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Koel’s Notes: Port McNeill council discusses fate of famous burl

By Derek Koel

By Derek Koel

Port McNeill council cancelled its regularly scheduled July 11 meeting, but on July 25 a skeleton council crew got together for a quorum. Only three were in attendance; Mayor James Furney, Couns. Michelle Carson and Ann Marie Baron - who joined in via telephone as there were problems with the meetings video feed.

It was a relatively quick meeting, but the talk of the town was the future of the World’s Largest Burl, which of course was a victim of a suspicious fire back in May.

After previous council meeting discussions, it looked like council wanted to turn the charred remains of the burl into a chainsaw carving, but now it seems there has been a change of plans.

A letter was submitted to mayor and council from four local citizens, stating “We have a group of local volunteers ready to replace the (burl) structure and cement base.”

The letter goes on to say, “We have reached out to several local businesses and we are not asking the town for any monies. We would really like to know if we have the town’s blessing.”

The group’s plan is for the burl to stay put and makes no mention of chainsaw carving.

Some council back and forth on went on as to whether the burl should be moved or not. Baron was the lead and lone quorum voice, suggesting the town take a pause and plan a new location for the burl, which currently is tucked away at the side of the community hall parking lot.

“Should the Burl be moved to the waterfront?” she asked.

The town is presently undertaking a major planning project, the $494,500 REDIP downtown waterfront revitalization plan …. more on that later.

Furney wasn’t having anything of it.

“I’m fine where it is, most people I have talked to are fine where it is,” and he’s wanting to avoid the “the drawn-out process of choosing a new location.”

Councilor Carson seemed opposed to a Burl location move based on the idea of having to change the related Burl signs and brochures, and the ramifications of an inaccurate location.

Baron pressed on, essentially asking, what is the big rush? It was conveyed, to have it ready for Orcafest.

Baron asked how it related to the report further down on the agenda, the $50,000 Island Coastal Community Trust (ICET) Community Placemaking Program grant.

The staff report on this grant was non-descript as to a specific project but did say the “ICET grant offers the Community Placemaking Program which provides up to $50,000 in funding to communities to revitalize public spaces and create more, welcoming, walkable, safe, healthy, and engaging spaces.”

The program is open to Indigenous communities including Indigenous corporations, local and regional governments, and not-for-profit organizations. Applicants typically receive a response within 15 days.

The council quorum quickly passed a council motion for staff to apply for ICET funds, to help rebuild the burl in its current location in conjunction with the local volunteer group.

Furney summed up the plan, saying it came “without a lot of pain to the municipality,” and instead of “putting the burl in a better area” he was in favour of using the $50K to “make the burl area better.”

No written council member reports were received, as usual, and the normal staff department reports were received and filed without much council comment, with the exception of the Animal Control Report which, the mayor called “in depth.”

Town Council Action Plan update

A few new significant motions, as previously reported on by the Gazette, have now been bundled up and branded as the “Town Council Action Plan.” Here is an update on the Action Plan.

Town staff has engaged with the Seniors Housing Society, and they are interested in working with the town to develop new housing units by the town office. Staff are researching available grants and all parties will meet again in August.

Surveyors have been “engaged” to layout four lots on Pioneer Hill, at the end of Northland Road. An initial meeting has taken place with a draft drawing. An engineer recently visited the property, and a report to council will be forthcoming.

Also, on the Action Plan is developing an information package for the public on secondary units and suites, it is being developed and should be available shortly.

Perhaps the most significant item on the docket is the spending of the town’s $494,500 Rural Economic Development and Infrastructure Program (REDIP) funds. The spending is well underway with weekly planning team meetings being held and some parts of the project are being costed out.

The funding is not for infrastructure. It will go toward the planning of a harbourfront park, including bathrooms/showers, a children’s play area, a covered pavilion, beach access and a Port McNeill landmark sign.

When asked by the Gazette if the public will have any input on the REDIP plan before it is adopted, the town seemed to be caught off guard, Port McNeill’s CAO stated that they are in the “initial planning stages.”

Mayor Furney added “Maybe you (the Gazette) can help get the word out in the newspapers.”