Integrated Regional Infrastructure Backgrounder

The Context

The Omineca Beetle Action Coalition (OBAC) was formed in 2005 to: "Work to ensure sustainable development and resiliency for the Omineca Beetle Action Coalition region”.

With financial support and a mandate from the provincial government OBAC is led by a Board of Directors representing the region’s Mayors and Regional District Chairs. OBAC is working with its member communities, First Nations, all levels of government, industry and sector representatives, academic institutions, and allied partner organizations to develop regional diversification plans that build resilient communities during and after the pine beetle epidemic. OBAC is putting forward longterm strategies that are designed to mitigate the social and economic impacts of the mountain pine beetle epidemic.

The OBAC region spans more than eighteen million hectares from Smithers to Valemount and includes two regional districts and their rural communities, twelve municipalities, and more than twenty First Nations communities. At least fifty percent of our region’s forests are pine and thirtyseven percent of the jobs in the region depend directly on forestry. Eighty percent of the mature pine forest is expected to be dead within six years as a result of the mountain pine beetle epidemic currently afflicting the forests of central BC.

The Integrated Regional Infrastructure strategy is the third of the twelve identified strategies to be developed and includes proposed recommendations that overlap many of the strategies and actions that can be taken by various partners and level of governments to ensure the development of infrastructure to support a diversified economy.

The purpose of this strategy is to provide broad recommendations and proposed actions to the two senior governments to address infrastructure needs for connections to and between OBAC communities. It has been developed at a regional level and provides recommendations on:

  • Transportation infrastructure and services including air, road and rail;
  • Communications infrastructure and services; and
  • Energy supply and distribution.

This strategy also identifies what actions local governments, First Nations, and industry leaders can take individually, collectively and in concert with senior governments to achieve this goal.

The Vision

The communities of the OBAC region envision a future where infrastructure is well-planned, environmentally sound, and expands economic diversification and wealth creation and where: the region’s infrastructure fully supports the development and diversification of a wide range of industries; the region is positioned to take advantage of the pivotal Asia-Pacific gateway; and, infrastructure supports the region as a great place to live, work, learn, play and invest. In 10 years time, OBAC communities want the region to have infrastructure that:

  1. Enables the efficient movement of people, goods, and services across the region and to the world beyond;
  2. Meets urban, rural, and First Nations needs;
  3. Position existing small, medium and large scale businesses to be regionally, provincially, and globally competitive;
  4. Attracts new business developments that can take advantage of the region’s considerable assets;
  5. Enables businesses to efficiently and cost-effectively locate more of their production chains within the region; and
  6. Makes use of the region’s considerable alternative energy assets, facilitating regional growth without large increases in greenhouse gas emissions.

The Recommendations

The recommendations and actions together answer the question “who needs to do what, when and why” to achieve the objectives and vision. The over 30 actions will be the basis for action planning in the next step beyond the adoption of this strategy. The action plan will answer the question “how to do it and how much”. The following are the recommendations that have been developed:

Recommendation 1:

Ensure that the region’s new and existing transportation infrastructure provides for safe, cost effective, and expeditious movement of people, goods, and services.

Recommendation 2:

Establish energy and communications infrastructure elements that will attract new businesses to the region and allow existing businesses to expand.

Recommendation 3:

Establish collaborative planning approaches and innovative funding mechanisms to expedite the delivery of integrated infrastructure development solutions.

There are over thirty actions proposed across these recommendations that can be taken to support sustainable growth across sectors and, enhances community safety, access to services and regional cohesion. The detailed actions, rationales, and timelines are presented under each of the recommendations in the strategy document (Section 6). The overall implementation of this strategy will require key and timely decisions by the Provincial and Federal Governments. Selected proposed actions where priority opportunities exist include:

  • Improve Highways 97 and 16 to enhance safety and traffic flows to accommodate projected increases in truck and passenger traffic.
  • Ensure OBAC communities and the region’s businesses have access to effective, efficient, consistent, and reliable rail transportation services.
  • Identify and maintain key resource roads and systems.
  • Develop a regional small airport strategy and invest in priority opportunities where they are identified to enable small communities to integrate air services as part of an improved transportation network in the region.
  • Continue to move forward on the Northwest Transmission Line and examine the feasibility of a rail line in the Highway 37 corridor.
  • Examine the feasibility and benefits of a rail link to Yukon and Alaska.
  • Develop safe and efficient road and rail connections to and from Prince George as an intermodal hub within the OBAC region with access to global supply chains through Prince Rupert. This will in turn allow communities to develop competitive manufacturing operations linked directly to Asian markets.
  • Maintain (and expand as needed) Ridley Terminal in Prince Rupert as a critical coal shipment connection for the economy of Northern BC.
  • Expand the use of the existing facilities at Prince Rupert, which allow truck shipped containers to move through the port.
  • Ensure alternative energy producers in the region can connect to the electrical grid in an efficient manner.
  • Extend broadband Internet and other communications connectivity access in parts of the region that are as yet un-serviced or poorly serviced.
  • Establish an integrated planning process and funding approaches, which will facilitate the further development and efficient use of the Region’s transportation infrastructure.

Next Steps

This strategy tells us the “what, who, when and why”, the next step is to determine “how to and how much” it will take to achieve the goal. The immediate next steps include:

  • Following release of the strategy, bring together senior staff from relevant government agencies to work with OBAC to quickly develop an Integrated Regional Infrastructure Action Plan that presents details on “how to and how much” for implementation.
  • Work with senior governments and other implementation allies to enable implementation of the Integrated Regional Infrastructure Action Plan and integrate actions across strategies.