Province working on local tourism initiative

Bell said the province is continuing to focus its efforts on Burns Lake, following the Babine Forest Products explosion and fire last month.

Tourism, redevelopment of brown field sites, a second jobs fair and continued work on the fibre supply analysis are some of the initiatives Pat Bell, Minister of Jobs Tourism and Innovation said will help the economic recovery efforts in Burns Lake.

Bell said the province is continuing to focus its efforts on Burns Lake, following the Babine Forest Products explosion and fire last month.

During a media conference held last week, Bell announced that Peter Harrison, the director of partnership marketing for Tourism B.C. will be working on a specific tourism strategy for the local area. Minister Bell said Harrison had successfully worked on more than 100 individual strategies to boost tourism in other small communities.

“The focus will be on improving tourism opportunities to stimulate economic activity in Burns Lake this summer,” he said.

Minister Bell said one project that could be expanded is the annual Big Pig Mountain Bike Festival. “We could expand the festival activities to cover an entire weekend,” he said.

“Working closely with members of the community, business leaders, the Northern British Columbia Tourism Association and Aboriginal Tourism B.C., ministry staff will refresh planning previously undertaken in 2009 through the Province’s Community Tourism Foundations program to help identify any existing tourism development challenges and prioritize opportunities to support the local tourism industry,” Minister Bell said adding that, Burns Lake and the entire Lake’s District is recognized by travellers for its unique beauty and its activity based experiences such as mountain biking.

Anthony Everett, chief economic officer of Northern British Columbia Tourism Association said, “Tourism is a great way for Burns Lake residents to celebrate their pride of place and further efforts to help the community recover.”

When asked how much of an impact increased tourism to the area will have on economic recovery, Minister Bell said he didn’t feel it was a final solution, but indicated it would be a step forward in economic recovery efforts.

The Village of Burns Lake has been approved for up to $9,200 in cooperative tourism marketing funding to assist in the production of a community trail map and mountain bike brochure, and to updating their photo image bank.

Minster Bell also said work on the fibre supply analysis is continuing and that a second beetle boss, Ray Schultz, is also being added to Bob Clark’s team to help.

“Ray Schultz is retired from the Ministry of Forests and was the beetle boss for the Kamloops area,” he said, adding that the addition of Schultz to the team will bolster the already strong team that is working on the fibre supply analysis.

Bell said they are also looking at issues around timber constraints and area based tenures as a way to maximize the fibre supply. “We expect to have something to present to the government within the next few weeks, after that we will be able to move into discussions with First Nations and Hampton Affiliates on the available options. We are making good progress.”

In the short term, 22,000 cubic meters of wood will be harvested to help keep Pinnacle Pellet up and running. Pinnacle Pellet is situated near the Babine Forest Products sawmill and it relies on wood waste from the sawmill for its operations.

Minister Bell says that volume will just get Pinnacle Pellet through to spring break up, however long term solutions for Pinnacle Pellet are being looked at.

He said the province is also ramping up the ‘Forests for Tomorrow’ program in Burns Lake over the summer. The program focusses on replanting seedlings in place of logged off mountain pine beetle killed trees. Bell said the program will not only create summer jobs, but will also provide sustainable forests into the future.

“A second jobs fair could also be held in Burns Lake in mid March, possibly in conjunction with the College of New Caledonia,” Minister Bell said.

He said this time, as well as available industry based employment opportunities, tourism job opportunities would also be a focus.

As for the success of the Feb. 10 jobs fair held in Burns Lake, Minster Bell said it has proven difficult to track. “As far as I can determine 40 positions have been offered, with more job offers pending.”

As reported in the Lakes District News edition of Feb. 15, 2012, 46 people were able to get an interview and 11 people were hired on the spot.

The three brown field sites in Burns Lake [the Ministry of Transportation and Highways yard, on Francois Lake Drive, the Husky Oil Ltd. site on the corner of Hwy. 16 and Government St. and the Shell Canada Products site, which is located adjacent to the Husky site] are also on the province’s radar as potential for future economic development in Burns Lake.

Bell said the province is organizing an economic development forum in Burns Lake on March 7 and during the forum a plan will be made for the redevelopment of the three disused sites.

“All three are in a prime location in town …. first we will be looking at investments to clean up the sites and bring in light equipment, after that we will be looking at what will be commercially applicable for the sites.”

Bell said he hopes that investors will find the sites desirable for motels or other tourism related facilities.

Lakes District News asked Minister Bell about the growing concerns faced by independent logs sellers in the local area

As reported in the Lakes District News edition of Feb. 22, 2012, concerns have been raised about the future of the local competitive log market.

With the loss of a major player in the area, competition decreases and prices drop.

Bell said that the loss of Babine Forest Products is a definite concern but added that there is still plenty of competition in the area to keep prices stable.

“There is a number of log buyers in the area including Conifex, West Fraser Timber, Canfor, L & M Lumber Co. in Vanderhoof, and the Newpro particle board plant in Smithers.”

“The focus remains on rebuilding the Babine Forest Products sawmill,” Bell said.