7 MARCH 2007 To all TRMF Members
This is a fairly long message but contains some very important information, and concludes with a request for you to please attend a Council meeting on 20 March. I will be out of Canada from 11 March till mid April, and the TRMF reins will be in the competent hands of our Vice President, Dave Price, for that time period.
Recent events remind us in Tumbler Ridge what little control we, as a resource based remote community, have over our destiny. Global warming and the Throne Speech have conspired to stop (for now) Tumbler Ridge?s long term coal-fired energy opportunity. Natural gas exploration is down in the region, and these same winds of change could have adverse effects on this industry in future. The shake-up on the Shanghai Stock Exchange sends a chilling reminder to us of how great our dependence is on the Far East and the price of metallurgical coal ? further decreases can render our new generation of coal mines unviable. And we have learned that we cannot control the Pine Beetle.
There is really only one element that we do have some degree of control over in our destiny and our ability to survive as a community in the long term: our palaeontological resource, with our proposed museum and our tourism industry. The first dinosaur footprint discoveries were made in 2000 and the major dinosaur bonebed discovery followed in 2002, yet in 2007 our Mayor and Councillors collectively still appear reluctant to formally support this avenue of economic development. We hear about ?due diligence? and ?responsibility to the taxpayer?, but nothing of their responsibility to try to diversify the economy, nothing of the responsibility to work towards our community?s long term survival, nor the responsibility not to let this golden opportunity slip through their fingers, one which has essentially been presented to them on a plate through years of incredibly hard volunteer effort and the dedicated work of our palaeontologists.
We need to be charitable and recognize that it is not easy being a Mayor or a CAO, and give them the benefit of the doubt, and assume there is no hidden agenda behind this inertia. And we need to graciously acknowledge the financial support that has been given to us in past years, by this and the previous Council. Yet we, as a volunteer group, and as citizens, can perhaps note some of the more reasoned criticisms that have been leveled at this Council. These include:
-the obvious internal conflict,
-an unwillingness to appreciate volunteer effort or the expertise of residents,
– a controlling style that leads to communication problem
– rather than making decisions, a tendency to engage consultants, and do studies and more studies at taxpayer expense, with the perceived result being fence-sitting.
This last point became apparent to us following the completion of our proposed museum?s first feasibility study, which was actually done at the request of Mayor and Council, and done by a consultant they initially approved. The majority of the funding for this came from the Ministry of Economic Development. For reasons which remain unclear, the result was apparently not satisfactory for some of our elected officials and CAO (perhaps because the conclusion of the feasibility study is that the project is actually feasible). So another consultant firm has now been contracted to study the study, at local taxpayer?s expense. We have been assured by Town Hall that the purpose of this second study is to help, rather than delay, the museum project, but recent comments by the CAO may confirm our concerns that this may indeed be a stalling move.
Our current best funding prospect to move our Peace Region Museum of Natural History in Tumbler Ridge ahead is the Northern Development Initiative (NDI) Trust. For our proposal to NDI Trust to be considered, all that is still required is a letter of support from the District of Tumbler Ridge that they plan to continue existing 2006 and 2007 funding levels for 2008 and 2009. This has the potential to release a matching $600 000 over the next three years from NDI Trust. When we made our presentation to NDI Trust we were told that it was ?outstanding?, so we can feel cautiously hopeful that it will be successful. Every other Council in the region has debated our proposal for this museum in Tumbler Ridge, and each one of their Mayors has sent a strong letter of support to us and to NDI Trust.
All that is required from our Mayor and Council is confirmation of this intent in writing. Given that our Chief Financial Officer has indicated that such funds have been allocated for future years, it seems like it should be a formality, a no-brainer, but again, recent comments suggest otherwise.
If we receive such a letter of support, and these matching funds are approved, we would put this towards hiring a project manager, increasing our fundraising, seeking endowments, and proceeding with architectural design, site selection, environmental impact assessments etc. We need to be upfront that the worst case scenario is that after all this work, we could still find that the project cannot go ahead, and that we would have to settle for a lesser product. Given our successes and progress thus far, this appears unlikely, but we cannot rule it out. If so, some taxpayers? money will have been spent on something that didn?t fully materialize (although one could point out that the spin-offs of our work over the last few years have effectively been worth many millions of dollars to this community). One needs to balance this potential loss with the great potential for success and diversification, a projected 75 000 visitors per year, and a very small long-term local financial obligation.
Our request for this letter of support has been reiterated in a recent letter, and on March 6 Councillor Larry White stated at a Council Meeting that he would be proposing a formal motion in support of our request at the March 20 Council meeting. It is certain that the motion will be seconded. Although a unanimous vote would obviously send an important and strong message to the region and the province, just four votes are all that is needed. We are indeed grateful to those Councillors and staff at Town Hall who have consistently come out in support of our museum.
The position of the Tumbler Ridge Museum Foundation Board of Directors is very clear. If this motion is defeated, it will be regarded as a vote of no confidence in our project. There are many ways to kill a project, one of them is to study it to death, another is to delay decision-making for so long and create so many road-blocks that the volunteers finally quit, along with the donors who have been supporting the project year after year. If the motion is defeated it will deprive us of the momentum we have so painstakingly established over the years. Without a project manager, as this project becomes more immense, our volunteers would be condemned to working ever harder, creating an untenable situation. If the motion is defeated it could lead to an unravelling which I as President desperately want to avoid, but over which I will likely have no control.
Along with other citizens of Tumbler Ridge, we can hope and pray that the price of coal stays high, but our prayers will be tempered with the knowledge that it is a cyclical industry. And we can hope that the technology comes along to make coal-fired energy feasible in BC again. But more important, we believe passionately that the current economic boom provides a brief but golden window of opportunity to diversify the economy, to try to ensure that we never again have one-industry-town status in an economic bust.
Unfortunately, we have an uncomfortable fear that the years of hard work of volunteers in keeping our community alive through good and bad times is being squandered, as that window of opportunity is being lost in a swamp of bureaucratic paralysis.
We need to acknowledge that the people in power and administration in Tumbler Ridge are our friends and neighbors, and that in a different situation their style of leadership may conceivably be advantageous or wise. A long-established, well-diversified community could possibly benefit from maintaining the status quo. But in Tumbler Ridge we do not have that luxury. We desperately need leaders with boldness and vision, who learn from the mistakes of the past, and who are prepared to take minor financial risks for the probable massive economic diversification benefit. The Grande Prairie example is instructive, where it is the politicians who have led the charge for their dinosaur museum, thus sparing the scientists and the volunteers this extra burden.
There are so many wonderful things happening in Tumbler Ridge; our Dinosaur Discovery Gallery will unofficially be open in a matter of weeks, we are gearing up for another field season, hiring staff for Dinosaur Camp, the Northern Wilderness Camps and our dinosaur footprint tours, etc. A new hotel is about to be built, the Monkman Pass Memorial Trail is nearing completion, there are now 36 hiking trails to choose from, and the list goes on. As Bob Norman put it so eloquently last night at the conclusion to the Itchy Feet series, this all represents part of the wave of the future for Tumbler Ridge. Yet it is amazing how fragile this precious product is, and how it is only a part of that wave if our elected officials and bureaucrats want it to be.
One thing is certain. When the next economic downturn comes, and if this results in another near-death or fatal experience for Tumbler Ridge because we have lost the one-time opportunity for an international destination attraction, we will know where the fault lies. The problem is, those responsible will quite possibly have departed, and the same dedicated and passionate group that had to band together to help save Tumbler Ridge the first time around will probably be at it again, if they have survived.
We ask you to do your best to ensure that history does not repeat itself in this horrible fashion. Please speak to your Mayor and Councillors. Perhaps ask them for a list of any alternative economic diversification strategies they have in mind for a decade from now, and ask them to support the best chance we have of long term survival as a community. Share this message with your friends. And please attend the March 20 Council meeting ? a packed gallery does have an important role in making those voting aware of the importance of the citizens they serve.
Let us hope that wisdom prevails, and that this economic diversification opportunity, developed by local volunteers and expertise, is regarded as something to be embraced with passion, rather than something to fear.