Continued growth in B.C.’s Northern Rockies – where opportunity is at its peak

Northern Rockies Regional Airport

The services and personnel required to explore, develop, and produce shale gas resources continue to pay dividends in the community of Fort Nelson and the Northern Rockies region. The signs of growth and expansion are everywhere, with even greater potential around every turn.

Following the trend from 2010, 2011 in the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality showed record statistics on the number and value of building permits, in both commercial and residential. In the face of great opportunity come some sizable challenges: access to provincial infrastructure funding, housing, air transportation, and core health and social services.

Above all, Fort Nelson and the Northern Rockies strive to remain ahead of the curve in terms of growth and development. A renewed Official Community Plan and Alaska Highway Corridor Transportation Study (2011) are two such measures taken. The recent release, development, and subsequent

marketing of 250 acres of light industrial lands within Fort Nelson is another. A lack of available commercial and industrial land limited the establishment of business to meet the staggering demands of the oil and gas industry, despite mayor and council’s insistence on local employment. By virtue of the positive working relationship with the Agricultural Land Commission, land was released in 2010 to be used for a means more purposeful to the needs of today. In high demand, the Northern Rockies will apply in 2011 for the purchase of additional land for further light industrial development in adjoining areas.

Similarly, the demand for housing is unprecedented, as documented in the 2010 Residential Housing Strategy. Current and immediate needs were identified within the strategy for a population of 7,500 people, but with additional future planning looking out to years to come to satisfy populations of 10,000 and 15,000. As the building season ramps up again, it will be interesting to see what the building season of 2011 comes to bear. The municipality is actively looking at innovative incentive solutions through the implementation of the housing strategy throughout the upcoming year.

Since the implementation of its strategic plan and subsequent business plan, the Northern Rockies Regional Airport has come to respond to over 1,350 flight movements per month, up to 10 regular 737 charters per week, and passenger traffic, including those travelling on charters, expected to reach 100,000 in 2012. Much is on the horizon for the Northern Rockies Regional Airport for this year, including terminal work, an airport lands development plan, several large‐scale airport capital improvements on runways, taxiways, and other grounds improvements. The business plan in its first stages of implementation is successfully bringing the airport to a state of financial self‐sufficiency. Stay tuned for a new Northern Rockies Regional Airport website to check flight arrival times, weather information, and updates on the development of this community resource.

20-1The Northern Rockies Regional Municipality is working hard to ensure that the community is as prepared as possible for the growth anticipated as a result of the shale gas resource extraction within the municipality. It is vital that the people who live and work in the region benefit from the resources being extracted, through jobs, sales, and trickle benefits. It will not be possible to establish a viable service centre for our neighbouring shale gas basins without funding and support from higher levels of government to address the infrastructure shortfalls. Despite the obvious opportunities presented by the Liard, Cordova, and the Horn River Basins, regional infrastructure deficit numbers estimated in 2007 sit around $134 million. Likewise, the infrastructure deficit and capital needs assessment of 2007 does not address social impacts and associated resources for a community experiencing growth and poised for future population expansion.

Recruitment and retention of both skilled and unskilled personnel in Fort Nelson and the Northern Rockies have long been a challenge due to the distance from other centres. The devolution of some core health services such as maternity care and the challenges in recruiting emergency personnel leave newcomers often hesitant to relocate their families. However, municipal incentive programs for doctors, partnerships between industry and Northern Lights College, and innovative, collaborative solutions between stakeholders provide reassurance that not only do services and amenities remain, but improve over time. Likewise, other incentives to choose Fort Nelson have become a reality: a new $50 million recreation complex complete with twin ice rinks, a community hall, and a curling rink were recently completed in 2011, and have seen incredible uptake by the community. Upgraded hiking trails in the Demonstration Forest, newly designated motorized trails for ATVs and snowmobiles, and a recently completed, paved 4.7 kilometre community walking trail add to the unrivalled recreational opportunities of the Muskwa‐Kechika Wilderness area, Alaska Highway, and the Northern Rocky Mountains.

And move over Horn River Basin, there is a new kid in town. To the west, with the Liard Basin estimated at 1.25 million hectares, with 14 licenses sold, and land sales totalling nearly $110 million of the overall $761 million value of the region, the future looks bright for continued shale gas development nearby. With technology quickly advancing in the Horn River Basin, stakeholders in both the Horn River and the Liard Basins are sharpening their pencils to ensure that when the time comes to extract natural gas in this neighbouring formation, they will be very well prepared to do so. With British Columbia’s natural gas production being the second highest in the country, the success of synergies between industry and Asian investors has ensured that capital investments and development continue to take place despite low market prices for natural gas.

The mayor and regional council are optimistic about the potential of the region and the improvements on the horizon to meet the demands for growth.

“We’re going to see a higher-quality community because there is going to be year‐round employment, rather than feast or famine,” says Mayor Bill Streeper.

The community has also actively invited industry, provincial representatives, and other stakeholders together annually to talk about resource development and share information about both the challenges and improvements through the Horn River Basin Activity Update. The 2011 B.C. Oil & Gas Conference was a resounding success ‐ and we hope to continue the momentum on September 13th, 2012 with an activity update that explores the hot topic of housing. Occurring in concert with the Energy Expo, September 14‐15, 2012, there will be endless opportunities to shake hands with the service sector, producers, and service organizations that make up the Northern Rockies and the Horn River, Liard, and Cordova Basins.

Local residents of the NRRM are planning for success – come join them! To learn more about the Northern Rockies, the Horn River, Liard, or Cordova Basins, and Fort Nelson, go to www.NorthernRockies.ca or contact the NRRM to receive an economic profile of the region: ecdev@northernrockies.ca or (250) 774 – 2541.

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