The economic future for the Town of Hanna and area could well be set by the end of this year. That's the view of Mayor Chris Warwick after two public meetings in Hanna earlier this month.
On February 12, former provincial cabinet minister Doug Griffith talked about the 13 ways to kill your community. Three days later, people got together again to start mapping their community's future after the Shearness Power Plant switches to natural gas from coal fired generation.
"We had over 150 at the first presentation and over 50 at the second one, so people are engaged and they want to be here to make a difference," noted Warwick. "I was very impressed with that, really well attended."
The initial meeting also featured representatives from ATCO Electric, who explained that the provincial and federal carbon taxes make it too expensive to operate on coal. The switch to natural gas could cost 150 jobs at the plant and nearby Westmoreland Coal Mine.
"There's a pretty specific skill set, especially at the mine: these guys are mostly (machine) operators and heavy duty mechanics and that type of thing," explained Warwick. "Sure, you can train them to do something else, but there's a good chance that they'll probably move out of our region and that's not what we're looking for: we want to retain as many of those employees as possible."
The mayor likens the 'Drive the Future' meetings, as they were dubbed, to the first step in deciding what can be done to create new jobs in Hanna and save those that are already there.
"The next step will be rolling out who would like to be involved in these community action teams," he told 99.5 Drum FM. "A lot of the money that we've received for community transition will go towards that, giving them the resources they need to more forward with some of these projects."
Warwick expects another round of meetings to be held at the end of March or in early April, to get the input of snowbirds who fled south either before or just after Christmas.