Since the closing of Wabush Mines, the Town of Wabush has been faced with a number of challenges.
The major employer closing meant the loss of hundreds of direct jobs and even more in associated service industry jobs. The town lost a major taxation source, and many of the former workers lost their medical benefits and a portion of their pension.
In a recent conversation with The Aurora, Wabush Mayor Ron Barron said 2018 brought back a lot of optimism to the town for several reasons.
Barron said the past several years have been lean ones. He noted assistance from the provincial government helped with the initial years they lost the grant in lieu of taxes from Wabush Mines.
Barron says one of the highlights for residents who were former mine workers was the ruling that will restore a portion of the pension that was taken from the employees in 2016.
“I wasn’t happy that the full pension wasn’t restored, but I can live with the fact that people will be up to 90 per cent of their original pension, the lump sum for medical was also welcome, but the workers should have been able to keep those,” he said.
Barron says a lot of people worked hard — including the Steelworkers Union — to achieve this, but he says legislation has to be changed for workers so things like this cannot happen again. He says people worked hard all their life, and made a lot of money for the company only to be abandoned when they most needed their benefits and pensions.
The other big news for the town came in November, when Tacora announced they achieved their funding and planned on starting production by June of 2019.
Barron says he remained optimistic over the past few years that the mine would reopen, and he thanks area residents who shared the belief that the mine would operate again.
The mayor points to the fact that a public meeting about Tacora's plans at the Arts and Culture Centre was filled beyond capacity, indicating there is a big pool of local talent and expertise the company can draw on.
Meanwhile, Barron is hoping more of the day-to day-work on projects at the town will continue. He notes multiyear capital works projects have to be completed. He points to the example of the time frame to repair the exterior of the Wabush recreation centre. He says getting approval and tenders can sometimes take longer than expected, and he understands it is frustrating for residents, but he says it’s frustrating for council as well.
Adding to the towns problem was a deal to keep the Mike Adams Recreation Complex open for 2018. That didn’t go quite as planned, which cut into the towns budget as well.
Some capital works projects were finished but there are more to complete. Barron says they hope to do more with the walking trail, but says a lack of funding was a reason a lot wasn’t done in 2018.
Amongst the big plans this coming year will deal with the wastewater treatment issue.
The town hopes to start this summer, to keep sewer from going into little Wabush. They’ve been told they have top priority on the issue.
Barron says last year they managed to do some patching of roads, and says at times they are at the beck and call of construction companies. He says for this year, Winter Avenue needs new storm drains and sidewalks, and there are other infrastructure projects they hope to complete.
Barron gives a big shout out to residents who stood by the town and its workers in 2018.
“People saw there was a downgrade in some services, but stood by us when they realized the difficult situation the town was in,” Barron said. “We are trying to bring things back, and one of the ways is to realize savings with recreation.”
In recent weeks there have been discussions related to the recreation centre, and despite the fact there is still no final agreement, talks are still ongoing and there is optimism. Barron says a lot depends on an assessment the town wants done of the recreation centre.
Speaking of the recreation centre, Barron told The Aurora the issue that saw the Wabush pool closed all fall is close to being resolved and the town is committed to going ahead and ordering what’s necessary to get the pool up and running.
Meanwhile, Barron says the town is hopeful 2019 will slowly see improvements, especially with the opening of Tacora. Barron says that is prompting them to look at expansion of the industrial park, and invites any business interested in setting up in Wabush to come and speak with them.
And he tells residents, to let the town know of their concerns and ideas so they can all work together to make Wabush a great place to live, work and do business.