Rookie firefighters learn how to control a container fire during a training exercise at Otter Point Fire Rescue Training Centre on Sunday. Both Sooke and Metchosin fire departments are working together to train new firefighters.

A Year in Review: Here’s a recap of what happened in the Sooke Region over the last year

We felt curiosity, outrage, and joy as we delved into the lives and events in our world of local news.

  • Dec. 31, 2016 8:00 p.m.

JANUARY

The Capital Regional District board agreed to hold a referendum to buy the former DeMamiel Creek golf course in Sooke. The property, which contains 9.5 hectares, has been negotiated for a sale price of $1 million, which includes cleared and manicured land, as well as a five-bedroom house and miscellaneous equipment used to maintain the course.

Also in January:

• Sooke’s new library could see construction begin by 2018, library officials said. The proposed $6-million,10,000-square-foot facility is due to replace the current Sooke library, which is outdated and over capacity.

• With a roundabout, fresh asphalt, slew of new sidewalks and a shiny new bank, Sooke’s looking good heading into 2016, said Mayor Maja Tait. But the finished projects, while welcome, are just the start to planned additions and improvements in the town core.

• The District of Sooke will amend its firearms discharge bylaw to allow the expanded hunting of geese on farmland. There is an estimated population of 6,000 non migratory geese in the Capital Regional District and that number is estimated to grow to 60,000 over the next 20 years

FEBRUARY

Cultural sensitivity training is in the future for one Sooke School District teacher as part of the discipline handed down for racist remarks made at Edward Milne Community School.

Matthew Shaun Pell signed a consent resolution agreement with the B.C. Commissioner for Teacher Regulations agreeing to a reprimand under the Teachers Act.

In 2014, when Pell was teaching a Grade 11 math class at EMCS, he repeatedly referred to a student, whose family background is Middle Eastern and Muslim, as “Taliban.”

Also in February:

• The bodies of two poached elk were found near Sandcut Creek, east of Jordan River, by conservation officers. The animals were part of a small group of Roosevelt elk that had been living in the area for the last few years. The animals were shot a week apart.

• Acting mayor Kerrie Reay took direct aim at local social media sites filled with what she called vitriolic attacks and misinformation. “I’ve had enough,” she said.

• Days after the departure of long-time corporate officer Bonnie Sprinkling, the District of Sooke hired a new director of corporate services. Gabryel Joseph has expertise in communications, human resources and economic development, the district said in a press release.

MARCH

Sooke council made moves to end its contract with EPCOR for the district’s wastewater treatment system, saying it could save up to $225,000 per year by assuming responsibility for the operation.

“Total cost savings over a five-year period could total up to $1,127,630. These funds could be set-aside in a reserve fund with monies allocated to system improvements and projected growth,” chief administrative officer Teresa Sullivan said in a report to council.

The contract offically came to an end on Sept. 30.

Also in March:

• Repairs to a broken pipe that leaked wastewater onto Belvista Place and Sooke Road could be costly to repair, District of Sooke officials said. The leak was discovered by a nearby resident after a small pressure line broke.

• The new Sooke branch of the Vancouver Island Regional Library could find a new home on land south of Evergreen Mall. The 5.26-acre property, bordered by Evergreen Mall on the south and Wadams Way on the north, is undeveloped.

• Sooke Mayor Maja Tait announced her return from maternity leave. Tait, who took a leave of absence in mid November, gave birth to a son, Ewan, on Nov. 27. Ewan is her first child. She returned to work April 1.

APRIL

RCMP were called to an altercation between Coun. Rick Kasper and Mayor Maya Tait’s husband, Alex, following a special council meeting.

Sources said Alex Tait arrived near the end of the council meeting where politicians were discussing the municipal budget, pointing and talking to Kasper in a “very aggressive manner.”

He was ushered out the door and council moved into a closed session.

Alex Tait then waited more than 40 minutes in the parking lot, and approached Kasper when he emerged from the meeting and started “yelling and screaming at Rick again and calling him names,” a source said.

Kasper and Alex Tait refused to comment on the incident.

Also in April:

• Sooke RCMP investigated a Molotov cocktail attack near Robinson and Otter Point roads. Witnesses reported seeing three men on ATVs enter a property asking where the “drug house” was located. The suspects then threw three Molotov cocktails at a house on the property. No one was injured. There were no arrests.

• A $300,000 funding allocation integral to building an artificial turf Field at Fred Milne Park was approved by Sooke council. Sooke Soccer Club and Sooke Community Association members made an impassioned plea for funding at a standing room-only council meeting, which included youth soccer players, coaches and parents. The $1.7-million field would allow more than 1,000 soccer and baseball players to use the field year-round.

• Residents of Sooke and the Juan de Fuca Electoral Area voted overwhelming in favour of buying land for future recreation development. In a referendum, 978 Yes votes were cast for the purchase, against 209 No votes. The vote allows SEAPARC to spend $1 million to purchase the former 23-acre DeMamiel Creek golf course.

MAY

The Juan de Fuca trail will pass for the first time through public land, thanks to a recent purchase of 99 hectares of private land by the province.

The trail system did weave through the lands of Ender IIkay, a developer who bought seven parcels of land for a proposed 200-cabin vacation resort several years ago that never got built due to strong public opposition. In this recent purchase, the province got three parcels from Ilkay, while the Pacheedaht First Nation purchased the other three, leaving just one in Ilkay’s ownership.

Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation Minister John Rustad noted, this is a “win-win” for British Columbians as the land buy allows the province to bring the entire Juan de Fuca Marine Trail into the B.C. Parks system, as well as advance treaty negotiations with the Pacheedaht First Nation.

• A security patrol in Sooke could put more eyes out on the street to reduce crime, according to a proposal to district council. The proposal, made by Shadow West Security, suggests providing night-time patrols between two and four hours on residential streets in Sooke, seven days a week.

• Commercial and recreational fisheries along the southern Vancouver Island coast could be in rough seas as the Department of Fisheries and Oceans considers more restrictions on chinook salmon fishing this summer. DFO’s proposal also includes the full closure of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Georgia Strait approach waters to the Fraser River salmon fishery from May to July.

• The District of Sooke took back operation of the public boat launch. The decision was made after reviewing the service agreement to ensure the district is being fiscally responsible, said Teresa Sullivan, chief administrative officer. The district loses about $6,000 a year with the agreement.

JUNE

A massive police manhunt for two suspects in connection to a drive-by shooting in Sooke ended following a standoff with police at a home on Kirby Road.

Joshua Nicholas Lafleur, 25, one of the leading suspects, along with 21-year-old Damien Medwedrich from Sooke, were captured hiding in a crawl space inside a home on Kirby Road.

Sooke RCMP Staff Sgt. Jeff McArthur said the two were caught with the assistance of a police dog, and the area was locked down until the arrival of the Vancouver Island Emergency Response Team.

Two loaded handguns were recovered from the scene.

Also in June:

• The Sooke School District will be reducing student aide services this year after $1.7 million worth of cuts were made to its annual operating budget last week. The reductions include cutting “non-enrolling” school staff, such as a district principal, a vice principal, several educational assistants and librarians, school coordinators and councillors, besides numerous school programs in the district, which encompasses Sooke, Colwood and Langford.

• The District of Sooke and Sooke School District are renewing calls for an expansion of B.C. Transit service in the Greater Sooke Area and West Shore. The Victoria Regional Transit System will consider a staff report on expansion funding for improvements for both Sooke and the West Shore at its June 21 meeting. Sooke is one of the fastest growing regions in the province.

• A Sooke man and two Langford men face drug and firearm charges after Sooke Mounties seized several weapons, ammunition and drugs from a vehicle in the Otter Point area.

JULY

Nine people faced charges after a landlord- tenant dispute turned into a wild brawl in Sooke.

Police were called to Ayre Road after reports of a group fighting with bats and pipes.

When officers arrived, several people were suffering from the effects of bear spray, said Staff Sgt. Jeff McArthur.

Ten people, seven men and three women, were involved in the incident, all from Sooke.

Four people were taken to hospital with injuries.

Also in July:

• Sooke Fire Chief Steve Sorensen retired from the Sooke Fire Department after a 36-year career. Sorensen, who joind the fire department as a volunteer in 1980, rose through the ranks to become chief.

• The District of Sooke opened the Galloping Goose connector trail. The $120,000 prject connects the Galloping Goose Regional Trail to existing multi-use trail networks in Sooke.

• Mayor Maja Tait took a stand against harassment in and out of the District of Sooke’s council chamber and online, following continuous allegations from some members of the public. As a result, Tait said the district will take disciplinary measures, corrective action, “or any other appropriate action as it is required” under provincial law against those looking to defame, or otherwise harass, a councillor or district official.

AUGUST

Police opened an investigation into an alleged harassment incident outside the home of District of Sooke chief administrative officer Teresa Sullivan.

The incident occurred on the evening of Aug. 10.

Sooke RCMP Staff Sgt. Jeff McArthur confirmed police began an investigation to look at “why people were in her (Sullivan’s) yard harassing her.”

McArthur would not say how many people were involved in the incident, but police were called after it occurred.

“We’re trying to figure out if we have any offence being committed here,” he said, adding that the starting point in the investigation is whether any mischief or criminal harassment occurred.

Also in August:

• A Sooke woman suffered fatal injuries in a 12-metre fall at Sooke Potholes. The B.C. Coroners Service identified the decease as Alysha Buzzeo, 28, of Sooke.

• Small bush fires in the Sooke Region were likely sparked by people or accident, prompting a warning from fire officials for residents to exercise caution and use common sense when in wilderness areas.

• The Sooke Region Chamber of Commerce ended a $140,750 community service agreement with the District of Sooke one year early. The chamber served notice to the district it was cancelling the five-year contract which undertook economic development for the municipality, citing lack of financial resources and volunteers.

SEPTEMBER

New homes are reaching taller skies in Sooke at record-breaking speeds, but local contractors face a significant shortage in skilled workers to keep up with demand.

Last year, Sooke issued $16 million in building permits, while this year it is expected to surpass that number well before the end of the year, said the Vancouver Island Construction Association in a recent report.

“I’ve never seen it like this … now everything is presold and we can’t get them up fast enough,” said Sooke contractor Kevin Berger, whose company does foundations, framing and siding in up-and-coming developments in Sunriver.

Ever since the construction boom began in the new year, he’s had a tough time finding skilled tradespeople to keep up with the demand in Sooke.

Also in September:

• Former Sooke fire chief Bill Stephenson, 85, remembered by firefighters as a “very wonderful person,” died in hospital. Stephenson was the longest serving member of Sooke Fire Rescue when he retired in 2010, after 62 years of active service. He served as fire chief from 1957 to 1962 and again from 1976 to 1977.

• When Kelly and Paul Derocco started their fudge business eight years ago, they never thought their fudge goodness would end up in the hands of the brightest and most popular stars in Hollywood. The Sooke couple came back from Los Angeles after providing their finest fudge as part of the Celebrity Swag Bags celebrating the 2016 Prime Time Emmy Awards in Hollywood.

• A cougar was shot and killed by police in Sooke at the beginning of September after it tried to enter a resident’s home on Grant Road. The cougar was 1½ years old and not tagged.. There were numerous cougar sighting in Sooke in 2016.

OCTOBER

A decision by district council to quietly disband the Sooke Fire Services Commission enflamed members of the commission.

“The commission is aghast, to be completely honest,” said commission chair Ken Ebbs-Canavan. “We have no idea why. We weren’t given a reason.”

The commission was created by council a year ago to conduct “long-term capital planning [with] high level overview,” according to a staff report. The overview included budgets, research, and to look at staffing levels and equipment replacement, among other items.

The commission was expected to have a two-year mandate, with council having the option to review it after one year.

Council in an in-camera meeting on Oct. 11 decided to dissolve the fire commission.

Also in October:

• Student enrolment in the Sooke School District is booming. At 9,477 students as of Oct. 5, the district saw an increase of 520 students or 5.8 per cent over the 8,957 head count as of Sept. 30, 2015. In the spring, district staff estimated an enrolment increase of between 300 to 350 students. It’s the 10th straight year the district has seen an increase.

• The invasive European green crab is making a stand in the tiny lagoons and pocket estuaries of Sooke Basin, but so far the troublesome crustacean hasn’t found its way into the Juan de Fuca or Georgia straits. And that’s good news, say scientists.

• It’s been years in the making, but Sooke finally has a seat on the Victoria Regional Transit Commission. The province announced the appointment of Mayor Maja Tait to the board yesterday. “Mayor Tait has been a strong advocate for transit improvements along Highway 14 and in Western Communities and already has an established working relationship with B.C. Transit and members of the Victoria Regional Transit Commission,” said Transportation Minister Todd Stone

NOVEMBER

Winter storm damage closed a portion of Port Renfrew’s famed Avatar Grove and delayed the opening of a recently completed boardwalk.

Hurricane-force winds ripped through the area resulting in 30 trees crashing down over the Avatar Grove Trail in the lower grove area, damaging sections of the boardwalk.

None of the grove’s famed ancient Western redcedars or Douglas fir fell during the storm.

The Ancient Forest Alliance completed the boardwalk a week before the storm, in a project that took three years and involved hundreds of volunteers.

Also in November:

• More than 3,000 people are looking to find a family doctor in Sooke. The situation is so dre that the local medical clinic has stopped adding names to a waitlist.

• Police seized drugs, a handgun, body armour and cash during a raid on a suspected drug house in Sooke. Sooke RCMP teamed up with the RCMP Island District General Investigation Section to execute a search warrant on a home in the 6700 block of Eustace Road. The raid followed a several-month investigation into drug trafficking.

• A new lifeboat station will be established in Port Renfrew along with an investment in modern hydrographic and navigational data as part of a $1.5-billion Oceans Protection Plan announced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The lifeboat station in Port Renfrew will join five other stations along the coast. Navigational aid data will also come to Victoria, Esquimalt, Nanaimo, Port Alberni, Chemainus and Campbell River waterways.

• B.C.’s Liberal government is ignoring Sooke and other Island communities’ housing needs because it concentrates too much on metropolitan areas, Sooke’s mayor says. Maja Tait made the allegation following a major provincial housing announcement last week, where $5.5-million in funding was announced for a 40-unit affordable housing facility on Church Road in Sooke.

DECEMBER

An outbreak of a potentially fatal virus that only affects cats has been found in Sooke.

Sooke Veterinary Hospital veterinarian Deborah Lambert identified the outbreak of feline panleukopenia after a sick cat was reported around Church Road in Sooke.

Panleukopenia, a highly infectious virus causing lack of appetite, fever, vomiting, and diarrhea in cats, is also known as feline distemper.

• Sooke council joined with Colwood and Langford in rejecting the Capital Regional District’s proposed regional transportation service. The new service, designed to collect data and create a unified voice on regional transportation priorities, was put on hold until the new year.

• Single-family homes in Sooke will face “substantial increases” on their 2017 B.C. Assessments to be mailed out in the new year. Homeowners in the Sooke region will probably see higher assessments in the 10 to 40 per cent range, said Christopher Whyte, acting assessor for the Vancouver Island region. Five per cent of homeowners across B.C. can expect higher taxes because their properties have risen higher than the average in their municipality.

• Several District of Sooke staff abruptly walked out of a council meeting during a discussion of a bylaw amendment to the municipality’s five-year financial plan. The staff cleared the room when council-watcher Gail Hall questioned the validity of the bylaw and expenditures, calling the expenditures “illegal.”

 

 

 

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