Preparing for expected industrial expansion and a resulting population surge is the top priority for the new council in Norman Wells, set to meet for the first time in under three weeks.
“We’re probably at the start of a very large economic boom here,” said new Mayor Gregor Harold McGregor. “It’s going to require a lot of services from the town and we’ve got to be ready to provide them. Things like property to build houses on and roads on which heavy equipment can operate. I want to make sure I can do my part, along with council, to have everything in place.”
Oil companies are still in the early stages of development in the Sahtu, but there is already a housing shortage in Norman Wells and McGregor expressed concerns with the town’s pedestrian infrastructure.
“A decision from the oil companies on production is at least three or four years away, and we don’t want to overbuild,” he said. “It’s got to be controlled, and I think if we get a strategic plan in place with realistic timelines that will help.”
Beyond economic concerns, McGregor is aware of the social problems that follow industrial expansion, especially the construction of an all-weather road.
“It’s our safe little place here and we don’t want to lose that,” he said. “You don’t lock your door when you go out for a walk in the evening, and we don’t want a boom that destroys that.”
McGregor said he is confident the new council will be able to mitigate the effects of the boom-and-bust nature of a resource based economy, but that it’s an intimidating task nonetheless. Market diversification is a key issue that remains somewhat lacking, but as the general manager of the Sahtu Business Development Centre, McGregor is well aware of the importance of small businesses to the local economy.
“Everyone on council is in different careers in different sectors, and I think we can handle it,” he said. “But it’s a lot of pressure to put on a small town. There’s no magic wand to wave, and unless we’re in constant communication with oil companies and government, it just won’t work.”