A Coulson B737 Fireliner flies a low pass over the runway at Alberni Valley Regional Airport on May 26 during a media event. Coulson Aviation is turning passenger aircraft into water bombers to fight wildfires. KARLY BLATS PHOTO

A Coulson B737 Fireliner flies a low pass over the runway at Alberni Valley Regional Airport on May 26 during a media event. Coulson Aviation is turning passenger aircraft into water bombers to fight wildfires. KARLY BLATS PHOTO

Port Alberni pitches wildfire suppression centre

City proposes partnership with FPInnovations, Coulson Aviation to develop centre

The city of Port Alberni approved an application on Monday to the Rural Dividend Program for funding towards the creation of a Wildfire Suppression Centre of Excellence in the Alberni Valley.

The economic development department prepared an application on Monday, Dec. 11 for the fourth, and most likely final, intake of the province’s Rural Dividend Program, which grants funds to help rural communities stabilize their economies and create long-term employment.

A Wildfire Suppression Centre of Excellence would aim to develop solutions to the escalating issues of economic, social and environmental damages caused by interface and wildfires worldwide.

According to economic development manager Pat Deakin, the project would involve the creation of innovative approaches to better protect structures and communities from wildfires in the future. The aim is for Port Alberni as a community to lead the charge to develop models, technologies and equipment in order to better address the changing environment in regards to urban development and climate change.

The city’s economic development office is partnering with FPInnovations and the Coulson Group on the application. FPInnovations is a not-for-profit world leader specializing in technical solutions for forest-based stakeholders, while the Coulson Group has plenty of background work in fighting wildfires.

“It would put us on the map worldwide for our work in wildfire suppression,” said Deakin on Monday. “I think everybody is recognizing the economic, social and environmental damage that’s going on when a wildfire gets out of control.”

The concept would also leverage the community’s investment in the Alberni Valley Regional Airport and would leverage the Coulson Group’s work in this field.

The Rural Dividend Program allows not-for-profit organizations and for-profit entities as partners in a municipality’s application, as long as the application shows the benefits to the municipality and shows that it will not negatively affect other local businesses.

Partners must come up with 40 percent of the project’s budget. There is not a firm budget plan at the moment, but it is expected that FPInnovations will provide the majority of the funds, with the Coulson Group and the city providing smaller amounts. It is proposed that the city will invest $10,000 in funding for the project.

The Centre of Excellence will not necessarily be located at the regional airport, said Deakin. The work will be done mostly using simulators, which will be designed and constructed in the Valley. He is also expecting that there will be a tourism/visitor component to the centre.

Mayor Mike Ruttan pointed out that B.C. alone spent $1 billion on fighting wildfires this year.

“This is an opportunity for us to be seen as the place to go to learn how to provide the solution worldwide,” said Ruttan. “It would be a big bonus for us as a community.”

elena.rardon@albernivalleynews.com

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