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Environmental Coalition closes its office doors after losing grant funds

Lise Broadley, Alberni Valley Times, December 23, 2013

As of Jan. 31 the Alberni Environmental Coalition will be closing its office doors.

The decision was made after it was denied funding though the Community Gaming Grants program.

The coalition has been operating in one form or another since the late 1970s, but director and founding member Gary Swann said the group would continue to work towards a sustainable Port Alberni in spite of the funding loss.

The office closure will, however, mean a significant reduction in the capacity of the volunteer group.

"While we'll still remain active, we won't be able to provide the same level of service," said Swann. "Maybe we'll meet in people's rec rooms and basements."

In the past few years, the group's gaming grant has dwindled from about $20,000 annually to $11,340 for 2012-2013. That money allowed the group to maintain an office on Johnston Road as well as advertise and hold a limited number of community and educational events. The funding request was denied because a 'public education office' is not considered a 'program' and therefore doesn't qualify for funding.

Swann said that while he was disappointed at the news, he wasn't surprised.

"Not really, no. The funding has been dwindling and I think the writing was on the wall. I'm disappointed for sure, but I'm going to do basically what I'm doing anyhow," he said. Swann is a farmer and an advocate for composting and organic gardening. "Maybe this is an opportunity for a different, younger group to step up."

The coalition formed loosely in the late 1970s after a group of concerned citizens rallied against the proposed spraying of herbicides along the E&N Railway corridor.

Concerned about the possible contamination of drinking water, the group successful appealed and prevented the spraying near sensitive areas.

They continued their environmental work and in the early 1980s, formally created the Alberni Environmental Coalition.

In the years since, the group has addressed issues with drinking water, air quality, herbicides, cosmetic pesticides, forestry, recycling and climate change, as well as held public education initiatives on organic farming and composting and mapped and marked trails.

Recently the coalition worked extensively to raise awareness about a proposed coal mine in the Comox Valley and a coal port in Port Alberni, and should the mine move ahead in the application process, the group will act as an intervenor, funded by the provincial government.

"We will definitely continue that, we will give our opinion on that" said Swann, "but we probably won't be able to continue recycling telephone books because we don't have the room."

On Jan. 24 the AEC is hosting a goodbye open house from 1 to 4 p.m. at their Adelaide Shopping Centre office.

They will also be giving away extra supplies, including books and some office equipment, during that time.

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