The Canadian professor Greg Halseth thinks that communities must ask appropriate and important questions when someone from the outside comes in to exploit their resources. Frank Ingilæ, mayor of Tana, says that the municipality did not do a good enough job when Elkem established itself in Austertana.
Greg Halseth studies development in so-called rural areas. He is an accomplished researcher, and his daily work is performed at the University in Prince George in the northern part of British Columbia (UNBC). Today he held the opening lecture at the Gargia Conference. One of his messages was that a community risks being left with very little unless it is represented by skilled negotiators when businesses based on natural resources are established.
– In many places only the paychecks remain in the community. The profit ends up somewhere else, he says.
This is why Halseth is of the opinion that politicians and regular people must ask appropriate questions when for example oil production or mining companies want to establish themselves.
– These are activities that have time limits of 20 or 30 years, perhaps longer. The landscape that the resources are extracted from will be there forever. That makes it important for the communities to ask appropriate questions before someone from the outside is given free reigns, he says.
”What do we want?”
Halseth thinks one appropriate question is what the community wants out of resource exploitation, especially when it comes to resources such as oil or minerals.
– They can ask themselves what they want out of the oil extraction or mining, not least when the activities are over, he says. He advises the communities to enter into negotiations as early as possible. The goal is to be left with as much as possible the day that the mine is closed or the oil field is empty.
The mayor of Tana, Frank Ingilæ, says that Elkem’s quartzite mine in Tana is a good example of a municipality that was unprepared when the activities started. The mine has been active for more than 30 years.
– No demands were made back then for the day when the mine closes. That will happen some time during the next 20-40 years. Half of the inhabitants in Austertana work in the mines today, and it goes without saying that the community will be affected when it closes. It will also have negative effects for the municipality. We will be left with a big hole where there was once a mountain. The fjord will also be destroyed because of the waste from the mine, Ingilæ says.
The experiences from Austertana and a new political realization have prompted Ingilæ to go for a new strategy for the future, for example when it comes to the planned wind mill parks in Finnmark.
– They will be a nuisance to the reindeer husbandry, and they will represent too much of a disturbance to nature if there are too many of them. By gathering the wind mills in one spot we also reduce the development of roads and power lines, he says.
Proximity must give rights
The mayor of Alta, Geir Ove Bakken, agrees that the local communities must have more to show for the exploitation of their natural resources.
– As I see it, oil resources are unique and difficult to negotiate about. When it comes to other resources, proximity must give rights, especially when it comes to renewable energy, and, not least, fish. I don’t have any concrete advice as to how this should be done, but I think that local and regional authorities must have more influence over policies in these areas, says Bakken.
Important source of inspiration
In the weekend, the Gargia Conference moved from the mountains to the coast. Initiator Tor Gjertsen brought the participants to Sørvær. There they met, among other people, former mayor of Hasvik, Geir Iversen. Iversen told the story of a municipality in which the population has been halved in 30 years – from around 1900 inhabitants in the mid-1970s to around 950 today. The former Hasvik mayor attributed some of the decrease to changes in fishing policies. He was also of the opinion that the politicians in Parliament have prevented Hasvik municipality from taking part in the oil adventure in the waters outside of Finnmark.
– By saying no to transporting oil to land here, the politicians in Parliament have transferred all the risk to us, while the profits go to other places than Finnmark, says Iversen.
This year the Gargia Conference gathered participants from Sakha (Yakutia) in Siberia via northwest Russia and northern Norway to British Columbia in Canada. The conference is a forum in which researchers and politicians sit at the same table, and Iversen thinks this has positive effects.
– It is important for us to exchange ideas, both bad and good ones. It is of course important with good ideas, but it is also important to know about the bad ones, so that we do not have to repeat someone else’s mistakes. Besides, projects that worked in one place are not necessarily successful somewhere else.
One step ahead
The director of the University Center in Isafjordur, Iceland, Peter Weiss, agrees with Iversen that it is important to exchange ideas.
– At the same time I think that it is important that small communities try to be one step ahead the rest of the world in the areas in which they have special skills or other advantages, says Weiss.
Mayor of Tana, Frank Ingilæ; Professor Greg Halseth and mayor of Alta, Geir Ove Bakken, agree that local communities must get as much as possible out of the exploitation of the natural resources in their surrounding areas. (Foto: Gunnar Sætra)
Former mayor of Hasvik, Geir Iversen (front), believes it is important that politicians and scientists meet. This weekend he gave a lecture in front of the participants of the Gargia conference. (Photo: Gunnar Sætra)
The Gargia Conference 2009: ‘We must ask the important questions…’
Fri, Oct 30, 2009
The Gargia Conference 2009, organized in conjunction with UArctic's Thematic Network on Local and Regional Development in the North underlines the importance of local decsision-making in economic development in the North.