Hungry Hill “phantom” grizzly bear will stay in Smithers

Town council voted to increase funding for a new airport diorama rather than ditch the famous bear

The Hungry Hill “phantom” grizzly bear will stay in Smithers, town council decided on April 9, after discussion about divesting the bear at their regular meeting.

The discussion followed a report from airport manager Rob Blackburn recommending that council amend the draft 2019 financial budget to include an increase of $200,000 in order to complete the airport modernization project.

The increased funds would come from the airport infrastructure reserve.

“Renovations to the older sections of the building has required more use of the contingency,” Blackburn’s report stated.

“Door changes for oversized baggage and accessibility, additional wiring, adding automated doors for arriving and departing passengers as well as a host of smaller items have depleted the original remaining contingency.”

READ MORE: Airport lounge a welcome addition

The approved budget for the project included a contingency of 3.3 per cent, approximately $301,000.

Remaining items not yet funded include: architectural and project management time extension ($62,500); creating a new diorama for the grizzly, fish and other wildlife ($55,000); electronic door lock systems to meet Transport Canada and operational requirements ($50,000); and adding an additional airline counter and associated works ($25,000).

Concerned about the increased costs, Coun. Frank Wray took issue with the new diorama for the famous “phantom” grizzly and other wildlife.

“Can they just be put back the way they are already or can we continue to store them where they’re stored?” he asked.

“We certainly can,” Blackburn responded. “I don’t know that it does the project justice.”

Blackburn said bringing the bear back “in a really classy, well-done manner … will really put a ribbon on the project,” and adding the steelhead trout and other wildlife to the same, new diorama will reduce clutter in the airport.

Regarding keeping the bear in storage, Blackburn rebutted that “there’s all kinds of humidity and dust and dirt” in the airport workshop where it’s currently being kept.

“I have seen where things are stored in the airport and that’s not OK,” Coun. Gladys Atrill said. “Where they are is not OK.”

“Would it be problematic to divest ourselves of them?” Wray asked.

“Most of the community members I’ve talked to are fairly determined to see the bear back in there,” Mayor Taylor Bachrach said, adding that the current display for the bear “doesn’t fit with the new design.”

“I think divesting ourselves of the bear would be a referendum issue.”

“It kind of rankles me to know that we’re going out to increase the [Airport Improvement Fee] and here we are spending $50,000 on a wildlife display,” Wray concluded, ultimately voting in favour of the increase so that it was carried unanimously.

The latest project completion date is the end of April 2019.

According to the Town of Smithers website, the taxidermied bear was captured by local conservation officers with a cable leg hold snare in fall 2001 after three years of attempts.

“As the two officers, Kevin Nixon and Brad Lacey, approached the area cautiously, this bear managed to break the snare cable and charge at the officers,” the website reads.

“The bear was 24 metres from the officers when the snare broke and he made it within seven metres of them before being shot.

“It is believed that this bear was responsible for killing upwards of 30 head of cattle in the Hungry Hill area, which is between Smithers and Houston.”

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