The board approved the allocation of just over $538,000 over three years towards the project after the proponents – the Alaska Highway Community Society – came back to the board with a revised budget following an original request of nearly $610,000 over four years. The project involves mapping, research and assessments, and engagement of communities along the highway corridor, to be compiled into a report that will be submitted to the federal Historic Sites and Monuments Board. It is hoped that if the project is successful under that federal review process, the Alaska Highway would become a national historic site in 2017, coinciding with the 75th anniversary of the completion of the highway, and the 150th anniversary of Canada.
Though the approved funding only represents about half of what the proponents have estimate the project will cost, it is still enough to get the project off the ground, said Bud Powell, chair of the Alaska Highway Community Society.
“We can do an awful lot with this funding to get our ducks in a row, and with that funding we should definitely be able to tell whether or not we do have a project that would be acceptable to the (federal) Minister (of Environment, who approves recommendations made by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada ),” said Powell. “We’re quite certain we do – we have contacted professional people in this area (heritage sites) – and I’m sure it will happen.”
The society also has a commitment from the provincial Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure for $100,000 worth of in-kind work over three years, $10,000 in research support from the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality, and a partnership with the North East Native Advancing Society to engage First Nations communities along the highway corridor.
Powell said he believes once the project is underway and progress can be shown, more funding partners will come on board, including perhaps more support from Fort Nelson.
Powell is also an alternate director for Dawson Creek on the regional district board and was present for the vote on whether to approve the budget request for the project. A few other directors and alternate directors are also members of the society. However, Powell said he doesn’t believe the board’s decision was made lightly or with any bias.
“We fought long and hard, and it (the project) was turned down several times, so we went back to the drawing board and cut the budget. I think the majority around the table felt this was something that would be beneficial for the whole area, and something we need to do to preserve the highway.”
He said he just returned from a trip to Canada’s East Coast where he saw many national historic sites, and he said there is no doubt in his mind that designation draws tourists to them.
However, Larry White, director for Tumbler Ridge, has his doubts. He and Tim Caton, director for Area E, were the two dissenting votes against the motion to approve the project.
“I wasn’t satisfied that is worth the money we’re putting into it, that’s why I opposed it,” said White. “I just don’t understand what we are trying to accomplish. The Alaska Highway is not going anywhere – it’s world-renowned, everybody knows it is there. Whether it’s a heritage site or not, I don’t think it’s going to bring any more people to learn or now about the Alaska Highway than already know.”
He said he wanted to make it clear he wasn’t basing his decision on what is best for Tumbler Ridge, but what is best for the regional district.
He said he believed the original intent of the board was to not approve the funding unless the other half of the budget was funded by the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality, and he’s unsure if the project will now only include the Peace River Regional District.
White said while he accepts the board’s decision and is not trying to sound like “sour grapes,” he will seek further clarification on the project at the next meeting of the board.