Skidegate set for a big building year

Crews were busy installing a cedar-shake roof on a new longhouse-style shelter by the Spirit Lake trailhead in Skidegate last week. Arthur Pearson, who milled the shelter’s cedar beams, said the centre opening will have a skylight to keep the rain out with some permanent benches and interpretive signs below. Besides local runners and walkers, the new shelter will be enjoyed by the many visitors who join interpretive walks led on the trail by Gwaii Haanas staff. (Andrew Hudson/Haida Gwaii Observer)

Skidegate voted strongly in favour of familiar faces in the March 20 band council election.

Councillors Tracy Hageman and Bobby Williams are the only two new people at the table this term, though Williams has served on council before and Hageman is well known to councillors through her work at the Skidegate Health Centre.

Chief Councillor Billy Yovanovich, who was acclaimed in 2016, was elected to serve again with 300 of the 412 votes cast for chief councillor. Support was also strong for returning councillors Duane Alsop, David Crosby, Missy McDonald, Trent Moraes, and Ooka Pineault.

“We’ve hit the ground running,” said Yovanovich.

“Everybody’s just going to plug right in and continue on, without any sort of transitional phase. It’s exciting times right now — there’s lots of big projects underway, and a lot of big things we’d like to complete yet.”

Topping the council’s priority list is the ongoing revitalization of the Haida language.

Not only did Skidegate just celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Skidegate Haida Immersion Program (S.H.I.P.), Yovanovich said 11 student teachers are now entering their last year of a four-year university program to become certified Haida language teachers.

While Haida language is at its heart, the face of Skidegate will change dramatically this year, with several big and small projects already on the go.

Utilities work is underway for the future Skidegate commercial park across from the George Brown Rec Centre, where a new Haida Gwaii Co-op food store will be an anchor tenant and other businesses have already expressed interest. Crews are also clearing way for a new, $6 million Skidegate Wellness Centre well above the tsunami hazard zone.

Yovanovich said the council is also moving ahead with a feasibility study for cabins by the Haida Heritage Centre at Kay Llnagaay. Similar to the smaller Hiellen longhouse cabins, they will be located in the woods and close to the waterfront west of the Heritage Centre.

“We hope to have one ready this summer,” he said.

The cabins will go west of the waterfront lot that is already cleared — Yovanovich said the council is not sure what will go there yet.

“We’re only going to be able to put something there once, so we’re taking our time.”

Another feasibility study underway is looking at the possibility of installing solar panels on every home roof in the village.

Looking below ground, Yovanovich recently heard from the engineers who did a major study in 2013 that looked at the possibility of connecting the Queen Charlotte sewage system to the treatment plant in Skidegate.

That plan became Queen Charlotte’s preferred option for treating its sewage, which is currently pumped raw into Bearskin Bay, after residents voted down a plan to build a plant up on a hillside near Eagle Hill Road back in February.

“It sounds like, as a regional model, it might get some traction on funding,” Yovanovich said of the connecting plan.

“It was always possible — we have the capacity in our tanks,” he said.

“The cost was the big thing, to bring it from Charlotte to here, and upgrading all the infrastructure. That cumulative number was just too big for everybody.”

However it’s resolved, Yovanovich said the sewage issue is a must-fix for everyone who lives along Skidegate Inlet.

“All the surrounding communities still use this inlet for food harvesting, so we do have a real interest in keeping as clean as we can.”

With multi-million capital projects on the go, it might be easy to overlook some smaller things going on in Skidegate right now — except for outfielders who ever had to run over all the dips in the Skidegate ballfield while looking skyward.

Championed by Gary Russ and Hyland Fraser and supported by the Skidegate band council, crews are now levelling off the outfield, improving drainage for the infield, and installing a better backstop, too.

“It’s going to be the slickest ballpark in Haida Gwaii,” Yovanovich said.

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