Through water and fire, 2015 is a year where the Vanderhoof community has worked together — whether it is for community events or larger projects such as the Vanderhoof Aquatic Centre, says Vanderhoof’s mayor.
As Vanderhoof settles into the New Year, Mayor Gerry Thiessen chatted with the Omineca Express on highlights for 2015 and upcoming projects for the community.
The district council is making long-term decisions that will not be solutions today, and then problems tomorrow, Thiessen said.
Q: Vivian Chui, Omineca Express
A: Mayor Gerry Thiessen, District of Vanderhoof
Q: What were the highlights for Vanderhoof in 2015?
A: How we’ve really evolved into more and more of a community. I look at all the events that we have for the community, where Concert in the Park has gone, how it’s done. Movie in the Park this year in the fall really became a community event; people embrace it. You can just list so many things that our community has done. I think of Shirley Bond (MLA for Prince George-Valemount and B.C. Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training, and Minister Responsible for Labour), when she was here for her visit in the fall. She said, “You don’t know that you’re a small community; you’re doing things in your community that larger centres would do.” Once we sat down and realized how many of those things we are involved in, it was quite neat to see.
People are taking the challenge in doing different jobs in the community. To us, that would be a real plus; things that are going to make our community sustainable. I think we as council have really worked hard on things that are going to have long-lasting implications for us as a town. We’ve worked long and hard to have a community forest. We have, in this past week, received a letter from the Province, that gave us the go-ahead. That’s something that’s going to have long-lasting benefits for the community in things that we sense are important to us. We’re a forest community, we have a place that has values, whether it’s ski trails that are going to be around our community, lakes that are in that area. Those are all things that have long-lasting effect; that has been a real exciting thing.
The second thing is that we’ve started a community foundation. Paperwork has gone through, and the committee is organizing it. We’ve started a foundation here with $50,000 which we have put in from the district of Vanderhoof, the regional district has put in $25,000, and all that is matched by the Northern Development Initiative Trust. We will start our foundation with $150,000. It’s something that is going to be there for generations to come.
Those are the really neat values that I see have come to the community, have really matured us as a community.
Q: Where are we for our big projects, such as the Integris Recreation Centre and the Vanderhoof Aquatic Centre?
A: We’re going to see significant things happening this year on those two projects. There’s been too much done on both of those, in my mind, to a standstill. As we’ve seen now, the pool fundraising group has raised over $400,000 in just over a year. That’s been noticed by industry and government. Certainly the people of Vanderhoof have said that’s a priority, and so we want to work very diligently to see the aquatic centre come to being. I would think that 2016 would certainly be a pivotal year, and that’s because of all the work that’s been done by Zoe Dhillon and the group in fundraising. Certainly the council and staff have worked on a different level, at a much deeper level, everything from developing plans and also advocating for it on a larger scale. I think the next few months will be pivotal as far as the aquatic centre is concerned.
As for the recreation centre, we’ll see it come to being in the next few months. We’ve got a good plan, we’ve had a few hiccups, some costs that we haven’t expected. That’s what builds maturity; it’s that when you get into problems, you address them. You build a stronger relationship with both the proponents of the recreation centre, but also the people around council working together.
Q: So the recreation centre will start construction this year?
A: Yes, I can’t see any reason why it wouldn’t.
Q: What are your thoughts on concerns expressed through social media by some community members about the fate of their donations to the aquatic centre, if the pool does not happen?
A: It’s a long-time coming project. When you see some communities — they work on a project like this for 10 years — this isn’t a simple project. When we as a council decided to go down this track, there wasn’t a fear that this was going to take more than just an election cycle. And to me, this project is much bigger than any one person or councillor. It’s a community project, and it needs to be seen as that. We’re making the best decisions with what we have. We made it clear that people who donated to the pool, if the pool didn’t go ahead and they wanted their funding back, they get a receipt for it. That’s the way how we know who donated.
We continue to spend money on the plans; we want to make sure that it’s a shovel-ready project, ready to build, so we’re working very diligently in that area.
Q: What are some other upcoming highlights for 2016?
A: The neat thing about Vanderhoof is certainly the council, for me, is a huge strength here in Vanderhoof. To me, we’re a council and you’ve sat in council chambers and see a lot of votes that are not unanimous, that are split votes. There’s a real understanding and desire of council members to work together. To me, that’s a real strength for our community. When I talk to other mayors and other councillors in other communities…we’re just so fortunate. I’m just so thankful everyday, for a council that is progressive. The community has voted in progressive people, people who see the opportunity, the challenge that we have.
You have two things that each community has to face. One, to try to be just in a self-preservation mode, and just take care of yourself; or to be thoughtfully progressive, and look for opportunities. We have tried to do that. We have a number of opportunities, whether it is the construction of the New Gold mine. We’ve had a number of natural gas, LNG lines, that have come to town and expressed an interest in working with our community, and be closely involved in the community. Certainly the housing study is going to be a huge part that we’re going to be working on this year. We realize that senior housing is going to be a real need in the community over the next five to 10 years, and it is right now.
Other areas, we did a hotel evaluation study a couple of years ago, and we have a number of hotels that are working with us, looking to moving into the Vanderhoof area — there’s a shortfall of hotels.
Those are some of the areas that we’re working on.
Q: What are your thoughts on Vanderhoof’s economic situation, such as the closure of mills in nearby communities and the low price of metals?
A: I don’t believe that you were here last year when we went through the election. That was the sad part at that time, we spent a lot of time dealing on very small issues. There are some big issues in our community. Certainly the whole thing about sustainability, where the mid-term supply of timber will come from in our area. I work very diligently, many hours in the week, to understand that and advocate for the employees of our sawmills. I understand the value that those people bring, and when you see other mills that are closed, it makes you realize that you need to diversify.
We’re working hard with manufacturing to diversify, and we’re also working in agriculture to diversify. You saw a small piece of that in the [Nechako Valley Secondary greenhouse project]; those are not going to be small projects. I’ve dealt with some people with international connections in both those areas; these are export markets that we’re trying to develop. I think it’s important that as we go through this year, we look at those larger versions and focusing on that. If we’re going to survive, that’s our only option.
Q: And for our education — the College of New Caledonia’s current community consultation on their restructuring process?
A: I met with CNC for a good hour this past week and talked about that. A number of years ago, we did a very in-depth plan for CNC and it was done over a period of three plans. They need to come and give an answer to us. Over the next month, they have agreed to come back to Vanderhoof, meet with people who were the real champions of that plan, and to tell us why we’re on the wrong track.
I’ve spoken with the Minister of Advanced Education, Andrew Wilkinson. He understands where we are and he understands the need that we have. We will continue to work with that.
Another thing I would like to add is the flood and the fire this spring.
They were really tough on our community, for two different reasons. The fire is hard because it burns up so much of that fibre and timber. There were lots of logs that were already cut, ready to go to the sawmill, and we’ve lost all that. The problem that’s going to come is, not this year, or maybe next year, but in the future, if we continue to have those big fires, we’re going to lose some of our sawmills. I have worked very hard with my fellow mayors and worked on trying to understand wildfires, why forest fires are happening so early in the year. Those are difficult, difficult situations.
The last one is on the flood. The flood was the hardest thing that we went through this past year. It just wears on the committee when you see water just there in your basement, and your crawl space; it just becomes overwhelming to our community. I’ve really noticed that the attitude of the people really struggled, and that’s why it was so important for me to see the park emptied of water as quickly as possible, and pumped out and cleaned up as quick as we could. We’re working with Rio Tinto and the government to address those concerns; we’ll work in every way we can to find a solution on it.
Certainly I’ve spent a lot of time talking to our MLA (John Rustad), to anyone that we can to find a solution, but it cannot be a solution today that’s going to be an expense for our children tomorrow. Council is making long-term decisions, decisions that will benefit our community for generations to come. You can’t have solutions today end up being the problems tomorrow.