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Burns Lake Recovery Efforts Continue, 6 Months After the Blast

By 250 News

Friday, July 20, 2012 09:19 AM

Burns Lake, B.C.- It was 6 months ago today that explosion and fire ripped through the Babine Forest Products saw mill in Burns Lake. Two people died, a further 44 were injured.
Since that time, there have been numerous efforts launched to assist the community in its recovery from the tragedy, both economically and psychologically.
In  an update  this morning, Minister of Jobs Tourism and Innovation, Pat Bell, says the Province continues to work on identifying a timber supply that would support the reconstruction of the mill.
The Special Legislative Committee examining Timber supply will have a report back to government in mid August “At that point in time, we will be in a better position to advise Hampton (Hampton Affiliates owns the Babine forest products mill) what might be possible for fibre supply for the area” says Bell. “ Hampton has been working very hard on figuring out their potential reconstruction plan so its been a dual track process. I’ve been speaking with the senior management team at Hampton on a regular basis and I believe that if we are able, through this special legislative committee to support  the re-development of that mill, I am hopeful that will happen.”
93 of the displaced workers are now employed.   That number is down from where they had been  a few months ago, and that is primarily because the Endako mine had to lay off some people.
23 continue to work at the Babine Mill. There are another 44 who are receiving some form of Workers compensation . That leaves about 100 former sawmill employees who are still without work.
Bell is not happy with the current employment numbers  “That remains as a real concern for me, so I have asked out team to go back and look at what we need to do, perhaps host another job fair, or working with the local community, a one on one with individuals in the region, it’s important we do that. The people in Burns Lake certainly deserve the very best that we can provide.”
Some of the specific actions taken over the past six months:
  • Economic Development Association of B.C.:  Made 15 recommendations to the community to advance economic opportunities. The  Village is already acting on a number of the recommendations including bringing on a permanent Economic Development officer this fall.
  • NDI Trust hosted what has been called a “suppliers boot camp” last month. This was aimed at the businesses which supported the mill when it was in operation. 40 different business owners attended the event, which  looked at how to   craft their specific businesses to land contracts with the mining, hydro electric, and LNG terminal projects
  • Community tourism plan developed . The plan has been finalized and approved by the Village of Burns Lake. In addition to making moves to incorporate First Nations Culture into the downtown core, there will be a push to make the Big Pig Mountain Biking event ( August 18th and 19th) one of the biggest events of its kind in B.C.
  • Province of B.C. has sped up some projects including $14 million dollars on road rehabilitation  projects in and around the community.
  • Two sites have been identified for brownfield redevelopment, including the former Mohawk gas station site which the Village has visions of transforming into a town square.
  • Province has also put $2.4 million dollars into the expansion of the recreation facility.
  • Wildfire fuel mitigation efforts also continue.
Bell says the real key for Burns Lake is the work that has being done by the Special Legislative Committee  on timber supply. “If the Committee finds there is   an incremental fibre supply that is available that’s supported by local communities, I think there is a good opportunity to see the re construction of a new mill in Burns Lake and the employment of those people. In addition to that, we need to work with the mining industry. That is another  significant  employer of individuals who have these types of skill sets. What we’ve seen in communities like Mackenzie  and Fort St. James is, when you have a mine in the region as well as forestry, you have better economic stability.”

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