District of Port Edward councillors James Brown, Murray Kristoff, Christine Mackenzie and Dan Franzen (back row) and mayor Knut Bjorndal (front) held their first regular meeting on Nov. 13. (Photo submitted by Polly Pereira)

Mayor Bjorndal says rural grant program suspension was “right thing to do”

B.C. Premier John Horgan says mill closures are an urgent priority

The Union of B.C. Municipalities Convention (UBCM) saw a win and loss for the District of Port Edward.

Last week, speaking to the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in Vancouver Premier John Horgan, addressed the forest industry crisis that featured a convoy of logging trucks descending on the convention to call for assistance.

The province’s assistance is $69 million in retraining and retirement bridging funds for communities losing sawmills and associated employment, with the “rural dividend” program suspended for a year to help pay for it.

READ MORE: B.C. communities protest transfer of aid funds to those hit by sawmill closures

Approximately $25 million in funds to help rural programs will be lost.

For the District of Port Edward, this means that some of the projects they submitted applications for will have to be put on hold. Grants pay for tourism facilities and other projects to diversify rural economies.

“Personally, I think it’s the right thing to do. We don’t have any forest-dependent jobs here and the help is not as needed. There are towns that are really hurting so it is being done for the right reasons,” said Mayor Knut Bjorndal.

Bjorndal said the dividend fund saw almost 350 requests this August so it was never a guarantee that they would see their funding anyway.

“With some other grants we applied for pretty good shape over the next year or so,” he said.

READ MORE: Province commits to negotiating revenue-sharing agreement with northwest B.C. municipalities

Fire rescue funding

Port Edward plans to apply for $25,000 in funding for rescue equipment.

“This covers a whole gambit of things we need,” Bjorndal said.

The district has been vying to replace their old fire truck with one estimated to cost between $350,000-$500,000 (an average of $1,000 per resident).

Bjorndal would have also liked to see more funding for rural policing officers.

The region police officers cover is so large officers are away for days at a time in remote communities, like Hartley Bay, when responding to calls, he explained.

“But we are about a year away from getting any help with that type of thing and we understand that there is a limit in the pot of money and it needs to go to towns more in need,” Bjorndal said.

READ MORE: Mayors Brain and Bjorndal weigh-in on UBCM priorities

Jenna Cocullo | Journalist
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