George Nassiopoulos is going to have to fight to keep his job as mayor of Haines Junction.
Two other candidates, Martin Eckervogt and former mayor John Farynowski, are vying for the position.
Nassiopoulos is hoping that the village will recognize the work he’s done during his two terms in office.
All told, the village has seen $11 million in infrastructure upgrades over the last six years, he said.
“It’s things that don’t make the news very often but are often very important to making the town run, like our sewer and water,” he said.
Nassiopoulos says his work isn’t done yet.
There’s a biomass electricity project in the works with the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations, which would generate power from beetle-killed wood from the area. And the village is in talks with the territorial government and Yukon College to convert an unused 32-hectare Parks Canada property into an educational and scientific research facility.
“This could provide a real opportunity for us in a number of different ways, including job opportunities,” said Nassiopoulos.
But it’s another unfinished infrastructure project, a waste-gasification plant, that sparked the mayoral race.
Critics, including Farynowski, derided the plan to burn garbage at high temperatures as both costly and a potential health hazard. The village later nixed the project, citing concerns about maintenance costs.
Starting in 1994, Farynowski spent 12 years on the village council, six of those as mayor. After losing the election in 2006 he left municipal politics, but the gasifier controversy drew him back in.
It wasn’t so much the gasifier – dubbed a glorified incinerator by critics – as it was the process that upset so many people, said Farynowski.
“There was no public consultation, it was not transparent,” he said. “Mayor and council had meetings with YTG and made us a regional landfill and then they had meetings to tell us, ‘Oh by the way, were going to get an incinerator and torch everything.’”
The village still has to create a new waste management plan, which Farynowski hopes can be done with the help of the public.
“It shouldn’t be done in council chambers, that’s my feeling,” he said. “It should be open to community consultation.”
He’d like the focus of the new waste plan to be on recycling.
“I think we can achieve 85 per cent recycling,” he said. “If we can, we don’t need to torch anything and we don’t need to look for a landfill. Everything’s fine.”
Farynowski would also like to revive an infrastructure project of his own.
During his last stint as mayor, the village was looking at using hot water from the town’s artesian well to heat some of the town’s buildings.
Construction was about to begin when Farynowski lost the election. The next council shelved the project. But the potential is still there, he said.
“The study in 2005 said to do the heating in the town office and main convention centre, we would save about 50 per cent of the cost at that time in fuel. And that was at 55 cents a litre – water is still the same price.”
For Martin Eckervogt, there wasn’t any one issue that motivated him to throw his hat into the ring.
“I’m not in this because I’m mad at anybody,” he said. “I’m just offering my name up as an alternative for the community.
“I just feel I have some abilities that I think would be helpful to the town and I think I have some skills to offer,” said Eckervogt. “I’ve got a good working relationship with the First Nations and the territorial government, so I’m sure I could be an asset to the town and hopefully the voters will feel the same on Election Day.”
With only one term on the village’s council under his belt, Eckervogt may be the youngest and least experienced of the three candidates, but he’s lived in the village the longest, having grown up in the area.
He’d also like to focus on developing the village’s infrastructure.
“There is, seemingly, a never-ending issue across the territory with subdivision planning,” he said. “There’s been a couple of subdivisions put in around there in the last little while, but we’re still shy on some other types of land, such as industrial.”
He’d also like to see the village improve it’s recreation facilities, a project that the other two candidates also endorsed.
With the recently announced changes to the territory’s Comprehensive Municipal Grant – something that Nassiopoulos had a hand in negotiating – there is money available to make those kinds of improvements and pay for the upkeep, he said.
Improved infrastructure and amenities are necessary for Haines Junction to grow – something all candidates want to see.
“If you’re not making an effort to grow, you’re going to start going backwards,” said Farynowski. “In order not to become a dying community, we have to do something to get this town moving again.”
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