Despite everything thrown at it and the Elk Valley, Sparwood has been able to take the challenges, confusion and anxieties of the COVID-19 pandemic in its stride according to district mayor, David Wilks.
“I believe the community responded very well and continues to respond very well. And we now have all of our facilities back open,” he said, explaining that the district’s pro-active response during the early stages of the pandemic helped mitigate any negative effects.
The district was now at the whim of provincial policy on things returning to normal going forward.
“We’re quite happy with how we’ve dealt with things in the district of Sparwood. I commend Council for that and staff for implementing all of the rules that needed to be done at the beginning. We’ll see what happens now. When school opens up on Sep. 10, I’m sure that there will be challenges ahead, but we’ll deal with them as they come along.”
While Wilks said that all the Elk Valley had been coping well with the restrictions put in place by the province, there were still plenty of challenges.
“Certainly one of the challenges we did have was the communication that came out with regards to not wanting out-of-province people coming to British Columbia,” he said.
“It’s easy to say that when you live further west than we do.
“It created some challenges and it still continues to create challenges to which there really is no answer as a result of not being able to have the manpower, whether it be provincially, regionally or municipally to enforce any of the conflicts that may arise as a result of provincial designation.”
One such example was the use of parks in B.C., and the enforcement of rules laid down by the provincial government stipulating that only B.C. residents can use certain areas – something that was next to impossible to enforce with limited resources.
“It’s a real challenge when you’re a border community such as Sparwood, Fernie and Elkford.”
Looking at the economic impacts of the pandemic, Wilks said that for a town such as Sparwood, the impacts of restrictions on businesses hadn’t been “a significant challenge” other than limiting numbers inside restaurants – and the district had been proactive on that as well by allowing more outdoor patios.
“As we move into fall and the winter months, of course, it will be a challenge again for those businesses, but we haven’t had any close.”
The big employer in town – Teck Resources – was established enough globally to be able to weather the buffeting winds of commodity prices, so Sparwood was safe in that regard, said Wilks.
Almost halfway into his term as mayor, and beyond the challenges of the pandemic, Wilks said that his and the districts’ priorities for the next two years would be the completion of the Centennial Square redevelopment, further progress on the towns multi-purpose facility which will be going into a public consultation period soon, and the donation of land for low-income housing in Sparwood.
Wilks said that that was another issue that would be going to public consultation, but he forsaw little in the way of opposition to the plan, which the district has already approved in principle.
He added that the district was very happy with the significant investment going in to Sparwood thanks to industrial development, such as the $40 million Komatsu facility under construction.
“It shows that Komatsu has some very good opportunities looking forward into the future,” he said. “There are some very good signs for the coal industry in the Elk Valley for years to come, because we’re having significant investment in the industry.”
Speaking of looking to the future, the next municipal elections are well off in October 2022, but Wilks said he loved the job too much to step back.
“I’m going to run again. I love what I am doing,” he said.
“I’ve had an opportunity to be a member of parliament, I’ve had an opportunity to be at the regional district, and I enjoy and love municipal politics.
“I find it extremely rewarding. You’re able to work on local issues, to try and resolve them, make your community better and listen to the people and try and move forward with projects that they want.
“At this point in time, I will put my name forward in 2022, and I will see what happens. I’ve been around politics enough to know that nothing is a given.”
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