The Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) has approved a plan by First Nations to build an addictions treatment facility on the agricultural land reserve in central B.C., after initially rejecting the same proposal months ago.
On Thursday, the Carrier Sekani Family Services said the ALC had granted an exemption for creating a 60-bed recovery centre on farmland near Vanderhoof, B.C.
The Prince George-based organization, which offers wellness services for the seven member First Nations of the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council, had asked for permission to build a main facility 25,000 square feet in size and a parking lot covering 2,150 square feet, and also plans to convert the existing 1,991 square foot Tachick Lake Resort lodge into staff housing.
Tachick Lake Resort, located at the southwestern tip of the lake, was established in the 1960s, before the property was included in the agricultural land reserve during its inception 1972.
Under provincial law, the resort can continue to be a recreational facility, but the First Nations must apply for the ALC's permission to use the resort for other non-farming purposes.
In its original ruling in February, the ALC had permitted Carrier Sekani Family Services to use the lodge and several other small buildings in the land reserve as treatment facilities, but didn't allow the organization to build a new, bigger treatment facility.
Now given the go-ahead, that building is set to accommodate 60 treatment beds, counselling areas and gardening spaces for Indigenous land-based healing practices.
Treatment centre for First Nations members
Marilyn Janzen, the organization's program manager for health and wellness, says she did a happy dance after learning the ALC had finally allowed the healing centre project to move forward.
Janzen says the new treatment centre will officer a four-week program that provides a range of services including opioid replacement therapy.
"Our hope is that we have continuous intake and that … if you show up on our doorstep and you say, 'I need treatment,' then we can support that and have a bed available to you," she said.
The ALC ruled that the exemption approval is subject to conditions such as compliance with construction guidelines and communication with the commission regarding the facility's design, but Janzen says her organization doesn't see these requirements as barriers to the project.
The Carrier Sekani Family Services has secured more than $5 million, still short of the minimum of $12 million required to build the recovery facility.
The Northern Health region has the highest rate of drug-related deaths this year, according to the B.C. Coroners Service.
Last July, the First Nations Health Authority said overdose deaths among its Indigenous members had jumped by 93 per cent during the pandemic.