Residents of Burns Lake and the region are eager to know how much this area will receive of the $100 million grant pledged by British Columbia premier John Horgan on Feb. 16.
The premier announced in Terrace that 22 municipalities and four regional districts – including Bulkley-Nechako – will receive funds from the Northern Capital and Planning Grant to fill infrastructure needs.
The municipalities are expected to receive $83.7 million, and the four districts the remaining $16.3 million.
Local governments with populations higher than 10,000 people will get $6 million-$9 million, and municipalities with populations lower than 10,000 will receive between $1 million and $6 million.
Speaking to Lakes District News about the grant, Burns Lake mayor Dolores Funk said the grant is an exciting development.
“It is a much welcomed start to the funding deficit that resource communities in the north have experienced over the long-term,” she explained.
“However, this is just a start. The real benefit will be seen if and when the province signs a long-term profit sharing agreement with the communities and regional districts in the northwest. Until then, we will continue to work within the [Resource] Benefits Alliance and lobby the provincial government to ensure money made in the northwest, is fairly distributed, and allows us to maintain and improve our infrastructure and standard of living for our residents.”
The Resource Benefits Alliance (RBA), which formed in 2014 consists of governments in northwestern B.C. and aims to reach a funding agreement with the province so that the region benefits more from its strong natural resource development.
Funk added that a decision on how to spend the grant funding will be made based on input from the community and village council staff.
Gerry Thiessen, chair of the board of directors of the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako (RDBN) said it wasn’t known exactly how much the RDBN would receive other than the $16.3 million for the districts that was already announced.
“We know [the amount] is going to be based on population and also taxation. So we are waiting to find out what the number is,” said Thiessen, who is also mayor of Vanderhoof.
The next step is hearing the criteria for using the funds, and Thiessen said that Selina Robinson, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing told a recent meeting that the criteria would be known in the next two weeks.
“We know it relates to infrastructure and planning. We need to discuss the infrastructure that we’re looking to have that will help us develop the economy in our regional district,” he said.
If the RDBN’s portion of the grant was available right away, Thiessen said he would use it to finance better internet coverage in rural areas, which is “a major part of what we’ve discussed as a regional district…Hopefully we’ll be able to leverage that with other funding opportunities for a larger amount.”
The other top priorities are attracting and retaining families into the district, ensuring business owners can make their companies sustainable and keeping infrastructure adequate.
“I don’t want to pre-guess what the board’s discussion will be. We need to fully understand first the amount of funding we’ll get as a regional district.”
Houston mayor Shane Brienen, who was among several mayors, councilors and regional district chairs to attend the meeting on Feb. 16 in Terrace, said there was a feeling of excitement and relief in the room when Horgan made the grant announcement.
“The grant money should be used for failing physical and social infrastructure and help make our communities sustainable and livable today and for the future,” he said.
One of the key aims of the Northern Capital and Planning Grant is improving services and infrastructure in expectation of the influx of new people into the region when the LNG Canada facility is built in Kitimat, according to the B.C. government’s press release on Feb. 16.