Trent Ernst, Editor
On Monday and Tuesday, Mayor Wren was down for three days of meetings in Victoria, along with CAO Barry Elliott and EDO Jordan Wall to discuss a “Made in Tumbler Ridge” plan for recovery with a variety of Provincial Ministers after depressed coal prices has forced three local mines to go idle.
Council was down at UBCM earlier this month, which is where discussions between municipalities and the province typically take place. Meetings with ministers are typically limited to 15 minutes, but Council decided that 15 minutes wouldn’t be long enough for appropriate discussions, so Council instead used these meetings to explain the situation in Tumbler Ridge and request further meetings later in the month, when the time constraints were not so great.
Jordan Wall says that another reason for meeting later was time. “Council and mayor met with different ministers at UBCM. What they said is ‘Tumbler Ridge needs help. But we’re not ready to say what that is yet. We need time to create a plan.’ So they asked for meetings with the ministers within the next month.”
Wall has only been with the District for six months, having been hired just as the announcement from Walter Energy that they were idling their Canadian Operations, and much of his focus since then has been on helping locals find jobs. He says that after the UBCM meeting, Council reached out to Marlene Morris and Dr Greg Halseth at the Community Development Institute (CDI). CDI was already working on the Tumbler Ridge Community Sustainability Plan.
Together, Council and CDI began discussions with a variety of community organizations. “Working with different community organizations around town, council identified a number of avenues to increase the economic diversification of TR, which is the overriding goal of this project. Working with the community, Council came to the conclusion that we could receive help from the province in a number of specific areas that would increase economic diversification.”
At the forefront, says Wall, was the Geopark. “How do we build it up? That tied into Tumbler Ridge’s burgeoning tourism economy. Under the Geopark, we are asking for: support for the museum, fossil management protection legislation and assistance developing tourism destination, like mountain biking, snowmobiling, ATVing.”
Secondly, says Wall, they are asking for an expansion of the Community Forest. “We want to get it to a level where it can sustain a secondary industry in Tumbler Ridge.”
Thirdly, he says, they want to see that any new training for miners looking to work in the new coal mines slated to open in the next few years around Tumbler Ridge would happen in Tumbler Ridge.
Council will also be asking for more funds for local social service providers, “they will be coming under increase strain as more people will be out of work. They need more funds to serve the community,” says Wall.
Next on the list, says Wall, is “to encourage the province to approve alternative energy projects, most notably wind power around the community.”
This one might prove the hardest sell, with BC Hydro pouring their energy into developing Site C. While a final decision has not been made by the province—it is expected by the end of the year—BC Hydro has limited calls for power to under 15 MW. Meanwhile EDF EN is looking at a 250 MW wind project north of Tumbler Ridge, and Thunder Mountain Wind, which made a bid in 2008 but was unsuccessful. The proposed 320 MW project has already been issued an Environmental Certificate, and is “shovel ready.”
Finally, says Wall, they are asking for the Province “to help Tumbler Ridge Connect with foreign investor who would be interested in developing world class wind and coal opportunities here.”
The best case scenario, says Wall, would be a Memorandum of Understanding between the Province and the District about what will be done. “The Tumbler Ridge council is committed to being an active leader in these conversations,” says Wall. “The problems have happened in Tumbler Ridge. The solutions are going to come from Tumbler Ridge. What we’re looking for is support from province to implement the solutions that council has collaboratively agreed upon.
One project that the District will be talking about specifically is Dehua’s Wapiti project. Earlier this year, Dehua announced that the property had the largest reserves yet found of any coal property on the planet.
One of the keys to getting that project off the ground, though, is a proposed 42 km extension to the rail line. Recently, Councillor Mackay explained that he had meetings with Dehua, and they told him that the issue they’re facing is that they are unable to apply for an Environmental Assessment until they have a route planned out, but they are unable to survey the route until they have an Environmental Assessment.
Wall says that Council is doing what they can to support Dehua in this. “Council feels the proposed extended rail line by Dehua is beneficial to the community, not only for the opportunity of coal, but also for secondary industry that could take advantage of the extended rail line and the extended power grid,” he says. “It’s only good news for Tumbler Ridge. That is something that will be discussed with Minister Thompson. For instance, the goal with Community Forest is to expand it to a point where it is self-sufficient and is able to sustain a secondary industry in Tumbler Ridge, which could be made possible with the extended rail line.”
Despite a recent debate around who would be going, Wall says the plan itself was a collective decision by Council. “The plans were worked on, submitted and resubmitted until council agreed on it. It was a collaborative effort. It wasn’t something that was presented to them and they said that’s good. Things were discussed. Things were changed. It was done together.”