A stoned moment: my view from the bleachers

I took a joint to enjoy the sunset with me and this was my view.  One of the local baseball diamonds, close to where a cougar was seen.

Valemount, Valemount sunset, Robson Valley, Robson Valley sunset, rocky mountains, rocky mountain sunset

Valemount, Valemount sunset, Robson Valley, Robson Valley sunset, rocky mountains, rocky mountain sunset

Valemount, Valemount sunset, Robson Valley, Robson Valley sunset, rocky mountains, rocky mountain sunset

Valemount, Valemount sunset, Robson Valley, Robson Valley sunset, rocky mountains, rocky mountain sunset

Valemount, Valemount sunset, Robson Valley, Robson Valley sunset, rocky mountains, rocky mountain sunset

It’s gotta be one of the prettiest on the planet.

Valemount, Valemount sunset, Robson Valley, Robson Valley sunset, rocky mountains, rocky mountain sunset

Valemount, Valemount sunset, Robson Valley, Robson Valley sunset, rocky mountains, rocky mountain sunset

Before this joint, a few days ago, I found a roach sitting on top of a garbage can outside the back entrance of the hotel, and I took it.  It was sitting on top of the can. But I feel the stigma. I’m on par with George Constanza, who swore the eclairs was sitting on top of the garbage pile.

Turns out potheads in BC aren’t hard to find. Go figure.  I love when stereotypes prove true.

Valemount, Valemount sunset, Robson Valley, Robson Valley sunset, rocky mountains, rocky mountain sunset

Valemount, Valemount sunset, Robson Valley, Robson Valley sunset, rocky mountains, rocky mountain sunset
looking down the third base line into left field.
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Passing through: a column of transients

Disclaimer: this sketch is a composite of a number of conversations. While I’ve endeavoured to replicate the conversations as faithfully as possible, any information contained within should be perceived as anecdotal, and not factual.

 

 

Contract workers, mostly from Alberta or BC, often stay in Valemount for weeks at a time, part of an environmental assessment team employed by some of the biggest companies in the country. I had the chance to interact with one such team recently, a group of about 15-20 people. There were a lot of Native men in the group, but also a few Caucasians and even some women. They would spend all day working outdoors, in the field, and then relax in the evenings, comfortably dining and drinking after a hard day’s work. A sense of self-contentment and good-natured ease defined this group.

 

“My day was great, it was better than great,” a youthful middle-aged man sitting at a bar says.

“I get to count birds and amphibians all day.  Man, it was beautiful. I love what I do, spending all day out in nature. Even if it rains a bit like today.”

“This pipeline, it’s not gonna follow the last one, you know. This time they’re being real careful. I helped lay down the last one too, but that one it was like a fish, eh, or a bird, or a cat, the path of least resistance, they just went straight ahead. But this time they’re being real careful, good to the environment.  We go out there and we find the birds, and if they’ve got a nest somewhere, well the pipeline will go around them, eh, these oil companies are being real careful now.

“I used to be on the other side, a real environmentalist, you know.  I studied biology, I loved nature, I even saved some creeks back home, eh. That’s where I like to stay, close to home, I never liked going too far from home.  I know these lands, so I used to be a real pain in their ass… but now, well, they figured I’m an ASS-et, eh, HA! HA! HA!

“You know I can see the whole thing now, the whole 360 degree perspective. What the oil companies tell you, what they don’t tell you, the leaks and accidents they don’t want nobody to find out about, and what the environmentalists say and fight for too.

 

“But with these companies, if you get hurt on the job, eh—I’ve been hurt on the job—they come to you real quiet, and they say, how do you want to do this? We want this to be kept real quiet, so they throw some money at you, and it’s a lot of money, and on paper it says you’ve clocked in and out though you’ve never been there. Man it’s a lot of money.  And you want to get back out onto the job, because that’s when you get the most money, especially if you get time and a half or double time. I’ve worked 17-hour shifts before, you know. And imagine being a teenager, right out of high school, you’ve never had to flip burgers or nothing, and they give you $36 an hour and say rake this gravel here, or something, of course you’re gonna do it.

“It’s so beautiful out there, and it’s so funny, if you think about it, what you’re doing it for, eh? It’s backwards and dirty, but man it’s a lot of money.  I paid off my house already, and three trucks. Ha! Ha!  I got two boys at home, one’s sixteen, and he just got his L license and he wants a truck of course.”

Smoking with another crew member later the same night, a chain smoker, older, wearing big wire-framed glasses, a gentle and passive demeanour:

“This one time we were building a pipe and we saw a squirrel that lived in this tree.  Right where the pipe was supposed to go. We didn’t know what we were supposed to do. So the men, they thought about it, and they said we should dig the whole tree up and just put it over there. That way the pipe could go straight.”

He chuckles and shakes his head from side to side.

“Do you think that’s crazy, or smart?” I asked.

“Well, for the animal, I guess it’s good. But I don’t know, I can’t say. I bet the squirrel knows.  But I don’t know.” He shrugs his shoulders like these things are beyond him.

Two Caucasian girls, members of the group, young, blond, pretty, with idealistic naivety, sweet, unassuming, innocent, constantly smiling, giggling; mostly they kept their distance from the rest of the team, and brought their work with them to the bar.  I imagine they were the greenwashers, giving the oil bonanza a gentle, human face, a white, smiling, superficial veneer, too sweet and unassuming to be reproached.  Environmental rehabilitators. Nature lovers.

 

Illustration by Katherine Beeson. Copy right Katherine Beeson.
Illustration by Katherine Beeson. Copy right Katherine Beeson.

Accident on accessibility ramp at Valemount Community Hall leaves two injured

The Village of Valemount is looking into making the accessibility ramp at the Community Hall safer after an accident on May 18 left two people injured.

“Since the incident our public works superintendent, building inspector and senior staff have been working to find a remedy for the steps and make the area safer,” Mayor McCracken wrote in an email statement to the Goat.

Bob Beeson, 98, had just arrived at a family birthday party and driven his scooter to the top of the ramp, when a wheel slipped off the narrow landing toppling him down the steep stairs, according to a number of witnesses.

“I had to go around the door because it wasn’t quite open,” Bob said. “The door should be open as far as it goes.”

Dorothy Wakelin said she was standing on the landing as Bob was trying to navigate around the partially-opened door, and saw his wheel slip off the landing. Instinctively, Wakelin grabbed the scooter to try to stop it from falling down the stairs.

“I knew the minute I grabbed on I had to let go,” Wakelin said. “I’m pregnant, and I’m going to seriously hurt myself, I thought.”

The scooter was turned by Wakelin’s effort, however, and instead of tumbling down backwards, slid on its side all the way down.

“It didn’t look like he hit his head at all going down the steps,” Wakelin said, “until the bottom, and that seemed like slow motion…It sounded horrible.” Wakelin said she saw Beeson close his eyes after hitting his head and feared the worst.

Beeson was taken to the McBride hospital and kept for 24 hours surveillance, said Kathy Beeson, Bob Beeson’s daughter.

“I got hurt all over, but I didn’t break a bone,” Bob Beeson said. He said he wanted to leave the hospital as soon as possible. “The doctors said as soon as you can walk, so I grabbed my cane and showed them I could walk, and back I come.”

“Mr. Beeson’s been in Valemount forever,” Wakelin said, “He’s an icon … it could have been completely worse. We were very fortunate.”

Wakelin herself sustained injuries from trying to prevent the scooter from going down the stairs, but thankfully not to her front side.

In letting go of the scooter, Wakelin lost her balance, fell down a few stairs and was pinched between the railing and the scooter. She still has bruising on her left leg and hip as well as her right arm. Ultrasounds confirmed that her baby was unharmed, but the incident has caused her a lot of stress, she said.

“The doctors have been more concerned about my mental state than the baby,” she said. “Stress for a pregnant woman is very unhealthy.”

Since the incident, Wakelin, who grew up in Valemount but now lives in Rainbow Lake, Alberta, has lead a crusade to draw attention to the dangerous landing atop the accessibility ramp.  Having worked for a municipal government for the past five years, she knows that documentation is the key to bringing about change, she said.

“If you have no documentation, there’s nothing to go back on. If that door had been opened all the way, Mr. Beeson wouldn’t have fallen, and who’s to say that hasn’t happened before?”

Wakelin said she has been in contact with Chief Administrative Officer of the Village, Anne Yanciw, and is writing a letter describing the incident. Wakelin was informed that once the Village receives the letter, they can use that in hopes of applying for an accessibility grant.

“Now that we are aware of this issue at the community hall, we will look for grants that allow us to remedy the area,” Mayor McCracken wrote in an email.

McCracken wrote that the long term solution involves rebuilding the steps and expanding the landing, which the Village is currently “trying to rationalize with their public works plan.” A short term solution, which the Mayor admits is “not great,” is to post signs of the hazard, though by press time no signs had been posted.

The construction of the ramp predates the current staff at the Village, Mayor McCracken wrote, so whether or not it complied with safety regulations at the time of construction is unknown.

“In terms of what is required for new buildings, it is certainly not up to code, and as demonstrated, it is simply not safe enough.”

In the meantime, the Mayor urges residents to be cautious using the ramp.

The outcome of the incident could have been far worse, Beeson and Wakelin admit, but both have escaped relatively unscathed. Beeson is happy to be out of the hospital and back on his scooter.

“That’s the end of the road for seniors, so I said get the hell out of here, I’m going home.”

Bob Beeson's scooter. He told me this was a custom-built deluxe scooter, capable of going 15km/h.
Bob Beeson’s scooter. He told me this was a custom-built deluxe scooter, capable of going 15km/h.

 

Amish and Asian Invasion at the Best Western, Valemount

Last night was my last shift as porter at the Hotel.  Thank God.

The job itself is excruciatingly boring.  Most of the time I’d wander the generic corridors of the hotel, judging the generic artwork hanging on the walls, trying to think up ways of killing time.  The highlight of my 7-hour shift was usually picking up cigarette butts and garbage around the premises, because that way I could at least be outdoors and get lost in thought with the mountains as my witness.

On my last porter shift the hotel was at capacity, filled mostly with two busloads: one of Asian tourists (that cliché is internationally known btw) and one of Amish folks from Ohio.  The Asians arrived first, and there must have been at least a hundred in the hotel lobby for over an hour.  They pillaged the free coffee and hot beverage dispenser that, as porter, is my responsibility to keep fully stocked. There was a line up at the free beverage dispenser for at least 30 minutes.

The Amish were no less gleeful with the free drinks.  I had to restock the beverage dispenser three times in the course of my shift.  And in keeping with stereotypes, I had to instruct a number of the Amish on how operate the gratis technology.  According to a CNN story, most Amish groups from the midwest don’t reject technology outright, but on a case-by-case basis, often after negative consequences are learned.  Nonetheless, it was, well a spectacle to see 80 or 90 Amish men and women and children, in gender-specific uniforms, the men with long, scraggly, moustache-less beards and rather bow-legged, and the women in plain, starched dresses and little white bonnets covering their buns (hair, that is).  I was genuinely curious to see them interacting with or even simply walking by the regular tourists the hotel sees:  travelers from Alberta, environmental assessment contractors and, yes, the Asians.

But, thankfully, I won’t have to kill time doing that job at the hotel any more.  On Sunday the delivery and subscription and billing boy at the Goat quit. So starting immediately I’ll be able to work 25-30 hours at The Goat doing newspaper-related businesses-side shit, and spend the rest of my time doing investigative stuff.  It’s not ideal; I’d rather be able to focus on the investigative stuff entirely.  But at least I’ll be learning more about the day-to-day operations of a newspaper, and (imagine) actually getting paid for it.

The best part of the portering experience was meeting Ron, the 5-day-a-week porter who trained me for 14 hours.  Porter training does not require 14 hours, rather it requires learning how to kill time so Ron and I talked a lot and perfected a leisurely gait.  Ron’s somewhere in his 50s and is fighting a relapse into cancer.  He has a real calm and thoughtful, even Zen, demeanour.  Everything he showed me on the job—whether it was changing the garbage, restocking the beverage dispenser or stocking the pool with towels—he had a methodical and exact way of doing it and, inadvertently, would insist I do it exactly like him.  He had developed a pretty logical system for doing every aspect of one of the most boring jobs I’ve ever had (“I always told my kids,” Ron said to me one shift when I was complaining, “that being bored’s a waste of time”).   Sometime towards the beginning of my first training shift with Ron he told me that he doesn’t have TV or a computer or the internet; that he spends most of his time reading.  I knew I’d like Ron from that point on.  We spent the rest of my first training shift talking about books and authors and the meaning of life.

It’s 9, by the way. The meaning of life is 9.

Investigative Feature: tar sands oil poised for west coast shipping, one way or another

DOT-111 tankers, like those pictured, are capable of carrying dangerous goods, according to Transportation Canada’s safety criteria, but transportation safety agency throughout North America admit to safety design flaws.
DOT-111 tankers, like those pictured, are capable of carrying dangerous goods, according to Transportation Canada’s safety criteria, but transportation safety agency throughout North America admit to safety design flaws.

Whether the much-maligned Northern Gateway or the controversial twinning of the Trans Mountain pipelines actually come to fruition or not, heavy crude oil from the tar sands of Alberta are poised to flow to the west coast, according to oil industry experts and negotiations involving rail companies.

Substantial opposition to pipeline projects in BC has proven to be a boon for rail companies, which have experienced exponential growth in transporting crude oil in recent years.  According to data compiled from Statistics Canada, the monthly average of rail cars loaded with fuel oils and crude petroleum in the Western Division of Canada increased by 88.6 per cent between 2011 and 2012, and increased an additional 49.2 per cent in the first two months of 2013.  Canadian Pacific Railway reported record first quarter results in 2013 , citing the crude business as a key driver, and expects to nearly triple its carloads carrying crude by the end of 2015. And the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers – Canada’s largest oil and gas lobby group – projects Western Canadian crude exports by rail in the final quarter of 2013 to be nearly triple what it was in the third quarter of 2012.

Oil transported by rail has been in the national media’s spotlight recently because of this sharp growth rate, and because of a string of recent derailments spilling crude oil. CP’s latest spill occurred May 21st outside Jansen, Saskatchewan ; on April 3rd, near White River, Ontario, a CP derailment spilled more than 65,500 litres.

Given these trends, will the Robson Valley see an increase of oil on rail sent through its communities?  Is rail a safer option than pipeline?  Will the communities be consulted or informed about the increase transportation of crude oil (a dangerous good, as defined by Transportation Canada) through their communities?

Crude through the Robson Valley?

Stephen Harper, making a public pitch for the Kestyone XL Pipeline in NYC earlier this month, said he thinks the facts are “overwhelmingly” on the side of approval, according to a CBC story. Harper said he was confident oil from the tar sands would be sent to the US Gulf Coast, if not by pipeline then by rail.

The sentiment of rail being an alternative to pipelines is echoed by BC media mogul David Black, whose company Kitimat Clean Ltd. proposes to build a refinery near Kitimat which would be designed specifically to process heavy crude from Alberta’s tar sands.

“If BC remains set against a pipeline the oil will come to the refinery by rail,” Black wrote in a proposal presentation to the BC Chamber of Commerce in March.  “CN and the oil companies are keen on this.”

Black’s proposed refinery could handle the entire volume of the Northern Gateway Pipeline: over 500,000 barrels a day.

In a phone interview Black confirmed that he’s been in early conversations with CN to transport 400,000-500,000 barrels a day. But his preference is for a pipeline.

“Experts say the pipeline is safer.”

Black recently received the backing of China’s largest bank for his $25-billion proposal, expressed support from Christy Clark and has an agreement with the BC government for 3,000 hectares of Crown land, according to both Black’s press releases and various news articles. If Black’s proposal is to becomes a reality, that could mean 12 more trains a day through the Robson Valley (six northbound and six southbound), Black said.

According to the CN customer service line, the daily number of trains coming through the Valley is currently 40-45.

Black said small towns along the CN route with level crossings would rue having 12 more trains running through every day.

“Obviously there’s more disruptions for people with those level crossings,” Black said on the phone. “Valemount fits that description, I’ve been through there myself on the train a few times.”

Black’s project has been dismissed by some people as lacking support from the major energy companies in Alberta. But in a Financial Post article on June 1, Black responded to the lack of interest from Alberta for his proposed refinery: “I don’t need them to put their money up, and I don’t need their expertise. I can get the money elsewhere and I can buy the expertise.”

Another ambitious project currently under development, by a company called G7G, proposes to build a new rail line from Fort McMurray to just outside Fairbanks, Alaska, where heavy crude from Alberta could then be piped to Valdez.  G7G was awarded $1.8-million from the Alberta government in May, according to a press release on their website, to conduct further research. Although G7G’s proposed route would go north of the Valley, the scope of its ambition points to an increase of oil flowing from Alberta to the West Coast, one way or another. And the exponential growth of CN and CP transports in crude oil –forecasted into the foreseeable future – means that protesting pipelines, whether Northern Gateway or Trans Mountain, may do little to slow the flow of oil down.

Greg Stringham, VP of Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, said rail companies are currently investigating options to move crude by rail to the West Coast. “We have been removing what we use for diluent from the West Coast into Western Canada already, so [rail companies] have the facilities in place, but I don’t think they’re using them yet,” Stringham said.

Mark Hallman, media spokesman for CN, said there are no fixed plans to transport heavy crude from Alberta to the West Coast at this time.

Hallman notes, however, that CN started testing movement specifically of crude oils in 2010; in 2011 they moved around 5,000 car loads of crude oil, then in 2012 they moved more than 30,000 car loads of crude oil to various North American markets.

“We believe the company has the scope to double that scope of business in 2013.”

“Our corporate policy is not to engage in speculation,” Hallmann added.

CP Rail is already transporting 5,000-8,000 barrels per day to the Burnaby refinery, Ray Lord, manager of public and government affairs at the refinery said.

“We’ve just initiated deliveries here by crude, started in late May … given the fact that the pipeline is over subscribed.”

Any options involving CN rail transporting crude to the west coast would inevitably involve the Robson Valley, through which the CN line runs.

Safety of crude transport by rail questioned by transportation safety agencies

The safety of rail cars to transport crude oil has been harshly criticized in Canada as well as the US.

An American Press story published late last year revealed that over two-thirds of the continental fleet uses a model called DOT-111 to transport dangerous goods.  DOT-111’s are easily recognizable by their soda-bottle-shape and wide-range use across the continent. And an email correspondence between Greepeace Canada and Transportation Canada – shared with The Goat – verified the same is true in Canada; perhaps even more so. But transportation safety agencies on both sides of the border acknowledge serious safety flaws.

The Canadian Transportation Safety Board released an investigation in 2009 of a 1994 derailment, stating, “The susceptibility of 111 tank cars to release product at derailment and impact is well documented. The transport of a variety of the most hazardous products in such cars continues.” The American National Transportation Safety Board conducted an investigation of a 2009 CN derailment and fire, noting “that DOT-111 tank cars have a high incidence of tank failures during accidents … This accident demonstrates the need for extra protection …”

Hallman points out that rail cars are not owned by CN, but owned by shippers or rail leasing companies.

“The standards of the cars are set by regulators such as Transport Canada or the US Federal Railroad Administration … and then car manufactures comply with those standards.”

But despite transportation safety agencies making safety recommendations in both countries on the use of DOT-111’s, the rail industry has resisted the costly changes, according to a number of news reports.

“The tanker companies, they’re not allowed to build tankers like this anymore,” Keith Stewart, a climate change campaigner with Greenpeace Canada, said. “What [the rail industry has] successfully done is to have the old ones grandfathered so that they don’t have to retrofit them to be safer.”

But Hallman says “rail transportation is highly regulated by the federal government. CN complies with existing regulation.”

The American rail industry made a similar proposal to the US National Transportation Safety Board, leaving 30,000-45,000 cars carrying dangerous goods out of their plan to increase rail safety. The proposal is currently being considered by the US Department of Transportation—a process that could take several years. In the meantime, DOT-111’s that have been proven susceptible to rupture upon derailment continue to be used to transport dangerous goods across North America.

War of numbers, nobody winning

The pipeline and rail industries are currently fighting a war of numbers to prove which mode of transportation is safer, with both industries claiming numbers are on their side. Most analysts agree, however, that while derailments are more frequent than pipeline leaks, lower volumes are usually released and are immediately known, while pipeline leaks can spill far higher volumes, may go undetected longer, and may occur in more remote areas, slowing response times.

Which is better for the Robson Valley?

Residents won’t be asked on the rail option because rail companies don’t face the same obstacles of regulation as pipelines do, including public consultation, according to a briefing note obtained by the Canadian Press through the Access to Information Act last October and reported in a CBC story. Transport Canada officials acknowledged the lack of hurdles facing transport of crude by rail, compared to pipelines, but marine terminals and tanker traffic would still be subject to environmental assessments, according to the story.

When asked if CN conducts public consultation on its proposals to transport crude to the west coast, Hallman said, “No that’s not the case. CN has been shipping various petroleum and chemical products for over a hundred years, in terms of the predecessors of the company.”

Another alternative

With the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion plans progressing, and the Northern Gateway Pipeline Joint Review expected to reach a conclusion by December, the future of oil flowing through Robson Valley – by either rail or pipe – is very much at a crossroads.  But for Stewart, who has campaigned against climate change for over a decade, his perfect world is markedly different than David Black’s.

“The solution to the tar sands can’t be found in the tar sands,” Stewart said. “There’s no technology you can use in the tar sands that can fix the problem…the only way to fix it is that carbon has to stay in the ground.”

“I have sympathy for that myself,” Black said when asked for his response to Stewart’s quote.  “But it’s not feasible today to do away with oil…so we have to be pragmatic about this. We have to move from where we are today to a different place in time.”

“Before we knew about climate change,” Stewart said, “fossil fuels had greatly improved the quality of life, but now they’re putting all of those improvements at risk. What people need is energy, not oil, and we need to make that shift.”

“It’s a worry for everybody,” Black said, “because CO2 emissions are ramping up, not ramping down.”

Media swag from our friends at Trans Mountain Pipeline

swag from our friends at Trans Mountain Pipeline
swag from our friends at Trans Mountain Pipeline
media swag from Trans Mountain Pipeline put into context
media swag from Trans Mountain Pipeline put into context

The Rocky Mountain Goat office got a media package from their friends in the Trans Mountain Pipeline media team last week.  A letter explaining how they’re making it easier for media to access information accompanied three sets of nifty sunglasses (made, probably, from petroleum products as most plastics are).

 

I haven’t been able to bring myself to wear these shades yet, despite needing a pair and having to constantly squint against the bright sun reflecting off the glaciers and snow-peaked mountains.  As I pondered the appropriate context to receive this gift in, another story came to mind.

 

Recently, the newly hired associate editor of RMG news received an email from the Trans Morgan public engagement team. She was a select invite to attend an information gathering session at the local Best Western. Clad in matching green velvet blazers, the lucky 12 invitees were fed a buffet dinner, with desert, before being asked for their input.  The associate editor wrote an editorial on the meeting, noting that any information they asked for was framed for them in appropriate forms of response.  One of the TM employees at the meeting confirmed that what they were looking for was “categorical comments” to provide “high level information” to those with a vested interest in the pipeline project.

 

And then it hit me. The perfect context to receive this gift in was to produce images like the one on this post.  My only lament is that I couldn’t find a fresher, steamier pile of shit.

Cougar stare-down in Valemount ends peacefully

Leath-Anne Kettle is still in disbelief after a 20-minute run-in with a cougar in Valemount last Tuesday May 28th.

“It’s one of those surreal things, when you don’t really believe it’s happening,” Kettle said.

She was walking up Dogwood Street from 17th Avenue just after 9pm when the cougar crossed the road about 20 feet in front of her. A children’s playground and baseball park, John Osadchuck Diamond, is just up the street from where Kettle encountered the cougar.

“It just sat down and stared at me,” she said. The stare-off lasted about 20 minutes, Kettle said. “I was scared at first, but then I calmed down.”

Kettle said she eventually called a friend who drove over to meet her. The approaching car scared off the cougar.

The Prince George Conservation Officer did not return calls from The Goat, but the BC Ministry of Environment’s Conservation Officer Service website offers the following information on cougar encounters:

Stay calm. Sudden movements can scare the cougar into attacking. Back away slowly and make yourself as large as possible. Do not run.

If a cougar shows interest in you, react aggressively. Maintain eye contact; show your teeth, growl. Arm yourself with weapons (e.g. sticks, stones) .

If a cougar attacks, fight back. Convince the cougar you are not helpless but a formidable prey choice. Aim for the eyes and the face, if it comes down to an attack.

Let neighbours know, and be aware of pets that may have gone missing: a sure sign that a cougar is making use of your neighbourhood.

Cougars seem to be attracted to the loud noises and erratic movement of children.

Although cougar encounters can be terrifying, Kettle said it’s important not to get scared.

“I’m not scared now or anything,” she said. “If I let that scare me, I’d never go anywhere.”

That said, it’s smart to be prepared and to take precautions.

For more information visit the Conservation Officer Service’s website at http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/cos/index.htm.

The cat came back (more cougar sightings in Valemount)

“There’s that cat again,” Braden Hutchins said when he saw a cougar for the second time on June 6.

It was around 6:30pm and he was standing with a group of people on the deck of the Kenkel’s ranch on Cranberry Lake Road.

The cougar was a few hundred yards away, across a field and crossing the road, going in the opposite direction from the group.

Hutchins had seen a cougar earlier in the day, only a few properties away from the Kenkel’s lot, while driving on Pine Road, around 2:30pm.

“The first thing I did was call the neighbours to let them know,” said Riette Kenkel, also standing on the deck at the time of the sighting.

Todd Hunter, a Prince George conservation officer who oversees the Robson Valley said there have been no reports of abnormal or offending behaviour from any cougars, but they are monitoring the area.

“Offending or abnormal behaviour would mean walking down a main street in the middle of the day, going from house to house, or repeatedly coming into town,” he said.

Hunter said at this point he has only received third party information.

“We need people who actually witness the event to report it, to substantiate allegations. Third party information doesn’t give us adequate information to respond.”

Hunter said cougars will follow the path of least resistance, following ATV or snowmobile trails through the woods. Cougar sightings are more frequent in the winter months, Hunter said, when food is scarce. Hunter stressed the need for people to report sightings to aid in his monitoring.

To report a sighting, call the Prince George Conservation Services Office at 1-877-952-7277.

maison mayor, chez valemount

I didn’t know before getting to Valemount that I’d be living with the mayor. In fact, I might be living with the premiere power couple of the village, since his partner, my boss, is the editor/publisher of a local newspaper. I live in their basement.

But the term ‘power couple’ seems out of place in this mountainous village of some 1000 inhabitants (“on a good day,” one local said to me), and especially in reference to my two new roommates. Since getting here last Sunday, I’ve discerned a down-to-earth, genuine passion they both have for the well-being of this village. They’re highly motivated people who, thankfully, dispelled any premonitory fears I had of this place being an ultra-conservative, out-of-touch backwoods community embodying more of the clichéd Albertan smug prudishness (heartland of the Conservatives, oil money and home to more pickup trucks than people) than the equally unfair ultra-liberal, hippie, pot-loving BC cliché. Not to say the rest of the town can be judged by these two; but that remains to be seen.

There’s a directness to life inherent in a small town like this. I attended a town meeting at the local high school a few days ago, where the principal was holding an information session to quell parents’ fears on the future of the school. Rumors and panic were being fanned by news of a new model involving fewer teachers and more computer-assisted classes necessary for the next school year because of rapidly declining enrollment. In the last five years enrollment has halved and next year the impressive, new building will be home to only 70 students, despite a capacity for over 300. This decline in enrollment is in line with the decline of the general population since the lumber mill – providing 200 of the best-paid jobs in town, according to the mayor – closed some six years ago. It is a very uncertain time in the life of Valemount Village.

“People who worry tend to express that worry as fact,” the principal told the school auditorium, half full with some 40-50 citizens, “and as it goes from person to person things get out of control.” But he acknowledged that the past few years had been tough on the school, and they had exhausted their savings in compensating for low enrollment. They had also exhausted their funding and grant options, so change was imminent and necessary. “Going after more money is like…”, the principal paused, struggling to find the right words, “…is like asking for champagne on a beer budget.” Not sure those were the right words to assuage the concerns of parents.

But the directness to life suggested by a town meeting of this sort was illusory, I thought. The principal’s presentation was unnecessarily long and tedious, and behind his rhetoric of “this is our collective problem and we need to, collectively, find a solution” was a predetermined objective and solution. Sounding more like a politician or a businessman, the principal had already decided on a new model and was only allowing parents to feel involved, rather than allow them to participate directly. Slide after slide of stats and academic research suggested this gathering was a shareholders meeting, and the principal, like a CEO, was doing what he could to assure the shareholders—the parents—that he had a confident, steady hand on the rudder, despite the turbulent times.

At the start of the Q&A period, the mayor stood up and thanked the principal for holding the meeting, acknowledging that he could have simply steamrolled ahead with his plans without holding any public consultation. And that’s true. But when nearly every sizeable community in this country has been incorporated (that is, made into a corporation), where they mayor’s alternate title is CEO, the structures of a business pervade all levels of local government. The “spirit” of a place, the cohesiveness of a community, the identity of a people is necessarily limited by what the rational structures of a business model can allow.

The principal spoke of the need to look squarely in the mirror, to identify the current situation. “But if we start building resorts, attracting people, who knows,” he said. And indeed the future of this town seems to be staked on tourism, especially a holiday glacier destination designed by a prominent Vancouver developer. But what control will the community have over these plans that will surely redefine the village? What control can they have in the ultra-corporate environs of Canada? That too remains to be seen.