Onagawa mayor Nobutaka Azumi and BC Forests Minister Steve Thomson frame clippings from the Nelson Star on display at Onagawa’s temporary municipal hall. During a recent trade mission

Forests minister visits Onagawa

A $4.5 million fund announced by government and the forest industry could benefit Nelson’s unofficial sister city of Onagawa, Japan.

A $4.5 million fund recently announced by the provincial and federal governments and BC forest industry to help Japanese communities devastated by this year’s earthquake and tsunami could benefit Nelson’s unofficial sister city of Onagawa.

BC Forests Minister Steve Thomson visited Onagawa recently as part of a government trade mission and spoke with Mayor Nobutaka Azumi. He called it a personal highlight of the trip.

“We wanted to visit some areas very negatively impacted [by the tsunami],” Thomson told the Star. “That was a great experience to talk directly with the impacted communities and the mayor. The close link the community has with Nelson was very gratifying.”

Nelson’s ties with Onagawa stem from the fact it was the spot where pilot Lt. Robert Hampton Gray died in the last days of World War II. The tsunami toppled a monument erected in his honour by Onagawa citizens in 1989.

Thomson says the mayor spoke fondly of his town’s relationship with Nelson, and appreciated the support and messages they have received.

In Japan, Thomson also announced a multi-million dollar fund to build one or more community facilities in tsunami-stricken areas using BC wood products.

“We’ll continue to work with the Canada Wood Group in Japan on the most appropriate use of resources,” Thomson said. “We’re very interested in a legacy project or projects around a school, community centre, or elder care facility.”

Thomson says exactly which projects and communities to support will be decided in discussion with government officials of Miyagi prefecture, where Onagawa lies.

“When I met with the vice-governor he said they would consult with the communities. Their response was very positive and thankful for the support British Columbia and the industry is providing,” Thomson says.

He says nine months after the quake, a tremendous amount of clean-up has been done, but for the most part, the “massive” task of reconstruction has not yet begun.

“It’s very overwhelming when you have a chance to be on the ground,” he says. “We’ve seen the television coverage and pictures, but you don’t get a complete sense of the devastating impact.”

Various fundraisers in Nelson amounted to nearly $30,600, to be topped up by another $10,000 from the city. The money is earmarked for scholarships for Onagawa high school students.

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