Walter: Mayor extends support

Trent Ernst, Editor

 

It’s a dark day to be mayor in Tumbler Ridge.

Mayor Darwin Wren has written an open letter to the people of Tumbler Ridge, saying that the town is “Committed to do all we can to ensure that those affected are supported to the fullest.”

He said the District was taken as unaware as the miners that this was coming. “We received notice last night that they were putting out a press release at seven eastern today,” said Wren when he dropped by the Tumbler Ridge News office a few hours after the announcement. “But we had no idea what was going to be announced. I thought maybe they would be announcing some layoffs, but this…”

He says that the people of Tumbler Ridge need to work together to minimize the impact on the affected workers. “I’ve never been in a position where I’ve received a layoff like this,” he says. “I can’t fully understand how it would feel. Hopefully these people will be able to find other employment in town, but that’s a lot of people.”

Wren says he’s talked to a number of the workers already. “I spoke to someone who just signed a mortgage just a couple months ago, now is laid off,” he says.

When asked if the plan was to stop construction on the new Visitor Centre in light of this, he says no. “I think the resolve is that we need to continue to do what we can. And where we have opportunity is tourism. Where we have opportunity is wind energy. There’s another company ready to go with a wind project that just needs a purchase agreement with BC Hydro, so we need to see what we can do to get that project going. There’s a lot of equipment operation needed during construction of a wind project, but how many long term jobs?” But perhaps the construction jobs might last long enough to keep people in town until Walter starts back up.

Wren says that he is hoping to speak to the mine manager from Peace River Coal in the next few days. “The worrisome part is if this mine can’t operate at this price, what other mines can’t operate at this price, either.”

While there has been speculation about the viability of Anglo American’s mine, that company is much larger than Walter with the resources to ride out a depressed coal market if they so choose.

How will the closure affect the District? Wren says it’s too early to tell. He worries that a number of people may decide to leave the community, affecting the town’s tax base. Also, says Wren, “an operating mine and an idled mine might be taxed differently. I don’t know. We’re just in the budgeting process, and all of a sudden the staff is going over everything and looking at things very closely. We don’t know what the long term effects may or may not be.”