Action needed to retain workers in Greater Trail

"While city council seeks control of the local airport in Columbia Gardens, keeping people in Trail should be as much of a concern..."

While city council seeks control of the local airport in Columbia Gardens, keeping people in Trail should be as much of a concern as actually getting them here.

People are pouring into Trail to work already, but unfortunately many of them are taking their pay cheques and leaving town at the end of the day, according to the Community in Bloom committee. The volunteers, which look at many more aspects of community life than just flowers and tidiness, did vehicle and passenger counts on Highway 22 at Birchbank last spring and fall on weekdays between 5 and 8:30 a.m.

They found that more than 1,500 “northerners” per day are coming to Trail in private vehicles during those hours. The outbound private-vehicle counts were only about a quarter of the inbound traffic.

While some of the visitors may be headed to the hospital for early appointments or other non-remunerative activities, it is reasonable to presume that the bulk of them are coming to work at that hour, not for a picnic.

This represents the equivalent of almost the entire Teck work force, in numbers if not total earnings, leaving town at the end of their shifts to spend their pay and pay their property taxes elsewhere.

Given those numbers, city council should be looking at buying the highway and installing a toll booth rather than worrying about how quickly the second airport in the Trail-Castlegar area is upgraded.

Nothing that can economically be done to the airport in Columbia Gardens will make an appreciable difference to Teck, Red Mountain, the hospital and, by extension, the  community at large. But another 1,000-plus families working and living in Trail – now there’s a plan for economic and community development.

Why do so many people work in Trail but live elsewhere, presumably mostly in and around Castlegar? That would be a good question for the Lower Columbia economic development officer Sandy Santori to ask, and get to work answering.

The Community in Bloom volunteers have done yeomen service in roughly quantifying the problem, but they can hardly be expected to flag down drivers hurrying to work and question them on their lifestyle preferences. (Good Morning! I’ve got a coupon for an Egg McSchmuffin if you will fill out this survey.)

Why do people who work in Trail choose to live in Castlegar? Some of things that Castlegar has more of include boating, gambling and fast-food dining opportunities, but surely these aren’t deal breakers.

The sense I have is that newcomers to the Trail workforce end up living in Castlegar primarily because of housing options.

This has always perplexed me because most people live in the West Kootenay for lifestyle or family reasons, so why spend an extra hour a day or more in your car for the sake of a housing choice? If all of Greater Trail was the Downtown Eastside, and Castlegar was West Vancouver, I could fathom the commute, but what’s the difference?

Castlegar has lots of wonderful people and so does Trail.

Research is required into how much of an issue housing really is and, if it is a problem, what can be done about it.

My friends in Sunningdale are going to love me for this, but when Trail was last alive in the early 1980s, council was looking at a 500-lot subdivision on the bench to the north of the sleepy existing  subdivision. With new families moving to the West Kootenay to work at Teck and the hospital it is time to look at whether this development is needed and what the city can do to make it happen.

Other options need to be explored to encourage investors to develop building lots and, more importantly, put up spec houses for those families that covet new homes brimming with the latest gadgets.

Trail is trying to get something going in its downtown with a tax moratorium on new construction. Why can’t all the municipalities in Greater Trail go the same route and not just in their business cores?

If newly developed lots and houses were exempt from property taxes (but not utility and garbage fees once occupied) for the first few years, this would make investing in residential construction and living in Greater Trail more attractive.

That would do more to keep businesses and schools flourishing in this community than a new terminal and more flight options at the airport.

Raymond Masleck is a retired Trail Times reporter.