Chris Ortner says he has spent more than 50 years in and around Area ‘O’ of the Thompson Nicola Regional District.
He worked at Gilbert Smith Forest Products starting in 1971, tailing the head rig and running the edger. Every year following, time was spent at the family property at Squam Bay and in the area of the Barriere Lakes, hunting and fishing.
After attending school and working up the Coast, Ortner came back full time in 1991, taking on the role of Woodlands Manager at Adams Lake Lumber, and enjoyed time in Little Fort, Dunn Lake and on the Nehaliston Plateau “getting to know the land”.
On leaving Interfor Adams Lake, Ortner moved on to work for the Provincial Government in the forest sector, and then spent an additional 20 years working in the region as a consulting forester and economic development consultant.
Ortner says he’s spent a good amount of time working with First Nation communities and recognizes the importance of working with them when it comes to the developing the future economy of the area.
He has sat on several boards over the years that include; President of Venture Kamloops Economic Development, the Valleyview Neighbourhood Association, the Sagebrush Neighbourhood Association, the Kamloops Voters Society, the Squaam Bay Neighbourhood Association, and the City of Kamloops Revitalization Tax Exemption Committee. He is also a founding Director of the Forest Research Extension Partnership and maintains his interest in all areas of the land, and its relationship to the people.
Ortner and his wife Barb have been married for 40 years, and have three sons and four grandchildren. So why is he throwing his hat in the ring to run as a director of the TNRD?
“I spent most of my life around the area, and one of my first jobs was at Gilbert Smith Forest Products in Barriere – I’ve always just loved the area. When I was a senior manager both at Adams Lake Lumber and then with the province, I had the whole southern Interior as my work area, and this is the place that just keeps you coming back. The people are so awesome, and the area always has this potential, everyone is willing, and no one gets angry, they just keep working. That’s the way I am to, I don’t give up either, but there is a point where you can’t just keep ignoring the pressures that are coming up.”
Ortner says when he sees what’s happening with road use at East Barriere Lake, and now his family is also experiencing it up Agate Bay Road it is time to work on a solution.
“Now that Interfor is buying all the wood from Canfor, Vavenby (the mill) is coming down and going across Agate Bay Road with 25 to 30 trucks a day,” said Ortner, “And that’s one of the things that really got me interested in putting my name forward.
“The amount of traffic there has people worried about it, and the road is going to heck, but you can’t do anything about it because the early logging around here was done 60-80 years ago, and now those trees are ready again. They’ve already logged their way to the mountain tops and now they are going to start again. As a result we are going to see more logging truck traffic.”
He explained that some 60 or 70 years ago those roads were industrial roads managed by the forest companies.
“Now there are a lot of people living along those roads, and there will be road user conflict,” said the candidate, “We need to improve the roads, we need to be more aware of who’s on them, and the trucks have got to slow down.
“Right now the roads in question are under the Industrial Road Act and are not part of Ministry Of Transportation and Infrastructure (MOTI). Agate Bay Road however is under MOTI, but the road from Agate Bay to Brennan Creek is an industrial road, as is the road from Agate Bay to Chase, the Barriere Lakes roads to North Barriere Lake and East Barriere Lake.”
Ortner notes that the maintenance of industrial roads is covered under a road users group, “which means when timber is brought out that volume of timber is attributed and money goes into a road maintenance fund, but if there is no timber coming out that road gets no maintenance”.
He added, “There is no central authority that is overseeing looking after these roads. I think it’s time to have a switch up where we have more local control over our roads and perhaps more local decision making on spending money on the roads, taking a corner out, unplugging culverts, washouts, etc. I would like to see more road user groups and have them be community based rather than industrial based because that’s the road our communities use. Also, the industrial users eventually all move away. ”
What is his vision for where Area ‘O’ and the TNRD should be going?
“My vision is respecting our past while securing our future. We’ve got a lot of traditional families here, a lot of history, we do need to respect what has gone on here in the past, but no matter what, growth is coming and we have to be ready for development pressure. The systems are not really in place to handle the new realities that are coming.”
He commented that affordable housing was almost impossible to find, especially for seniors who are having to downsize and are selling their homes, and then are unable to find accommodation in the community where they have lived all, or most of their lives.
“One reason for that is right now the North Thompson Valley is filled with pipeline workers,” said Ortner, “So the seniors have to move to Kamloops to find accommodation, where they know no one and have lost their support network of friends and family in the community.
“We know we’ve got a problem, we’ve got an approximate date for the fall of 2023, so we should be gearing up now into the fall, and the spring of 2023 anticipating the end of the pipeline construction in our area and realize that everyone that was staying in the area to work on that project is going to move south. Merritt is going to have that problem next. We need to look at other jurisdictions that have already gone through it. We know it’s going to happen so we need to plan for it and figure out how do we make the best of it when the workers move on.”
Trying to find skilled workers is also part of Ortner’s platform.
“When I was manager at Adams Lake Lumber we were always having problems trying to find trained workers. I would like to have it so when young people come of age in their early 20’s and they’re working, they don’t have to go to northern Alberta to be employed. There is pipeline maintenance work here, forest firefighting work, winter brushing programs, watershed management. If we cross train our workers, our people can stay close to home to work.
“I would also like to see us have a local stash of equipment, it sounds like a big deal but what’s a couple of hundred thousand dollars these days? It’s not muc. – you can waste that in burned timber just by having a one day delay to get firefighters onsite.”
Ortner adds he’d like to improve area firefighting facilities with good equipment.
“Probably some kind of a partnership between Barriere, Little Fort, Blackpool fire departments to store equipment and cross train people so they can do forest firefighting and structural.”
The Star Journal asked why Ortner had made his candidacy public at this time?
“It’s early days yet, the election is not until October. I’ve got time to research community events and I plan on getting as many of them as I can. I’ll talk to people, and my beginning issues list is just a door opener, I will be modifying that and adding to it over time.”
Looking at things “with common sense and what the TNRD can do about something, or is it not something the regional district can solve” will be part of the learning he looks forward to from now until the election in October.
“A lot of it will be learning about how I can make a difference for my area as a director, but one thing I can do is get on the hospital board and lobby for our communities, and also tell people what our problems are, such as the on again off again closures of emergency departments and lack of ambulance service.
“I am looking forward to starting communication with the entire valley and bringing us together with one voice on fire preparedness, medical services and ambulance,” concluded Ortner.
Chris Ortner can be contacted by phone at: 250-319-0761, or by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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