Northwest Community Readiness executive director Nichola Wade is trying to help the region prepare for a situation that is unprecedented in the province.
“To be honest, most of the mines and major developments in this province have taken place far away from communities, and if they have taken place close to communities they have been very small and managing the socio-economic impacts has been tremendously easier because they have been able to manage those effects,” she told Port Edward council on Sept. 8.
“But when we are talking about something like this on Lelu Island, that is a whole different thing that British Columbia has never experienced before.”
With no blueprint to follow when it comes to an $11 billion industrial project being built right next to a small community, Nichola has been working with government for the past two years to determine the best way forward. Perhaps the biggest portion of that work, she said, is projecting what kind of population increase can be expected both during construction and after.
It hasn’t been an easy process, with the first round of projections being heavily questioned by northwest leadership and a second projection being created.
“We went to our colleagues at Jobs, Tourism, Skills Development and told them we would like to have a sense of what the populations might look like if this happens. Really what we are trying to get a handle on is what that huge curve of growth might look like and what it might mean for communities … we want to make sure communities aren’t going to build huge amounts of infrastructure for that big bulge during construction and then be left managing that kind of infrastructure when the people aren’t there to populate it,” she said.
“What we are hearing is that it has been an excellent tool for planning purposes. We might never get a perfect number on there, but it is good to get a sense of what that looks like.”
In addition to going to the municipalities, the second round of population projections have been shared with various government agencies to ensure everybody is on the same page should a positive final investment decision be reached.
“We gave them the same population numbers and asked them, ‘If this manifests, how many more police officers might we need? What about the teachers and the social workers and the doctors’. They can start inputting this into their planning scenarios,” she said.
The focus of the Northwest Community Readiness program has been on planning and capacity — including $1.25 million for planning interns and planning grants — as well as addressing impacts and outreaches and the provincial response to those.