Hemp project proceeds in Smoky River

Chris Clegg
South Peace News

Investing in economic development is a “gamble” with no guaranteed return on your investment, says a Town of McLennan councillor.

However, council is “all-in” after agreeing to fund the Smoky River Regional Economic Development [SRRED] board for another year.

Terry Calliou made the comment at council’s Feb. 10 meeting during a discussion on the matter.

“It’s a gamble. When you’re gambling when do you walk away?” asked Calliou.

SRRED board chair Robert Brochu and vice-chair Avis Gagne attended the meeting to address previous concerns from council, who was in the midst of deciding whether or not to stay as a partner.

Most of council’s questions were about the budget and the proposed hemp project. Council heard a group of people calling themselves Simply Ag Solutions is heading the hemp project.

Brochu, who is the reeve of the M.D. of Smoky River, said the 500 acres needed for the project [land to seed hemp on] to proceed was already committed by local farmers.

Brochu added the farmers want to grow hemp and sell it, or possibly build their own plant.

“There is a group of farmers willing to grow the stuff. They’re probably going to go ahead and grow some. It’s evolving.”

Brochu estimated the plant could be built in 0-5 years.

Currently, hemp can be used in many forms [wallboard and panel board] and is imported from Europe for $700-800 a tonne. Hemp can produce about six tonnes per acre although non-imported hemp sells for much less.

“This is a great, great product,” says Gagne.

“It’s biodegradable.”

Council questioned how many resources SRRED was putting into the project.

“We’re still in. . .in a supporting role,” said Brochu.

He alluded to Calliou’s statement regarding a “gamble”.

“I prefer to call it investing in the community,” said Brochu.

Councillor Marie-Anne Jones questioned what other projects the group was working on. Specifically, she wanted to know if anything was being done to help existing businesses. She heard the broadband project was a priority as well as day care.

After the delegation left, council decided to be a partner in economic development at a cost of $14,965.18.

“I don’t have a problem paying for this,” said Councillor Sue Delaurier.

“But I do think who is on that board should stay on that board. We can sit and be proactive or we can sit and cry.

“The squeaky wheel gets the grease. We can’t feel sorry for ourselves if we stay quiet.”

Councillor Dwayne Stout agreed.

“[Council] doesn’t have the time to run after jobs. You’re between a rock and a hard place.”

Calliou also supported the motion.

“Right now, our town is slowly depleting. Realistically, we’re slowly losing everything out of here.”

It is hoped SRRED will direct more focus in supporting local small business.

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