by Frances Welwood
“Water”, the common denominator in so many human ventures, has been a constant theme for discussion, debate and much digging and diverting in this attractive neighbourhood five kilometers north of Nelson on the west arm of Kootenay Lake.
Ever since the first mighty cedar on what became the Ridgewood Road subdivision was felled around 1950, the provision of that essential commodity “water” has occupied the Ridgewood community.
In the late 1940s the area was regarded by local residents as the heavily timbered sector of the late Cominco General Manager Selwyn G. Blaylock’s 42 Acre estate. The mountainside, intersected just above Kootenay Lake by the provincial highway, was subdivided into 34 Lots of varying size, configuration, views, lake front access and serviceability. First to recognize the residential potential of this Blaylock extension were a foursome of local young WWII veterans.
Under provisions of the Veterans’ Land Act of 1942, returned military men were encouraged to settle on small rural or suburban properties. In 1950 generous loans were extended to the veterans for construction of their own homes. 1.6 acre Lots on Ridgewood Road, owned by the recently-widowed Mrs. Kathleen Blaylock, were offered to vets along with interest-free loans. Mortgage payments for a Lot accommodating a home not greater than 1,025 square feet were $19.90 per month over 25 years.
Veterans Jack Richards, Bob Collinson, Fred Thompson and Bruce Latremouille were the first to take up the federal government’s offer and stake their claim on Lots near the entrance to the Blaylock subdivision and in 1953 they set to building their family homes. Their first priority was to clear access to all Lots and construct a rough gravel route around the upper loop of Ridgewood Road. Then came taming and utilizing the naturally-provided spring waters of Blunt Creek.
In November 1953 Leon Selk Simmons of Montrose BC was granted a Conditional Water Licence allowing him to “divert and use” Blunt and Roberts Creeks and Selk and Simmons Springs, on the mountainside above the new settlement. With the aid of a personal loan of $12,000 from the “original property owner”, Kathleen Blaylock, Simmons constructed a gravity water system to service the residents and Lots of the Ridgewood Road community. Theoretically the system was completed by December of 1956, but the growing number of property owners and water users, who paid connection and regular water rates to Mr. Simmons, were rarely satisfied with the services received. Pipes leaked, the tank required a cover and certain properties experienced seasonal flooding.
The residents formed a Ridgewood Water-Users Committee and in January 1961
initiated correspondence with Mrs. Blaylock (and her lawyer). Mrs. Blaylock, from whom the residents had purchased their Lots, offered the information that although Simmons may have collected annual rates from Ridgewood property owners, he had not repaid any amount on her loan (nor even the interest). She suggested that Mr. Simmons might be open to selling the system to the residents of Ridgewood Road.
Matters remained unchanged until October 1965 when Letters Patent issued under the BC Water Act, created a legal entity—the Ridgewood Improvement District (RID). RID’s main purpose was to provide water for the benefit of the property owners.
Late 1966 brought the news that Simmons had given RID verbal notice he would be willing to sell. However, if not given permission to sell the system by the Public Utilities Commission, Simmons would find it necessary to raise water rates considerably.
At a General Meeting April 11, 1967 the RID agreed to present to Mrs. Blaylock (as holder of the Chattel mortgage against the water system) a “…firm offer of $1000 for the full release of the mortgage on the [water] system and [resolved to] approach Mr. Simmons with the firm offer of $500 for the purchase of the utility.”
Another lengthy pause in the polite negotiations regarding the water system ensued.
October 1971 water system issues were becoming serious. RID trustees were authorized to write to Simmons concerning his negligence in maintaining the system and in notifying users when the system would be turned off. Copies of this letter or other explanatory notices were sent to Mrs. Blaylock’s solicitor, Hon. Wesley Black MLA, the Water Rights Branch and the Public Utilities Commission. In May of the following year Mrs. Blaylock was incredulous that she still had not received any payment from Simmons, while all parties seemed to agree that the best solution for all would be for RID to own and operate the water system.
RID Chairman Milan Danco efficiently negotiated terms of a tri-partite sales agreement, but it was April 1973 before Mrs. Blaylock (residing in Calgary), system owner L.S. Simmons and RID representatives Peter Makeiv and Milan Danco signed a wordy final transfer agreement. The outstanding chattel mortgage was discharged with Mrs. Blaylock receiving only $3500 from the RID “purchaser”. Simmons’ Water Licence was transferred to the RID and as the sales agreement stated “…the purchaser shall and may from time to time and at all times hereafter peaceably and quietly have, possess and enjoy the said water system….”. Effective January 1, 1974
RID took delight in ownership of and responsibility for its own water system!
The happy residents of Ridgewood Road needed now only to: monitor, repair and service a primitive 16-year-old water system; satisfy the growing number of homes being constructed (several constructed by veteran resident Jack Richards) and in need of its services; set and collect annual water rates and tolls; generally administer an essential ‘public’ service; respond to an increasing interest in the system shown by its neighbour the Dept. of Forestry, the Ministry of Health and the Dept. of Highways and….resolve the sundry concerns of its own friendly residents.
The original Letters Patent of l965 under which RID was created gave the District (in addition to its primary purpose of water distribution) authority to provide garbage collection, parks and street lighting. This opened the door for residents to
rally around issues many of which also have a ‘water’ component…like fire protection. However, when RID residents became concerned about the possibility of forest fire as well as residential fires, they learned it was not within the purview of the Dept. of Forestry or the RID to cooperate by sharing fire-fighting equipment or facilitating the connection of the two separate water resources in case of emergency. Proper functioning of standpipes along the water lines, especially in the upper reaches of the road, was always a concern. Application (and occasionally contentious enforcement) of sprinkling regulations during the summer months was another facet of water supply and usage. Installation of an additional water tank was seen as a partial solution to these several concerns.
And what is the source of all these water-related issues? In the mountain side rising above Ridgewood Road are several creeks and underground springs. These sources have been extremely reliable and must be protected at all costs. February 1998 the Kootenay Lake community was alerted that a local logging company (or a sub-contractor) operating under a 5-year plan was preparing to log in watersheds along the North Shore. The West Arm Watershed Alliance and the WK Community Eco Society held public meetings urging residents to consider the consequences. As a result RID, wary of silt contamination in Blunt Creek held back on its on-going investigation into purification and construction of a new Ridgewood Water system. A potentially similar situation arose in August when surveys focusing on exploration for Uranium in the mountain above neighbouring Nasookin subdivision were undertaken. Health, radiation and water contamination fears were expressed, but no further exploration was conducted.
‘Let there be light’ was another frequent agenda item for the RID trustees and general meetings. Starting in 1971 residents debated providing a reasonable number of streetlights along the street. It was the NIMBY-versus-Security-versus Cost argument. There would never be consensus and as time passed, cost analysis figures rose out of proportion and the number of houses equipped with porch and driveway lights increased. In fact Ridgewood Road is now renown locally for its delightful colourful display of Christmas lights!
Throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s the Dept. of Highways and RID engaged in a regular exchange of letters regarding the crumbling condition of Ridgewood Rd. RID was the ‘complainer’ while Highways countered, as on Oct. 19, 1979, that the road “…is in reasonable repair and should serve the residents for some time.”
By the early 1980s Ridgewood Road was indeed a normal suburban residential settlement. There were nearly 50 children of school age and under, a population of 180 and an undetermined number of dogs and cats. Upwards of 80 children made the rounds on Hallowe’en. Parents were admonished about speeding cars, bike-riding and sleigh-riding. Work parties of parents gathered to hack out access to the shoreline via RID right of ways. However, flat sandy beaches for public play such as those found at intervals along the North Shore, were not to be. Nature just didn’t supply the lovely clean dry sand, but instead blessed Roberts Bay with lodes of sticky clay.
Although not located strictly in RID, ‘the dog issue’ of 1990-1994 garnered national news headlines. Residents of upper Ridgewood Road as well as those along the highway just east of Blaylock’s were treated to the nocturnal noise and smell emanating from a puppy mill and kennel adjacent to their properties. It took a BC Supreme Court injunction, instigated by the neighbours, that the operators “…are restrained and prohibited from carrying on a commercial enterprise consisting of, inter alia, a pet boarding kennel, dog and cat breeding….” etc. to shut down the so-called kennel. When the operation was relocated to Ymir, then miraculously driven across the country to Sudbury Ont., where it surfaced on a snowy Christmas Eve 1994, Ridgewood Road found itself in The News under the banner “The travelling canine horror show.”
The story of Ridgewood Road, as a friendly Kootenay-style neighbourhood and ‘ideal place to raise a family or retire’ always returns to and concludes with Water.
Summarizing water watch and water works
RID’s purchase of Simmon’s water system had hardly taken effect when in December of 1973 the Water Rights Branch informed RID trustees that the system “is in a state of disrepair” and in need of rehabilitation. A Special Meeting was called in May 1974 to “discuss putting in a new water system”. And the course was set for the next 30 years.
In fact an ‘all new’ (but ultimately interim) system and lines was installed in 1976. Essentially this ‘all new’ system survives to the present. By 1982 a new storage tank was deemed advisable and innovative suggestions, such as purchasing a beer vat from Creston Brewery were pursued. The Ministry of Health (MOH) had become concerned about the water quality of the RID system when tests indicated the water was “potentially unsafe for drinking unless the water is boiled or disinfected”. Hence MOH issued its first boil water advisory notice in 1986. A case of chronic correspondence with the Health Dept. regarding the urgent need to disinfect the water at source ensued.
In 1990 a third-party engineering firm’s assessment of the entire system recommended installation of a chlorination system. Yet RID residents were wary of any disinfecting method and in 1991 voted 60 – 19 against a chlorination system. Meanwhile RID continued to investigate alternate Ultra Violet or ozone systems. However, MOH appeared set on chlorination as the only acceptable method of disinfection. RID was diligent in regularly supplying water samples for testing, thereby ensuring the good will of the MOH and the resident’s good health.
Until the late 2000s RID took few formal or official actions to confront the on-going Water and (more recent) Waste issues. At the 2010 AGM Trustees delivered a blunt (pun intended) ‘state of affairs’ assessment—systems did not meet health, water capacity or fire suppression standards; maintenance remained the responsibility of a small group of heroic residents; costs for replacement or serious up-grade would surely escalate. A boil water watch and advisory had been in operation since 1986.
What were the current considerations? 1) Cooperate in a water (and possibly waste) scheme proposed for the development of up to 100 small residential lots in adjacent Shannon Point Orchard area? 2) Up-grade to Regional District of Central Kootenay Local Service Area Standards and apply to be administered by RDCK ? 3) Go it alone and purchase, install and administer a modern water collection and disinfection system?
Fast forward to September 2010. Owners of 51 Lots voted in a Referendum (39 in favour, 19 against) for RID to cooperate with the proposed Shannon Orchard development and become a Local Service Area within the RDCK. When the proposed Shannon development stalled, and the Interior Health Authority (IHA) became more insistent about meeting regulatory standards, IHA issued an enforcement letter stating deadlines with which RID must comply.
However, although faced with this new challenge, opportunity knocked. Surprisingly, capital costs of installing a dedicated water treatment had decreased! It was now practical to re-visit the notion of a RID privately-owned treatment system. A local enterprise tendered a proposal. A timely Canada Works Infra-structure Grant of $75,000, administered by the RDCK, topped up by cash from RID reserves and a per Lot levy made up the $175,000 budgeted cost.
2013 was indeed a milestone year in the ‘History’ of the Ridgewood Road sub-division. After decades of studies, surveys, meetings, correspondence, boiling water and water tank work parties, the residents withdrew from the LSA/RDCK arrangement and opted for an innovative water treatment system that met Interior Health Authority standards.
Sand filtration, bag and cartridge filtration, accompanied by UV disinfection and chlorine treatment describe the latest chapter in the saga of the Ridgewood Improvement District. Under the able guidance of Dave Brackett, years of dedication and skill from Cathy Foxcroft and Bud Beauchamp and backed up by a band of water-boys, RID residents enjoy safe, clear-running water. November 29, 2013 the long-awaited water treatment system switched on and the boil advisory mantra was silenced April 2014.
“Good roads, good water systems and ‘good sprinklings’ make good neighbours. “
Budden, Crutchley, Fuhr, Collinson, Thompson, Barefoot, Cutler, Bouillet, Martin, Large, Weir, Chapman, Fairbank, Welwood, Munro, Mikkelson, Makeiv, [May 1970], MacLaughlan, Sommerville, Shrieves, Adamac (and on the waterfront) Jennejohn, Larssen, Palmer)
Houses constructed 1970+
Boyd, Arcuri, Lambrecht, Carscadden/Dahlen?, Oswald, Latremouille/Fuhr, Tagami, Robinson, Krevesky, Saliken, Johnston, Payne, Bilinsky, Cameron, Fleming, Rutledge, Edson, 2nd Fuhr houses, Olsen
(and on the waterfront): Berg, Winter, Beauchamp, Bartsch, McGauley
Interviews with RID residents: Dave Brackett, Fred & Ruth Martin, Loli Mikkelson, Jack Richards
Ridgewood Improvement District: correspondence, Minutes, documents
Personal Clipping files
Newspaper Clipping files