Labrador West finally has the ear of government thanks to the work of a regional task force.
Wabush mayor Ron Barron and Labrador City mayor Karen Oldford, along with other members of the local task force, met with government officials at the Northern Exposure 2013 conference in St. John’s to discuss the issues around growth in the area.
Barron said he came away from the meetings feeling more hopeful.
“I think government is finally buying into some of our issues here,” he told the Aurora.
Barron was particularly happy with good news for the town of Wabush and the issue of water and sewer. He says the provincial government has agreed to help fund an engineering study to determine future infrastructure needs regarding water and sewer.
“It's a major investment that will have to come and the town doesn't have that money. The government will have to step up to help us out, and the study is an important start.”
But there are still many other issues addressed by the task force, such as having more government personnel in the area.
“We need people here to deal with the issues. We only have one person with government’s ear, and they’re on overload. And you can’t deal with it from the outside, they need to be here.”
Oldford agreed, and said an environmental officer is also needed and could be sustained with everything happening in the region.
“With so much heavy industrial development going on here it’s important to be ahead of what’s happening. We have pristine wilderness we're trying to protect for our families and the future, and we're walking a tight line with development.”
Oldford said having someone permanently placed to deal with familiar issues such as oil spills would be more effective and proactive. But with talks of upcoming cuts to the provincial budget, she doesn’t expect it to be easy.
“Getting a position in place when they're looking at cutting back positions is going to be a challenge. Not to say it's impossible, but it will be a challenge.”
The task force has been meeting together quarterly for the past four years, and consists of representatives from IOC, Alderon, Cliffs Natural Resources, the town of Fermont and various federal and provincial government departments — Natural Resources, Municipal Affairs, ACOA, and Innovation Trade and Rural Development. Their goal to collect as much data as possible to make the best decisions for the future, starting with a growth plan.
Oldford said developing the growth plan is difficult because there have only been two regional growth plans in the province in the past, and neither has been on such a large scale as the one being proposed for Labrador West.
The task force is closer to starting the process community consultation on the plan, which will ask local groups and individuals citizens what they see the community looking like in 20 years and what services would be needed to attract and keep families.
The task force also met with Minister Peter Penashue during his pre-budget meetings with groups in the province in late January.
With the federal Member of Parliament, and Minister for Newfoundland and Labrador, the task force raised concerns about a housing plan for the country, as well as the growth in the area, and challenged the federal government to come up with different funding models that would allow growth centers in a Northern climate to be able to get ahead despite the additional challenges.
Oldford said the Federation for Canadian Municipalities is working on the needs of municipalities across Canada by looking at having a dedicated fund to allow municipalities to meet their infrastructure needs.
“We challenged the minister to say in Northern communities like ours, especially where we're commodities driven, we need to have additional funding because anything we do costs more money.”
Perhaps the most positive aspect from the Northern Exposure conference was that more companies began to realize they can bring their expertise to Labrador, giving the communities what they need while making a profits.
Oldford said getting a sense of what is happening in Labrador is key in bringing partnerships to the region to allow growth to happen.
“If there's a new project in another part of Labrador it'll likely have an impact on Labrador West. We want to look at what those impacts may be, and the best place to go is a conference like this.”