stage and washroom facilities for events. There are things on his wish list that remain works in progress, such as the search for doctors, improvements to Shuswap Avenue, dredging of the channel and the establishment of an economic development corporation. But for these and other projects, Rysz is of the mind that it’s not a matter of “if,” but “when.”
“I really feel we’re turning Sicamous around. I really feel we’re on the right track. I mean, we’ve done some pretty cool things just in the last two or three years…,” said Rysz.
The mayor is particularly proud of the events the community – the district and/or other groups – hosted over the past year, noting he and council were involved in most of them. He explained the district’s focus on events and activities, as overseen by district recreation programmer Jamie Sherlock, is a way of re-invigorating the community.
“There’s that sense of community, smaller community – It’s a closer-knit feeling and environment, said Rysz. ”That’s what I’m trying to bring to Sicamous. And I think it’s always been there. It’s that we’re starting to bring it back a little bit more.
“Sicamous has kind of been stagnant for a while, since the Moose Mouse Days and that sort of thing. Nothing was really happening and now we’re kind of bringing that vibrancy back.”
Among the more ambitious pursuits the mayor and council have for 2017 and beyond is to develop alternative revenue streams for the district, so that, as Rysz explains, “we don’t have to go to the taxpayer.” To that end, the district is currently investigating possibilities for the generation of hydro electricity. In addition, it has partnered with the Splatsin First Nation and the City of Enderby to pursue a community forest.
“We will do it, we can get it done,” assures Rysz. “The political will is there. We have a tremendously positive arrangement because of our association with First Nations. We can do it and we will.”
Establishing a municipal campground also ranks high on Rysz’s list of priorities.
“We’ve got it in the works and we’re in communication right now with the Agricultural Land Commission and we’re hoping to bring a community campground to Sicamous. It’s important to the community,” said Rysz.
Despite the can-do attitude towards getting things done, there are at least a couple of issues facing the community in 2017 that are of concern for the mayor. One is the proposed closure of Parkview Elementary, to make Eagle River Secondary a K-12 school. Rysz said he and council will fight to keep the school open, or at least that there be some contingency plan in place should there be a boom in the population of school-aged kids.
“What happens if all of a sudden, we do get industry coming into the community, and all of a sudden there’s another 50 to 100 kids… does that mean it’s going to be K to 10, and then our high school kids are going to get bused to Salmon Arm?” said Rysz. “I don’t want to see that happen. So we’ve got to make sure we have a contingency plan in place that will look at our future.”
The other issue facing the mayor and the community is the Bruhn Bridge replacement. So far, three options have been presented by the province, with the mayor showing preference for the option that would include a new Trans-Canada Highway bridge, as well as a second bridge connecting Main Street to Old Spallumcheen Road. This option has generated opposition in the community, and the mayor recognizes he and council will have to make a decision on the matter. The mayor insists, however, that one hasn’t been made yet, though he sees himself standing firm on his decision.
“When it comes to the bridge, I’m going to stay put on how I see it, because I still think it’s the right thing for the community and I do think eventually there are going to be people who come out and stand by me,” said Rysz. “I know one thing, it is going to be very challenging. It could be my Achiles heel when it comes to getting re-elected. We’ll see – if I do decide to run again.”