Mayors Lee Brain and Knut Bjorndal are headed down to the UBCM for the annual municipal meeting. (The Northern View stock photo)

Mayors Brain and Bjorndal weigh-in on UBCM priorities

Prince Rupert and Port Edward mayors will be heading to Vancouver to lobby for their municipal needs

Mayors Lee Brain and Knut Bjorndal are traveling down to Vancouver next week to promote the needs of their respective districts.

The 2019 Union of B.C. Municipalities Convention, to be held from Sept. 23-27, is an opportunity for municipal governments to push forward the most pressing policy-making items on their agenda.

Brain is headed down to Vancouver with Redesign Rupert as a top priority. With approximately 5,000 housing units projected to be built in the next decade, Brain plans to lobby various ministries to invest in housing for the city, waterfront access and the downtown development.

“We’ll be talking about how the strategy relates to those various ministries. We have the industries and federal government involved, now we want to make sure that the province is well aware of the plan,” Brain said. “That’ll be one key message, that we have a plan and we have the whole community rallying around that plan because the province really likes to see partnerships when they make investments.”

READ MORE: Redesign Rupert holds four-day workshop to reimagine the city

With the water treatment plan underway, Brain is also hoping to prioritize discussions around the city’s waste treatment plan, the next large infrastructure project for Prince Rupert. The city is looking to cap outflows that go into the ocean and twin every line in Rupert to seperate waste from storm water in order to treat the waste.

“To be quite frank, it’s a $200 million project. I would say that’s the lion’s share of our infrastructure deficit,” he said. “That’ll probably be my next five to 10 years of messaging. It’s that project because that’s a big one.”

READ MORE: City of Prince Rupert announces $22M for water treatment project

Finally as a the co-chair of the Resource Benefits Alliance (RBA) – an association of all 21 local governments across the Northwest created to negotiate a new funding agreement with the province – Brain is seeking to obtain yearly funding for the North over the next 25-40 years with the provincial government, similar to the $100 million Northern Capital and Planning Grant which was handed out earlier this year as one-time funding.

“That type of funding and partnership with the government on a yearly basis is essential to help grow the North. We’ve been through a long period of decline over the last 20 years. And now all these projects are coming online: there’s LNG, mining, the port is growing, and so the RBA is our opportunity to really be able to participate full heartedly in the next new century of development,” he said.

READ MORE: B.C. city’s quest to tax vacant homes going to UBCM

In terms of development, the District of Port Edward’s Mayor Bjorndal is focusing on coast forest revitalization, licensed daycares for the community and better access to health services in the Northwest.

In terms of forest revitalization, the majority of the forest in the Pacific Northwest and on Haida Gwaii is Coast Hemlock which is not a desired species in North America for home building, according to Bjorndal.

The mayor would like the province and northern municipalities to invest in innovation in order to grow the potential market for the resource.

“Right now, we’re exporting a lot of logs. That’s not necessarily bad because there’s no sawmills currently to cut the forest that we have here. But we’re going to have to do a lot better job of investigating alternative uses or how we can make this product marketable because there is a very small domestic market for hemlock,” Bjorndal said.

READ MORE: B.C. offers early retirement, training fund for forest workers

Another one of Bjorndal’s biggest agenda items is equitable funding for highway rescue services. Bjorndal said with 25 km of highway between Port Edward and Tyee, they have no provincial funding for their fire and rescue vehicle or the district’s fire truck. In the next year or two they have to replace their old truck with a new one costing between $350,000 to $500,000 (costing on average $1,000 per resident).

Bjorndal is also looking to have the province invest annually in park maintenance, specifically to go toward Diana Lake and to create more access to camping grounds. Recently the district received an $80,000 grant from Ridley Terminal.

“That is going to go a long way to getting up to the standards. But there’s no program out there that allows us us to maintain our parks,” Bjorndal said. “We don’t own it but we think it’s incumbent on the province to have some sort of sharing agreement and we will go out there and maintain it.”

READ MORE: Chinese-sponsored reception at annual B.C. mayors’ convention under scrutiny

Jenna Cocullo | Journalist
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