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Mayor relieved aobut doctor situation but concerned about Fort mill downsizing

By Ken Johnston

At the beginning of 2012 Rainy River Mayor Deb Ewald had her sights set on one thing and that was securing doctors for Rainy River.
Early in the year the only full time doctor, David Singleton, had announced that he would be leaving Rainy River in June of 2013. The communities priorities shifted from one gear to another. Ewald said last January, “The locum house is not on the back burner. Doctor recruitment and retention are number one!”
Well her determination, coupled with that of the local recruitment committee’s efforts paid off! Dr. Singleton withdrew his resignation letter and Dr. Ennett was secured to bring the local health facilities compliment up to its full level for at least four years.
“It was a huge relief and meant our Emergency Room would stay open,” said Ewald this past Friday. She noted that when it looked like Rainy River could lose all its full time doctors that the Ministry of Health did up the pay levels for locum doctors to entice them to cover the facility.
With all the uncertainty over whether the community would have full time doctors, Ewald said the locum house committee and the communities it will serve had to make another decision. Since there was no guarantee of full time doctors here, medical students from the Northern Ontario School of Medicine (Thunder Bay) stopped coming to the community to continue their studies. “We decided to downsize the locum house to a single home instead of a duplex.”
It was initially going to be a duplex to house both locum doctors and medical school students. Now Ewald said the new downsized version will house locums when Dr. Ennett is not here and Ennett when he is. Ennett flies in and works for a period of time and then flies back home.
Ewald is glad the lengthy Sewer Lagoon project was completed in 2012. “We are now situated probably the best of any major community in the district for expansion once mining takes off.” She said that the town has been steadily communicating with Rainy River Resources expounding the town’s virtues in hopes of attracting workers to live here or perhaps spin-off businesses.
The town is in the process of hiring an Economic Development Intern who she says will pick that ball up and run with it even more.
Last year saw the Provincial Government close the Travel Information Centre and cut ServiceOntario hours. “Both of these occurred without any consultation with council or the community. I don’t know what they (Prov. Govt.) were thinking.”
Once it became clear the Travel Info. Centre would not reopen, the town did pursue acquiring the building and have had it given to the town. “That building is not winterized, but from May to the fall our economic development intern and possibly the chamber of commerce will use the building to service tourists and economic development needs.”
With the lagoon project completed, council had a list of three projects for this year they wanted to complete. Their number one priority were upgrades to the water/sewage treatment plant. However, the first grant they applied for came back awarding them funding for their third choice; replacing water lines on First St. and repaving it. The other project was to move the library to the town garage after renovating there.
Ewald said the library can wait for now, but the water/sewage treatment plant has to be upgraded. “We are applying for funding from another source at this time in an attempt to avoid adding the costs of the project to water bills.”
The loss of the town’s only gas station was also an issue of concern for Ewald. However, being that it is a private business, “There is little we can do.” She did say that she hopes that council will put forth a request to the province to have the price per litre subsidize in the same manner that Sprague, Manitoba’s is near the border. At present it is about 83¢ per litre in Baudette versus $1.29 per litre here. That makes for tough competition.
When asked if council would consider asking if a toll could be put back on the bridge, Ewald said, “We have not discussed any such measure.”
When the bridge went toll-free in December of 1988 Baudette had owned the bridge and said that if a toll were ever reintroduced the bridge would revert back to its ownership. However, the existing bridge is slated for replacement in the next few years. “Who knows, maybe the governments that are paying for a new bridge may want to recoup their costs and add a toll to it.”
It was thought when the toll went off the bridge that it would be hard on Rainy River businesses. At that time there were three gas stations in the community of about 800 people.
Ewald said some success stories for 2012 included the Rainy River Trails system going fully operational and the continuance of the Assisted Living services in Rainy River.
“The trails are magnificent and very well used. We hope to see more benches like the ones on Main St. purchased this year for the trails.”
As for Assisted Living, it started as a two year pilot project and is now in year three. “That is good news for those who are living there,” said Ewald.
Ewald also spoke about the workload of council. “We are a council of five (four councillors and a mayor). This number is not bad when everyone is retired and has extra time to work on projects.” Two elections ago council was reduced from six councillors and a mayor to four plus the mayor. Ewald said she would like to see it go back to six. “There is not that much savings (at four) to the taxpayers and it would help with the work load.”
Late in the year the district received bad news from the paper mill in Fort Frances. “Those cuts concern me greatly. If Fort Frances’ assessment loses the mill it will mean all communities in the district will have to pay more for social services.”
One success story that began in 2012 will hopefully come to fruition this month. “We have secured a dentist to work here half-time to start later this month!” said Ewald. She is hopeful that he will become very busy and eventually work full time here.
This year Ewald says council will continue to develop solid plans for the future and the town’s infrastructure.