The Meewasin Valley Authority (MVA) is closing its 3rd Avenue South interpretive centre effective July 1.
CEO Lloyd Isaak announced the decision at a news conference on Wednesday.
“Meewasin’s not accustomed to this type of news conference. We are accustomed to cutting ribbons and opening spray parks and having events,” he said of the closure, which will see three employees laid off.
Isaak said the decision had to be made in the wake of the provincial budget, which saw no new money for the MVA. He said funding levels haven’t kept pace with inflation for years, leaving the authority to try and fulfill the mandate it was given in 1979 with what amounts to a third of the funding.
“Because of the declining budget and purchasing power, we’re not able to keep up with our maintenance in our buildings,” he said.
Isaak said he worries about the future following the announcement that not only would the MVA not be getting any new money, but the province wants to review its existing funding commitment.
“Given the budget last week … and the comments of the finance minister during the budget delivery and subsequent comments, I don’t know how it could be interpreted any other way than that the province is planning to pull funding from Meewasin,” he said.
Isaak said that since its creation, the MVA has taken care of about 2700 hectares of Crown land, representing 42 per cent the conservation area it’s responsible for.
“I can’t speculate or answer how the province would plan to attend to those responsibilities if our funding was pulled or the partnership was dissolved. But, potentially profound impacts to Meewasin, and Meewasin as we know it in this community,” he said.
Isaak said that about 50 per cent of Meewasin’s funding is now made up of private donations and special project grants. He said he doubted the MVA could hope to fill the gap left by the province with more private money.
Todd Brandt, president and CEO of Tourism Saskatoon, said he is alarmed at the closing of the interpretive centre, and the prospect of an outright end of the MVA.
“Wanuskewin Heritage Park, Beaver Creek conservation area, the trails, the weir development, those are huge tourism amenities and they’re generally free and accessible to all publics in Saskatoon, locals and tourists alike,” Brandt said.
Brandt encouraged people to contact their local MLA or the premier’s office to express concerns.
Peggy Sarjeant stood near tears during much of the news conference. After the announcement, she explained to reporters that she had been among the original campaigners who fought against development of what is now Meewasin Park back in the ’70s.
That fight led to the creation of the MVA as a partnership between the University of Saskatchewan, the City of Saskatoon and the Government of Saskatchewan meant to provide comprehensive management of the river valley.
“I don’t know what else to say. We fought for something, and we’re seeing it gradually eroded before our eyes,” she said.
University of Saskatchewan President Peter Stoicheff said the school supports the mission of the MVA. But he noted that the U of S also got no additional funding in the provincial budget – limiting its ability to contribute more. He said $750,000 in funding from the school is actually a flow-through from the province.
Saskatoon Mayor Don Atchison said he wasn’t willing to speculate on what the province might do following its review. He stressed that for now only the one interpretive centre is closing.
“Beaver Creek park is still open, the boat launches are still open. All of those things are still business as normal,” he said.
Atchison pointed out that the city increased its funding to the MVA by $250,000 in 2014, bringing total funding from the city near the $1 million mark. He said that doesn’t include about $1.8 million in services-in-kind, such as trail maintenance provided by the city.
Isaak said discussions with the city and provincial governments are ongoing.