The Future of Flin Flon

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Thomas H. Heine of Flin Flon has written a five-part essay entitled 'The Future of Flin Flon.' Today we present the fifth and final part. *** A Plan for the Future Let's have a look at what we have right now. We have a decent highway system connecting us to major centres in the south (Winnipeg, 750 km) and west (Prince Albert, 400 km). We have access to railroad infrastructure. This efficient mode of transportation used to bring people and supplies into Flin Flon. Now it is used only to transport zinc concentrate and propane into the community, and copper concentrate and zinc ingots to outside markets. Our municipal airport is in good shape. Our community has numerous cultural groups. These include the Flin Flon Community Choir, Ham Sandwich (theatre), Flin Flon Bombers, the Northern Visual Arts centre (NorVA) and the Central Canada Film Group. We also have adequate recreational facilities: the aging Whitney Forum / Uptown curling rink, an older aquatic centre, 26 km of excellent cross-country ski trails and several within-town walking trails. We have a full range of active service clubs. We have numerous large lakes on which we enjoy various water sports. Fishing in the area is second to none. We have a workforce with a wealth of experience in a variety of professions, particularly those related to the mineral exploration and mining industry. Over the years, various ideas have come forward for some modicum of regional economic diversification: using the South Main shaft as a zero-gravity research facility; establishing an oriented strandboard plant; using burbot livers for pharmaceuticals; growing flowers and pharmaceutical crops underground; establishing an underground nuclear waste storage facility. I remember a comment that a mines minister made a few years ago while on a visit to Flin Flon. Even then he was aware that our economy should be diversified, and he mused that a copper cookware manufacturing facility could be set up here. Copper pots are a high-value item, and apparently we had a ready supply of copper metal that could be used in their manufacture. He did not realize that we didn't actually have easy access to refined copper, and that the copper coming out of the smelter could not be directly used in manufacturing cooking utensils. Or other products. It still needed to be refined. It was a good idea but had a few shortcomings. But that's a moot point now: after decades of service, the copper smelter is permanently closed. Other communities of our region have seen the expansion of educational facilities due to the largesse of the provincial government. Some $82,000,000 went to Thompson and $15,000,000 was allotted to The Pas. An incarceration facility is under construction in The Pas, and $5,000,000 has been spent so far. Thus, the province is actively working to diversify the economies of these communities through the establishment and support of educational and other institutions. Flin Flon has been virtually ignored. A relatively modest amount has been provided for the construction of the Northern Manitoba Mining Academy. Figures supplied by the provincial government indicate that the total cost of the facility was $4,639,000 in the form of cash, in-kind, and internal resource allocations. No money was provided from the Mining Community Reserve Fund. Instead, funding was provided by the following: ÊCanada-Manitoba Economic Partnership Agreement ($1,720,000) ($950,000 from the province, $770,000 from the federal government) ÊGovernment of Canada Western Economic Diversification Community Adjustment Fund ($920,000) ÊInnovation, Energy and Mines ($850,000) ÊManitoba Entrepreneurship Training and Trade ($200,000 - Industry Workforce Development / Apprenticeship Manitoba) University College of the North ($500,000) HudBay ($294,000) ($200,000 cash and $94,000 in-kind as land donation) ÊCity of Flin Flon ($155,000, as utilities connection work) Economic diversification does not happen instantly but involves years of work combined with a long-term vision and plan. In Flin Flon, a variety of economic development officers have passed through the doors of Community Futures Greenstone over the years, with little to be seen for their efforts. The same can be said for similar individuals working in other communities in our region. The reasons are manifold, but one fact has become apparent: beyond funding the economic development offices and officers, little financial support appears to be forthcoming to support real economic diversification. The route followed to attain some modicum of diversification, at least to this writer, is fairly straightforward. First, it cannot happen overnight. Once an idea is presented, it must be tested and evaluated to see if it is viable. This involves funding feasibility studies. It is at this point where government funding may prove critical. If these studies prove positive, modest funds can be expended to see if the idea works. These decisions must be made by people who are familiar with all aspects of our community. A gradual and prudent build-up may be required before full-scale implementation of a proposal bears fruit. In its efforts to diversify Flin Flon's economy, Greenstone has repeatedly tried to gain access to money held under the Mining Community Reserve, to no avail. By design or accident, we now have the Northern Manitoba Mining Academy. The curriculum of the Mining Academy is being developed slowly. An innovation, one that has been common for centuries in Europe, is providing workforce training on an as-needed basis. So far this has included exploration technician training, underground equipment operator training and Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) training. Plans for future offerings include first-year university geology courses, to take advantage of the superb exposures of the volcanic stratigraphy in Flin Flon. When the Academy opened, provincial politicians suggested that the academy would attract students from across Canada and, eventually, internationally. A second initiative planned for the academy is offering formal geology courses to be tied into the curricula of universities in southern Manitoba. As part of this plan, it is envisaged that the facility could be used as a base for multidisciplinary research undertaken in the region. The third initiative for this institution is that it functions as an outreach and coordination centre with other educational institutions using an inter-agency cooperative approach. Its entire approach is designed to stay flexible in the programs that it offers. So far, at least, it appears that no thought has been given as to where these countless students will reside. And the former Flin Flon Hotel remains empty and undeveloped. The extensive tailing pond behind the mining and smelting complex provides another opportunity. Mine remediation is a growing business both in Canada and internationally. Much research still needs to be done on methods to stabilize existing tailing for the long term. See 'Letter' on pg. Continued from pg. There is no reason this mining waste cannot be used as a real-world laboratory to examine tailing behavior in the non-laboratory environment. Other diversification proposals have been suggested and, to some degree, are being pursued. At this point in our history, no proposal can be dismissed out-of-hand. The bottom line in this discussion is that our community has been entering a crisis era for some time. We have a declining population that is finding it increasingly difficult to pay for the services that we have come to expect. Municipal tax reform can help the situation in the short term. The possibility of annexing adjacent communities to raise municipal funds is less palatable for a variety of reasons. I wish that I could offer a definite solution to the crisis. I have neither the knowledge nor the expertise to lead us into the future. There are, however, several things that I do know. Solutions imposed from outside of our community are often based on ignorance and, although well-intentioned, often do little to serve their intended purposes. Solutions must come from within the community and be supported by it. Past ideas / initiatives have been small scale with, at best, only limited effects on our economy. Many remember the promotion of Flin Flon as the Science Fiction Capital of the World, the proposal of painting murals on the rocks overlooking Ross Lake to attract tourists, the study suggesting ways of improving the appearance of Main Street. Tourism is seasonal and can provide only secondary support for a diversified economy. But now it is decision time in a real sense. We can continue on as we are, in apparent ignorant bliss, to suffer the fates of other mining communities in northern Manitoba. Or we can come together, as a community, to develop a vision and plan to implement a full-scale diversification of the economy for our town. Time is short. We have to start now. Thomas H. Heine Flin Flon

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