Blackville mayor knows about challenges, having won his battle with throat cancer

Hal Muck, the newly acclaimed mayor of Blackville, has plans for his village, even though as of last year, he couldn’t picture himself in the position of mayor.

“I had indicated…I wasn’t even going to put my name in,” said Muck in an interview, noting his thoughts were preoccupied with a diagnosis of throat cancer.

However, despite his personal tribulations, Muck said residents were encouraging him to run and he decided to go for it.

“People were telling me if I didn’t do it, they were going to put my name on the ballot anyway,” said the retired school principal who has always lived in Blackville.

Shortly after he retired, Muck became involved in town politics. He ran in the November by-election of 2010, despite a diagnosis of throat cancer that previous June, and was sworn in as a village councilor in January 2011.

“I got over some things and I put my name in for council,” he said, thinking back on his decision to seek a council seat.

Some things might be considered an understatement: Muck underwent open heart surgery shortly after his initial cancer diagnosis.

Thinking the worse was behind him, he engaged himself in his work as a village councillor. And then he discovered some of the cancer had spread.

A scan in April 2011 showed that the cancer that started in his tonsils had moved to lymph nodes. He underwent 35 radiation and chemotherapy treatments in Moncton. Part of his recovery included having to be fed by a tube for eight weeks.

“I had a lot of dealings with medical people these past two years,” he said.

Muck said as the winter of 2011-12 progressed, he started to feel more like himself. He had been feeling under the weather during his radiation treatment but his strength gradually returned.

At his last check-up, he was told the cancer was gone.

“It was quite a haul. A lot of prayers came my way, I know that, but it’s behind me now and I look forward to every morning to see the sunshine,” he said.

Now, he is ready to get to work in his new role as mayor and help his community move forward.

“I’m anxious to get under way. I want to make a difference in my community. I want it not to look like the same spot in four years.”

On his immediate agenda is looking into a new fire truck and fire hall, although he acknowledged this will be a “costly” project and “won’t happen overnight.”

The village has two fire trucks at present, both operational, but “one is quite old,” said Muck.

He said there is also opportunity for “beautification” in Blackville, in reference to Blackville Municipal Park which “could use some upgrades.”

Despite plans for modification, he comments there are already some things that have happened that have formed a solid foundation on which to build on in the next four years. For starters, Blackville’s population has gone up to 990, according to a statistics Canada 2011 census – an increase of 30 from the last census.

Muck thinks the bulk of that figure can be attributed to people who had to move away in their younger years but have now returned, along with some newcomers.

“I think they enjoy the tranquility of a small rural community not far Miramichi city. People make great use of the river in the summer time. Some do things they never had time to do like take up a hobby, like fishing for instance.”

Salmon fishing is a big tourist attraction in Blackville and Muck is happy that the salmon count is up, according to the Department of Fisheries.

“People come here to fish, but they will say how friendly our people are. It’s not just Blackville but more of a New Brunswick thing, I guess,” he said.

Meanwhile, shale gas exploration is an issue in his region. Muck’s stance on shale gas is to let exploration happen, determine if there is a worthwhile source to tap into “and then decide if we want to continue or not.” He is not in favour, however, of hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as “fracking,” within village limits.

“You gotta do these things in isolated areas,” he said, but added that people do not have to be scared of the unknown.

“We have plane crashes all the time but we don’t do away with flying,” he added.

“Yes, I worry about the water table and things like that but I don’t think Alberta and Saskatchewan are dying of thirst out there,” he said, referencing the prosperity of two western provinces that embraced shale gas exploration and have profited.

Another initiative Muck is considering is having a town-hall meeting and presenting the budget to Blackville residents in late September. He said the public’s input is valuable.

“Maybe there are things we have never thought of, maybe fantastic ideas. I don’t think that’s ever been done here before. Just because I’m a mayor, these aren’t issues I haven’t thought of before. The title of mayor didn’t change my thinking,” concluded Muck.

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