Tuesday, June 29, 2010  
   Volume 80 - Issue 26 Website:www.passherald.ca   email: passherald@shaw.ca   $1.00   
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Pass Herald Close July 1-2


A Fragile Lens- Nathen Gallagher
On June 23 I attended the Elk Valley Crowsnest Pass Elected Officials meeting, held at the Crowsnest Sports Complex. I wasn’t expecting much when I walked in –– another day, another meeting to cover –– but when all was said and done I found it very interesting to listen to the reports of events in the communities around us.
For me, the community reports given by Fernie, Sparwood, Elkford, and Pincher Creek drove home something. In a nutshell, our neighbouring communities seem to have a lot more development going on than we do.
Each of the aforementioned communities reported at least one exciting development project. I wrote briefly about some of them in my article on page 4 of this issue, but I didn’t have enough room to touch on them all.
Before I start, let it not be said that there is nothing happening in Crowsnest Pass. There are activities happening all the time, and there have been and continue to be numerous important infrastructure replacement projects taking place.
The thing of it is, though, that infrastructure replacement seems to be the only major work that the budget has room for, and only barely at that. The need to replace infrastructure –– along with the need to replace aging municipal vehicles –– will not go away any time soon.
The solution, of course, is private investment and private development, which requires little if any municipal spending. The Pass has seen a few successful examples of this in the past few years, most notably the Ironstone residential development, but I don’t think many would disagree when I say that overall growth in Crowsnest Pass has slowed to a veritable crawl in the last year or two. For the most part, we seem to be patching up what we have instead of adding new things, and we can barely keep up with the necessary patching.
This is at least partly because of the global economic troubles, which have caused there to be less money floating around looking for an investment. However, when you look at our neighbouring communities, you have to wonder ... is there something else in Crowsnest Pass that is making development shy?
Fernie is building affordable housing in partnership with private developers and other organizations. The Fernie mayor noted that communities in BC are required to develop community plans, and Fernie has a special committee devoted to determining if the city’s actions are meeting the needs and items laid out in the plan.
Elkford and Sparwood each have the benefit of having Teck Coal in their backyard. In Elkford, Teck is building an 81-unit apartment building to rent out to employees and others, at a cost of $21 million. In Sparwood, the town is working with Teck to lease a closed school, giving office space to Teck and allowing the town to run a daycare in one wing at minimal taxpayer cost. They are also building homes along their planned golf course project, and are building new bridges across the Elk River. They are planning to borrow money to build a new $18 million wastewater treatment plant, and are purchasing or trading for valuable land to use in the future.
The M.D. of Pincher Creek is doing a $1 million water and sewer project in Lundbreck, while the Town of Pincher Creek, which has seen quite a bit of commercial development in recent years, is looking at a Tim Horton’s and a 72-unit seniors’ apartment complex.
What comparable things are happening in the Pass, in terms of filling and building the municipality’s capacity? The answer seems to be, not much.
Even our planning, most of which is being spearheaded by non-municipal groups, seems to lag behind our neighbours’. The closest we have to a municipal plan is the Cuff report, which is more about fixing council and the municipality than anything else. When we do have plans, do we follow them? Will we follow them in the future? Or will the community always be carried away by the political whim of the moment?
How does this make any sense? The Crowsnest Pass combines the mountain beauty of the Elk Valley with the supposed economic advantages of Alberta. The area is perfect for development –– it’s beautiful, it’s friendly, it’s clean, it’s close to Calgary, it is rich in history and culture, it has a major highway right down the middle.
So where is it? Why have we not fulfilled our potential?
Perhaps we simply have a bad reputation, earned through years of fighting amongst ourselves, making questionable decisions, and hoping things would just work out if we let them be.
Some might blame it on council, current and previous. Some, ludicrously enough, would probably blame it on the Crowsnest Centre if they could. Maybe we’re living under a Fernie-style curse that no one knows about.
Maybe it’s the fact that our internal politics have become a breeding ground for squabbling and poor planning. The first of those contributes to the second, because any plan can by undone by fighting over whether or not it’s the right plan, and so instead of going somewhere we spin our wheels and blame one another.
I don’t just mean this current council either, though personally I feel they shoulder their fair share of responsibility for the community’s troubles. Previous councils fought with each other as well, some of them famously.
Politics in the Pass are, at their worst, one of the most ridiculous affairs of which I’ve ever been a part. We elect seven people, we mutter about them for three years, we buy into the notion that some of them are “right” and some of them are “wrong” and that the ones we don’t agree with are to blame for every problem. We watch them spend too much time arguing and not enough time creating and sticking to a non-political plan. Then we elect a new batch of people who do the same thing.
It’s not even necessarily their fault. They get sucked into the politics as much as anyone, and once it starts it seems difficult to stop.
I’ve come a long way from where I started in this column, but the point is this –– if we can’t work together, we won’t work alone.
Perhaps some of the good projects currently underway –– such as the walking trail and the mountain bike project –– might help lead to more improvements in the future. But I worry that unless local councils can become a positive force in the community, able to compromise with each other and resist the temptation to engage in private deal making, insinuations, and bullying that I believe has plagued more than one council in our history –– I worry that unless we can clean up our act, we’ll just keep watching our neighbours grow while we all convince ourselves it’s somebody else’s fault.
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