Cheslatta Carrier Nation’s plan to build a mill to process large amounts of wood burned in last summer’s fires will have to wait until later in 2019 to bear fruit.
The First Nation has been in talks with the provincial government to get the project moving but as of the end of 2018 there had been little progress.
A major obstacle facing the plan is the lack of an efficient power supply, for which Cheslatta has been lobbying the province for several years.
“Our primary goal is to get a commitment from the government on the extension of 3 Phase Power to the Southside. Nothing will happen until then,” Cheslatta senior policy advisor Mike Robertson told Lakes District News.
A previous mill operated by the First Nation – Cheslatta Forest Products mill – which was running from 2000-2008 and employed 140 people was powered by diesel generators.
However, diesel power is not just outdated but also very expensive, Robertson said.
“We consumed 1.5 million litres of fuel on average each year. That was about 8 times the cost of purchasing electricity. Fuel went from $.75/litre to $1.25/l in 2007/8.”
John Rustad, Liberal MLA for Nechako Lakes said that negotiations with the province over the three phase power system should be moving faster.
“I asked the Premier directly to consider accelerating this commitment to help offset some of the challenges resulting from the 2018 fire season,” he said. “The province should step up to the plate and pay for a significant portion of that line so that farmers, ranchers, the Cheslatta and others could benefit from having access to three phase power.”
Rustad added that unfortunately, he did not receive an answer from Premier John Horgan.
It is Robertson’s hope that the new year will bring the mill bid closer to reality.
“There is discussion of a major hydro grid upgrade project from [Prince George] to Kitimat and we hope to pigtail our 3 Phase to that. Talks [with the province] are very preliminary but will get some legs after the new year.”