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Spences Bridge could lose charging station at end of January

TNRD offer to build washroom at site and pay legal fees is not acceptable to trustees
The Spences Bridge EV charging station (l) will have to be removed unless an agreement is reached within the next six weeks regarding its future. An objection to the current site is that it might interfere with first responders at the nearby fire hall. (Photo credit: Barbara Roden)

The trustees of the Spences Bridge Improvement District (SBID) have indicated that they do not plan to accept an offer that would help pave the way for the fast-charging electric vehicle (EV) station to remain in the community, and there are no plans to take the offer to the community for information and input. Unless the situation changes, it means that BC Hydro will be removing the station in early 2021.

The offer comes from the Thompson-Nicola Regional District (TNRD), which has told the SBID that it will construct a washroom at the charging station site and provide funding so that the SBID can hire a lawyer to go over a new lease agreement. SBID trustees have indicated that these are two stumbling-blocks when it comes to the station; a third, about maintaining the site, has been addressed by TNRD Area “I” director Steve Rice, who says that volunteers will look after maintaining the site.

The SBID is currently involved in a five-year lease agreement with the TNRD and BC Hydro regarding the station, which sits on land adjacent to the Spences Bridge fire hall. The lease expires at the end of January 2021, and BC Hydro wants to enter into a direct lease agreement with the SBID, which would see the station remain in its current location for 10 years at a lease rate of $1 per year.

The SBID board has objected to the location, saying that it is a potential obstruction for first responders using the fire hall. They have also raised concerns about people urinating and defecating at the site, snow removal around the station, and the lack of paving.

READ MORE: Controversy in Spences Bridge over fate of EV charging station

Board chair Michael Jefferson argues that the SBID’s letters patent do not afford it the mandate to host or look after the station. However, the SBID told BC Hydro that they could keep the station where it is if they built a full-service washroom there and paid the improvement district $15 a day.

“That would open up a budget under the SBID to hire a maintenance person and create a job,” says Jefferson. “The lack of washrooms is an issue, and we wanted them to do upgrading of the site and pave the area. BC Hydro rejected that, saying it’s not in their mandate. It’s not in our letters patent to subsidize BC Hydro.”

Speaking with the Journal, Jefferson initially said that he was not aware of the TNRD offer. However, both Ron Storie — director of community services for the TNRD — and Alec Tsang, who is in charge of EV infrastructure planning for BC Hydro, say that the offer has been made to the SBID board.

“By phone, Michael has told me that [the offer] won’t work for various reasons,” says Tsang. “He said they don’t have the mandate to lease the land to anybody so can’t do it legally. Other local governments have been able to lease land to our stations for the purpose [of EV stations], so I don’t know what to make of that.”

Tsang is blunt about what the lack of an agreement will mean. “If we don’t get a licence of occupation before the current lease runs out we’ll have to remove the charging station, as we’ll have no right to be on that land.”

Storie says that the TNRD has committed to putting a toilet facility at the site. It will be a joint, concrete-cast, unisex washroom with hand sanitizer and toilet paper, but no running water, similar to what the Ministry of Transportation puts in at highway rest stops. He confirms that there has also been a commitment regarding volunteers to clean the washroom, as well as money to vet the contract between the SBID and BC Hydro. “The SBID says their letters patent don’t allow them to do this [pay a lawyer to vet the contract],” he says.

“This is the best site for [the EV station],” Storie adds. It is a view echoed by Tsang, who says that if residents want the station to stay, BC Hydro would want to keep it in its current location.

“The TNRD conducted a survey to see if there was support for the station, and it had strong support,” he explains. The current site was also the favoured location of the majority of survey respondents. Moving it to another site could be difficult.

“Another site would have to meet our criteria. If it’s on private land it’s easier. If it’s on public land it’s more difficult, because if residents then oppose it we could be in the same position [we’re in now] after going to the expense of moving it.”

Jefferson — who says that he does not recall the survey — is not opposed to the idea of an EV station in Spences Bridge, but says it cannot be on SBID land.

“We’re trying to attract business, so it should be on the highway. The economy in Spences Bridge is very fragile, and the logical location is on the South Frontage Road within five minutes’ walk of amenities. The SBID position is that we support having a charging station in Spences Bridge, but the SBID cannot host it.”

Asked why the board of trustees (Jefferson, Ross Figley, and Cheryl Klyne) nonetheless made an offer to BC Hydro to continue hosting the station, Jefferson says “We made the offer because we’re trying to make it work. In order for us to host it we need $15 a day and washrooms.”

When asked why the TNRD offer is not acceptable, Jefferson says “Any offer from the TNRD is suspect. They are sticking their nose in the SBID. It’s a political agenda being advanced by Rice. He wants it there to serve his political agenda, to further the TNRD agenda to take over the SBID. If the TNRD comes in in any way, shape, or form it will be the end of the Spences Bridge Improvement District.

“It’s not the TNRD’s mandate to do such things, to step on the SBID and take them over. The [current] site was chosen for political purposes. BC Hydro [-built] washrooms would be an SBID asset. TNRD washrooms would eliminate the SBID from the equation. If the TNRD does this it would be the thin end of the wedge. The TNRD doesn’t do anything for free. We can’t rely on the TNRD. They’ve shown their cards. They’re not friendly to Spences Bridge.”

Jefferson feels that the solution is for BC Hydro and the Ministry of Transportation to partner together to find a new site for the station. “The station has nothing to do with our mandate. We said move it; what you do with it after that, we don’t care.”

In reply to Tsang’s comment about BC Hydro leasing land from other local governments, Jefferson says “Maybe we’re the only location where people have looked at their mandate to see if they can lawfully host such a thing.”

He adds that the TNRD offer will not be on the agenda of the SBID’s next meeting, in January, and that the board of trustees does not have any plans to bring the offer to the community’s residents for review or discussion.

“It’s not our mandate to entertain these questions. The only reason we’re dealing with it now is because we’re stuck with it from five years ago. It’s an albatross around the SBID’s neck. We can’t be the host, and it’s not fair for BC Hydro or the TNRD to say so. The solution — from my personal perspective and from the trustees — is move it to the highway. That’s the opinion of the community, and has been for some time. That way the Province can support Spences Bridge instead of taking things away.”

Tsang says that, based on the TNRD’s offer of support for the station with a washroom and legal supports, they are prepared to leave the station where it is if the SBID signs a licence of occupation.

“The ball is in their court, and we’re waiting for an official response. We’re giving stakeholders from Spences Bridge time to work things out, and we want to support those stakeholders by giving them a chance to keep a station.”

Asked if BC Hydro has encountered this type of difficulty anywhere else it has put EV charging stations, Tsang says no.

“BC Hydro has almost 80 fast charging sites across the province, and this is the first time we’re run into this situation.”

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