Tumbler Ridge Working on Community Sustainability Plan

Trent Ernst, Editor

When Quintette and Bullmoose closed, Tumbler Ridge was left without an economic engine and no real groundwork had been done to prepare the community for the closure of the mines. As a result, the community faced a number of significant challenges around jobs, housing, retail services, health and social services, and municipal infrastructure. However, the spirit of the community remained within a core group of dedicated residents and leaders who kept many community programs active.

Now that the community is back on the upswing, the District is working with the Community Development Institute (CDI) at the University of Northern British Columbia to develop a Sustainability Plan.

“Tumbler Ridge is preparing to take full advantage of the current economic upswing to create lasting benefit for the community,” said Marleen Morris, Associate Director of the CDI. “Across Northern BC we are in a time of incredible potential. We’re seeing new investment coming into the region, and so that gives us the chance to look at our assets and aspirations and build strategies and plans into the future. We are on the cusp of phenomenal reinvestment and retooling of communities and the economy in the north, and how we leverage benefits out of that.”

Morris was in town to start the research for the creation of the Sustainability Plan. “We are talking to people in town, one on one or in small groups. We’ll look at what the needs are, the challenges are, the opportunities are, then we’ll present the information that we’ve heard, we’ll present the data we’ve collected, then think about the plans and how to move forward.”

The Sustainability Plan will identify development and sustainability strategies in seven areas: economy; education; health, safety, and social services; housing and income; recreation, sport, arts, and cultural programs; natural environment and municipal infrastructure; and civic engagement.

This project is geared to coming up with strategies and plans that can be completely implemented. One are things the council can implement, two are actions and strategies that groups in the community can look at and say this makes sense, we’ll take it on. The third one might be those areas where the community realizes that things need to happen, but they’re not in control of the decisions, but they’ll go to the authorities: health, school, etc, to enhance sustainability.

“The current economic upswing gives us the opportunity to create long-term benefit so that the community continues to thrive into the future,” says Mayor Darwin Wren. “We want to use this opportunity to transform our community and our local economy so that it is more diversified and resilient.”

The goal of the Sustainability Plan is to ensuring that Tumbler Ridge is a great place to live, now and in the future, says Morris. She points to the community of Clearwater, which CDI is in the process of helping create a sustainability plan for. “There, they became a municipality in 2007. CDI worked with them to develop an Economic Development Strategy. That strategy identified 11 key areas that the community could pursue. One of those was becoming an age-friendly community, a place that would attract and retain seniors. Seniors contribute a lot to the community, through volunteer work and other community involvement.”

She says that recently, Clearwater had seen an increase in the senior’s population. “The town was in a place where they could attract seniors because of proximity to the park and other recreation areas.”

Having identified seniors needs as one of the living areas, the second part of the process was do a seniors needs analysis. “We worked with them on the project,” says Morris. “There was UBCM funding available to look specifically at seniors needs. We found that the needs were things like housing, amenities, and health care.”

Morris says that one of the big issues was the idea of mobility: “How did seniors get around? How was the town for walking, for transit? We looked at that and realized it was a major issue. The Vancouver Foundation has a program to study and improve senior mobility in a community, which is what we’re working on right now.”

Morris says at the same time, Clearwater is also working on housing, health care, etc, to create a community that can attract seniors. “They applied and got units from BC Housing, like you have here, which are located right next to the hospital, right down the road is the library and the recreation centre.”

The whole process is going to provide opportunities for the communities can become engaged, as individuals and as organizations, says Morris. “We’re starting at the high level piece. Analogous to Clearwater’s 11 areas, we’ll be drilling down in the seven areas in Tumbler to find out how to make it work. Each of those we’ll look at what’s here now, and as we move forward, what will it take to keep a high quality of life here in Tumbler Ridge.”

What’s really interesting is what motivated this. The community’s own experience motivated the district to take this on, with the closures last decade. That galvanized the community to look at this upswing in a different way: how are we more diversified in our econmy and we have a stronger community foundation. That’s what motivated it.”

Councillor Mike Caisley, Chair of the Sustainability Plan Committee agrees. He says “the Tumbler Ridge Sustainability Plan is a proactive response, and a determined resolve not to let history repeat itself, regardless of the inevitable fluctuations in the resource economy.”

Caisly says that CDI has the knowledge and the history with the community to formulate this plan. “The CDI has worked with the community since before 2003,” he says. “The CDI knows us and brings a wealth of experience and expertise to the planning process.”

Foundational to the idea of sustainability is to not focus on one area specifically, but to make improvements to a variety of areas so the community remains balanced. “Sustainability has to be thought of as being multifaceted,” says Morris. “You can’t have sustainability in one area and not another. You have to think of the economy, the environment, social infrastructure, physical infrastructure, cultural infrastructure. Those are really important. You have to make sure you’re investing in all of them and not overbalancing one or the other. All of them have to have strategies to help the community grow in a sustainable fashion.”

Morris says that if you focus just on the economy, on creating jobs, then what happens when those jobs come and there is no service infrastructure: housing, education, social? “If you just focus on creating the jobs and not focusing on what makes the town a good place to live, you’ll wind up with a number of unexpected consequences.

“Since the mines closed in the early 2000, Tumbler Ridge has taken actions to diversify its economy. You have the wind farm, you have Grizfest, you have the dinosaur museum. You’ve started to take steps to diversify the economy.”

Morris says they’re aiming to have project done by about September of 2014. “We’ll be taking on each of the seven areas individually. For each of the seven areas, we’ll be talking to people in the community, gathering information. Secondly, we’ll be talking to people in other communities who have gone through similar situations and the third aspect of the project is to bring people together and develop strategies for Tumbler Ridge in each of those areas.”