Saturday, July 24, 2004

Resource towns fight back against arriviste rock stars

VICTORIA - When Randy Bachman and Neil Young are rocking in Duncan this fall, raising money for the next round in a fight against a nearby pulp mill, Leanne Brunt is going to be there too.
But not inside the theatre, clutching one of the hot $200 tickets.
Ms. Brunt and friends will be handing out pamphlets outside the theatre, and holding their own small-scale festival - "a celebration of resource communities and the people who live in them."
The duelling concerts - one with rock stars, the other with a picnic and some kids' games - mark the start of a new B.C.battle, one that goes far beyond the fight over emissions from Norske Canada's Crofton pulp mill.
Mr. Bachman lives in a $3-million enviro-friendly house on Saltspring Island. He and a clutch of like-minded Islanders joined forces in the Crofton Airshed Citizens' Group. They want an independent study of the emissions from the mill, which is about five kilometres across the water from Saltspring.
Ms. Brunt lives in a considerably more modest house in Campbell River. Like many of the people who work at the mill, she suspects the real goal of Mr. Bachman's group is to shut the mill down.
It's exactly the the kind of conflict that led her and others on the North Island to strt a movement called First Dollar. People in B.C.'s resource communities have been ignored and pushed around for too long, they say, by politicians, urbanites, and people like Mr. Bachman.
It's a divide you can see across the province. But the two worlds collide with the loudest crash in places where moneyed newcomers set down alongside resource communities.
In Pemberton, the current dispute is about logging in the "viewshed." In the Kootenays, it's about gas drilling. And on Saltspring and in the Cowichan Valley, it's about the pulp mill, which has been an economic mainstay for 47 years. Norkse employs about 1,000 people in the area, at above-average wages.
The relationship between mill and community has often been uneasy, especially as the community gentrified. But the current batlle was sparked by a company proposal to start using chipped-up railway ties, coal and shredded tires as fuel to supplement wood chips in the mill's boilers.
There's room for debate on the effects of using that kind of fuel, and a need for independent scientific review.
But many of the people who count on the mill for a living are convinced the critic's larger goal is to shut the mill down. If that's so, no amount of improvements will satisfy opponents.
The clean-air group denies such accusations. But then came the leak of an e-mail from Mr. Bachman to the provincial environment ministry. “We will not rest until the Crofton mill is shut down permanently,” he thundered in the January e-mail.
Mr. Bachman's publicist has since told reporters he has changed his mind, and no longer wants the mill closed.
Ms. Brunt doesn't have a publicist - not many single moms working in aquaculture do. She says all across B.C. people are moving to resource communities and then deciding they don't like the industries that have kept the towns alive. Couple that with government neglect and it's costing communites good jobs. "I have a 22-year-old son, and when he graduated a lot of his peers just left B.C.," she says.
First Dollar is only a few months old, but it's already found supporters across the province, including mayors and MLAs. Te goal is to promote resource industries, challenge opponents and counter boycott campaigns - generally, to push back.
B.C. has had its share of battles pitting environmentalists against companies (and sometimes unions). They have reshaped politics, helping the Green Party grow.
But this is a different kind of division, with its own impact on provincial politics. Both groups are significant. Both will be looking for a party that best reflects their ideals. Neither has an obvious political home.
Mr. Bachman and Ms. Brunt are in the frontlines of a battle that's likely to shake up B.C. politics every bit as much as the enviro campaigns of the '90s.
- From the Vancouver Sun

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Life in Victorola said...
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