The challenges of a community facing mega projects was the forefront of discussion at a special event last week, hosted by the Kitimat Economic Development Association and the Kitimat Chamber of Commerce.
The event, called Lets Talk, brought in a panel of speakers, including Fort St. John Mayor Lori Ackerman and Gordon Wilson, who advocates for the LNG Buy-BC program.
Other speakers were UNBC researcher Greg Halseth, who has been studying many communities in B.C. facing industrial development, including Kitimat, and Michael Evans from Fort McMurray, a government relations specialist.
Ackerman tells the Sentinel that there are many parallels between Kitimat and her own community, which has also seen large growth through industrial development.
At Fort St. John’s core is four guiding principles, says Ackerman: economic prosperity, environmental sustainability, social inclusion and cultural vitality.
“Every decision we make is viewed through those lenses,” she said. “Whatever your [Official Community Plan] says you want your community to look like, you’ll have to look through those lenses, to ensure you’re on the right path to get to that mountain top.”
They’ve faced challenges similar to Kitimat’s own recent ones, including access to affordable housing and they’ve had an affordable housing committee for two years to study what other communities do.
“We looked at Langford, for instance, down on the island, keeping in mind their snow removal policy is wait 24 hours it will go away, ours is not,” she said.
“Our affordable housing committee determined the highest priority would be low-cost market housing…How do you achieve that?”
Her community approved zoning which makes way for single family homes with secondary suites, with stipulations such as the home owner must live in the home too.
Houses with secondary suites was a proposal for a small townhouse complex on Blueberry Street last year, which ultimately didn’t get the backing of council, due to a number of concerns.
Ackerman says her own town has had issues with townhouse complexes and secondary suites and notes they don’t always work out, outside of the single-family home model.
Namely if a duplex rents out a secondary suite, that duplex suddenly becomes a four-plex, with new parking challenges.
She also points to employment recruitment as a challenge, namely making a community attractive to new workers and managers.
“Just because you and I happen to like it here doesn’t mean everyone else is going to,” she said. “How do you create that community that’s not totally industrial?”
Again, Fort St. John came up with their own answer in the form of a group of under-40 members of the community, organized through their chamber of commerce.
“Having them provide direct input in [plans]…really helps us to see what it is they’re thinking,” she said. “So make use of the kids.”
The idea of tapping the younger business generation is something that Kitimat Chamber of Commerce’s executive director agrees Kitimat should do.
“We’ve got some young, new business owners. They’ve got some new ideas,” said Trish Parsons.
She said many people within the Chamber or in the business community at large are well established but might not have new visions.
“I think it would be very beneficial for the community to get some of these younger entrepreneurs together,” she said.
Parsons said they were happy to get people like Ackerman because their communities have gone through similar transitions.
Meanwhile representing a different angle, Buy-BC’s Wilson says his role is to mythbust misconceptions about LNG processes, and to connect smaller local businesses to opportunities with these international companies.
To that he says Kitimat has an advantage given many local companies have already been trained on how to engage with large companies through the Kitimat Modernization Project.
“I think the Rio Tinto project, I think some of the mining projects out there…the skills that are required in this industry are not necessarily that unique,” he said, adding that Kitimat’s experience with industry “should give them a front row seat to the [LNG] industry once this industry starts to hire local.”