Cheslatta Carrier Nation (CCN) is trying to make the best of a bad situation.
With hundreds of thousands of hectares of burned forests on the Southside, CCN is currently in talks with the provincial government to build a mill that would process all this burned wood.
The proposed mill would be strategically placed in the middle of the fires burning on the Southside, according to Mike Robertson, CCN’s senior policy advisor.
“We are fully engaged in exploring the opportunity to process the burned trees and be fully involved in the short and long-term recovery process,” he told Lakes District News. “We are confident that by working together, the Southside community will be successful in healing our land, our community and sustaining the economy.”
Robertson says that in order for this project to become a reality, however, the provincial government would have to commit to improving CCN’s power generation capability.
“That’s the biggest deficiency that we have out there,” said Robertson. “We’re still living on 1950s power on the Southside.”
Cheslatta’s current single-phase electrical power is a relic from the 1950s, when 120,000 acres of the Southside were flooded in order to create hydroelectric generation for Kitimat, hundreds of miles away.
Robertson says that Cheslatta Forest Products, which employed 140 people between 2000 and 2008, might still exist if the nation had access to three-phase electrical power at the time.
“The mill consumed 1.5 million litres of diesel per year; when the economic crisis occurred in 2007, fuel prices rose to $1.30 per litre and lumber dropped below $200 per thousand board feet, which created a fatal perfect storm.”
According to Robertson, three-phase electrical power would also allow agriculture and other industries to expand operations on the Southside.
“We have been lobbying for three-phase [electrical power] for almost 20 years, and to date the government has never seriously considered upgrading the regional power grid to allow for economic and industrial growth in our region,” he said. “The Southside has incredible opportunity before us; we just need the government to reinvest in an area that has created so much wealth for the rest of the province for over a hundred years.”
“To recover from this disaster, that’s one thing that government could do,” he added. “Without the power, we’ll just dream about it.”