PORT ALICE—Ongoing concerns with the availability of high-speed internet and with mental health services in the village took centre stage last week as North Island MLA Claire Trevena appeared before council during its regular meeting Jan. 14.
Trevena noted the B.C. Legislature will soon begin a four-month session, with the release of the budget scheduled for Feb. 17, and invited council to share any concerns she might wish to address on their behalf.
“High-speed internet,” Mayor Jan Allen said without preamble. Then, following a pause, she added, “It would be nice.”
While some other communities on the North Island have had wait lists reduced and available bandwidth expanded through an agreement between Keta Cable and Shaw Communications, Port Alice continues to struggle with connection waits and slow connectivity, both down- and upstream.
Trevena noted that when the fibre-optic line installed by Telus Communications last year between Sayward and Port McNeill is switched on, additional bandwidth will be available to ease the stress on the system in Port Alice, despite the line not actually running to the village. She added the federal government has also made funding available through its Connecting Communities program to fund internet availability for rural communities.
“If it’s unaffordable, it’s a moot point,” Village administrator Madeline McDonald said, calling attention to the two-tiered pricing structure currently in place.
Port Alice is currently served by Brooks Cable. Coun. Doug Worthington, who works for Brooks, said that once the Telus fibre-optic line is connected to Port McNeill, it should free up 30 megahertz of bandwidth.
“That would be enough to alleviate our wait list,” McDonald said. “Once we get to 100 megs, then we’ll have high-speed.”
McDonald also noted Brooks Cable has submitted a grant application to the federal Connecting Communities program, but, “The simplest solution is if Telus switches us on.”
Coun. Marnie Chase asked Trevena whether additional mental health resources were available for the village, which has suffered five “unnatural deaths” in the past two and a half years.
“We just don’t seem to have the resources here to help people here who are struggling,” said Chase. “I work at the clinic and we do have a health councillor who comes but I think we need more here than what we have. I think it needs to be looked into; I think the whole community feels that way.”
“Our town is in crisis, and it’s only going to get worse,” Coun. Dave Stewart added. “The mill (Neucel Specialty Cellulose) is floundering, and there’s families leaving town. The ones that are staying are worrying they’re gonna have a job.”
Trevena asked about the status of the mill, and councillors said they’re not entirely sure.
“I’m not sure even they know,” said Allen. “Neucel hasn’t come out with any information. Unless they do, people are just going to speculate.”
Trevena promised to get on the mental health concern right away.
“The numbers you have given me, it’s shocking,” she said.
Council voted to accept a $100,000 contribution to its coffers from the North Island Community Forest, a jointly held entity by the Village, the District of Port Hardy and the Town of Port McNeill.
But Allen also questioned why the “arms-length” Community Forest board is so tight-lipped with information about the business ostensibly owned by the communities.
“It’s a big secret and nobody is supposed to know, and I don’t understand why,” Allen said during a presentation by Pat English of the Regional District of Mount Waddington on the district’s draft Strategic Sector Plan.
“It’s very hard to get in touch with anybody there right now.”