In December 2013, shortly after I embarked on a new chapter and challenge in my life - meaning attempting my hand at writing a weekly column for our local papers - I wrote about the concept of "Boom and Bust" cycles and how it affects communities and the people that live there.
So after approximately six months, two communities in Labrador have been given the opportunity and have gotten a first-hand glimpse at the impact of this sequence of events, some would say a ringside seat.
Since the beginning of 2014 we have seen the closure of a large mine and concentrator in Wabush, Labrador (Scully Mines, who has been in existence since 1965). This closure has had a tremendous negative affect on the town as well as the region, as we saw the loss of 500 jobs.
On the other hand, Happy Valley-Goose Bay is going through one of the largest growth spurts it has ever witnessed.
My point and stance at the time - which has not changed - was not to speak out against any and all natural resource development (including mining, hydro, forestry and oil/gas) but to merrily show that large projects such as those mentioned can have overall cumulative effects that unless planned for and mitigated in some ways (to minimize the negative risks) we can reach levels both good and bad, which maybe beyond irreversible changes that ultimately affect the environment, communities, the social fabric and the quality of health of the general public.
Whether we refer to it as the "economies of scale" or the "scale of changes" within our communities, the fact is that these mega natural resource projects, like we see around us today, will play and have played a significant role in the re-development of our towns and all of us.
Recently, while at my regular Saturday morning coffee at Tim Hortons (we jokily call it our weekly caucus meeting), one of the local business people remarked, "Funny, isn't it, there are only two places in town to purchase a fresh head of lettuce, but over 10 places in town to buy a reflective vest."
Let's not even talk about the prices! Don't get me wrong, resource development projects can, of course, bring a wide range of positive things such as jobs, higher incomes and wages and can improve the very economic development for our towns and entire region. But, unfortunately there can also be some negative impacts as a result of the cumulative effects that slowly creep into towns that initially go unnoticed and are sometimes unintentionally unaddressed.
Just to pick a couple of areas that further clarifies my stance and my opinions are the examples of transportation and fly-in camps. Like many areas in the North, our roads are not really equipped to handle the increase large tractor trailer traffic (limited, too, by two lanes, with narrow shoulders), coupled with long periods of ice and snow, wildlife hazards and so on, thus the cumulative impact results in more serious traffic accidents and an increase in fatalities which I am sure will have a direct impact on the demand on our health care services.
Another, example are fly-in work camps, which pose another new problem for municipalities to deal with. Many companies come to town only for a few years and put added pressure on the services but do not necessarily contribute to the local tax base.
The provincial government has taken the initiative and undertaken some projects to mitigate the cumulative effects in certain areas, like retraining of mine workers, but there are still some important questions hanging over our heads. Who will monitor the cumulative effects? What action will be taken to lessen and hopefully avoid unintended negative consequences? What role will the public - towns, aboriginal groups, researchers and all levels of government - have in making these and other natural resource decisions?
Now I am no genius, but it seems to me there are still lots of unanswered questions and much work to do.
- Stan Oliver writes from Happy Valley-Goose Bay. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org