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Opportunity knocks for Nelner

Former APG rep assumes new role

Derek Neary
Northern News Services

Fort Simpson (Apr 19/02) - When the day comes that oil and gas companies set up shop in the rest of the Deh Cho, Dennis Nelner wants the communities to be prepared.

NNSP Photo

In wide open spaces, Dennis Nelner sees opportunity. Nelner has been named the new regional petroleum advisor with the Department of Resources, Wildlife and Economic Development. - Derek Neary/NNSL photo

Nelner is the new regional petroleum advisor with the Department of Resources, Wildlife and Economic Development (RWED). In this newly created position, he said he wants to concentrate on benefits agreements -- which should encompass socio-economic and resource management issues -- and he wants to help improve skill levels among local residents.

"The priority is to build capacity, employ people and give them business opportunities. That's my focus," said Nelner.

"I know what the communities' needs are and the priorities are."

With the oil and gas industry, there will be demand for drilling rig workers, heavy equipment operators and slashers. There will be business spin-offs such as trucking, suppliers and communications.

With growth, there will also be greater demand for alcohol and drug counsellors, day-care workers and recreation employees.

To create the adequate infrastructure for these positions, new facilities will likely be needed creating work for carpenters and engineers too.

A former member of the Aboriginal Pipeline Group (APG), Nelner said he will now be promoting the GNWT's agenda.

"I think the GNWT has made it pretty clear that they're supporting the APG proposal," he said, adding that the APG has targeted this year for the completion of benefits agreements.

"If we're going to get anywhere near maximizing our benefits, we have to start the process now ... the fire is under our seat now. The clock is ticking by."

Nelner will be based in Fort Simpson but plans to travel to various Deh Cho communities periodically.

He said he feels that people in the region want to take advantage of new opportunities because the traditional lifestyle isn't self-sustaining any more.

"Twenty-five years ago maybe a better percentage of your people are living on the land. But now everybody's participating in the wage economy. You can't get away from it," he said.

"Let's face it, the traditional economy in the Deh Cho is dried up. Twenty-seven thousand dollars was generated in furs last year. How many people can that support?"

He added that oil and gas companies, besides being employers, can also be good corporate citizens, making donations to community events and causes.

"These guys spend money in the community ... which means more businesses can start up and more businesses can go beyond the survival point to thriving and employing more people," he said.