NORTHERN BC - In October Health Minister Adrian Dix announced the approval of a concept plan for the redevelopment of the Stuart Lake Hospital and Health Centre in For St James. This approval grants permission to Northern Health to begin the development of a business plan which will outline in more detail, the replacement plans for the hospital. It was a highlight of the year for Nechako Lakes MLA John Rustad.
"The announcement going forward, it is just a concept plan that was approved but now it goes to a business plan which then goes to the construction, that's very good news, it's something that's been needed and you know I worked hard with the current government to try to move that thing forward and I'm really pleased to see that they took the steps to do that."
But it wasn't all good news for Rustad's riding, one of the largest fires and one of the largest wildfire seasons ripped through his riding scorching 93 thousand hectares of forest, a massive blow to one of the areas biggest industries.
"A huge impact within the area, you know some people lost their homes. Fortunately, there were no lives lost but there was a lot of timber that was burnt. Obviously, a very negative impact so it's going to take years if not decades to recover from those fires. Moving on from that, we've got other situations that are happening such as New Gold is putting on pause, we've got the Cariboo situation, we've seen a number of mills now taking curtailment."
In fact, Rustad says he is "absolutely" afraid for the future of foresty in his riding for a whole host of reasons, wildfires being just one of them.
"What we've seen now, just in the last year even the lumber prices are still very very high as we've seen that lack of confidence, we've seen channels of supplies. We're seeing for example areas last year that were hit by wildfires where stumpage rates were 70-75 dollars a cubic meter and companies just say hey wait a second we can't make a go of this. So even though the wood has a short shelf life it's not going to be moving into mills and being harvested."
Instead, the mills are curtailing operations in Rustads riding alone Canfor announced a 10 per cent reduction and output in all BC operations including the Huston and Plato Sawmills. West Fraser permanently ended the third shift in the Fraser Lake Mill while Conifex reduced the Fort St James Mill to a single shift for the first six months of the next year. In each case, log prices and access to fibre were part of the rational but Rustad recalls where working with the Northern Government bore fruit ensuring the Mt Milligan mine stayed operational when water was scarce.
"So I actually connected directly with Premier Horgan and said hey we've got to deal with this. Your Ministers are talking about having to go through an EA, it might be two years dragging this thing through, we need to be able to do something to get some certainty for these people so we don't have to take shut down. So he asked his deputy to work directly with the ministers and they managed to come up with a plan that would allow the mine to keep on going, so that was another highlight."
But he says mining is struggling with lower commodity prices and New Golds Blackwater project is at risk under the new Cariboo preservation plans.
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