The Shovel Lake fire. B.C. Wildfire Service photo

Front page news and community stories

Top stories in the Bulkley Valley from July to December 2018.

July

TransCanada awards LNG pipeline contracts to First Nations

TransCanada has recently announced that its Coastal GasLink Pipeline Project is conditionally awarding $620 million in contract work to northern B.C. First Nations. This would benefit Aboriginal businesses for the project’s right-of-way clearing, medical, security and camp management needs. The project anticipates another $400 million in additional contract and employment opportunities for Aboriginal and local B.C. communities during pipeline construction.

NDP leader lands in Smithers

The three big things that make or break success in the Northwest were the three elements federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh was looking to learn more about during his three days here this week.

“Though we’ll be visiting lots of different businesses, and local community leaders, and Indigenous community leaders … we’re just going to get a little glimpse of it. But I’m really excited to learn more about the region, all the elements whether it’s the economy, issues that impact the economy, the environment, the First Nations and the issues the First Nations have to deal with, I want to get a sense of the area, the community,” said Singh as he and a fair-sized crowd basked in the sun at Bugwood Bean on a warm Monday in Smithers.

Getting the environment, resource development and First Nations’ rights to harmoniously co-exist for the benefit of all who live in the Northwest has not always worked, and the prospect of a lucrative liquefied natural gas industry in the near future has some in opposition right now. Singh was asked how he as a potential future Prime Minister would approach these type of situations, with his B.C. liaison Skeena-Bulkley Valley NDP MP Nathan Cullen sitting nearby and nodding agreement.

“First is acknowledging that is his responsibility as a leader, is to bring all three together: Understand that we do live in a resource extraction country, and that is an important element for jobs for people. But the reality is if we don’t act as stewards and as protectors of the environment, there won’t be a place for us to have that economic activity,” answered Singh. “So that’s vitality important that we keep a lens on those realities, and then finally that none of this can happen without a strong relationship without a strong relationship of respect for the first people of this land. These are all integral elements of a functioning Canada.”

Frances Brown’s nephew walks across Canada for MMIW

With each step Matthew Jefferson takes, the 120 pounds of equipment he’s carrying on his back gets heavier and heavier.

The closest town is probably three days away. Jefferson knew this journey would be physically demanding but he wasn’t expecting it to be so mentally draining.

Just as he feels like giving in to the exhaustion, his travelling partner Mark Vigers starts singing Hakuna Matata. Jefferson joins Vigors in singing the famous Lion King song which means no worries, and immediately boosts his spirits and evaporates his fatigue.

Jefferson and Vigors are walking across Canada to raise awareness about missing and murdered Indigenous woman. Jefferson was inspired to go on this journey after his aunt Frances Brown went missing last fall while mushroom picking.

Truck driver dies on Hwy 16

A federal investigation is underway to determine the cause of an incident last Tuesday on Highway 16 northwest of Houston that took the life Bandstra Transportation Systems truck driver Peter Huisman, who was 52. It is the first fatality in the company’s history according to Bandstra Transportation’s Phil Bandstra, who went to high school in Smithers with Huisman. He said half a dozen employees were family members of Huisman’s.

Smithers downtown residential tax break passed

A downtown revitalization bylaw (No. 1837) was passed with Councillor Frank Wray opposed at a town council meeting July 10. The bylaw allows tax exemptions to downtown buildings that construct residential dwelling units for a five-year period. The exemption would be 50 percent for one dwelling unit per parcel area greater than 290 metres squared, 75 percent for one dwelling unit per parcel area between 290 m2 and 135 m2, and 100 percent for one dwelling per parcel area less than 135 m2. Some downtown buildings will already qualify for the new exemption, such as the new Home Hardware building at the corner of Third Avenue and King Street, which will have a one-bedroom apartment on its second storey.

Witset votes to keep agreement for Coastal GasLink pipeline

The Interior News confirmed Witset First Nation council voted in favour of signing an agreement with TransCanada for its Coastal GasLink LNG pipeline at a special meeting on April 30.

The proposed pipeline project would be 670 km in length. The pipeline would deliver natural gas from Dawson Creek to a facility in Kitimat for export by LNG Canada, passing well south of the Bulkley Valley but within Wet’suwet’en territory.

Sixty-seven per cent of council voted in favour of signing the agreement. The vote was conducted by secret ballot and counted by the council’s auditor. Witset owned companies Kyah Resources Inc. and Kyah Summit Camp Services Ltd. are expected to be involved in right-of-way clearing and camp service.

“People think these projects line the pockets of council members,” Witset chief Victor Jim said in the press release. “That’s just not true.”

Requests over the last several weeks for an interview with Jim on the topic have not been returned as of Monday’s press time.

Witset signed a benefits agreement with the province for Coastal GasLink and Pacific Trail Pipeline projects in 2015 but following community outrage scheduled another vote on the matter. Witset will receive $55.4 million in payments over the life of the projects.

Through a pipeline benefits agreement signed with the Province in January 2015 for the Coastal GasLink project, Witset will receive approximately $6 million as project milestones are reached: $998,000 upon the agreement coming into effect, $2.49 million when construction begins, and $2.49 million once the pipeline is operating. That does not include the financial agreement with the company.

Witset was the 16th and final First Nation or Band to join the First Nations Limited Partnership, which would share in $32 million in benefits once construction has started on the Pacific Trail Pipeline (PTP).

Witset has about 1,800 members.

Dog hoarder charged in Alberta weeks after pet seizure in Quesnel

Innisfail RCMP in Alberta have charged Karin Adams in relation to the seizure of eight dogs from a room at the Bluebird hotel on July 17. Adams, 46, is being charged with mischief, eight counts of failure to obtain a dog license, driving a motor vehicle without a valid licence, trespassing and harbouring more than three dogs.

If the name seems familiar, its because it has appeared several times for animal cruelty-related stories before. The first case was in Houston, where dogs and horses were seized in August 2014 from Karin and her daughter Catherine Adams. They were convicted in 2015 and banned from owning animals for 20 years in B.C. That didn’t stop them from possessing animals. This latest arrest is coming only weeks after the BC SPCA seized 16 dogs who were being cared for by the Adams from a property in Quesnel.

The dogs were being kept in crates too small for their size in a poorly ventilated area, with little or no access to water and with feces/urine-soaked matting.

Daughter Catherine was convicted of animal cruelty in Hannah, Alberta in February of this year after an SPCA seizure in September 2015. She is due to be sentenced in Hannah on Aug. 22 after a pre-sentence report is prepared. Police and the SPCA there found a total of 17 birds, 25 dogs, and 11 horses on a rural property.

The details outline in that case are disturbing. One example given as evidence was in one particular dirty kennel there were two young female German Shepherds. Both were assessed with a BCS of 1 — a scale that measures a dog’s state as emaciated at that number. The kennel was described as barely big enough for one dog. The doctor who evaluated the dogs said both dogs had overgrown toenails. The dogs’ fur was matted with fecal material, which implied to the veterinarian that they had been in a dirty environment for a long period of time.

The Adams represented themselves. Karin chose not to testify and was not found guilty in the Hannah case.

Skeena Sockeye return estimate nearly triples

Despite closures and limitations on sockeye fishing on the Skeena River, salmon numbers have reached a level where the fishery has opened — at least temporarily — last week. After an early closure for last year’s sockeye commercial fishing season, including limitations for food fishing, the 2018 season opened on the Skeena River on July 24 and 25.

Telkwa pot could supply Saskatchewan

Maple Leaf Green World (MGW) has entered into a non-binding agreement with High Tide Ventures Inc. to supply up to 2,000 kilograms of cannabis and cannabis products. MGW’s soon-to-be completed cultivation facility in Telkwa would be responsible for the supply.

August

Fire bans while wildfires grow

There will be no campfires allowed in the Bulkley until the weather gets wetter and cooler. Communities with fire departments have to implement their own fire bans. Smithers, Telkwa, Witset and New Hazelton all confirmed they are enforcing bans with the same rules as the Northwest Fire Centre outside their boundaries. The ban started at noon Aug. 3.

Water bombers come into Smithers airport to refuel and fill up to fight fires near Burns Lake and Francois Lake. State of emergencies start to go into effect with the Nadina Lake fire reaching 3,800 hectares.

Marine chinook fishing increases as river ban stays

Fisheries and Oceans Canada loosened its restrictions on catching chinook in North Coast tidal waters, allowing for a recreational catch limit of two per day. A complete ban on chinook retention remains in place for Skeena and Nass Rivers.

Water restrictions

Stage two water restrictions in Telkwa means watering lawns and gardens is limited to once a week. Smithers restrictions go into effect until Oct. 31, with odd-numbered addresses only allowed to use sprinklers on odd-numbered days and vice versa for even-numbered addresses. Hazelton residents are only permitted to water lawns and gardens on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Witset is having trouble keeping its reservoir full, with a maintenance crew sent door-to-door searching for leaks.

Crews battle many fires

Hit hard is Telegraph Creek, which has been evacuated and where fire destroyed 27 buildings in the small village. Residents have been dispersed throughout the area. The fire has grown to more than 30,000 hectares and an evacuation alert towards Dease Lake is in effect. Telegraph Creek would be evacuated until winter.

The Shovel Lake fire has burned about 30,000 hectares 30 km northeast of Burns Lake as more evacuation orders go into effect. Fires also force evacuation alerts near Babine Lake and 37 km northwest of Hazelton. More than 1,500 wildfires started in B.C. so far, with 462 still active as of mid-August.

Emergency support centres are set up in Smithers, Burns Lake, Fraser Lake and Prince George. As of Aug. 13, there were 323 firefighters battling eight fires of note in the northwest region.

Local wants federal review of gas pipeline

Smithers resident Michael Sawyer filed an application with the National Energy Board for an order that would put TransCanada’s Coastal GasLink pipeline under federal jurisdiction, which would supersede the provincial approval. Sawyer would later say he received threats against his life and property.

Smithers firefighters combat Shovel Lake wildfire

Smithers Fire Rescue deployed four members and one fire engine to Burns Lake Aug. 13 at the request of the Office of the Fire Commissioner. The firefighters are on a 14-day deployment, and chief Keith Stecko said the department will likely send another crew on Aug. 26 or 27 to replace them. Stecko himself is deployed Aug. 21. The fire is about six km north of Fraser Lake.

Canadian Armed Forces Major Jeff Allen said the military deployed an air task force to Smithers with a CH124 Sea King helicopter on standby.

Worder shortage bad for business

Local restaurateurs in Smithers banded together to address a staffing issue in town. According to local owner Moe Kafer, between 15 and 26 kitchen jobs in Smithers have been on the Work BC job board for several months.

September

Lounge brightens airport

With the capacity to hold 118 people, the newly completed departure lounge at the Smithers Regional Airport is more than just a comfortable place for passengers waiting to board their flights, officials said at an Aug. 27 official opening. It means passengers from more than one aircraft can be accommodated, as well as being able to handle larger passenger capacity aircraft.

Cooler weather welcomed as fire officials hope worst is over

The worst wildfire season in B.C. history may be coming to an end. An estimated 1.25 million hectares burned this season, breaking last year’s record of 1.22 million hectares. As of Aug. 30, the total cost of fire suppression for the BC Wildfire Service is $360 million, the second most behind the year before.

Pipeline challenger called ‘disappointing’

Fourteen northern B.C. mayors whose communities would financially benefit from the planed LNG Canada multi-billion-dollar project in Kitimat say they’re disappointed Smithers residents Michael Sawyer wants a federal review of the pipeline that would feed it, saying he had years to challenge the pipeline.

New political party has northern focus

A new provincial party has formed in B.C. in hopes of becoming the voice for rural voters. The Rural BC Party’s interim leader is Houston councillor Jonathan

Van Barneveld, with Telkwa Mayor Darcy Repen joining the organizing core.

Vigil held after human remains found

Nearly 300 people gathered on short notice in the cold drizzle on the afternoon of Sept. 16 in Smithers to honour another woman who lost her life, 18-year-old mother Hessica Patrick. RCMP would not confirm it was her body found off a cliff on Hudson Bay Mountain Road until a week after finding her, and days after her body was returned to her family. Jessica’s family told the crowd at Bovill Square that family members were involved in finding her body on the weekend. She was reported missing Sept. 3.

Highway 16 was lined with community members rallying in support as a convoy from Prince George returned her body.

172 layoff notices for Hazelton company

Hazelton-based Tsetsaut Ventures Ltd. sent out the notices after negotiations failed with Pretivm to continue contract work at Brucejack Mine.

Chief Wah Tah K’Eght passes

Henry Alfred from Witset passed away Sept. 23. He spoke at a feast in December 2017 commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Delgamuuk Supreme Court case that included Wet’suwet’en and Gitxsan elders. He was the last surviving Wet’suwet’en member who took part in that case.

Despite poor health, he also made the journey from a Prince George hospital room in September to host a feast welcoming the Walk to Witset, an event to celebrate the release of Shared Histories, a book documenting the relationships between settlers and Wet’suwet’en between 1913 and 1973.

October

Concept design for new library/art gallery

The general plan is all drawn up, but with a higher estimated price tag of $15.872 million. The limit set by council was $12 million. Most of the extra cost is from estimated construction inflation, pegged at $3.5 million. The building is to be 12,000 square feet, with a bit of space maybe being added if Smithers Exploration Group joins the project to store a mineral collection. The existing library would stand until the new one is built beside it, with the cenotaph likely being moved closer to Main Street within Veterans’ Peace park.

$40-billion LNG investment decided

The joint venture partners Shell, PETRONAS, PetroChina, Mitsubishi and KOGAS announce a final investment decision to build the LNG Canada export facility in Kitimat. It is to be the largest private investment in Canadian history. TransCanada’s CoastalGaslink pipeline would be built to send the natural gas from northeast B.C. to the terminal. Fourteen camps of varying sizes would be built along the 670-km route with the average peak size being 500-800 workers.

All 20 elected First Nations along the route signed benefit agreements with TransCanada. Coastal Gaslink has also awarded $620 million in conditional contracting opportunities to northern businesses, with another $400 million to come bringing the total to over $1 billion for the pipeline.

Record low river levels

Rivers across the region hit record lows for this time of year, including the Bulkley, Skeena and Kispiox Rivers.

New councils and mayors elected

Telkwa get a new mayor in Brad Layton, who won with 74.6 per cent of the vote. Long-time Village of Hazelton Mayor Alice Maitland leaves after 42 years when Dennis Sterritt is elected. Smithers elects three different councillors: Casda Thomas, Lorne Benson and John Buikema. Greg Brown, Frank Wray and Gladys Atrill return along with Mayor Taylor Bachrach. Gail Lowry is re-elected mayor of New Hazelton.

Witset gets connected

The loos of cell service on the stretch of Highway 16 between Smithers and the Hazeltons will soon be a thing of the past with construction of a Rogers cell tower. Witset is the last First Nation along Highway 16 to not have cell service.

November

Telkwa Coal at EA threshold

Bigger is not always better is what Telkwa Coal founder Mark Gray said this past spring, but a bit bigger may be necessary with increasing costs including a new road to the rail tracks to avoid using Coalmine Road, and a rail loop to load the steel-making coal. A full environmental review is now necessary after the size of the mine was boosted to 750,000 tonnes from the originally estimated 240,000, still within the originally proposed range of 240,000 to 900,000.

SD54 shows public design plans for new Walnut Park school

SD54 secretary treasurer Dave Margerm shares results of public consultation on 486-sq-metre shared space. The Province is giving $1.5 million of the community area. Feedback suggested a significant demand for daycare and recreational space. The space will be multi-use, including a daycare, meeting room, multipurpose room, educational collaboration room, community kitchen and extra gym space.

Postal strike strikes Smithers

Smithers postal workers walk out on strike as rotating strikes hit communities across Canada. Top of mind for local workers was life/work balance and pay equity for rural carriers.

Smithers and Telkwa get affordable housing

The Province announced it will provide $2.7 million in funding for affordable rental housing in Smithers and Telkwa. Smithers Community Service Association received $1.5 million in funding to build 15 housing units. Telkwa Senior Housing Society receives $1.2 million for 12 seniors units. The homes will be two-bedroom units about 700 square feet.

Smithers pot hearing

Rules for cannabis sales start to take shape. Smithers sets fees and proposes limiting sales to the downtown area, but at least 150 metres from Muheim school. That would leave nearly half of the downtown as a pot-store-free zone.

Witset low-income apartment funding

Witset is getting 26 new homes as part of Building BC: Indigenous Housing Fund. The units will be in a $5.2-million, three-storey community housing apartment built in Witset’s newer subdivision. It is dedicated to low-income single people and elders, with family housing planned for the future by the Band.

December

CT scanner ‘paused’ after council denies full variance

The future of the CT scanner project at Bulkley Valley District Hospital was unknown after Smithers council only gave a partial variance to off-site works. A full variance lost in a split 4-3 vote.

Bylaw 1800 is the same one that gave the town the infamous ‘sidewalk to nowhere’ on Frontage Road and is forcing the Bulkley Valley Child Development Centre to build a dead-end sidewalk across its driveway to a neighbouring residential yard. Northern Health mistakenly thought internal renovations did not apply, and warned the costs to upgrade drainage and a small portion of sidewalk could cancel the project.

Council would unanimously reverse its decision at its next meeting packed with people upset at the decision.

Gitxsan chiefs declare fishing closure

Citing Ottawa’s mismanagement of wild Pacific salmon, the Gitxsan Hereditary Chiefs are establishing their own crisis management team and announced an immediate closure in their territory of recreational fisheries.

Coastal GasLink gets interim injunction against Unist’ot’en

The Unist’ot’en camp is ordered by the B.C. Supreme Court to allow Coast GasLink workers through. Another checkpoint is set up to block them by the neighbouring Gitdumden clan, but an amendment is later added to enforce the injunction on the entire road from Houston south to the Unist’ot’en camp. Rallies in support of the blockade are held in Vancouver and Toronto.

 

Witset is hoping more families take in the majesty of a salmon filled Widzin Kwah Canyon after the grand opening of the upgraded RV Park and Campground. Get a closer look at the big stories from the second half of 2018 starting on A14. Chris Gareau photo

Smithers airport manager Rob Blackburn (left) shows Federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh and his wife Gurkiran Kaur the view of Hudson Bay Mountain outside the front doors Monday. Airless Photography

The Widzin Kwah Museum is ready for visitors in the background of the performing ‘Ewk Hiyah Hozdli Dance Group at the grand opening of the upgraded Witset Kyah RV Park and Campground. Chris Gareau photo

Firefighters on the Shovel Lake fire help secure the containment line on Sept. 2, 2018. BC Wildfire Service photo

A new checkpoint on Morice Lake Forest Service Road went up Dec. 17, the day an injunction against the Unist’ot’en camp to allow Coastal GasLink access went into effect. Facebook photo

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