Mill’s future a top priority in ’06: mayor

While the New Year has only just begun, Mayor Dan Onichuk said it’s clear Fort Frances will face challenges in 2006, not the least of which is the sustainability of the Abitibi-Consolidated mill here.
“I’ve been working a lot with Abitibi to ensure that it’ll be lobbying the province and some of the bureaucrats with respect to ensuring that a new hog-fuel boiler is built here in Fort Frances, which will take care of their energy needs into the future,” said Mayor Onichuk.
“They’re not going to operate the mill if its in the red all the time,” he warned. “This plan will allow them to operate the mill, produce their own electricity to service the whole mill, provide the steam they require for the mill, and quite frankly, put electricity back into the power grid for the hydro.
“For me, that is probably the key issue I’m working with right now,” stressed the mayor. “It’s for the security of the community into the long-term.”
Mayor Onichuk said moving ahead with the recently-unveiled downtown core long-term plan, and extending that into a long-term development plan for the entire town, is another one of the most important things the town needs to see in 2006.
“And obviously, the sale of the international bridge so that it becomes a non-profit situation is another,” he added.
The mayor also said the town has to do a lot of work “cleaning up” long-standing issues, like the Agency One land claims.
“Those things have got to get sorted out,” he remarked. “I’ve spent a lot of time on those. That’s time you don’t see—it’s a lot of meetings with a different people and trying to move forward on them.
“But those are issues that have a huge impact on the community,” the mayor stressed.
One issue that will get resolved in the New Year is the Couchiching water agreement. The town reached a tentative agreement with the First Nation and Indian Affairs last year, and Couchiching has continued to be a water customer of the town under that tentative deal.
“They’re not outstanding. There was a lot of concern they weren’t paying their bill. Rest assured, in fact, they are,” said Mayor Onichuk.
“We’re now working on the long-term agreement,” he added. “We’re putting some energy into that, but given the co-operation we’ve had with the interim agreement, and settling the rates and dealing with some of their infrastructure problems, I think that in July of this year, we’ll be signing a long-term permanent agreement.”
Looking further down the road to the November municipal elections, Mayor Onichuk said there’s no doubt in his mind as to whether he’ll run again.
“I’ve been asked the question 20 times and the answer is still the same: I am absolutely running. In fact, I have my nomination papers I’ll be filling out tonight,” he noted.
As far as 2005 was concerned, the mayor said there was a number of notable achievements in the community over the past 12 months. For instance, the town got a four-bloom rating from provincial “Communities in Bloom” judges this past fall.
“People look to the town to be progressing, and better promoting the community, and I think the ‘Communities in Bloom’ committee has done that especially well,” Mayor Onichuk remarked.
“The addition of the skate park, the new playground equipment—these are initiatives by a lot of the residents and volunteers that, with the co-operation of the town, enhance our the community.
“They’re great assets to the community as a whole.”