Mayor Sandra Harwood speaks to the masses during a town meeting to update Fort St. James on council activities and conerns.

Town Meeting provides update for Fort St. James

The council of Fort St. James updated the community on what it has been doing over the past year and some of what lies ahead at a town meeting on Wednesday, March 2.

The council of Fort St. James updated the community on what it has been doing over the past year and some of what lies ahead at a town meeting on Wednesday, March 2.

The David Hoy Elementary School gymnasium held over sixty people interested to hear what the council had to say on Wednesday.

They learned what the individual portfolios of each council member are and some of what each council member is working on.

The update in brief for those who didn’t make the meeting was as follows.

Arena dressing rooms, while almost complete still have a few final touches to put on. They cost $2.2 million and were paid for by Recreational Infrastructure Canada grant money, regional district gas tax, Towns for Tomorrow funds, general funds and community forest money. They are hoping to have them completed by the end of March.

The Douglas Street bridge was replaced in the past year. The new structure cost $469,000 including consulting and were paid for with gas tax, general surplus and community forest funds.

Downtown revitalization has completed the facade work on the buildings, but will still involve sign work and landscaping.

The Chamber of Commerce lead the project, with the District of Fort St. James as a financial partner.

There was a total of about $1.6 million available for the project, with $300,000 estimated left to spend on the final stages.

There still be a heritage interpretation trail with ten panels starting at the historic park and signs guiding people along to the different panels through town.

There will be landscaped areas throughout town and some special features.

The majority of the funding for this came from Western Economic Diversification, with other funds from local businesses as well.

“Maybe it’s just me but this town looks a thousand per cent better,” said Mayor Harwood.

The new fire truck was purchased for the local volunteer fire department at a cost of $470,000. The regional district and the district paid for the truck, with Nak’azdli considering contributing as well.

The truck improves safety for the firefighters, according to Rob Bennet, fire chief, and helps to maintain the appropriate service levels to keep lower insurance ratings for the community.

The new 911 service should hopefully be in place in September or October of this year. Anywhere from Prince George to Prince Rupert will then be covered by 911.

“It will mean some growing pains,” said Rob Bennet.

For one thing, some addresses will be realigned within the community, in areas where there are major inconsistencies in the numbering. People without posted addresses will also need to put up visible address signs, because that is how the Prince George dispatch will direct the fire, police and ambulance services.

Council emphasized highways as a topic of discussion.

“We have some major issues at this point in time,” said Mayor Harwood.

They anticipate over 400 trucks per day through the community, with two right angle turns in town that need to be reexamined.

“We’re looking at a lot of options, including a roundabout at five corners,” said Harwood.

She also said Highway 27 south of Fort St. James needs to be widened, paved and needs more climbing and passing lanes.

The hope is also to get the highway paved in 2012.

The North Road was a concern raised as well, with glare ice in the winter and issues with the gravel surface in the summer as well.

One community member inquired about a pedestrian walkway at the Stuart River Bridge, saying it was quite dangerous as it is, especially given the larger volumes of large truck traffic.

The issue of day care is being addressed by community member Suzanne Lorimer who brought forward a proposal to build a new day care facility in the old courthouse building. A committee has been put together and the building has now been turned over to the municipality to rent for this use.

The committee has applied for grants and hope to renovate the building to be able to provide a service for 0 to 30 month old children, 3 to 5 year olds, after school care and youth programs.

The day care would be run as a non profit centre.

The community forest is looking to expand in size in order to provide more beetle-killed salvage timber for harvest as well as longer term cuts in the spruce-balsam as well.

The community forest has an average profit of $400,000 annually, which then goes into the economic development department to support capital projects.

There has been harvesting in the community forest since 2004 with increases in the annual allowable cut to allow for faster harvest of the pine beetle killed timber.

The original area of the community forest has now had the pine salvage harvested.

The group managing the forest is now working with the Ministry of Forests, Nak’azdli Band and the Nak’azdli keyoh holders on expanding the area.

“The area we’re looking at here has a little better profile for longer term cut,” said John-Paul Wenger.

They hope to harvest as soon as next winter within the expansion area.

There was also a brief update on the Thompson Creek’s Mt. Milligan Project, simply stating the mine hopes to be in full production by 2013 and council is looking at what kind of impacts there might be on services in the community.

The mine will be holding another information session within the next month and they still anticipate 800 to 1,000 people to be working at the site during the construction phase, with that number dropping to 300 to 400 during the production phase.

The new office is now open in unit 132 of the Goodwin Building and is open Monday to Friday.

The T.V. Society gave an update on the services it provides and asked for new volunteers to come out and help keep the society going.

The society provides the town with 17 t.v. channels, 7 radio stations, and now 4 digital t.v. channels and an emergency radio channel as well.

The entire society is run by volunteers.

“The T.V. Society is truly a locally supported group and I thank you,” said Councillor Dave Birdi.

The group put up a tower on Mt. Dickenson to overcome the background interference in the area,  and has good signal across the area as long as the receiver antenna is pointed correctly.

“It is definitely the cheapest t.v. you’ll get anywhere,” said Chester Hiebert, society volunteer.

The health and hospital update came courtesy of Councillor Kris Nielson. While Northern Health talked about getting a new hospital for Fort St. James about five years ago, there were changes at the government level that meant this never happened. Now the funding agreement as it stands would require the local area take on 40 per cent of the cost of the new building estimated at $38 million.

Within the same regional district tax base, the Burns Lake hospital needs to be replaced even more than the local hospital and their hospital will cost $62 million to build.

Nielson admitted that within a region with the largest geographic area and the smallest population in B.C., it is “pretty challenging” to pay for all of that.

One community member suggested resource-sharing like the do in some northern communities in order to raise funds for the facility.

A proposed pool for Vanderhoof is also in the works, with the neighbouring community looking to surrounding areas for some aid in covering the operating expenses once the facility is built.

They are asking for surrounding communities to commit to $25,000 in perpetuity.

The mayor mentioned this may go to a referendum in the near future to allow the community to decide.

“It’s nothing we have to decide tonight,” said Harwood. “But I wanted to bring it forward.”

Garbage collection will also look a little different in the future with a new garbage truck purchased for the community.

The truck cost $178,000 and will pick up the bins without any lifting by the employees. The bins will cost some money, but the district hasn’t yet decided how to charge for them to get the bins to people.

They are considering different options like renting the bins to households or paying for them in installments.

Dennis Saharchuk, superintendent of public works said the bins are safer for workers, tougher and more convenient for the public as well.

The largest bin is $50 and the smallest $30.

A heavy industrial tax exemption was put in place by council to encourage investments on improvements. For the first year, the business would not pay the increased value with the investment, the second year they would pay 20 per cent, 50 per cent in the third year, 80 per cent in the fourth year and the full value in the fifth year.

The idea is for existing industry in the area to invest in their properties locally.

The district is examining the participation rate in the area and see if they can adapt the tax incentive to commercial and residential throughout the rest of the community.

District is trying to keep the public up to date with social networking these days as well. The district posts announcements and updates on a Facebook page as well as their Twitter account. The district website also has a lot of information and they have an email distribution list if people would prefer to get updated that way.

Fort St. James also signed on to the Climate Action Charter in 2008 and is working on different ways to reduce their carbon footprint.

As a resource-based community, they admitted the community will have to be somewhat creative, and they are supporting initiatives like Greening Up Fort St. James and might put an anti-idling bylaw in place.

“Every community is moving along at a level that is realistic to themselves,” said Councillor Kris Nielson.

They did look at a transit feasibility study but found it was unrealistic to pursue it on a tri-city level, though they might work on ways to supplement the taxi service locally.

Some corporations in the area might be considering some bio energy initiatives which they hope to see some job opportunities from.

The new garbage truck and fire truck are low-emission vehicles and the district is planting trees in town as well.

One community member at the meeting suggested council offer tax incentives to home builders for using more energy-efficient or sustainable building practices such as triple-glazed windows.

Members of the committee looking at building a new community hall also presented some plans to the meeting and asked for feedback.

The proposed site of the building would be in front of the arena and would cost $3.4 to $4 million. The group has $1.4 million in funding available but are looking for ways to make up the rest.

One committee member pointed out what a focal point for the community the old community hall was and how they hope to provide that kind of gathering space again.

Finally, Mayor Harwood also announced the council is examining the pros and cons of the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project and will be taking a position on it soon. Harwood asked for input from the community on the project.