Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako Smithers rural director Mark Fisher (left to right)

Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako Smithers rural director Mark Fisher (left to right)

State of the region discussed at Chamber’s Outlook 2015

Bulkley Valley leaders gave a status update at the year's first Smithers District Chamber of Commerce luncheon.

Since 2010, the Smithers District Chamber of Commerce has used its first luncheon of the year to give the region’s leaders a chance to update their communities on their status and outlook, serving as a sort of business-focused state of the region.

For the first time, Stikine MLA Doug Donaldson was able to give his view at the annual meeting, joining Smithers Mayor Taylor Bachrach and the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako’s new Smithers rural director. Telkwa Mayor Darcy Repen was unable to attend.

Bachrach was first up at the meeting Thursday, dubbed Outlook 2015.

It was really a banner year for private investment and construction, especially in the commercial and institutional categories.

Everyone has seen Ptarmigan Meadows — the new condo development, the facelift that was given to the Smithers Mall, very much needed and really changed the character of the town as you drive through it. I think that it looks like things are happening,” Bachrach told the gathered business crowd.

The mayor went on to describe the surge in the value of permits handed out in 2014. With December numbers yet to come in, town staff reported over $21 million in building permits for the year.

Permit values were driven by commercial ($8.7 million), institutional ($4 million) and multi-family residential ($5.7 million) properties. Single family residential climbed slightly to $2.3 million, while there were no industrial permits approved within town boundaries.

Big projects boosted those numbers, as the number of permits was actually down six to 85 when compared to last year’s $5.6 million in permits.

One of those big projects was of course the second arena, which Bachrach said would be a draw for events like the Minerals North 2016 conference, awarded to co-hosts Smithers and Telkwa, and a proposed expanded trade show that could use both arenas.

Looking forward, Bachrach highlighted two priorities of the last council he hopes the new council will pick up on: concentrating more residential homes in the downtown area, and a master development plan for Central Park.

The last council consolidated a bunch of the properties around Central Park and rezoned it… There’s an opportunity there to come up with a master development plan and really think through the use of that property,” said Bachrach.

The airport affects the Bulkley Valley as a whole, and Bachrach confirmed the town is applying for a Building Canada Fund grant for its expansion. The total cost is likely to be over $4.5 million after council decided to add addressing baggage area congestion to the plan at a meeting last Monday.

The grant if approved would split the cost evenly between the federal, provincial and municipal governments.

Donaldson used his turn at the microphone to tout the success and business diversity of the area.

The MLA also brought up provincial issues that greatly affected the region. Aboriginal title court decisions that are now playing a role in northern resource extraction, and public transit on Highway 16 that Donaldson sees as a need were two topics. What the MLA saw as a failure in child care, worker safety in the aftermath of mill fatalities, and a his belief that control over the tourism industry should stay local were discussed, as was what he believes is the over reliance on the natural gas industry.

I think putting all our eggs in one basket isn’t necessarily a great idea, and I think the global commodity price for LNG has collapsed, so I’m just looking for an honest discussion about the benefits and risks,” said Donaldson.

Director Fisher wants more community input on how to spend Gas Tax funds, informing the crowd the district has followed Smithers’ example and hired a grant writer to suggest where some money should be spread. He also said he had some “outside the box” ideas for waste management.

It’s a huge part of the budget,” said Fisher.