Elkford B.C. has been an active participant in FCM’s CISAL (Sustainable and Inclusive Communities in Latin America) program since its inception. Elkford was a logical choice to work with the municipalities in La Guajira, Colombia, and Ancash, Peru, having many features in common with them, such as rich natural resources and an extractive industry. In fact, the District of Elkford was founded as a home for miners.

CISAL’s goal is to build the capacity of local governments in mining regions of Colombia and Peru in order to enhance sustainable and inclusive communities. The program assists local actors in seizing the opportunities and addressing challenges from resource extraction to contribute to long-term economic growth.

Human resource contributions

Curtis Helgesen, the District’s Chief Administrative Officer, has been on four missions and Mayor Dean McKerracher two, while Councillor Steve Fairbairn, former Councillor Ken Wildeman and municipal planner Scott Beeching have each been on one mission. While in South America, they shared technical know-how on ways to assess and enhance capacity, and support transparency and accountability. They also participated in a forum in Lima, Peru, on economic development and sustainability in mining communities.

With the help of Elkford, the partner local governments in La Guajira and Ancash are systematically identifying major infrastructure capacity gaps involving roadways, water supply and waste management.

“We had to come to terms with the contradictions—a region of beautiful natural landscapes coupled with poverty, poor roads, litter, power outages and a lack of water,” says Helgesen. “By identifying barriers and limitations, Elkford has worked with its CISAL partners to establish plans for improving conditions for residents. Ultimately, we want the residents of La Guajira and Ancash to benefit from the mining activity, which doesn’t always seem to be the case right now.”

Two-way learning

Elkford’s staff and council are experiencing first-hand that learning is a two-way street. The operators of the Cerrejon coal mine in La Guajira have found a way to preserve topsoil for 30 to 35 years. Once coal has been extracted, the topsoil is returned to the land.

“In one previously mined area, rehabilitation had occurred eight years earlier, but it looked like the vegetation had been growing for 25 years,” McKerracher remarks.

Enthusiasm for the CISAL program is evident throughout the district, which has received two delegations from Colombia and Peru. A tour of mining operations was organized and included visits to the open pit, tailings ponds and reclaimed sites. There were meetings among Indigenous and provincial government representatives to share how relationships have been established with Teck Resources in support of environmental stewardship. And there were sessions on municipal management, service delivery and holding council meetings.

It can’t be all work and no play, though. Council engaged the whole community to organize community social activities—from golf, to hiking, to dancing—for the visiting delegations so they could get a taste of small-town Canadian life in the Rockies.

“Long-lasting working partnerships are built on friendships,” says McKerracher. “The whole town’s involvement is crucial to the success of the work we do in South America.”

I’m so proud of Elkford. Residents went above and beyond to welcome visitors from La Guajira, Colombia, to Elkford. With Elkford being founded only in 1971, we can share what we’ve learned from our growth to help our new-found friends in South America build their communities, too.

— Dean McKerracher, Mayor, District of Elkford

District of Elkford, BC on study tour in Colombia and Peru.

FCM’s international programs are funded by Global Affairs Canada

© 2020 Federation of Canadian Municipalities