Walt Cobb is seeking a second consecutive term as mayor, having also served as mayor in the 1990s. Cobb will likely always be remembered as being the mayor in 2017 when the city was evacuated due to wildfires. He has lived in Williams Lake most of his life and owned Walt’s Men’s Shop for 40 years while his wife Lynnette owned Lynnette’s Dress Shop. He is an avid volunteer in the community.
What is the solution to Williams Lake’s current housing and rental shortage?
The solution is not an easy one. Part of the problem particularly on the rental front is the inability for landlords to get a return on investment causing little or no new construction. Also particularly in our area the real estate market, although getting quite high, the cost of building still outweighs the retail price for a spec home. Shortage of land available for development is also an issue and we are working with the Province on trying to free up some of the crown land within the city boundaries for development. The City does not own any land other than what is in use like parks, and the buildings for works yard and City Hall, Fire Hall etc. Provincial regulations, be it building code, archeological or contaminated site remediation also increases the cost of development as well as putting in the infrastructure. In my opinion the city should not be in the development business and I feel we must find another solution so the taxpayer is not on the hook if the project is not successful.
What are your thoughts on the proposal to burn rail ties at Atlantic Power?
As I am sure everyone is aware the city sent a letter of support to proceed with the environmental evaluation of burning rail ties. I am of the understanding that process is under appeal. Of course if there are alternatives, and we are working hard to find the fiber necessary to keep the plant running, without the rail ties that would be the best solution. We are making some progress, particularly with the amount of burned fiber due to the fires. If the plant shuts down we have the secondary problem of what the mills will do with the excess fiber that is no good for chips or pellets.
What measures by council do you think would help diversify and strengthen the local economy?
The best thing council can do is to continue encouraging investment of any kind that will create good paying jobs. We have been working with some interest on the manufacturing of medicinal cannabis as well as working with TRU on expanding and enhancing courses for international students. We have also been working with interest in a flight school here that would also be tied in with TRU but enhance the development of our airport. We were fortunate enough to convince Cameo Truss to locate here and see no reason why we should not have more secondary manufacturing. We just need to seek out the investors and set the stage and assist where possible.
With the change in climate and increasing threat of wildfires, what strategies would you support to make the community safer and more resilient?
I have participated in many workshops and sessions on what the next steps need to be to secure a fire safe community. We have sent out flyers in any city mail outs for individuals to fire-smart their home and have been lobbying the provincial government to assist in work to clear the fire hazards that are in the forest surrounding but not included in the city boundaries. I believe the answers are out there and working with all levels of government and landholders and users we will succeed. The statement has been made that the fires being the new norm, that statement would only correct if we do nothing!
Considering we always rank in the top 10 for crime severity, do you think Williams Lake is a safe place to live for everyone?
Williams Lake is as safe as any other community and safer that many. Our bad rap on the crime stats is that we, the 12000 people living with in the boundaries, are being tared with the crimes of a population of over 25000. One needs to look at the crime rate on surrounding communities under 10000 that are not even part of the evaluation because of their population. This does not mean we need to be complacent and with the help of the crime team we lobbied hard for now in Williams Lake and the work they have done and are doing, we can only get better.
What would you do to protect and/or enhance the city’s air quality?
First we need to be realistic on what that means or might look like. The last time I heard from the ministry regarding our air quality it was said that the particulates in the air on Beachers Prairie out in the Chilcotin was about the same as here in town. That was a few years ago but would be interesting to see the comparison today. Many of the solutions to dust control are more hazardous to our health than the dust itself. There are other air quality issues that are out of our control and the pulp mill smells we often get from Quesnel comes to mind. We must consider any new development and what emissions they may produce and ensure they are meeting all standards.
What ideas do you have for the proposed trail and amenities on the RC Cotton Site that would preserve Scout Island as a nature sanctuary and wildlife viewing area while giving residents more access to the lake?
There are many thoughts out there and the list was presented at last council meeting on what it may look like. Now that we have finally secured the land I believe it is time to pull together a parks and recreation committee and hold a couple of public input sessions on what the community might like it to look like. There are many options and this will be a long term plan, so lets all get our heads together and find out what would be nice and what is doable in both the short and long term for all interests and user groups.