2014 was a year ripe with challenges for our town and citizens.
It is encouraging that the year appears to be ending on a high note, with the decision to heat the kraft mill in the interests of asset protection and the production of a heart-warming video by the folks at Tim Hortons which showcases the enduring spirit of our community.
Our foothold within the forest industry was abruptly interrupted (and I stress interrupted, not ended) when, one week prior to the anniversary of 100 years of paper-making here, Resolute announced the closure of its mill facility.
This announcement had an immediate impact on direct jobs at the facility, in-direct jobs within our economy, and the business of the town.
In addition to the closure announcement, town council was dealing with a massive ($9.2 million) reduction in assessment for the mill that would impact every homeowner and business in the community.
Our council and administration faced these challenges head-on and worked diligently with a firm resolve.
Compounding the challenges with the paper mill was a year of unprecedented weather conditions. The winter brought an extended period of severe temperatures and heavy snowfall.
I am proud of the response of our Public Works department to fight the snow and respond to a large number of frozen water lines. I also must note our appreciation for the consideration of the residents during this time.
The spring thaw then brought record water levels, and the continuing threat of additional rainfall prompted the declaration of an emergency within our community.
I must note the dedication and effectiveness of our community emergency management group preparing our community for a “worst-case scenario.” Once again, the spirit of Fort Frances shone through as countless volunteers came out to quickly sandbag the most vulnerable areas within our community.
On a positive note, our Economic Development Advisory Committee worked hard to help redefine our community in conjunction with the town and Rainy River Future Development Corp.
One of the most rewarding initiatives was a branding exercise where the town adopted the “Boundless” theme as our new brand.
The branding exercise also helped identify the numerous opportunities related to our unique location. We are a gateway to Canada and Northwestern Ontario. To the east, we are on the edge of the Canadian Shield while to our immediate west, the Prairies begin.
This past year, we attempted to seize on the opportunity to market our community at the international border, by entering into an agreement with the provincial government to lease the vacant Ontario Tourist Information Centre.
One of the most enriching experiences the town had this year was partnering with the area First Nations and the district municipalities to advocate for a change to how our forest is managed.
Our area communities want to see a more inclusive model of forest management that gives all communities a say and is not controlled by a single entity.
We believe this is the best way to ensure that existing and potential forest enterprises can access affordable fibre and share in the benefits of the forest.
Looking forward to 2015, we are cautiously optimistic. Resolute is heating the mill in the interests of asset protection. All indications are that our continued lobbying efforts are finding success and the government is listening.
There continues to be interest shown in the mill by prospective buyers. We will work with the government and Resolute to help facilitate any potential purchase.
We must not lose hope! We also must continue to be available to work with the folks at New Gold for the exciting mining project within our district.
I am looking forward to working with our new council and I would like to thank the citizens for re-electing me. I will strive to ensure that council and administration gives the community the best we have to offer.
Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!