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Burned cars and structures in Lytton, B.C., on July 9, 2021, after a wildfire destroyed most of the village on June 30.DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

Lytton, B.C., residents anxious to return home after a fire destroyed their village in late June are frustrated by a lack of communication from local government and they worry that a proposal to rebuild as a net-zero community will mean further delays and additional costs.

Jennifer Thoss, who owns five properties in Lytton, said local residents have received no guidance from the mayor or councillors almost seven weeks after the devastating fire. At a special meeting on Wednesday, village council approved first reading of a building bylaw that would require all new buildings, structures and municipal infrastructure to be built based on best practices for zero emissions – a proposal that Ms. Thoss said residents have not been consulted on and impedes their ability to start planning.

“If we didn’t have these [proposed] changes to the bylaws and the official community plan, then residents right now could be planning their homes, regardless of the cleanup time or anything else,” she said in an interview.

“If I knew existing bylaws are in place, I could now work with my adjuster to start procuring builders. And I can’t do that right now because I don’t know what the specs are on the homes that I’m going to build.”

At the special council meeting, which was held virtually, Ms. Thoss questioned where the idea for the bylaw came from and said there was no excuse for village council to not be in contact with constituents in such a small community.

“You could personally call every member in a weekend,” she said.

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The Village of Lytton is partnering with the Lytton First Nation on recovery plans, which are expected to be executed over the next 12 to 18 months, according to documents enclosed in a July 28 council agenda.

The work will focus on enabling governments and residents “to rebuild Lytton according to their own vision and principles as a climate resilient community that is energy efficient, is net-zero for carbon emissions, relatively fire proof, and reasonably accessible,” the document says.

Chris O’Connor, a former Lytton mayor and councillor, accused the current slate of disrespecting constituents by not providing enough notice of the meeting agendas that outline recovery plans. At Wednesday’s meeting, he said the day’s agenda contains “a major new building bylaw which has serious implications for the cost of reconstruction and requires much study before it can be enacted,” and that it could have property tax implications.

Darren Liptrot had worked in construction in Lytton since 2016 and just purchased a commercial-residential building in town last December. He was living in the building’s apartment and had just spent around $50,000 renovating the attached fitness centre when the fire tore through Lytton, leaving him with 90 seconds to flee.

Mr. Liptrot is livid that some commercial interests have been able to access the town while he has not yet been allowed in to see what remains of his property. He said he supports fire-proofing the town, but has concerns about the costs associated with going net-zero and wonders why that discussion is even being held as residents are so consumed with other priorities.

“Their agendas aren’t even close to what the people’s agenda is,” he said.

Mayor Jan Polderman did not return a request for comment. At the special meeting, he blamed delays on the B.C. Ministry of Environment, which was still testing for hazarding materials on site, and said discussions about the bylaw were only just beginning.

“You will be given opportunities to provide input over the next meetings,” Mr. Polderman said. “Communication has been difficult. We are putting out information releases on a regular basis, but we only want to put out communications that we’re certain of and the process going forward is still somewhat uncertain.”

Lytton First Nation Chief Janet Webster was unavailable for an interview on Thursday.

Lytton councillor Lilliane Graie echoed the mayor’s comments that they were constrained by the Ministry of Environment and asked residents to be patient. She noted that she, too, had lost her home in the fire.

“There is no reason that we would have to delay anything, or to sit on our hands while stuff is being done,” she said. “We are as frustrated and as impatient to get the process moving as anyone.”

The Ministry of Environment deferred questions to Emergency Management BC, which said Thursday that an environmental contractor has completed soot sampling and data collection in Lytton, and that the ministry expects to receive the report this week.

The report will provide safe work recommendations for recovery operations and re-entry, and village council will make its decisions based on recommendations of the report, the provincial agency said in a statement.

Meanwhile, a rafting resort in Lytton has become the first business to reopen, with operators offering the site as a community hub as they look to rebuilding.

An employee at Kumsheen Rafting Resort in Lytton cleans the pool after the wildfire swept through the region.Courtesy of Kumsheen Rafting Resort

Andrew Fandrich, general manager of the Kumsheen Rafting Resort, said the business is waiving its daily use fee for locals, giving them free access to amenities such as the pool, hot tub, picnic tables and basketball court.

“We understand that all of the areas that you can meet friends and family at in Lytton have burnt up in the fire. We are the only standing restaurant and commercial space here,” Mr. Fandrich said.

“We wanted to get back on our feet as quickly as possible so that locals that are still here, and locals that are coming back in the next months to temporary housing, have a place to congregate and enjoy coffee or a meal.”

Much of the resort was spared when a fire swept through Lytton on June 30, destroying almost everything in the village in B.C.’s Interior. Around 50 rafts were ruined, but 14 remained unscathed, Mr. Fandrich said. Of 27 accommodation units of tepees and canvas cabins, 18 are still standing. Almost every inch of grass and every tree on the 15-acre property was burned, but the buildings were not damaged.

Mr. Fandrich estimates that the business lost about $1-million in equipment.

Staff returned to the resort when evacuation alerts were lifted in July. They picked up burned debris, cleaned up the pool and hot tub, threw away around $20,000 in spoiled food and assessed the remaining rafts to ensure they were all river-worthy.

“Staff are very happy to be back at it,” Mr. Fandrich said. “I talked with the raft guides and they’re about as excited as I’ve seen them. After missing out on an entire month of boating, to get back on the water this weekend was very good news for them.”

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