Slope study monies approved
  By Justin Beddall

District of North Vancouver council has voted in favour of deferring a 2005 budget item and reducing the municipality's contingency fund in order to offset anticipated costs associated with last month's tragic mudslide.

The January 26 hillside disaster that killed one woman, injured her husband and destroyed one home has forced the District to undertake a series of slope safety measures, which includes the hiring of a geotechnological engineer and geotechnical engineering firm.

The additional expense for the 2005 budget is expected to be around $275,000, according to the District's Chief Administrative Officer James Ridge. According to a staff report submitted to council, hiring a geo-technological engineer, who would primarily work with private property owners above and below at-risk slopes to mitigate risks, would cost the District around $125,000 per year.

The District would also retain a geotechnical engineering firm to undertake a slope-safety analysis for its own steeply sloped properties and to develop an at-risk slope management program for the District. Estimated cost: $150,00 per year.

Rather than downloading the expense on taxpayers - which would result in a tax-rate increase to roughly four per cent from the current 3.5 percent rate - Ridge directed staff to look at possible items to defer from the 2005 draft budget to offset the new slope-safety cost.

Items included: Alpine Recreation Plan new parking ($250,000); council contingency (up to $500,000 available); signal traffic coordination in Lynn Valley ($100,00); street ends ($25,00); and recreation commission weight room equipment replacement ($60,000).

Council voted unanimously in favour of deferring for a year the Alpine Rec Plan parking area and to lower the council contingency fund from $500,000 to $475,000 instead of raising taxes.

"Council chose to go with the offset," said Ridge. "Certainly council deliberated the issue but I think they made a very good decision."

He said the initial estimate of the likely workload for a geotech engineer is two years, but noted, "that was our initial estimate of the likely workload, but those are some preliminary estimates."

Ridge said the decision as to whether to hire or contract the positions hasn't been made yet.

"Given the number of slopes in the District, there's enough work to look at private properties, above and below slopes, to keep somebody busy for close to two years."

Coun. Ernie Crist said he has no problem deferring the construction of parking lots until 2006 because he believes the mountain biking issue needs to be broadened to include discussions with the GVRD. As for the reduction of the council contingency fund, the councillor said, "That's not a very serious issue."

Ridge said yesterday that some of the people evacuated from their houses after the mudslide will be returning home in the next 24 hours. 'We're meeting with the remaining evacuees later today (20 households) and some of those folks will be going home today."