Mayoral Candidates Gladys Atrill and Joe Bramsleven cite water, sewer, roads and sidewalks as the top infrastructure priorities for the Town.
“Underground and surface infrastructures all have to work, so all are priorities,” Atrill said.
Bramsleven targeted the gravel streets.
“We still have unpaved roads in town and need to come up with a way to get them paved,” he said, adding “sidewalks have been an issue” for several years and “we need to make sure that what is getting done is what we need to have done.”
Reviewing the water and sewer asset management plan, presented to the town in 2019, has Atrill and Bramsleven looking at the plan with different views.
According to Atrill the plan indicated “water and sanitary sewer systems are currently in good condition.”
Upgrades to the water mains and the sewage treatment plant will be needed, Atrill commented, and a grant application is already in the works for an upgrade to the current sewage treatment plant.
“The really big-ticket item that needs attention is the storm sewer system,” she said.
Bramsleven interpreted the report as indicating the town “has a number of assets that have exceeded their service lives” in the water, sewer and storm systems.
“These issues will need to be addressed in the near future,” he said, suggesting that, depending on the cost of the projects, “rates will have to go up for residents, unless we can increase our tax revenue by adding small- and medium-industry within the town.”
Atrill thinks that is impractical.
“Tackling the entire system at once, is beyond our finances, so ongoing inspections will lead to systematic repairs and replacements as required,” she said.
“Major projects, such as completing the south trunk sewer, will require infrastructure grant funding.”
In regard to fees, Atrill said the 10 per cent increases for 2020-2022 were are response to the provincial government’s asset management mandate and that 80 per cent of the revenue generated from increases will go into the Utility Capital Infrastructure Reserve, basically a savings account for future infrastructure replacements.
“The Town will take advantage of infrastructure grant opportunities to upgrade and replace as necessary, but we must start putting money aside for what we know we will have to pay for,” she said.
“It is incumbent on all of us to be ready to pay for new water and sewer infrastructure. The increases in the annual water/sewer user rates is part of our share.”
The Smithers Regional Airport and how Smithers can make it sustainable in the future is also top of mind for both candidates.
“We have invested a large amount of money into our airport, Bramsleven said. “In order for our airport to be sustainable, it needs more business than it has right now.”
He noted the pandemic has impacted the airport dramatically, but the return of Air Canada is just a starting point.
“CMA has been a very good partner for the airport over the years and we need to continue to support our local businesses,” he said.
“Some airports around us are busier than ours and we need to find out what it is they are doing to attract this extra business. Are we competitive, are we offering quality service? We need to look at this and come up with a plan to grow our airport including more industrial business.”
Atrill said reliable service is critical for industry sectors such as mining, exploration and tourism, for example.
“We need to work diligently with airlines and businesses who require air access to ensure service meets need,” she said.
“The mayor and council, business leaders and organizations can work together to present the best-case scenarios to airlines. An example is the creation of high-demand days which can fill flights.”
Atrill said she has already been working on this.
“I have spoken to businesses whom are willing to plan together to ensure available flights are full,” she said. “That will be good for the airline and for our local businesses.
She agreed that Air Canada returning is a good start and something businesses and residents can work with, but is not enough.
“We must also work to get federal support for our airport,” she said.
“Small airports across the country face the same challenge we do, looking at years before full recovery. Working with other communities, other airports and federal authorities, we will find the support needed to tide us over.
“Finally, be as lean as we can. We will review budgets with an eye to doing what we must, leaving the nice-tohaves for another time.”