by KORIE MARSHALL
There has been a lot of discussion recently about the prospects for the old forestry building in McBride. Essentially empty since the Province shut down the Robson Valley Forest District office, the property was purchased by the Village around election time in 2014 with the help of a $250,000 grant from Northern Development Initiative Trust (NDIT). They offered the grant based on the potential of the property to help stimulate economic growth in the McBride area, but some seem to think it is potentially a huge financial drain on the community.
NDIT has confirmed the grant is in good standing and they encourage the community to use the old forestry building and land for a business support centre, as was proposed in the 2014 grant application. That sounds like they still believe in the potential of the community to use this property as a catalyst to economic growth.
Many people seem to forget some of the other reasons the Village Council at the time decided to go for the purchase. First of all, they needed a new home for their Public Works yard (which they estimated would have cost $600,000, far more than the $495,000 purchase of the old forestry building). The Village had been using two buildings on BC Hydro property for their Public Works yard, but earlier in 2014, BC Hydro told the Village they would be tearing those buildings down.
During the election forum in November 2014, then-mayor Mike Frazier also noted another reason for the purchase – the owner of the building had taken out a demolition permit, which would have meant a loss of about $6000-$7000 in taxes per year for McBride, as well as leaving the village with another vacant lot.
“We took a shot, a calculated risk that promoting the rest of the land as an economic development opportunity would far offset the loss,” said Frazier in front of a packed audience in the high school theatre, just after the purchase was announced.
I didn’t agree with Frazier’s comments during the forum that Main Street is not the right place for a library. But I do agree with him that the purchase of the old forestry building was a good move, even though the Village hasn’t yet been able to start generating income or spurring economic development with the purchase. For one thing, the Village has a place for its Public Works yard.
Look at what else has gone on in the meantime. The Village office has lost a number of key staff members, and Council has been dealing with a number of issues, the biggest of which might be the Community Forest and the realization in early fall that they had massively overcut their fiber allowance. According to numbers released this week at a public meeting, the McBride Community Forest Corporation had overcut their allowable volume by 54 per cent over three years (2012-2014), and they were again overcut for 2015 even before the board called a stop to logging in September.
McBride Council and staff have had proverbial fires to deal with on every front for the past year, and I’m not at all surprised they haven’t been able to pay much attention to economic development and a plan for the old forestry building. But it seems they are making progress with many of the issues they’ve been dealing with, and I have no doubt the good people of McBride will figure all this out and come up with some good ideas and plans.
The old forestry building crept into another online conversation over the weekend, around the question of deep winter greenhouses, and whether the property could be used for something like that (I’m sure it could be). It has crept into other thoughts and conversations too, about how the property could be potentially used, and to me, those are much more interesting conversations than ones that focus on who and what went wrong, or the potential dire impacts if things go wrong.
If we forget our history we are doomed to make the same mistakes again and again. But remembering what happened is not the same as continually blaming someone or some group for perceived wrongs. That gets us nowhere.
According to its website, NDIT is “a catalyst stimulating economic growth through investments in grassroots, community-led projects.” They have invested in the McBride community. Now it is up to the community to follow through with a grassroots, community-led project. I think NDIT understands that economic development is rarely a straight line. If the community can start working together, truly great things will be possible.