“My best estimate is that our revenue was down by $150,000 … and our bookings for next year are down by 40 per cent.”
According to Colin O’Leary, that’s the kind of information the Thompson-Nicola Regional District and other agencies need as they develop a wildfire recovery plan for the TNRD and the province.
O’Leary is a consultant hired by the TNRD to coordinate business recovery from the wildfires within the regional district.
The statement about revenue losses from a business owner whose business is based on Wells Gray Park was made during a wildfire business recovery consultation meeting held Monday, Dec. 4 in the Dutch Lake Community Centre.
Just over a dozen people showed up for the meeting, and nearly half of them were representing government agencies of one kind or another.
“I can understand why people didn’t come out. It was brutal. They’re tired and they’ve been through a lot,” O’Leary said.
“The big problem is we’ve had poor turnouts at almost all of our sessions. If we don’t get the feedback, we won’t be able to put together a plan. And if we don’t have a plan, the province could very easily say these businesses don’t need support,” he said.
The wildfire business recovery coordinator said that those business owners who were unable to attend the meeting can still participate by taking an online survey.
“If businesses want support, they need to complete that survey, ideally by the end of this week (Dec. 15)” he said.
The survey should only take five to 15 minutes to complete.
O’Leary noted that not just the TNRD will be looking at the results of the survey to decide the best course of action to help businesses recovery.
His comment that the provincial government might decide that businesses don’t need support because they haven’t filled in the survey was to some extent an echo of questions asked during the Dec. 4 meeting by Myles Bruns, the regional manager for the community wildfire recovery branch with the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development in Kamloops.
“What is it you want?” he asked. “Grants from the government? Loans from the banks?”
Bruns noted that up to $18,500 is available to impacted businesses through the Red Cross. He asked if it was enough.
Rafting business owner Scott Streadwick said the criteria for the money from the Red Cross are not clear, meaning they can apply but have no idea how much they will receive.
“If we have another wildfire season next year the same as this last summer, this room will be a lot emptier next year,” Streadwick predicted.
Robert Beaudry, owner of another rafting company, said, “This season made 2003 look pretty good (referring to what wildfire season that included the McLure Fire that left most of the North Thompson Valley without highway access and power for some time).
Beaudry noted that in 2003 there was relief for businesses almost immediately after the fires while this year it appears they will have to wait until April – and even then it is not clear what they will get.
Deadlines to purchase new equipment and to advertise for next season have already passed, he said.
Ian Eakins, who operates hut-to-hut chalets in Wells Gray Park, said his business was devastated when the park was closed due to the wildfire threat.
If they hadn’t been able to build up a reserve over the years he doesn’t know what might have happened, he said.
Follow-up sessions for the wildfire business recovery initiative will be held at Dutch Lake Community Centre on Monday, Dec. 18, 1-3 p.m. and 5-7 p.m.
The same agencies as the earlier meeting are expected to attend, such as Emergency Management BC and Community Futures, plus the Red Cross, Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture, Ministry of Health, Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association and United Way.
“I hope to get each of them to give 10 minute presentations,” said O’Leary, “but the big thing is they will actually be in the room. If business owners want to talk with them, they can do so, face-to-face.”