From the monthly archives: April 2011

Mayors and regional district chairs from around Northern BC recently met in Prince George to discuss a broad spectrum of transportation issues affecting their communities and regions. The two-day meeting was called by Fort St. John Mayor Bruce Lantz and co-hosted by Prince George Mayor Dan Rogers.

NWB: Why did you feel a meeting about transportation issues was necessary?

BL: For as long as I’ve lived in the North, I have had personal experience with some of the transportation challenges residents and businesspeople experience here. Whether you talk about rail, air travel, our roads, even the ferry system on the West Coast, it’s apparent that there are serious deficiencies that we all endure.

Two years ago I attended an ‘Opportunities North’ conference in Prince George and during that meeting, then-

Premier Gordon Campbell said this would be “the decade of the North” and that the North would drive the BC economy. I wondered how that could happen with all the deficiencies we had in our transportation networks. To be an economic driver, as he suggested, you need the infrastructure to make business happen: the ability to move goods to market, to travel for business, and even to provide a geographic area where people were willing to live and work because they know travel within the region (and also outside for business and pleasure purposes) is easy and affordable. There is, of course, nothing easy or affordable about travel in or to the North. Over time, that coalesced into a determination to bring some people together to see what could be done about it.

NWB: Why did you choose to invite mayors and chairs to the meeting?

BL: For one thing, after I started thinking about this, I wound up attending various conferences that included other political leaders from the North. Discussions with them seemed to indicate they shared my concerns and frustrations. It seemed to me that bringing these political leaders together, people who make it their business

to be connected with issues in their communities and their regions, would more likely enable us to get to the root of the problems and identify potential solutions. These are action-oriented people and that’s who I thought should best be at the table.

NWB: What was the objective of the meeting?

BL: We wanted to identify transportation problems in Northern BC, include discussions with experts in those fields, and then roll up our sleeves and try to come up with practical, implementable solutions to those problems. We didn’t want this to be yet another session of complaining and bitching with no solutions offered. Neither government nor the transportation industry needs more of that. We wanted to approach the issues

from the perspective that we all have a stake in the problems and in finding practical solutions to them.

NWB: What type of specific issues did you want to examine?

BL: We looked at the key sectors of rail, roads, air and ports. Problems in these areas seemed to be the most likely impediments to business, and indeed, just living in the North. We figured some other issues might come forward and they did, but those broad areas were seen as the most problematic. Specifically, people were most concerned about highways that cannot handle the increased volume of activity brought about by our economic activity, the complexity and cost of flying around Northern BC since most travel is routed

through Vancouver first, the perception that CN Rail is no longer committed to addressing the freighting needs of the North, and the inability of the Prince Rupert port to handle the increased volume of freight coming its way.

NWB: What were the outcomes of the meeting?

BL: There were several. On the air travel issue we are calling for an ‘Airport Forum’ that will bring together politicians, industry and its regulators to tackle some of the pressing issues. And also, we are calling for more training in the north for airport personnel. Rail is such a complex issue that we want a ‘Rail Service Forum’ held as soon as possible, and we want CN Rail to restore and start building on existing rail infrastructure such as the line between Hythe, AB and Daw son Creek, BC. We want to see improved road maintenance and a recognition of the impact large loads have on our roadways, and we are calling for immediate steps to be taken to improve the major northern highway corridors such as Highways 97, 16, 37 and 5 through four-laning or, in

some areas, just adding more passing lanes. In addition, we’d like to see the Northern Port Strategy developed by government and industry working together, with senior governments providing money for needed infrastructure improvements to ensure that we can move products to the lucrative Asian markets. Finally, we think the BC ferry system needs to be linked with our road system with consultation with local governments and First nations at least twice annually on routes and fees.

NWB: Were any of the issues a surprise?

BL: Two things surprised me. The suggestion that our road systems need to be better linked with the ferry system was something I really hadn’t considered before, and I had no idea there was a shortage of qualified staff at our airports and our airlines.

NWB: What was the single most critical issue?

BL: That’s pretty subjective. I’m sure everyone at the meeting would have their own view on which is most important. For me, it was a tie between the deteriorating condition of rail lines and connections, and the problems with air travel.

NWB: Did the conference meet your expectations?

BL: In most ways it did. Obviously we couldn’t solve all these problems in one session, and more will likely be needed. But I was pleased with the level and quality of participation from communities and regions right across Northern BC.

NWB: Do you think senior levels of government and industry will listen?

BL: I think they have to listen. When this kind of political might gathers in one room then it just makes sense to pay attention. And it’s a great opportunity for senior government and industry to show that they are responsive to the needs and concerns of the people they serve, the people who use these transportation infrastructures.

NWB: What do you think will be the biggest challenge in getting concrete results?

BL: Well, as always when dealing with issues as complex as this, the challenges will be to engage industry and senior government and then keep the pressure on so they know we’re serious about getting results.

NWB: What will be your next steps?

BL: Staff are busy preparing the reports going out to conference participants. Then this material and our recommendations will be going to the spring meeting of the North Central Local Government Association. From that meeting I expect that some or all of these recommendations will go to senior levels of government. Then we hope government will partner with us in ensuring that action is taken. But really, I see this as a start, not an end, to the process. We will continue to meet on these types of issues and to speak with one strong voice.


Located in the northeastern areaof British Columbia at the confluence of the Murray and Wolverine rivers, and only an hour away the Mile 0 City of Dawson Creek and Chetwynd, Tumbler Ridge is one of the youngest communities in British Columbia. Built in the early 1980s around the coal mining industry, this town of 3,000 residents remains strong as a coal mining town even climbing back into prosperity
following the closure of the town’s biggest employer Quintette Mine in August 2000. The closure saw the town’s population drop hard and fast – a situation that officials simply saw as a challenge, thus creating a massive marketing campaign that resulted in the sale of almost 1,000 houses at rock bottom prices – some as
low as $25,000 – to people from all over the world. Those same houses, according to the Economic Development Office, are now worth more than $190,000. Since then the town has expanded their focus to include tourism – concentrating on the unique palaenotological discoveries being made around the community – as well as forestry and gas and
oil exploration. Coal mining has also made a hard and fast return with Western Canadian Coal opening the Dillon Mine in 2003 (now depleted) as well as the Wolverine and Hermann Mines. Peace River Coal has also opened the Trend Mine and currently Teck Coal is investigating re-opening Quintette. And most recently Canadian Dehua International Mines Group is exploring the
possibility of opening the Murray River Project where exploration has discovered an estimated 40 to 50 millions tons of coal per year for 50 years. Kelly Bryan, the District of Tumbler Ridge’s community development officer
says Tumbler Ridge continues to define what opportunity and quality are in Northern BC. “At first glance, it is readily apparent that this town cannot be compared to any other,” Bryan said. “In fact, its design was a social experiment of sorts. Not only was Tumbler Ridge created to retain a stable workforce for the Northeast BC coal project, it was master-planned
in such a way that people would likely choose to live there, regardless of the presence of active coal mining.” Underground utilities, expansive pedestrian-oriented infrastructure and a centralized commercial core, said Bryan, are just a handful of representative samples that reflect Tumbler Ridge’s number one selling feature: its quality of
life. “Many communities boast a superior lifestyle,” Bryan said. “Tumbler Ridge exemplifies it.” In the end, the social experiment worked and it continues to draw in a continuing growing population. In fact, the town was originally designed to accommodate up to 10,000 residents and is
still prepared for that influx. “Estate lots, accessible houses for an aging population and multi-family developments all have a place in the community’s range of desired housing options,” Bryan said. Bryan, who calls Tumbler Ridge a business owner’s dream, believes the
town just about “has it all”. “The only things that seem to be missing at this point in time are operators and service providers that can enhance the experiences Tumbler Ridge has to offer,” he said. “In turn, this has highlighted an immense opportunity for new entrepreneurs
wishing to enter the tourism industry or those that are established, but would like to ‘spread their wings’ in an area that is virtually untapped.” Tumbler Ridge is already home to a multi-million dollar community centre, airport with 4,000 foot runway, health centre that houses the medical, optometric, ambulance, public health, counseling and emergency care, one elementary school and secondary school as well as a local campus of Northern Lights College, a nine-hole golf course and a volunteer fire department.
The community’s Economic Development Outlook and Business Opportunity Summary mentions residents would most likely like to see activities to do in the evenings and winter months. “Two of the most requested forms of entertainment are a proper venue to see movies and a bowling alley/billiards hall.” says the report. In a 2006 survey, which 50 per cent of households participated in residents also requested more restaurant and franchise establishments, a second grocery story, bakery or deli and a butcher.
A more recent arrival is a 102-room hotel, restaurant and conference centre valued at over $10 million and an equipment rental outlet slated to be fully operational in 2011.
According to Bryan, while Tumbler Ridge’s ‘traditional’ industries continue to thrive, the economic horizon holds the potential for the establishment of new, uncharted development opportunities. “With investigative use permits issued for virtually every mountaintop,
Tumbler Ridge’s wind resources have proven to be a lucrative prospect for new, multi-billion dollar green energy projects being proposed for the area,” he said. “The final progression of these projects can stand to bring several years of construction-based activity and a core base of employment.” There are tenures issues for almost every ridge and mountaintop around Tumbler and interest was furthered by the Clean Power Call request for proposals by BC Hydro in 2008. BC Hydro is seeking 5,000 gigawatt hours of electricity and has since secured four wind projects in the area, three from Finavera Renewables and one from Capital Power Corporation.
More recently, Bryan said, the District of Tumbler Ridge has been working with biomass companies for the establishment of a wood-pellet manufacturing plant that would create wealth and new employment from beetle-killed forests, while helping to serve the region’s transition to greener sources of energy. “Tumbler Ridge is no longer that town that had the cheap houses and was about to die,” Mayor Larry White said. “It is a thriving community with new business coming in each week. Our future looks bright with a multitude of investment opportunities waiting to be taken up. It’s the best place in BC.” For more information please contact Kelly Bryan, Community Development Officer at (250)242-4242 ext.236, or visit Or if you just want to visit, check out


We live in a great country that values life and constantly strives for higher standards of living.

Our governments are founded on principles of fairness and justice for all, and the people who govern us are constantly challenged to stand on these principles through free speech, uncensored media, law and the free vote of all citizens. Ok, you’re thinking. So what does that have to do with the price of rice in China? Or with safety enforcement for that matter? Well, as it so happens, quite a bit! Safety enforcement is also a government body, subject to the larger government, and therefore accountable to the same principles of justice and fairness for all. They work for us to regulate and enforce standards of safety that eliminate reckless and even careless endangerment of human life. Safety enforcement has allowed an amazing culture of safety to build in even the most remote pockets of red-necked resistance – and yes I am referring to the Western Canadian North, Strong and Free!

I have worked hard to build relationships and respect with leaders in safety enforcement because I recognize the value of their existence. I need the constant pressure of audits, inspections and consequences to keep making good decisions when it comes to the choices that I face everyday in my business. It is too easy to get caught up in the stresses of responsibility to the bottom line, and to downplay the vulnerabilities of my individual employees. I may grumble at times about the never-ending growth of safety enforcement rules and regulations, just as I do about government politics at times, but I know where we would be without safety enforcement at all.

It would not be a pretty picture. However, like anything else, an organization is only as good as its people. So what do you do when faced with a bad apple? If you have been in business for any length of time, I am sure you know exactly what I am referring to. Individuals wield great amounts of power over the average employer when it comes to safety enforcement. Whether it was someone on a power trip, with a personal agenda, a lack of good judgment, or just having a bad day, you have most likely been burned a time or two. When faced with an unreasonable or unjust ruling, especially when it attacks your reputation as a company and causes financial loss, what options do you have? Having recently faced just such an injustice at our training school, I have done much soul searching on this subject.

Once I had come to terms with my internal raging against the dastardly betrayal (so it felt) of a once highly respected safety enforcement body, I was able to calmly (ok, somewhat calmly) consider my options. First of all, I needed to take a deep breath and realize that the situation was not hopeless. As a citizen of this great country, I was powerful! I had free speech, uncensored media, the law and free vote on my side. I exercised my right to free speech by carefully crafting a detailed email of my perspective on the whole matter – I say crafted, as it took several editing sessions to tone down the original content of my first draft. Once I had shot that off into cyberspace, I followed it up with a very strategic phone call to high places within the safety enforcement leadership, to see what sort of impact my carefully crafted email had made – as it turned out, not very much. This precipitated another bout of internal raging and soul searching.

Should I just turn the other cheek and let it go, licking my wounds and going on as best I could? But wait a minute! I was a person empowered by my government, to hold them accountable to justice and fairness for all! I still had several more options before me… including uncensored media, the law and free vote. I briefly considered submitting an article to the local paper and other affiliated publishing, but decided that for my purposes that would be a last resort. Could get messy, although if all else failed… I was willing to go there. The ombudsman? I had found them very helpful in the past for similar situations. Our MLA? That would certainly exercise the authority of my free vote.

As it turns out, the decision was taken out of my hands by a larger corporation who was also affected by this incident, and this particular case will be tried in a court of law. I feel relieved that the burden of responsibility was lifted off my shoulders this time, but wanted to share my journey through the process. I still need the governing body of safety enforcement to keep me accountable. What I have also come to realize is that the governing body of safety enforcement also needs me to keep them accountable. We need to work together as a team, and this is not a soft, fuzzy statement, but a practical need that involves hard confrontations as well as goodwill and co-operation.

Meaningful change requires strong convictions and courage. There is a change needed in the relationship between the safety enforcement government and the people they work for – the workers and employers of Canada. Let us be the ones that have the conviction and courage to insist that safety be planned, implemented, encouraged and enforced with fairness and justice for all, not at the whim or misjudgment of individuals.

David Phibbs is the president of Alpha Safety Ltd. and Alpha Training Solutions. For more information on this article or their services, contact 1-888-413-3477, 250-787-9315 or


While petroleum often takes centre stage,the region’s other industries have been busy writing their own stories. And one of those stories is about a bright idea from a mining engineer that ties together mining and gas production in a way that has never been done in North America.

In 2009, Stikine Energy realized that
the frac sand used in the region was
being imported in at the exorbitant
cost of $500/tonne from Saskatchewan
or the United States. He asked himself
if there might be a way to provide the
sand locally, and in the process, make
things logistically easier for producers
while supporting the BC economy.
His answer grew into what are now the
Nonda and Angus Projects.
“We came to learn what the volumes
were and we were just staggered
by how much material was being moved
up from the south to perform those horizontal
frac jobs,” said Stikine president
and CEO Scott Broughton.
“So we did the math, and talked
to a bunch of players in Calgary…and
we realized that not many people had
thought to find raw material sources for
frac sand.”
They looked for sites close to the
market that had plentiful supplies, the right size of grain, and where extremely
high-quality silica was present.
Broughton stressed that they wanted to
use equipment and processes that were
already prevalent in the mining industry
so the nature of the site became the
most critical factor in the potential success
of the venture.
“We’re doing what Mother Nature
does by erosional processes,” said
Broughton. “Nobody is turning sandstone
back into sand.” Currently much
of the frac sand is a byproduct rather
than a primary objective of mining operations.
It’s a new way of seeing things
that already exist.
He estimates that each mine could
employ up to 300 full-time people during
operations with significant numbers
of secondary jobs in transportation and
construction in addition to that and opportunities
to supply beyond BC into
other markets may also exist.
Timeline estimates suggest the
company could file for environmental assessment approval this year, and that
if there are no unforeseen delays in getting
that approval, the mines could be
up and running by late 2013 or early
2014 with a short construction period
beginning sometime in 2012 suggested
“The permitting process in BC
doesn’t have a good reputation –it’s a
bit indeterminate,” said Broughton.
“I will say that both of these projects
are really very benign mines. They
really are just like a sand and gravel
operation. There are no nasty chemicals
or chemistry and there’s going to
be some storage of what some people
may call a tailings product, but really,
all it is fine sand that we can’t sell so
some of that will remain on the site in
a settling pond, but there’s no reason
to think that these are anything more
than a sand and gravel operation.”
He added that his timeline dovetails
nicely with when producers have anticipated
their demand for the product will
peak. He is hoping that there could be
about 1 million tones produced at both
of these mines in the first year. That
would be $3 million and $4 million sand
sales at today’s prices he said. Another
way to break it down is 5,000-10,000
pounds per day or upwards of 50 trucks
operating continuously to transport that
“We’re going to advance them both
as fast as we can,” said Broughton. And
that’s just fine with producers who would
gladly buy from him right now if they
could he said.
Broughton said that while costs of
frac sand are high, they only make up
about 15 per cent of the total completion
costs for producers and that’s a relatively
small amount in the greater scheme of
things The logistics of supply is a far
more pressing concern.
“They’re not falling over themselves
trying to find a better alternative and
that’s intriguing to us because if we’re in
these locations and selling large volumes
of high-quality frac sand, we could still
command a fairly high spot-price, then
these mines make an enormous amount
of money and the counter is that these
mines could really help to make both
these basins a lot more competitive in
North America…,” said Broughton.
He is hoping that is enough incentive
for the owner companies to ante-up
some capital when it comes time to construct
the mines.
Because logistics is such an issue
for the market, Broughton explained
that his company wants to set up three
or four bulk storage facilities in the basins
that would operate like a cardlock,
could be set up so that well completion
contractors or end users could have access
as needed – on their timetable and
at their convenience.
“We’ve talked a lot to the producers…
and they have a lot of heartache,
not just over the cost, but also of the
logistics of supply…and it is holding
them back and limiting them on how
fast they develop,” said Broughton. He
estimates 80 per cent of the cost comes
from shipping.
Focusing on liberating the grains
rather than developing new equipment
or processing techniques should keep
unit costs low, the environmental assessment
process straightforward, Nonda Pilot Plant Bagged Sand and the progress toward operations speedy,
he explained.
Late 2009, testing revealed that the
Nonda property, situated approximately
150 kilometres west of the Horn River
Basin, is very uniform, over 10 kilometres
long, is sticking above the ground,
is estimated to be 200 metres deep and
provides flexibility of mine design and
Nonda is “a huge deposit” of finegrained
sandstone. When Stikine started
to do sampling and testing, they realized
the grains of sand (100 mesh and 40-70
mesh) within that sandstone were not
only nearly 100 per cent silica, but were
also in exactly the right size for what the
needs of Horn River Basin. It fit their
criteria for an ideal site.
“There’s a lot more material there
than we think the Horn River could ever
use,” said Broughton.
In November 2010, they took a sample
from the site and sent 500 tonnes to
a pilot plant in Abbotsford. They have
been processes it and optimizing the
operations of the pilot plant since then,
said Broughton.
“We’re really stoked about it because
the sand that we’ve been producing
is coming at great yields for us. We
don’t know the final number yet but it
looks really good to us and the material
is doing really well on its performance
After realizing there was an increasing
interest in the Montney Basin,
Stikine increased their attention to the
Angus Project in 2010. That site is located
200 kilometres south of the Montney
Basin and 60 kilometres north of Prince
“It’s a very different location and
setting (than Nonda) and we’re a little
bit further behind with respect to how
we’ve explored and what we know about
it but again, it’s a very unique sandstone
unit with high-quality, high-silica content
– up to 100 per cent silica. It’s huge.
Again, it’s a very, very large resource,
larger than what we think the Montney
Basin could ever realistically use,
and most importantly, it has grains of
sand that are exactly the right size (20-
40 mesh, 30-50 mesh, 40-70 mesh) for
what they’re pumping in the Montney
The proximity to the highway
and other necessary infrastructure
like railway and power makes the Angus
property particularly attractive
for development.
The f irst shipment of material is
being processed from that site now and
results are expected to be good enough
to propel them to permitting on that
site by the end of 2010.
The idea is simple and utilizes existing
resources in a whole new way
that, if Stikine Energy has its way, will
be a boon to not one but two local industries
and reinforces that entrepreneurs
and innovation exist in every


You have a great idea but you lack the funding to take it to the next level.

 This is not unusual. Lack of investment capital is one of the biggest threats to any startup. So, if you want to have the best chance of success start by writing a great and comprehensive business plan. A business plan is what you’ll use to sell your business idea to potential investors. It will detail the benefits of your idea. It will explain your goals and vision for your business in both the short and long-term, your primary customers, your perceived competition and how you will handle them, and what your promotional strategy will be.

 Then you will explain how you plan to fund your business idea, the type of investors you’re looking for and why someone should invest. Followed closely by how much you’ll need, over what period, and all of the foreseeable risks involved. Once you have a professional and comprehensive business plan you can pursue funding options. First, you need to be willing to use your savings.

this, demonstrates to potential investors that you are willing to put your money where your mouth is – it makes you look more responsible. Along this same vein, you could also get or keep your job. Next, ask family and friends to invest. A lot of startups get their first funding in this way. The advantage of raising money from friends and family is that they’re easy to find. You already know them. Plus, even if they don’t have the funds you need, they can give you advice or direct you to other investment sources. There are also disadvantages: you mix together your business and personal life; they will probably not be as well connected as angels or venture firms; and they may not be accredited investors, which could complicate your life later.

Another way to fund a startup is to ask companies to sponsor your business. Many companies are looking for ways to expand their base. If you can emphasize the benefits they will gain, they may consider partnering with you. Angel investors or venture capitalists are two other funding sources. An angel investor is an individual or a group of individuals who want to increase their investments by funding start-ups that they believe are likely to be profitable. Angels are often willing to provide mentorship and training along with the funds to help fledgling businesses. Venture capitalists, on the other hand, are typically general partners investing third party money and tend to not invest in startups.

Venture capitalists tend to invest in established businesses that need additional funding in order to expand and for which the future financial picture is almost certain to be profitable. Government grants and bank loans are generally based on networth and cashflow. Both are very difficult to secure since a startup has no proven track record and banks and governments both have shareholders that do not appreciate them backing high risk investments. The best advice for navigating this funding minefield is to have a good guide. Get advice from agencies that specialize in assisting new businesses to get off to a sound start.

For more information on this article, or to contact The Centre for Research & Innovation call (780) 539-2807, toll free at 1-877-539- 2808, email or visit our website at


When I first moved north, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I knew it would be different but I really didn’t understand how much so. And I was blissfully ignorant of the significance of the region’s resources and the part they play in the region, the province and indeed, the country. I arrived and within hours was getting an education. It was oil and gas this and the patch that and my head was swimming with what amounted to a whole new language. Everywhere I went, there were signs of the Peace’s signature industry. Go for coffee? There’s a crew at the next table. Park my car? There are work trucks in most spots. Ask someone what he does? You guessed it – he has some job I’d never heard of, and turns out it’s yet another oil and gas related job. It was a culture shock to say the least.

I had no idea that one industry could be so pervasive in a community. Once the shock wore off, I started to understand just how important the industry is and what a remarkable contribution it makes, not only locally, but in the larger context. It took months to learn to think intelligently about the implications and the rewards of such a strong resource. It took a little longer to become familiar with how and why the industry works – and sometimes doesn’t. I remember one day, about a year after arriving here, when the light bulb went on and it occurred to me that while I was just getting comfy (ok, maybe even a little cocky) with the idea that I was starting to really understand my new home, that in fact, I had missed something just as important as the almighty oil and gas industry.

Agriculture, tourism, forestry and mining were all playing roles in the stability of the region and in supporting communities and families. Feeling sheepish, I then made it my business to find out about those resources as well. While there were signs of other industries, they tended to pale in the shadows of the petroleum giant. What I learned, when I started to see beneath the surface of things, was that the ‘other resources’ were every bit as important to the area. We were not alone. Without the solid foundation of those other industries, the giant would have nothing to stand on. The dynamic, vibrant nature of the region was absolutely coloured by oil and gas activity but the stability and strength came from the vast variety of resources. Many, many years down the road, I smile a private smile when newcomers’ eyes go wide and I see the surprise on their faces when they see the crews and trucks and other trappings or see the confusion when they hear unfamiliar terms that are now, to me, as common as air. And I am grateful that I stayed long enough to see the whole regional tapestry with all its richness. It’s easy to forget that agriculture, tourism, forestry and mining have their own beauty but the reaction of newbies is a reminder for me. When I was finally able to pull my head out of the – well um, let’s say the shadow – I was rewarded with unexpected surprises. Perhaps if those of us who’ve been here a while could remember to shine the light into the shadows of the patch, newcomers would get to see the whole picture of the Peace and would understand why so many of us stay here and would decide to join us in making the best place on earth home.