Area C Director aims at building bridges

Harrison Mills, Hemlock Valley director seeks to rebrand the area as Sasquatch Country

Alec Niemi is just a little busy these days. Well, OK, it’s more like a lot. Looking back over the first two months as the Area C director, Niemi has worked to rebrand the electoral area, investigate longstanding subjects of concern for residents and catch up on other issues.

Area C includes the communities of Hemlock Valley, a portion of Harrison Mills, Lake Errock and Morris Valley as well as six First Nations groups.

Niemi decided to run for office when a fellow Lions club member put the idea in his head. He won the seat in the Fraser Valley Regional District (FVRD) November 15 election, beating out the former Area C director Wendy Bales, 167 votes to her 138. He views his work as building bridges and hopes to make connections throughout this term that will help the people of Area C.

“I’ve always been a bridge builder, both physically and mentally,” says Niemi. “My whole background has been about helping people.”

Niemi grew up in B.C. He has worked in the logging industry, home construction, in the education field and First nations’ community development work. He also traveled as an international speaker and for the last 10 years served as pastor of North Fraser Community Church in Lake Errock.

So what has he been up to? A lot of meetings, Niemi says with a smile. He now sits on the regional corporate services committee and the Fraser Valley Aboriginal relations committee. Then there’s the area representatives meeting every month and of course the FVRD board meetings.

One of the first things the area directors discussed after the election was coming up with distinct names for each of the eight electoral areas in the FVRD. Niemi says the problem is if you say you’re from Area C, it means nothing to anyone outside of that area.

Rebranding was in order. Niemi sat down to discuss the idea with area representatives, including members of the Harrison Mills Regional Association, local First Nations bands and Harrison Mills promoter Summer Dhillon. It didn’t take them long to brainstorm a perfect name.

“We’re looking at calling our area Sasquatch Country,” reveals Niemi.

The name is not 100 per cent yet but Niemi is optimistic. He hopes it will help brand the area in a way the unimpressively named ‘Area C’ could never do. Interestingly, at the meeting there was a historian from Sts’ailes who said historically, the area was always called Sasquatch Country by them.

On the business end of politics, Niemi has been working on longstanding concerns within his coverage area. The biggest matter that crops up again and again is the lack of cell phone service. There is only spotty cell coverage along Morris Valley road.

“We’ve got to get brought into this century. We’re behind the times,” he exclaims.

Niemi has met with MLAs Laurie Throness and Simon Gibson to discuss the problem and asked FVRD staff to explore options. When he was running for office, it was an issue many people raised as a concern.

“I’ve had more meetings about cellphones than anything else.”

Garbage is another problem. Currently, residents at Lake Errock pay their taxes to cover costs at the Hatzic Transfer Station. However, it’s closer for them to take their garbage to the Harrison Mills location, something that seems to happen regularly.

“We know it’s got to be addressed and staff are looking into it,” says Niemi.

Given the isolated communities in Area C, transportation is an ongoing discussion. Niemi raised the idea of a bus service at a recent FVRD meeting. But he says it’s not a priority item as there are only so many hours in a day and his are filled up right now. Residents have also suggested a transportation program for seniors who need to get to and from medical appointments.

While there are many issues and a huge electoral area to cover, Niemi is glad to have the chance to represent this part of the province. So far, he has enjoyed getting to know more constituents and especially, having volunteers step forward and offer to help on issues such as the cell phone service dilemma. Niemi wants residents to know he is always open to phone calls or visits to discuss issues of concern. You can reach him at 604-796-9703.