The Smithers District Chamber of Commerce hosted a digital luncheon on Jan. 20 for the annual Mayoral Outlook and overview of the last year.
It was an opportunity for Smithers Mayor Gladys Atrill and Mark Fisher Electoral District A (Smithers rural) director for the Regional District of Bulkley Nechako (RDBN) to give highlights of events over the past year and works that have been accomplished in the Town of Smithers and within the district.
For Mayor Atrill’s report, 2020 was a year “quickly overrun by COVID and all things COVID-19.”
It was a year marked by virtual meetings, Zoom calls, and provincial health orders.
“In response to community need, virtual roundtables were set up and held regularly to hear from the community, including focus on social service needs, economic needs and general community concerns as we worked our way through the early days of the pandemic,” Atrill said.
“The Smithers Emergency Operations Centre was opened, and team members met frequently through the spring and summer, with a purpose of recognizing and responding to emergency needs.”
She reported the town supported an increase in Emergency Support Services capacity and increased wildland fire training and equipment capacity and worked toward a Community Emergency Evacuation Plan.”
“An early shock to the system was the cancellation of commercial scheduled flights at the Smithers Regional Airport, although as of today we have three flights a week back in operation into and out of Smithers,” she said.
“I want to note the loss of service by Central Mountain Air and I hope that service will be restored at some point, because it was a very good service and it is a local company.”
Smithers airport did see some charter service and diverted flights resulting in significant revenue losses. At its last regular meeting, council voted unanimously to use $975,000 of their allotment from the provincial COVID-19 recovery fund to cover the shortfall.
Despite COVID, 2020 was a very busy year for construction with 73 building permits issued, 15 new single family detached house starts, the approval of the first “skinny home” that is currently under construction, and business licenses were up by 21 from previous years to a total of 675, Atrill reported.
“The Town has adopted a Housing Needs Assessment and initiated a Child Care Needs Assessment; oth of these were grant funded,” she continued
She also noted council has identified the LB Warner site for future housing and toward that end, received a Phase II environmental assessment for proposed housing developments.
“We have identified a first opportunity from our Active Transportation Plan – which is the King-Main Cycle Spine,” Atrill said. “We have also recently applied for funds to plan the best connection from the Cycle 16 route to the trail system in Smithers.”
Looking forward, council’s strategic priorities include; strengthening relationships with the Wet’suwet’en and hereditary chiefs; creating the next Official Community Plan and updating zoning bylaws; continuing to address housing issues, recycling and overall community needs, she said.
Atrill finished by acknowledging the members of the community hardest hit by the pandemic, those working hard in the health care system, remembering those who are sick and those who have died, and reminding the community the “pandemic is real, let’s do our part. We are in this together and we will be stronger if we work together.”
For his part, Fisher provided an update for his district.
Under Recreation 2020, Fisher detailed the creation of the Rural Recreation Service Area and the many diverse user groups there are within this region.
Phase I has been largely dealing with how to identify and support all recreation user groups (snowmobiles, mountain bikers, hiking trails, etc) in the region, setting bylaws and a more formal framework for the input of all recreation users to have a say in how the area is managed, he said.
In Phase II, the RDBN purchased the Trout Creek property, west of Smithers to ensure the public was able to access the world-class fishing available at the site.
The District also entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with Cycle 16 in 2020, which was a major undertaking with many areas of consideration to look at. Cycle 16 will eventually connect Smithers and Telkwa with a cycling path, off Highway 16.
Under the Emergency Planning and Management heading, Fisher relayed neighbourhood planning groups have been set up in our region, and there are 20 groups dealing with a range of issues from wildfires, flooding to evacuation. There are ongoing meetings and consultations with these groups.
For the future, there will be two important press releases during this week, he said, one regarding connectivity in our region, with the key being better service to our rural area. The second announcement will be regarding recycling. Fisher was vague on details.