Have you ever taken the epic Hurley River Road to Bralorne, Gun Lake and beyond? Or driven the precarious Carpenter Lake Road between Gold Bridge and Lillooet?
In July, the SLRD board took a tour of the district’s northern reaches. As Squamish’s representatives on the board, Mayor Kirkham and I joined our SLRD cohort in Pemberton and drove north via Birken to D’Arcy, where we boarded the Kaoham Shuttle, a CN/Seton Lake First Nation train service that hugs the shore of Anderson Lake. The shuttle continues to Lillooet but we disembarked in Seton Portage and met up with our fearless drivers who braved the Highline Road from D’Arcy and continued on to the Bridge River hydro project a few kilometres away.
This power project is something to behold. It harnesses the power of the Bridge River, a tributary of the Fraser, by diverting its waters through Mission Mountain to the drainage basin of Seton Lake 410 metres below. It encompasses three dams including the impressive Terzaghi Dam, four powerhouses and a canal that encompasses a massive area of the Regional District and generates 480 megawatts of hydroelectric power.
I never really appreciated the magnitude of this project both in terms of our province’s overall energy production and the significant environmental and social impacts it has had on the area since 1948… until this summer’s tour. Former Area A director Russ Oakley was resolute in his message over the years: the provincial government must step up and improve these roads for the safety of its residents. Current Area A Director Debbie Demare continues to convey the impacts of the hydro project on the area and advocates for improved roads and the potential of economic and social connectivity of this area.
The first night in our two-day tour found us in Lillooet. Once the bustling Mile 0 of the Cariboo gold rush trail in 1958 and one of the world’s great jade-producing areas, Lillooet is struggling. In recent years it has endured the triple whammy of fire, flood and economic downturn, and the resulting infrastructure failure, evidence of which can be seen in the sandbag channels diverting water down Main Street. Despite this, there is a pride and underlying optimism in the people and an emerging current of innovative thinking.
Day 2 of the tour brought us to the Gun Lake-Bralorne-Gold Bridge area. Resplendent in their South Chilcotin setting, the area is on the verge of discovery for its incredible recreational and backcountry offerings. With the reopening of the Bralorne Gold Mine, there is an economic foundation to rebuild these once thriving communities.
The tour was only a snapshot of the northern area of our regional district but it was foundational. It helped me understand the struggles these areas face and some of the opportunities at their fingertips. But it also stimulated discussion on how we can collectively leverage opportunity and complement each other’s economic strengths... an exploration that will continue at the economic development committee meeting on Jan. 15 at 9 a.m. in council chambers.