Can Kitimat’s historic CN railway station be saved from demolition?

Analysis    (Long Read)

A crowd gathers at the Kitimat CN Station sometime in 1955. This picture may be of the station opening since the windows and trim are unpainted. (Walter Turkenburg/Kitimat Museum & Archives. ) See Note 1.

UPDATE There  will be a public meeting to discuss the future of the station in Kitimat on Thursday,  April 11, 2019 at Riverlodge, in the Activity Room, at 7:30 pm.

March 12: This story has been updated to clarify that Kitimat Heritage has not yet discussed municipal, provincial or federal heritage status with CN. Also more information about CN telegraph communications has been added.

Kitimat Heritage and supporters in the community are campaigning to save the town’s old Canadian National Railway Station. Kitimat Heritage wants to preserve the station because it is symbolic of the earliest days of the townsite when Kitimat was first being built and celebrated as the 1950s “town of the future.”

District of Kitimat Council voted Monday February 25 to send a letter of support to CN and to take other appropriate measures to support an effort to save the old CN Railway Station in the Service Centre.

Retiring Member of Parliament Nathan Cullen (NDP Bulkley Valley) is also working at the federal level to get help to preserve the station. The provincial MLA Ellis Ross (Liberal Skeena) has promised he will work at the provincial level.

Louise Avery and Walter Thorne make a presentation to District of Kitimat Council on the future of the CN Station on February 25, 2019. (Robin Rowland)

Local historian Walter Thorne and Executive Director of the Kitimat Museum & Archives Louise Avery presented a package to council that gave the history of the station and the current state of negotiations with CN. (Disclosure I am chair of the museum board but not directly involved in the campaign. The opinions in this article are strictly my own and may not reflect the views of Kitimat Heritage or the museum)

There have been two architectural assessments of the railway station. The first by John Goritsas on behalf of the Kitimat Museum & Archives in 1992 and this year on behalf of Kitimat Heritage by Prince Rupert architect Alora Griffin.

While the station overall is in “desperate condition” it appears from both assessments that the core of the station is, as far as can be determined, structurally sound.

A close view of the station in 2014, showing the “desperate condition.” (Robin Rowland)

The station, built in 1955, has been in poor repair for years.  According to Kitimat Heritage CN  has said it  sees no other clear alternative than to demolish the station given its run-down nature, the potential liability issues, and the revenue potential of the land.

If CN  did want to demolish the station ,  it can’t at the moment because it is protected by both municipal and provincial heritage status. So far the question of heritage status has not yet come up in the discussions.

District of Kitimat Council first passed a bylaw giving the station heritage status in September 1985.The municipal heritage status of the station is part of the official Kitimat Community Plan, adopted by council in 2008.

The railway stations in Prince Rupert and Smithers are designated under the federal Heritage Railway Stations Act.

Only designated heritage railway stations that are still owned by a railway company under federal jurisdiction are subject to the nationwide Heritage Railway Stations Protection Act. Under the act no railway company may in any way alter, demolish, or transfer ownership of a designated heritage railway station without the authorization of the federal cabinet.

In the case of Kitimat, the Heritage Group has not yet officially asked CN to support designation.

CN officials, speaking to the heritage volunteers, have told them that the station is an “eyesore” and there is “revenue potential” from the station site as Kitimat gears up for the building of the LNG Canada plant and other projects including a proposed propane terminal.

The CN Station in 2012. (Robin Rowland)

Railway stations as brands

To understand what makes the Kitimat station unique, you have to know about the history of railway station construction in North America.

From the mid-nineteenth century until the First World War, a time when railways were the prime form of transportation, railway stations were designed to both attract paying passengers and to promote the railway brand. The railways hired the leading architects of the day to design metropolitan stations in grand style, often neo Classical like Toronto’s Union Station or Grand Central in New York or “Romanesque” such as Union Station in Nashville, Tennessee (now a Marriot Hotel) that resembles the style of Canada’s Parliament Buildings.

Montreal’s Windsor Station, once the headquarters for Canadian Pacific was also built in a Romanesque style.

See Time Magazine’s selection of the world’s ten most beautiful railway stations  and Fodor’s travel has a list of what it believes to be the world’s 20 most beautiful main line stations .

The same care in architectural design and construction was applied to even the smallest railway stations in those early years—although many were based on same designs from stop to stop.

When the Grand Trunk Pacific was building the line to Prince Rupert a century ago the GT built iconic smaller stations (designated by the Plan Number 100-152) along the route, with fourteen in the Smithers subdivision, including at Tyee, Kitwanga and Kwinitsa. (See Vanishing BC Grand Trunk Pacific Stations)

The latter station is now part of the Kwinitsa Station Railway Museum & Park in Prince Rupert.

The Prince Rupert station built in 1921 is an example of a utilitarian brick box that has federal protection.

The designation says the Prince Rupert Station is an example is “significant as a very early example of a public building in the Modern Classical style. Executed in brick and trimmed with Tyndall limestone, the station design combines traditional composition with simple, stripped-down classical detailing.”

The Smithers Station is considered more special it is an important and rare example of the custom-designed “special stations” built by the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway (GTP) at several divisional points along its transcontinental line. This small group of specially designed stations represented a departure from the GTP’s overall policy of rigid standardization in depot design. (like the ones at Tyee, Kwinitsa and Kitwanga)

End of an Era

That era of great railway stations ended in 1929 with the Great Depression when commerce largely collapsed. Railways in North America had little money to spend on grand passenger stations. Then came the Second World War when the priority for the railways was supporting the war effort.

Railway historians say that after 1945 most spending for North American railways was to replace aging  steam locomotives with new diesel locomotives. The railways also had to retire old rolling stock such as boxcars that had been kept in service during the war.

That meant even in the post war decade from 1945 to 1955 constructing new stations was not a priority. Those stations that were built, mostly in the United States, replaced buildings that were no longer usable. Most were “modern” brick boxes based on a utilitarian design that reached back to the 1920s or the newer “brutalist” buildings of mostly poured concrete.

Kitimat was a different case—there was a brand new branch line from Terrace.  That meant Kitimat needed a railway station.

The architects who assessed the Kitimat station say it is an example of the modernist “form follows function” style of architecture popularized by Frank Lloyd Wright. The load bearing 2 x 6 trusses align the exterior walls which was one of Wright’s innovative ideas.

The station was designed by CN staff. The 1992 architect, John Goritos, said, “it was designed to suit the site and wasn’t a replica of any of other CN railway stations.”

The architects say that one reason the Kitimat Station was built of wood was not only that it had to be constructed quickly but the light weight was suited to the site which was on the Kitimat River flood plain filled in with sandy landfill.

Building the Kitimat branch line

As Alcan was planning and building Kitimat, the company signed transportation contracts with CN. That was the reason the branch line was built to the townsite, then past the sandhill to the aluminum smelter.

CN worked to build the new branch line for 38.5 miles crossing “difficult terrain of the area, including swamps, hard clay, rocks and watersheds.’ The route included three steel Pratt triangular truss bridges over the Lakelse, Wedeene, Little Wedeene Rivers and plus a number of smaller old fashioned traditional wooden trestles over creeks.

Canadian Transportation magazine reported in July 1952 that the branch line alone would cost $10 million 1952 dollars or $217,391.30 per mile.

Freight travel began as soon as the branch line was completed in December 1954. Temporary huts acted as the train station when passenger service began in January 1955 but were soon overwhelmed.

It was CN practice to use huts (and sometimes a retired boxcar) to act as a temporary station until a new one was built. (Mrs. L Byron collection/Kitimat Museum & Archives)

Former Kitimat mayor Joanne Monaghan who worked at the station recalls that once the Alcan plant became operational although most of the ingots were shipped out by sea, there were long trains outbound with car after car loaded with aluminum ingots.

The British news magazine The Sphere published a photograph of the first passenger train to arrive in Kitimat in February 1955,

The British magazine The Sphere (an equivalent of Life or Look) covered the story this way in a report on Feb. 19, 1955.

“In the far north-west of Canada new trains have just started to run along a new railway. The line starts in a small town called Terrace and its only forty-three miles long. But its importance is out of all proportion to its length for the new terminus is in Kitimat, the new wonder aluminum manufacturing of the Canadian Aluminum Company (sic).”

The anonymous reporter photographed what The Sphere said was the arrival of the first passenger train in Kitimat. The locomotive was Canadian National steam locomotive 2129, a 2-8-0 “Consolidation” that had been in service since 1911 with three railways, the Canadian Northern and the Duluth, Winnipeg and Pacific ( a CN subsidiary in the United States) before being transferred to CN. The loco hauled three passenger coaches and two boxcars on that initial run from Terrace. Note 2.

A Northern Sentinel photo taken a little later than the Sphere photo, showing the “:twice weekly train” in Kitimat, February 1955, before the new station was built. (Northern Sentinel/Kitimat Museum & Archives)

The 2-8-0 was a heavy-duty locomotive designed for hauling freight. All those outbound boxcars filled with ingots and, inbound, as the town was being built, boxcar after boxcar filled with lumber to build the houses and stores of the brand-new town.

Building a town of 8,000 almost overnight required whole CN trains filled with lumber (Walter Turkenburg/ Kitimat Museum & Archives)

The “milk-run” train also serviced Lakelse Lake (where there was a whistle stop in a clearing by the tracks, which I remember from a vacation at Lakesle in the summer of 1957) as well as “stations” (again really just clearings) on the timetable at Wedeene, Dubois, Lakelse and Thunderbird, to pick up loggers, surveyors, fishers and hunters. The trip from Lakelse to Kitimat would have taken one hour and thirty minutes if the train was running on schedule.

Once dedicated passenger service began, CN assigned another steam locomotive, a lighter 4-6-2 Pacific, Number 5000, built in 1913.

As CN was transitioning to diesel, it assigned its last remaining steam locomotives to more remote parts of Canada, like northwest BC.  The Pacific, Number 5000, was retired in May 1958. The 2-8-0 Consolidation Number 2129 was scrapped in May 1960.

The station

CN put the station construction out to tender in June 55. The building was completed by the Skeena Construction Company, based in Terrace, before the end of the year.

Dignitaries welcome the first daily train to arrive in Kitimat on June 2,1955 . (Northern Sentinel/Kitimat Museum & Archives)

Train was the main mode of travel between Terrace and Kitimat from December 1954 until November 1957 when the highway to Terrace was opened.

Freight operations continued to use the depot for years after passenger traffic ended.

Like many branch line railway stations in North America, the Kitimat station combined passenger and some freight and express operations (most of the freight operations were carried on down the line to Kitimat Concrete Products at the sandhill and on to the Alcan smelter.)

There was soon a lot of traffic in those days people coming in from all over the world to find work. News reports at the time said the three-hour train journey from Kitimat to Terrace was so popular that there was often “standing room only” in the passenger cars.

An undated aerial shot of the Kitimat CN Station and the service centre. A train with six carriages is stopped at the station. (Max Patzelt Collection/Kitimat Museum & Archives)

The trains expanded from a single passenger car to three and later several as demand grew.

The station had a large interior large waiting area with washrooms, a “restroom” and later a small coffee and snack bar was added to the waiting room.

Along a corridor were the depot office and the combined telegraph office and what was called the “repeater room.” Off the corridor were also the station keeper room and conductors’ office. There was a typical bay window operator’s room in the waiting area that looked out onto the tracks.

On the freight side were the express office and the “on hand” (goods for pick up). The original plans had had one door in on the east wall and one door out by the tracks on the west side. Two doors on the north wall added later to meet demand.

A shot of the Kitimat station in the 1950s. (David Wade Collection/Kitimat Museum & Archives)

CBC Radio

On the blue prints for the station there is what is today a cryptic reference to the Telegraph-Repeater room which is the part of the building where we see the Canadian National Logo today. The role of the telegraph – more likely teletype by the 1950s—is obvious. The telegraph office operated for many years after passenger service ended.

It turns out the “repeater” was the first transmitter for CBC Radio in Kitimat. Canadian National Telegraphs operated most non-telephone communications in Canada along its railway lines.

CN had actually had some of the first radio stations in Canada, which were later taken over by the CBC when the Parliament created the public broadcaster.

So, in the Kitimat Station there was a LPRT or a Low Power Relay Transmitter. The  “radio” signal came into Kitimat via a CN landline for broadcast. The LPRT was designed to be sited in a location were there was no other coverage or before an actual transmitter was built.

The railway company domination of telecommunications continued in 1967 when CN and CP telegraph services merged to form CNCP telecommunications. That company was later sold to Rogers when the railways got out of the telecommunications business they had founded in the previous century.

Some smaller locations across Canada still have CBC LPRTs where it is not economic to build a transmitter. Today the signal is downlinked from satellite.

CN and the station were also the conduit for secure government communications, including the RCMP.  It also transmitted the Canadian Press wire service.   Later BC Tel (now Telus) took over many of those functions.

End of passenger service

CN stopped passenger rail service to Kitimat in November 1957 almost as soon as then Highway 25 to Terrace was completed, although the station was still used to coordinate freight and express operations for a few years after that.

In the 1960s, passenger traffic on railways across North America plummeted as the era of the car and air travel became more the normal way to go.

CN used the station for storage in the 1970s and let it deteriorate and at one point it was vandalized. It was briefly owned by the District of Kitimat, but ownership has since reverted to CN.

Today’s train stations were most often just glass and steel, if there were stations at all. Many new stations are glass covered platforms with perhaps a small ticket office (and if passengers are lucky, washrooms).

The Kitimat CN Station is a unique snap shot of Canadian railway architecture and construction from the mid 50s that wasn’t duplicated.

CN has boarded up the building and says it is an “eyesore” and has told the heritage group that it is not structurally sound and should be moved from the site or be demolished.

Architectural assessments

The two architects reported that the station is a one story 3500 square foot structure supported by 2 x 6 fir trusses and 2 x 4 stud walls set in concrete slab. The roof trusses appear to be made of red cedar. As far as both architects could tell (access was somewhat limited) both the fir and reds cedar have survived the previous 62 years largely intact.

The roof was made of aluminum shingles, which were popular at the time as part of what was called “machine age allure” of the “space age” Streamline Moderne and “Googie” forms of architecture. The aluminum shingles, as well as the flashing were well suited for Kitimat because aluminum aged well, and snow would slide off an aluminum roof easier than traditional asphalt shingles.

The problem with the roof is that the sheathing between the red cedar and the aluminum has warped over the decades and that has displaced or heaved most of the aluminum shingles. The fascia will also have to be replaced.
The station hasn’t been heated or properly maintained for many years. That means apart from the structural walls, the rest mostly plywood and plasterboard has deteriorated markedly.

Asbestos

The greatest mistake—in retrospect—and the greatest challenge is the widespread use of asbestos in the building.

It appears that the CN architects and structural engineers in 1955 who designed the station wanted to add to that “machine age allure” by using the “modern” asbestos cladding. Before that almost all the smaller Grand Trunk and CN stations in western Canada had stucco on the exterior walls. In retrospect if CN had stuck with stucco, the station would—allowing for the poor maintenance– probably be in better shape. There are houses in Kitimat with stucco walls that have survived the elements for 50 to 60 years. If the walls were stucco, there would not be today’s cost of removing asbestos.

The asbestos cladding or siding is seen on the CN station, March 6, 2019. (Robin Rowland)

The most obvious use of asbestos is in the cladding or siding on the walls of the station which was a popular material up until the 1980s when the cancer risk from asbestos was realized. In the parts of the station which had linoleum floor—the passenger and office areas—it is likely that linoleum from that era contained asbestos. There is bare concrete floor for baggage express storage and heater rooms, so those are areas where there is presumably no asbestos in the flooring.

Asbestos was also wrapped around many of the building’s mechanical infrastructure and heating ducts. The soffit under the eaves may also contain asbestos.

There is so much asbestos that even if CN wanted to demolish the station the company couldn’t just bring in a backhoe or bulldozer and pull it apart as is done some other cases were there is no asbestos.

Under BC law, the asbestos would have to be safely removed by an asbestos qualified removal company before a demolition permit can be issued.

Renovating also requires a BC qualified asbestos abatement contractor.
In both cases, there has to be a hazardous material survey prior to any work commences.  During the work—whether demolition or renovation—there has to be continuous hazardous material and air quality monitoring in the area. (Noting that the station is close to the Kitimat Hotel and service centre businesses)

It appears that CN hasn’t really bothered to undertake a detailed cost benefit analysis. The question is how much cost difference would there be in safely removing the asbestos prior to demolition and the cost of safely removing the asbestos prior to restoration?

Another question that has to be ironed out is who is responsible for the asbestos. CN owns the building and is currently responsible. If, as originally proposed, CN sold the building to the Kitimat Heritage for one dollar, the heritage group would then be responsible. If the heritage group gets to lease the building from CN, then CN, as the landlord, is likely still responsible for the upkeep of the building—a cost that CN apparently, at present, doesn’t want to undertake.

Worksafe BC must be notified of any project where asbestos is being removed (ws0303-pdf-en) PDF

Links
Province of British Columbia
Management of Waste Asbestos 
Worksafe BC Asbestos 

Stay or go? And if go, where?

Kitimat faces two choices with the station. To keep it on the current site or to move it elsewhere.

At present, according to the report by Kitimat Heritage presented to District of Kitimat Council, CN would like the building moved away from a potential revenue producing area along the right-of-way.

The Kitimat Heritage group wants the station to remain in place as the role as a train station is part of the Kitimat’s history. As the report says, “The building is not heritage without its provenance—the rail line.”

Both architect Alora Griffin and some building experts say it cannot be moved because the original design placed the load bearing trusses on the concrete pad foundation and therefore there is no floor that would support the station if it was to be moved.

That raises another question, which the far away CN executives have probably never considered because they appear to be clearly unfamiliar with Kitimat infrastructure is where would an intact station be moved to?

The bottle neck would be the Kitimat River/Haisla Boulevard bridge which was built back in 1954, a bridge that urgently requires a seismic upgrade at very least and should be replaced if it is to sustain loads of trucks heading the LNG Canada construction site.

The current District limits for crossing the bridge call for a height restriction of four metres. The maximum clearance on the bridge is 4.2 metres or 13 feet nine inches in height. The maximum weight is 65,000 kilograms or 143,000 pounds. The station is just over nine metres or 29 feet high, which means the station would never fit onto the Haisla Bridge. So why move the station from its current location?

The Haisla Boulevard Kitimat River Bridge seen on March 6, 2019. It is likely impossible to move the station via the bridge to the main Kitimat townsite. If a moving company did attempt the job, all those wires would have to be removed or moved. (Robin Rowland)

If a contractor found a way to move across the Haisla Bridge, however unlikely, by splitting up the building, costs of moving such a building are determined by the size of the building, what work has to be done to the building prior to moving, the distance moved and incidentals such as working with BC Hydro and telecom companies if overhead wires are in the way, cutting down trees if necessary, traffic control or traffic restrictions and other problems a moving company might run into.

So far, no company has been involved that specializes in moving large structures, including heritage structures.

The average minimum cost of moving a residential house in the United States can be $16 a square foot or more, so the minimum cost of moving the 3,500 square foot station—if the sound parts of the structure can actually be moved—would probably begin at least $60,000. Actual costs are usually much higher.

The bridge restrictions mean that the station would have to remain in the service centre anyway.

So why move it?

Another possibility that was raised by local contractors is dismantling the structure, numbering the salvageable parts such as trusses, beams and roof supports and reconstructing the building elsewhere. . One factor is how the trusses would be removed from the concrete base and rebuilt elsewhere in Kitimat.

That latter solution, however, is considered by many to be cost prohibitive. That evaluation would have to be made a qualified restoration architect. A check of available records shows that many–not all– of the  CN stations that have been moved are in the prairie provinces where logistics are much easier.

Restoring the station

Kitimat Heritage is asking that the funds CN would have to spend in any case to demolish the building instead be put toward restoration.

The aim of the heritage group is to convert it into a community meeting space, perhaps with a restaurant and a small museum or other guide to Kitimat Heritage.

The heritage group wants a land lease from CN, but the company says a lease at present is impossible due to liability issues. CN has told the heritage group that if was to lease the building it would want $5,000 per year in rent, a $50,000 letter of credit and $10 million in liability insurance.

CN, as the present owner of the station, is, of course, currently solely responsible for any current liability issues that may occur.

CN has told the heritage group that it doesn’t entertain land sales within 100 feet of its right-of-way which is why the railway wants the station moved if it is sold (but as noted above there is no where for the station to go). That is why the heritage group wants a lease.

There are dozens of heritage railway stations across Canada that are still owned by CN and thus have federal protection. (see Note Three below for the list of CN Stations).

It is unlikely that preserving the Kitimat Station would have any adverse effect on CN’s bottom line. In 2018, CN had revenues of $14.321 billion and an operating income of $5.493 billion. The annual report says the railway carried $250 billion worth of goods in 2018 over 20,000 route miles in Canada and the United States. CN buildings were worth $1.186 billion in 2018, according to the report.  The Kitimat Station is still on the CN books (and accounting for depreciation as reported in the annual report) and is a miniscule asset.

If an agreement is reached with CN, then the heritage group would have to embark on a fund-raising effort. The next step would be to hire an architect, either a local architect or one who specializes in heritage restoration.

The building would also have to be brought up to current seismic standards and meet the current British Columbia building code for public buildings.
To bring it up to code an architect would have to redesign building and coordinate with electrical, mechanical and structural engineers. Structural engineer would have to asses the condition of the trusses and other parts of the building for possible defects and possible needed upgrades.

To restore the building the customary procedure is to ask three local contractors for a realistic estimate of the cost (not a low bid bid). To be sure, the heritage group should also ask for a bid for a contractor who specializes in restoration. A restoration specialist would likely identify hidden costs or unexpected savings.

What’s next?

The heritage group wants to come to an agreement with CN before proceeding to ask the community for financial and volunteer support.

Although the discussion between the heritage group and CN have been fruitful so far, it appears from CN’s insistence that the station be moved that the company has not bothered to fully research either the heritage of the Kitimat Station nor the geography and geology of Kitimat.

If CN had done a thorough appraisal of the situation, they would know that it is unlikely that the station could cross the Haisla Bridge and thus should stay in situ.

The proposed Pacific Traverse Energy propane project would greatly add to the rail traffic in the area –and also add to CN’s revenue. There are two proposed sites for a rail staging yard, one about three kilometres north of the service centre on Crown Land and the second on Rio Tinto owned track close to the station location—which is probably what CN means when it says the site has “revenue potential.” The current estimate is that the project would require 60 tank cars each day to service an export terminal near Bish Cove.

So far,  only pure rumour and speculation have said that the propane project is an impediment to saving the station.

At some point the company should be invited to join the discussion. Since Pacific Traverse Energy has said in its presentation to council that the company is going to embark on a “rigorous program of community engagement” this year and that it is committed to “economic, social, cultural and economical sustainability.” Emphasizing the word cultural means that the company could prove its commitment to the community of Kitimat by taking into consideration the future of the CN Station in any planning and decisions on land use or by helping to pay for station restoration of out a budget of $400 million while ensuring the safety of the station area if the project proceeds.

The cost of restoring the station is likely to be substantial and not only government but corporate funding as well as in kind contributions from local contractors and businesses will be needed to fully restore the station and make it operational as a community centre.

One factor is that the railway line from Terrace and the train station were built by CN on behalf of the then Aluminum Company of Canada, a company that promised CN back in the 50s at least a million dollars a year in revenue. (According to the Bank of Canada inflation calculator one million dollars in 1950 would be 11 million dollars in 2019—which may nor may not reflect how much Rio Tinto actually pays CN). It’s clear that both CN and Rio Tinto have profited from the rail line for the past almost 70 years and it’s time that some of those profits were applied to preserving Kitimat’s heritage.

Kitimat factory town or more?

Most railway heritage buildings and heritage railways around the world are maintained and operated by volunteers usually railway buffs, heritage activists and retired railway employees.  There are few, if any, railway employees retired in Kitimat (although there may be some in Terrace or Prince Rupert). This could prove a problem in Kitimat where the same small group of volunteers are engaged in multiple efforts while others in the community seldom contribute. On the other hand, the restoration of the station and its operation as a community meeting place could bring out new volunteers.

The old CN Station on March 6, 2019. (Robin Rowland)

The bigger picture that Kitimat has to decide on is what kind of town will this be in the future?

Back in the nineteenth century, when those iconic railway stations were built across North America, many mining, smelting and logging towns built equally impressive “opera houses” or other culture landmarks that are still preserved today.

While Kitimat never had a grand opera house, there is the station that marks the town’s early settler history.

The LNG Canada final investment decision approval and the growth of Asian markets for hydrocarbon energy (at least for the next few decades) and quality aluminum, means that the industrial base of Kitimat is assured.

Tourism has always been a low priority and culture has been an almost a zero priority.

So, is Kitimat going to be just an industrial town or is it Kitimat going to be more than that with cultural amenities for its residents and to be more than a tourist draw for mostly aging recreational fishers?

Whatever decision is made on the CN station will help decide the road to that future.

LINK

Kitimat Museum & Archives contact page.

Note 1.

A small boy is seen in the photograph of the station wearing a “coonskin cap.”  The Disney TV series Davy Crockett was broadcast from December 1954 to February 1955.  Two follow up movies starring Fess Parker were Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier, 1955, and Davy Crockett and the River Pirates, 1956. Disney heavily marketed the coonskin cap to small boys, selling at one point 5,000 a day in the United States. Most were made of faux fur.   Although Kitimat did not have television until years later, the cap likely dates the photo to the summer or fall of 1955, the height of the coonskin cap craze.  Wikipedia.

Note 2

CP 2-8-0 3716 at Kettle Valley. (Canadian Model Railroads/Wikipedia)

You can see a Canadian Pacific 2-8-0 steam locomotive similar to the CN loco that made the first trip to Kitimat at the Kettle Valley Steam Railway in Summerland.

Note 3

A list of Canadian National (or affiliate) heritage railway stations protected by the federal government. This list does not include stations owned by VIA Rail, Canadian Pacific or smaller Canadian Railways.  There should be no reason that Kitimat’s station cannot join this list. (The George Little House station in Terrace was not originally a railway station but a heritage house that was moved to the trackside as a VIA station)


British Columbia
Kamloops
Kelowna
McBride
Prince Rupert
Smithers
Vancouver
Alberta
Jasper
Saskatchewan
Biggar
Humboldt
Melville
Moose Jaw
North Battleford
Manitoba
Churchill
Dauphin
Gillam
McCreary
Neepewa
Portage la Prairie
Rivers
Roblin
The Pas
Ontario
Alexandria
Barrie
Auroa
Belleville
Brampton
Brantford
Casselman
Chatham
Cobourg
Comber
Ernestown
Fort Frances
Galt/Cambridge
Georgetown
Guelph
Hamilton
Hornepayne
Kingston
Kitchener
Leamington
Maple
Markham
Nakina
Newmarket
Niagara Falls
North Bay
Orillia
Owen Sound
Parry Sound
Port Hope
Prescott
Sioux Lookout
St. Thomas
Stratford
Toronto Union Station
Woodstock
Quebec
Amqui
Clova
Joliette
Macamic
Matapédia
Mont-Joli
Montréal
New Carlisle
Port Daniel
Saint-Hyacinthe
Saint-Pascal
Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pérade
Sayabec
Senneterre
Shawinigan
Sherbrooke
New Brunswick
Edmunston
Grand Falls
Sackville
Sussex
Nova Scotia
Amherst

Don’t expect a Final Investment Decision on LNG until (or if) Brexit is resolved

Analysis

Monday’s decision by LNG Canada to postpone the all-important Final Investment Decision for the Kitimat liguified natural gas project came as a momentary shock—but no real surprise. After the Brexit vote, you could see the hold button blinking from across the Atlantic.

Andy Calitz CEO of LNG Canada and a long time, experienced, executive with the lead partner, Royal Dutch Shell blamed the current market conditions for natural gas in both a news release and an investors’ conference call. However, the turmoil in the world economy brought about by Britain’s (largely unexpected) vote to leave the European Union made the postponement inevitable.

Immediately after the vote on June 23, when the now not so United Kingdom voted by 52 per cent to 48 per cent, to leave the European Union, financial analysts predicted that given the uncertainty, companies based in the United Kingdom would immediately begin to adjust their long term planning.

The stock market has stabilized and reached new highs, at least for now, but the British pound remains weak.

Most important, according to reports in the business press around the world, many long term projects by companies not only in the UK but everywhere are being re-examined, postponed or cancelled. All due to the long term uncertainty in world markets.

Even without Brexit, the situation with long term planning for the natural gas market is complicated, as LNG Canada’s External Affairs Director Susannah Pierce explained in this interview on CKNW ‘s Jon McComb show.  ( It is an informative interview. Autoplays on opening the page)

“ Postpone investment decisions”

Royal Dutch Shell is one of the world’s largest corporations. It is based in the United Kingdom although its corporate headquarters are in the Netherlands (also a member of the European Union).

From June 24 to July 11 was just enough time for the bean counters and forecasters in London, Vancouver, Calgary, Tokyo and Beijing to crunch the numbers and decide that the prudent move would be to put the LNG Canada project on hold.

Rio Tinto is also a dual national company, listed on both the London and Australian stock exchanges and with its headquarters in London. (More about Rio Tinto later.)

Although both Shell and Rio Tinto are giant transnationals with operations worldwide, the turmoil in the United Kingdom, in the corridors and cubicles of the home offices, is having a psychological and personal, as well as professional, impact, meaning more of the work in those towers of London will be focused on Brexit.

brexitkitimat

The decision doesn’t mean that the LNG Canada Final Investment Decision will be on hold forever. Of all the world’s energy companies, Shell is one of the oldest and it has a solid reputation for better long term planning than some of its competitors.

In the news release, Calitz noted

I can’t say enough about how valuable this support has been and how important it will be as we look at a range of options to move the project forward towards a positive FID by the Joint Venture participants.

The news release goes on to say

However, in the context of global industry challenges, including capital constraints, the LNG Canada Joint Venture participants have determined they need more time prior to taking a final investment decision. decision.

How much time? Well, as Theresa May became the Prime Minister of Great Britain, the New York Times noted, like other media, that investment decisions are on hold:

Ms. May does not plan to depart the union quickly because it could put Britain’s negotiators under pressure, and at a disadvantage…

And the longer Britain drifts, the greater the uncertainty for businesses that could postpone investment decisions until things are clearer, potentially pushing the nation into a recession.

As Don Pittis, business columnist for CBC.ca wrote in the immediate aftermath:

The extrication of Britain from Europe will likely be more in the character of the Greek financial collapse, a seemingly endless process where each event and each piece of news has the power to set off a new round of financial fears.
And like the Greek crisis, each piece of bad news will compound fears in markets that were nervous for other reasons.

So once (and when) Theresa May invokes Article 50 that opens a two year window for Britain to leave the European Union, starting negotiations for Brexit.   Then it gets complicated, if Scotland votes to leave the United Kingdom or if Northern Ireland also demands a dual referendum in both the Republic and the North on a united Ireland (as permitted under the Good Friday Peace Agreement).

Although May says she will continue to the UK`s next fixed date election, what if May calls a snap general election, with an uncertain outcome, perhaps another minority government, with seats split among several parties, including those who advocate remaining in the EU?

The price of oil is still low compared to a few years ago. That price is expected to remain low with all that the Saudis are pumping to retain market share, the Iranians want to recover from sanctions, and according to Pittis in another column, that means everyone else is pumping as well

The main thrust for Canadian producers is to build more pipelines so they can expand capacity and push ever more of their relatively expensive oil into the world supply chain. If that’s the strategy for high-cost producers, how could anyone think the world’s lower-cost producers wouldn’t be doing the same thing?

There is the glut of natural gas currently in Asian markets and no one knows what Brexit will mean.  Unless there’s a drastic change in the marketplace, energy project investment will remain on hold for years to come. (So forget any dreams of a refinery anywhere on the coast. )

Rio Tinto

Brexit is also going to be a problem for London based Rio Tinto—and for the current negotiations with the Unifor local in Kitimat. Rio Tinto’s bottom line is weak because the price of iron ore, its main source of income, has been dropping. After completing the $4.8 billion Kitimat Modernization Project, Rio Tinto is spending huge amounts of money on its Oyu Tolgoi copper and gold and other minerals mine in Mongolia, a project that many analysts believe could provide up to 60 per cent of Rio Tinto profits as commodity markets recover.

Add to that US presidential election. Donald Trump has threatened to halt imports of both steel and aluminum into the United States if he actually gets to sit in the White House.

On June 29, outgoing President Barack Obama also looked at aluminum at the recent “Three Amigos” summit in Ottawa, noting in the news conference.

Given the flood of steel and aluminum on the global markets, however, it points to the fact that free trade also has to be fair trade.

That means if Hilary Clinton becomes president, she will also be looking at the state of aluminum imports to the United States market.

World conditions are a warning for the Unifor negotiating team in Kitimat. One reason for last year’s prolonged municipal strike was that Unifor spent a good deal of time planning for negotiations with the District but failed to adjust its contract demands when the price of oil unexpectedly collapsed, which meant the District had less money and a lot less flexibility.

In its negotiations with Rio Tinto, Unifor cannot make the same mistake again. There were a handful of unexpected layoffs down at Smeltersite on June 30; there could be more layoffs in the future. Mandatory overtime is a major sticking point—but that overtime demand is coming from the bean counters in Montreal and London, calculating that the overtime costs are, in the long term, less expensive than a lot of new hires.
Media reports show that Rio Tinto is in tough negotiations with its employees around the world. With LNG on hold, disgruntled employees can’t just turn off Haisla Boulevard to the old Methanex site before reaching Rio Tinto’s property line. That means Unifor should be tough but very realistic in its talks with Rio Tinto, knowing that the powers that be that hold the strings in London are more worried about what Brexit will do to the company bottom line than any temporary shutdown of the smelter by a strike.

What does this mean for Kitimat?

A We Want LNG Canada lawn sign in Kitimat. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)
A We Want LNG Canada lawn sign in Kitimat. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

So the boom and bust cycle once again moves to bust.

Ellis Ross, chief councillor of the Haisla First Nation, speaking to CBC Radio said Ross said

the Haisla nation has been working to get its people jobs in the construction of the facility and related infrastructure, as well as full-time jobs once the plant opens…This was our first chance as Haisla to be a part of the economy, to be part of the wealth distribution in our area. To witness the wealth generation in our territory for the last six years but to not be a part of it, and now to continue to not be a part of it, is really distressing to us, because we had built up our entire future around this.

Mayor Phil Germuth in the same interview said

There’s no doubt that there’s going to be a little bit of hurt for a while, but we still fully believe that Kitimat is by far the absolute best location anywhere on the West Coast [for] a major LNG export facility… We are absolutely confident that it will come.

There’s time in this bust for everyone in town to recover from the hangover of the past few years of the fight over Northern Gateway and the heady hopes of the LNG rush. Demand for natural gas is not going to go away, especially as climate change raises the pressure to eliminate coal, so it is likely that LNG Canada will be revived.

It’s time to seriously consider how to diversify the Valley’s economy, making it less dependent on the commodity cycle. It’s time to stop chasing industrial pipe dreams that promise a few jobs that never appear.

Like it or not, the valley is tied to globalization and decisions made half way around the world impact the Kitimat Valley.

Who knows what will happen in 2020 or 2025 when the next equivalent of a Brexit shocks the world economy?

Suppose, as some here would wish, that all the opposition to tankers and pipelines suddenly disappeared overnight. Does that mean that the projects would then go ahead?

The corporate planners would decide based on their projections for the world economy and the viability of the project for their profit picture. Enbridge was never really able to secure customers for its bitumen. Chevron had no customers for Kitimat LNG. LNG Canada is a partnership, and the partner customers in Asia decided that at this time, the investment is too risky, even if LNG Canada’s longer term prospects are good.

Promoting tourism should now be the priority for Council, for Economic Development, for the Haisla Nation Council, for the local business.

Beyond tourism, it’s time for some innovative thinking to come up with other ideas that would free Kitimat from the commodity cycle. At the moment there are no ideas on the horizon, but unless everyone starts looking for new ideas, practical ideas,  the commodity cycle will rule.

BC Environment Appeal Board upholds Rio Tinto sulphur dioxide emissions in Kitimat airshed

The British Columbia Environmental Appeal Board has upheld Rio Tinto’s plans for sulphur dioxide emissions in the Kitimat airshed and dismissed the appeal from residents Emily Toews and Elisabeth Stannus.

The 113 page decision was released by the EAB late on December 23. It contains a series of recommendations for further studies and monitoring of the health of Kitimat residents. In effect, the EAB is asking the province (which is all it can do) to spend money and create a new bureaucracy at a time when Kitimat’s medical community is already short staffed and under stress.

By December 31, 2016…. engage with Ministry executive to secure their support for, and action to encourage, a provincially-led Kitimat region health study, based on the development of a feasibility assessment for such a study.

On December 24, Gaby Poirier, General manager – BC Operations
Rio Tinto, Aluminium Products Group released a statement saying:

Based on the evidence and submissions made by each of the parties, the EAB confirmed our permit amendment.
Although it is welcome news for Rio Tinto that the MOE Director’s decision was upheld, and the rigor and cautious approach of the science were confirmed by the EAB, we also recognize that there is more work to do to address community concerns regarding air quality in the Kitimat Valley.
In providing their confirmation, the EAB included a series of recommendations. Over the coming months, we will be working to fully assess them and we will continue to involve the local community including residents, stakeholders and our employees as we do so, noting that some of the recommendations have already started to be implemented.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the residents of Kitimat, our valued stakeholders and our employees for their support during this process. At Rio Tinto, we are committed to protecting the health and well-being of our employees, the community, and the environment as we modernize our BC Operations.

EAB decision 2013ema007g_010g

Rio Tinto BC Operations statement 20151224 – SO2 appeal decision

Unifor 2301 protest says Rio Tinto is cutting back on smelter health and safety

UNIFOR-theunion-Canada-wMembers of Unifor 2301 rallied in front of the Rio Tinto offices at City Centre Mall in Kitimat, Wednesday, October 7, to protest against what they called “precarious work” and health and safety issues at the Rio Tinto BC Operations aluminum smelter.

The rally was part what the union calls a “Rio Tinto Global Day of Action” aimed at Rio Tinto operations in North America, Europe, Africa and Australia. Unifor 2301 is part of the “Rio Tinto Global Union Network,”

Sean O’Driscoll, president of the local, concentrated on what he said was an increasingly tense relationship with Rio Tinto over health and safety issues. O’Driscoll told a group of supporters that relations with the company over health and safety have gone down hill since Rio Tinto took over Alcan.  He said the CAW,  predecessor to Unifor, had negotiated a strong health and safety agreement with Alcan that Rio Tinto is now trying to weaken down to minimum government imposed standards.

Unifor 2301 president Sean O'Driscoll addreses the Global Day of Action At Rio Tinto Rally at City Centre, Oct. 7, 2015. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)
Unifor 2301 president Sean O’Driscoll addreses the Global Day of Action At Rio Tinto Rally at City Centre, Oct. 7, 2015. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

 

O’Driscoll said that the list of grievances between the union and management are growing and that instead of trying to solve the grievances, RIo Tinto has filed a grievance of its own claiming the union has filed too many grievances.

Participants in the Unifor 2301 rally. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)
Participants in the Unifor 2301 rally. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

 

The main reason for the rally was a worldwide protest over what the union calls “precarious work,” the use of short term, usually poorly trained workers,  what most industries call call “casuals” to save money.  The other issue at the protest was increasing contracting out.

 A participant in the rally listens to speeches. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)
A participant in the rally listens to speeches. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

O’Driscoll also pointed to the controversial issue of increased sulphur dioxide emissions from the upgraded smelter. Unifor has joined environmental groups in a successful court challenge to  the BC  Environmental Assessment Agency’s approval of the emission plan.

Sean O'Driscoll and other union leaders at the rally. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)
Sean O’Driscoll and other union leaders at the rally. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)
A Plant Protection security guard recorded and photographed the rally in front of the Rio Tinto City Centre office. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)
A Plant Protection security guard recorded and photographed the rally in front of the Rio Tinto City Centre office. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)
A spectator watches the rally. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)
A spectator watches the rally. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)
Participants applaud at the conclusion of the rally. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)
Participants applaud at the conclusion of the rally. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

Court orders Environmental Assessment Board to investigate impact of Rio Tinto sulphur dioxide

UNIFOR-theunion-Canada-wKitimat Unifor local 2301 has succeeded in forcing the Environmental Assessment Board (EAB) to take responsibility for investigating the impact of plans for a dramatic increase of sulphur dioxide (SO2) at the Rio Tinto smelter in Kitimat. The BC Supreme Court has sided with Unifor in a judicial review involving the Ministry of Environment’s approval of the smelter’s expansion without a SO2 “scrubber”.

A news release from Unifor 2301 goes on to say:

The project will increase SO2 emissions from 27 tonnes per day to 42 tonnes per day.

“Expanding the smelter without a scrubber is a terrible health risk to my community,” said Sean O’Driscoll, Unifor Local 2301 President. “We’re very pleased that Rio Tinto’s proposal will have to go through an environmental assessment. It’s a shame that it takes a Supreme Court Judge to force the BC Liberal government to do the right thing.”

The decision to approve the smelter expansion without scrubbers will now be sent back to the EAB.

Airborne sulphur dioxide is a well-known cause of respiratory ailments. Excessive SO2 levels in Kitimat are likely already impacting human health. In July 2012 a Community Health Synopsis study published by Northern Health concluded that the incidence of death from bronchitis, emphysema, and asthma is 60 per cent higher in Kitimat than the British Columbian average. Expert evidence known to the Minister of the Environment reveals that increased SO2 can cause serious health problems, including fatal respiratory failure.

In the decision, BC Supreme Court Justice W.F. Ehrcke wrote that it was unreasonable for the EAB to conclude that Unifor’s appeal must be rejected on the ground that the 2014 Letter of Approval to Rio Tinto was not an appealable decision within the meaning of the Act.

Other challenges to the emissions of sulphur dioxide from the Rio Tinto smelter are continuing.

Court orders man to donate $5,000 to wildlife trust in deer harassment case

A Portuguese man was fined $1 in Terrace Provincial Court Wednesday Sept. 2 and ordered to donate $5,000 to the Heritage Conservation Trust Fund for hitting a swimming deer on the head off Bish Cove in Douglas Channel on May 14.

Rodolfo Lopes, previously misidentified in court documents as Martins-Lopes, pleaded guilty in to one count under the BC Wildlife Act of harassing wildlife with a motor vehicle.

Evidence in the case showed that Lopes hit the deer on the head with a jig or gaff in an attempt to bring it on board. The deer managed to escape and make it to shore.

Such donations are permitted under the BC Wildlife Act. The money, which Lopes originally paid in bail, will be allocated to conservation efforts in the Kitimat region.

Other charges against Lopes, a former supervisor at the Rio Tinto Alcan Kitimat Modernization Project, including one count of causing unnecessary pain and suffering to an animal under the Criminal Code were stayed by the Crown.

Provincial Court Judge Terence Wright also prohibited Lopes from approaching wildlife for the next two years unless required by his employment.

Lopes did not return from Portugal for the hearing. Vancouver lawyer Don Sorochan, QC, appeared on his behalf.

Crown counsel Corinne Baerg said Lopes was a supervisor at Brasco, one of the subcontractors at KMP, and had hired a fishing guide to help celebrate both the end of their work at the aluminum smelter modernization project and Lopes’ planned wedding in August.

After a day of what was apparently unsuccessful fishing, Lopes and five others were on board the boat, returning to Kitimat, when a deer was spotted swimming in Douglas Channel.

According to the submission, the guide then took the boat “ running up alongside” the deer. At that point Lopes hit the deer on the head with what some witnesses said was a jig and others said was a gaff in attempt to haul it on board. The deer was able to free itself, swam to shore and disappeared into the bush.

After Conservation Officers were told  about the incident by residents in Kitimat who saw a video of the fishing trip on Facebook, one of the men on the boat voluntarily surrendered cell phone video and other evidence was seized under a search warrant. The video was not shown in court.

Because Lopes was not a Canadian resident he was arrested and spent time in custody before being granted bail and was permitted to return to Portugal.

In his defence submission, Sorochan said Lopes was not familiar with Canadian hunting and wildlife laws and was totally dependent on the “advice of his professional guide.” Sorochon told the court that the incident had become exaggerated by people gossiping on social media.

Sorochan told the court that Lopes began with Brasco as a bricklayer in 1996 and had quickly risen to supervise construction projects all over the world. The lawyer called the attempt to get the deer “a naive impulse” by a man who was trying to be macho in an unfamiliar setting.

He submitted letters of reference for Lopes from Brasco, another company and a Kitimat union.

Wright, in confirming the proposed sentence, said that given the circumstances, the fine and donation was the “appropriate penalty.”

Wright noted that it was not possible to ascertain how badly injured the deer was. He also noted that Lopes did not have a criminal record and his employer had praised his work in many parts of the world.

Andreas Handl, who runs Kitimat’s Kingfish Westcoast Adventures, was scheduled to appear in a Kitimat court Thursday, Sept 3, but the appearance was adjourned until October.

He is charged under the B.C. Wildlife Act with harassing wildlife with a motor vehicle and hunting wildlife while swimming, as well as causing unnecessary pain and suffering under the Criminal Code.

Shining moment as Rio Tinto celebrates first metal at modernized Kitimat smelter

Gaby Poirier, BC operations manager for the Rio Tinto Aluminum metals group called it a shining moment as the first ingots from the new modernized potlines were wheeled into the also new Henning Hall at the Kitimat smelter on Tuesday, July 7. Referring to the nearly complete Kitimat Modernization Project (KMP), Poirier said, “It’s now like these ingots, our time to shine. Let’s all shine together and become the best aluminum smelter in the world.”

The Kitimat Modernization Project increases aluminum production capacity by 48 per cent. “I have no doubt that KMP will help secure the future for Rio Tinto in British Columbia as a supplier of high quality, low carbon footprint aluminium for the Pacific Rim customer,” Poirier told employee and guests at the First Metal ceremony. (The company held similar ceremonies later in the week for employees unable to attend the first event).

BC Operations Manager Gaby Poirier addresses the First Metal Ceremony in Kitimat, July 7, 2015  (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)
BC Operations Manager Gaby Poirier addresses the First Metal Ceremony in Kitimat, July 7, 2015 (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

“As we move to ramp to full production sometime in 2016, the transition is still at an early stage. Now more than ever we have to keep the focus to have a safe, sustainable ramp up. When we reach our full capacity of 420,000 tonnes sooner than you think… we’ will have been here 60 years. We’re aiming for another 60 years now.

“It’s more than a ramp up for us; it’s our journey to be the best aluminium smelter in the world. And yes the best, nothing less. Everything starts with a dream. So today we’ve got about 10 pots started, there are still 374 to go. And all this ramp up will be done to a scheduled drum beat, with a safe and sustainable. So today’s a well-deserved celebration for first hot metal and we are now preparing our first metal shipment but there are still significant challenges among us that we’ll go through together. One team one goal. That’s the only way we’ll be successful by working together.”

Crews were still at work at the fume treatment stack, at  the Rio Tinto smelter. July 7, 2015. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)
Crews were still at work at the fume treatment stack, at the Rio Tinto smelter. July 7, 2015. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

The modernized smelter, which was delivered in line with the revised schedule and budget, is powered exclusively by Rio Tinto’s wholly owned hydro power facility [at Kemano] and uses the company’s proprietary AP40 smelting technology which will effectively halve the smelter’s overall emissions, Rio Tinto said in a news release.

Michel Charron, KMP Project Director with Rio Tinto’s Technology Group, told reporters that the project did come in at the revised budget of $4.8 billion up from the original estimate of $3.3 billion, discounting reports in some media that the costs had reached as high as $5.5 billion. ‘”They gave me 4.8 and I finished at 4.8,” Charron said.

Charron compared what’s left to do with someone moving into a new house. “There’s a bit of asphalt to be put in, there’s a bit of construction on the last part of the potline…. there’s three months to finish up everything, the little things, the painting, so we’re going to be doing that.”

As of July 7, KMP employed 1024 people, Charron said. As the construction finishes, he said, “The work force will be going down quite rapidly at the end of July and through August and September,”

Kitimat mayor Phil Germuth signs the new ingot at Phil Newsome, Bechtel and Michel Charron,  Rio Tinto, watch. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)
Kitimat mayor Phil Germuth signs the new ingot at Phil Newsome, Bechtel and Michel Charron, Rio Tinto, watch. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

The newly constructed Henning Hall cafeteria, meeting hall and change facility, named in honour of Paul Henning, now Vice President of Strategic Projects, was packed as Charron, Poirier, Henning, Phil Newsome, KMP Project Director for Bechtel, Sean O’Driscoll, Unifor 2301 president, Mayor Phil Germuth and Haisla Nation Deputy Chief Councillor Taylor Cross brought in the two ingots which were actually poured on June 29.

 

Inside the modernized smelter. (Rio Tinto)
Inside the modernized smelter. (Rio Tinto)

“As we focus on getting a brand new and somewhat very complex facility up to speed, I urge you to remember that safety remains our top priority, ” Poirier said. “If we get this right the start-up and ramp up will be right too. And this is the only way we can be successful in delivering that world class project. So now in a few words, it is now the time to show what four generations of aluminum producers can do,” Poirier said.

new potline
Final construction at the new potlines, July 7, 2015. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

Poirier then turned to Haisla Nation hereditary chief Sammy Robinson. Robinson and his wife Rose unveiled a totem pole commissioned by Rio Tinto for Henning Hall.

Sammy and Rose Robinson bless the new totem pole at Henning Hall. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)
Sammy and Rose Robinson bless the new totem pole at Henning Hall. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

The pole tells the story of a time when there were a lot eagles in the Kitimat region. One young man was told “to listen to your elders, listen to your mother, not to laugh at handicapped people, not to laugh at old people for they are good in their own way,” Robinson said. Another thing that this young man was told was never to pick up anything shiny, but he didn’t listen and tried to capture a fur seal that has shiny fur. Unfortunately, for the young man, at that moment a giant eel was swallowing the fur seal and dragging them both down to the bottom of the sea. The eagles, however, got together and lifted the seal and the young man from sea and he safely returned to the beach.

Taylor Cross, Deputy Chief Counsellor for the Haisla, said “It’s a great feeling that big companies like this are doing their best to protect the environment we all live in. Every last one of us enjoys this beautiful country we live in. Myself I’m on my boat almost every weekend, down the Channel. I want to that to continue that for the rest of my life and for my kids’ lives. I want to pass that knowledge on that I’m getting. This project created employment opportunities for us, contracting opportunities for the Haisla Nation and training that we would have never gotten.

Taylor Cross. Haisla Nation Deputy Chief Counsellor speaks to the First Metal Ceremony, July 7. 2015 (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)
Taylor Cross. Haisla Nation Deputy Chief Counsellor speaks to the First Metal Ceremony, July 7. 2015 (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

“Our unemployment rate when from about 60 to 65 per cent down to may be five or eight per cent. Every Haisla Nation member who wanted to work was working. It was a great achievement, it gave them skills, training, anything they wanted to be. And getting ready for the next project that’s going to come through Kitimat.” Cross warned that with KMP ending, unemployment among the Haisla will be going up again. The legacy agreement signed between Rio Tinto and the Haisla will ensure that members of the First Nation will continue to be trained and be part of running the smelter. A Haisla joint venture runs catering for the cafeteria.

Paul Henning, who had pushed the modernization project for years was greeted by a sustained round of applause. He opened his talk by saying how he told Sean O’Driscoll about the intent to modernize the plant. “He was the kind of guy like Gabby is striving and thriving and pushing and pulling. Nothing was a barrier, nothing was too high to climb to get this project and this guy said ‘hey just cool it these mega projects can take a decade.’ Well boy did we show him. Boy did we show him Boy did we show him, we did in it nine years,” as the guests laughed.

Paul Henning speaks to the First Metal Ceremony. (Robin Rowland/ Northwest Coast Energy New)
Paul Henning speaks to the First Metal Ceremony. (Robin Rowland/ Northwest Coast Energy New)

“Of course we have a wonderful platform. The platform not only being Kemano…the Douglas Channel and of course the site that… we have here in BC. The modernized smelter we know well. It is world class we have adopted the best technology we can apply in this location coupled to the lowest cost energy supply to a smelter anywhere in the world with access to global markets particularly the Asian Pacific Rim

“Sounds like a factor of success to me. If you’re going to build it, you build it right here.

“Even though the economic climate was difficult during the journey we’ve been through, I always felt that I had support at every level. We continued to get funding, even if it at sometimes it was smaller than we wanted. We got funding to keep this project alive. We engaged at different levels the creativity in construction… to help us get over that threshold and that hurdle to allow us to be here today. to be able to celebrate this fantastic milestone.

“I truly believe that KMP is a catalyst for megaprojects in the northwest. I am fortunate to be involved in other projects that are looking to come to Kitimat and they’re going to come to Kitimat because of its location but what I think you’ve also demonstrated as a community that they’re coming to Kitimat because of its people, As a host community you’ve demonstrated that you can live alongside and support three and half thousand construction professionals at any given time,

Gas treatment plant at smelter
The new gas treatment plant has an art deco look. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

“I’m delighted that we’re through. I’m delighted that the team has got through before the next wave comes.

“I hope that legacy of the learning is two things, It’s enabled the community to be ready and be better prepared for the next one, also for those companies to learn from some of the opportunities and challenges we’ve been through and overcome.

“It was built in Kitimat BC by Canadians… I think at one point I think we had a hundred international workers. So the [labour agreement] allowed the ebb and flow of workers here form a Canadian base. I think that is also a true success factor.”

“For myself each milestone that we go through is a pinch. My goodness we actually pulled this off. We actually pulled this off. So my challenge, you know have the tools. you know have the equipment. You have the people, I was never worried about the people, smelting is in our DNA, three perhaps four generations of smelter experts in Kitimat. Now is your time to show what the best smelter in the world can do.”

Rowlandgastreatment4

Inside the gas treatment plant at the smelter. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)
Inside the gas treatment plant at the smelter. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

 

gas treatment plant
Construction workers putting the finishing touchs on the new gas treatment plant (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)
A view of Mt. Elizabeth with the gas treatment stack in the foreground. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)
A view of Mt. Elizabeth with the gas treatment stack in the foreground. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

Why the media coverage of the Tim Hortons boycott is a double double failure

The headline on Thursday’s CBC.ca coverage of the sudden controversy over a boycott  in British Columbia of Tim Horton’s over the Enbridge ads sums up everything that’s wrong about media coverage not only of the boycotts, but of northwest energy and environment issues overall.

“Tim Hortons yanks Enbridge ads, sparks Alberta backlash.” The anger at Tim Hortons across northwest British Columbia over those Enbridge ads, the calls for a boycott have been building for more than two weeks but no one in the media noticed despite widespread posts on Facebook and other social media.

CBC.ca

As usual, the concerns of the northwest didn’t really become a story until Alberta got involved and  the story has become the “Alberta backlash.”  Now, there’s a backlash on social media to the Alberta backlash, with northwestern British Columbians tweeting and posting their displeasure, angry at the usual blinkered views of Alberta-centric coverage of energy issues.

Let’s make one thing clear– despite the outraged cries of the usual suspects like Defence Minister Jason Kenney, Conservative MP Michelle Rempel, who represents Calgary Centre-North and Kyle Harrietha, the Liberal candidate for Fort McMurray-Cold Lake that the boycott was aimed  at Alberta’s entire energy industry and the province’s views of a manifest destiny as an energy super power, the doughnut boycott was really aimed specifically at Enbridge, and the company’s arrogance and incompetence.

This morning Wildrose party leader Brian Jean has joined the Alberta boycott and is demanding the Enbridge ads be reinstated. “I’ll pick up my Tim’s coffee again when they decide to apologize for taking jabs at our industry, which is so important to Albertans,” Jean is quoted on CBC.ca.

Of course Jean, like most Albertans, isn’t  looking at the bigger picture. The question that Jean should really be asking, is the continuing unquestioning support for Enbridge actually harming the rest of the Alberta energy industry by increasing the resistance in northwestern BC to other energy projects? When are Alberta politicians, whether federal or provincial, ever actually going to show even a Timbit of respect for the issues in northwestern British Columbia?

Look at what Enbridge is doing

There is strong support (with some reservations) for the liquified natural gas projects. There is a level of support for pipelines that would carry refined hydrocarbons to the coast, something that the new premier of Alberta, Rachel Notley is seriously considering.  But it is so typical of Alberta, the Alberta media and most of the Canadian media, to believe that the boycott was an attack on the entire energy industry.

Ask any executive of an energy company that wants to do business in northwestern British Columbia and they’ll come  up with the a joke that is now so old and so often repeated that it’s become a cliché, “We look at what Enbridge is doing and then do the exact opposite.”

timmysamos

The fact is that Enbridge has been dealing with northwestern British Columbia for more than ten years and they still can’t do anything right. Shell, Chevron, Petronas (and before them Apache) and even TransCanada make more efforts to listen to the people, First Nations and non-Aboriginal residents alike, than Enbridge ever has or ever will (despite their claims in their PR campaigns).

While these energy giants may not agree with what they hear, they are respectful and depending on their corporate culture are making genuine efforts to come up with ways to make their projects work. After a decade of blunders, however, Enbridge still hasn’t shown that much respect for anyone here. Those touchy feely ads that appear on television and at Tim Horton’s are just another example of how not to run a public relations campaign.

There are those who oppose any bitumen sands extraction who signed the online petition, but the core of opposition, as always, comes from northwestern BC and the issue is an ill-conceived pipeline.

Enbridge has been successful in one area of its public relations strategy. They’ve convinced Albertans that Enbridge and the Northern Gateway pipeline is an essential part of not only the Alberta economy but Alberta culture. Any attack on Enbridge becomes an attack on Alberta. Hence the unreasoned anger when after Tim Hortons pulled the ads.

The big blame America lie

The other Big Lie we keep hearing from the Harper Government, is that this all orchestrated by American NGOs and activists. Again this shows Alberta-centric contempt for British Columbia. It’s very easy and convenient to keep believing that everyone in northern British Columbia are dumb and stupid and are being led by the ear by those nasty green Americans who have it in for the efforts to make Canada an energy superpower. That idea, promoted by the more conservative Canadian media has always been animal waste. The battle to protect the environment of northwestern British Columbia while at the same time attracting resource projects that have recognized and obtained social licence to operate has always and will always in BC on a case by case, community by community basis.

Macleans

The only media that so far has managed to get it half right is Jason Kirby writing in MacLean’s who notes that the trouble began on May 18 when Enbridge put up the Tim Hortons ad on their own website. (Did I mention that Enbridge is both incompetent and arrogant?) and it was immediately noticed by those individuals and activists that monitor the Enbridge website.

A morning shock with your morning coffee and Timbits

Social media across northwestern British Columbia, mostly Facebook, began spreading the news within hours of the ads appearing in the local Timmys. There were angry posts from individuals who had walked in Tim Hortons and saw the ads.

Post in the Kitimat Politics Facebook group.
Post in the Kitimat Politics Facebook group.

Why didn’t the media get the story?

So why wasn’t the story covered by the media at least ten days ago?

That’s because in this age of tight budgets, it’s considered easy and economical to try to all of northern BC cover from either Vancouver or Calgary; that means covering from far away both the coast where the pipelines and tankers may or may not operate to the east near the Rockies where the natural gas extraction is on going

If you look at map of northern BC, and the two federal ridings Skeena Bulkley Valley and Prince George–Peace River–Northern Rockies, the population is about 200,000 spread over an area about half the size of Europe. Both ridings in this region are supposedly vital to the future of the Canadian economy, but you wouldn’t know it from most of the media. (The Globe and Mail is an exception, with more ongoing coverage of northern BC than you will find in either The Vancouver Sun or The Province).

Elections Canada map showing just how big the two northern BC ridings are.  (Elections Canada)
Elections Canada map showing just how big the two northern BC ridings are. (Elections Canada)

As for CBC, there are just eight radio staff, two in Prince Rupert and six in Prince George to cover all the apparently vital issues across half the province. ( Almost all the staff work mostly for the Daybreak North morning show which dominates the regional rates but it looks like with the latest CBC cutbacks that at least one of those positions will be eliminated). CBC TV and Global cover the region from Vancouver.

At least the Vancouver based media make efforts to cover the north from time to time. The Alberta media, however, especially the Calgary Herald, is hopeless, and so biased against British Columbia and so dismissive of the issues here, that the coverage across Alberta is completely unreliable about 90 per cent of the time—it’s no wonder that the majority of Albertans have no understanding of British Columbia culture and issues.

Then there are the punditi, pontificating from their cubicles in Ottawa and Toronto without a clue, without doing the basic journalism of picking up the phone (or writing an e-mail) to actually find out what’s going on.

coyne1

coyne2

Andrew Coyne, for example, made these rather silly two tongue-in-cheek tweets Thursday night. While Coyne’s tweets do often exhibit a sense of humour, his excellent coverage of the decline of our democratic parliament has to be compared with his blind, unchecked ideological assumptions about the issues of the northwest, which are simplistic, cubicle bound and far off the mark. The same can be said for Jeffrey Simpson in his occasional writing about this region. Neither the view from the Hill, where you can see as far as the Queensway, nor from Bloor Street, where you can see part of the Don Valley, are vantage points to understand what is going in northern British Columbia.


Update: Rex Murphy, writing in the National Post,  has now joined the fray, no longer making a secret of his absolute disbelief in climate change and support for Enbridge. However, if you read his column, it is scathing in its contempt for the working men and women of British Columbia who want sustainable environmentally safe resource projects. It appears that to Murphy the only people in this country who actually work for a living in Canada are in Alberta and Newfoundland and no where else.   Kitimat has been an industrial town since it was founded in the 1950s, Kitimat rejoiced when former Mayor Joanne Monaghan succeeded in bringing a Timmys to Kitimat and the majority of Kitimat residents voted in the plebiscite against Enbridge.  But, of course, all those facts are irrelevant to Murphy and the other conservative pundits who never come within a thousand kilometres of northwestern BC, who believe we can’t think for ourselves and are easily misled by American environmentalists.  No wonder journalism is in a death spiral.


Error checks

So let’s look at the specific errors in the media coverage of the Tim Horton’s story.

globetimmys

Both Shawn McCarthy in the Globe and Mail and Kyle Bakyx on CBC.ca seem to accept without question that SumofUs, was the instigator of the petition. Like many issues in northwestern BC, the Lower Mainland or US based activist groups follow the lead of northwestern BC and jump on the bandwagon, not the other way around. Jason Kirby in MacLean’s says the boycott movement began a week ago. Here in Kitimat, it began within hours of the ads appearing in the local Timmys and was picked up on activist social media groups before the SumofUs petition site.

McCarthy repeats the conventional wisdom: “The Conservatives and oil industry supporters have been waging a public relations war with the environmental groups that oppose expansion of the oil sands and construction of new pipelines.”

When is the media ever going to learn that opposition to Enbridge is widespread across most of northern British Columbia, from First Nations to city and regional councils to a plurality of residents? When is the media going to drop the stock phrase “First Nations and environmentalists”? Does anyone remember the vote in Kitimat last April against the Northern Gateway project?

CBC.ca quotes Alan Middleton of York University “Enbridge, of course, is not just pipelines and oilsands; they are a whole range of products including heating people’s homes. Tims should have thought about that.” Again a mistake. I lived in Toronto for many years. A company called Consumers Gas supplied natural gas to homes until it was taken over by Enbridge, so Enbridge does heat the homes in Toronto. But what has that got to do with northwestern British Columbia? Why didn’t CBC.ca call the University of Northern British Columbia? Easier to call York (which by the way is where I got both my BA and MA)

McCarthy quotes Rempel as saying, “One has to wonder whether head office talked to their franchise owners in Alberta before making the decision. I imagine those calls are being made this afternoon – certainly there are a lot of people voicing their displeasure.”

The question that should have been asked whether or not Tim Hortons consulted their franchise owners in British Columbia before ordering them to play the ads. People here were “voicing their displeasure” from the moment the first Kitimatian walked into the local Timmys for an early morning coffee and had to stand in line while being told how wonderful Enbridge is.

Of course, if Albertans force Tim Hortons into reinstating the ads, that will only trigger a bigger boycott in British Columbia.  As Maclean’s asks, “what were they thinking?”

Jason Kenney, flying in, flying out

As for Jason Kenney, who is quoted by the CBC as tweeting:  “I’m proud to represent thousands of constituents who work for Enbridge & other CDN energy companies,” if Kenney aspires to be Prime Minister one day, he had better start thinking about representing more Canadians than just those employed by the energy industry—a mistake that his boss Stephen Harper keeps making.

Jason Kenney did visit Kitimat for a just a few hours in February 2014  for a tour of the Rio Tinto modernization project and an obligatory and brief meeting with the Haisla First Nation council. If Kenney had actually bothered to stick around a few more hours and talk to the community, everyone from the environmentalists to the industrial development advocates, he might not have been so quick on the trigger in the Twitter wars.

Not one of the major media who covered this story, not The Globe and Mail, not CBC.ca, not MacLean’s, no one else, once bothered to actually call or e-mail someone who lives along the Northern Gateway pipeline route in British Columbia, the area where the boycott movement actually began to ask about Enbridge’s track record in this region. The media still doesn’t get it. This morning’s stories are all about Alberta. As usual, my dear, the media doesn’t give a damn about northwestern British Columbia.

That is why the coverage of the Tim Hortons boycott is a double double failure of the Canadian media.

timmyskpoljune4




Where else the media is failing northwestern BC

Full disclosure. Since I took early retirement from CBC in 2010 and returned to Kitimat, I have worked as a freelancer for CBC radio and television, Global News, Canadian Press, The National Post, The Globe and Mail and other media.

However, largely due to budget cuts, freelance opportunities, not only for myself, but others across the region have dried up. The media seems to be concentrating more on the major urban areas where there is larger population base and at least more of the ever shrinking advertising dollar. I am now told more often than I was a couple of years ago that “we don’t have the budget.”

Now this isn’t just a freelancer who would like some more work (although it would be nice). If the media these days actually had environmental beats for reporters the boycott of Tim Hortons in northwest BC would have been flagged within a couple of days, not almost two and half weeks and later only when Alberta got hot under its oily collar.

So as well as the Tim Horton’s boycott here are two major ongoing stories from Kitimat that the media haven’t been covering.

100 day municipal strike

-Kitimat’s municipal workers, Unifor 2300, have been on strike since February 28. Three rounds of mediation have failed, the union has refused binding arbitration, the pool, gym and community meeting halls have been closed since February, the municipal parks and byways are now returning to the wilderness. Only essential services are being maintained (but residents still have to pay their property taxes by July 2, taxes that are skyrocketing due to increased assessments for home values based on LNG projects that haven’t started) By the time most people read this the strike will have been on for 100 days. There is no settlement in sight and both sides, despite a mediator ordered blackout, are fighting a press release war on social media. Can you imagine any other place that had a 100 day municipal workers strike with no coverage in the province’s main media outlets, whether newspaper or television? Local CBC radio has covered the strike, as has the local TV station CFTK.  (Update: District of Kitimat says in a news release that the mediator has now approved the DoK news releases.)

Of course, in the bigger picture the media concentrates on business reporting. There haven’t been labour reporters for a generation.

Kitimat air shed hearings

-The environmental hearings on the Rio Tinto Alcan proposal to increase sulphur dioxide emissions in the Kitimat Terrace air shed, after two weeks in Victoria, where there was no media coverage, are now continuing in Kitimat, where again there is little media coverage. CFTK is covering the hearings; otherwise the main coverage comes from the activist group DeSmog, hardly a credible or unbiased source. I made the decision not to cover the hearings either. I can’t afford any longer to sit around for two weeks, unpaid, no matter how vital the hearings are to the community.

So if most Canadians were surprised that there was a boycott of the unofficial national symbol, Tim Hortons, it’s because of that double double media fail and as the media continues to decline, as budgets are cut, as “commodity news” disappears, expect more surprises in the future. Oh by the way Kitimat is vital to the national economy but we can cover it from a cubicle in Toronto.

Final disclosure: I am not a coffee drinker. When I go to Timmy’s I prefer a large steeped tea and an apple fritter.

Silja Festival leaves Kitimat

Rio Tinto Alcan’s Kitimat Modernization Project floating hotel or “flotel” the Silja Festival, also known as the Delta Spirit Lodge, left Kitimat harbour at about 5 pm, this afternoon, April 28, 2015.

There was no advance notice from Rio Tinto Alcan to the media or the community. However, it is clear that the Kitimat Modernization Project is in its a final stages, as there is a new sign on the Alcan Highway, saying KMP is  90 per cent complete.

The Silja Festival is bound for Vancouver according to marine traffic tracking websites.

Silja Festival leaves Kitimat
A tug helps Kitimat’s “flotel” the Silja Festival turn around after leaving the old Eurocoan dock, on the afternoon of April 28, 2015. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)
Silja Festival leaves in Kitimat
The departing Silja Festival passes Kitamaat Village, April 28, 2015. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)
Silja Festival leaves Kitimat
The Silja Festival heads down Douglas Channel after leaving Kitimat harbour, April 28, 2015. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

 

 

Phil Germuth, Enbridge’s “What the….” moment and what it means for British Columbia

Phil Germuth
Councillor Phil Germuth questions Northern Gateway officials about their plans for leak detection, Feb. 17, 2014 (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

Enbridge Northern Gateway officials are loath (to put it mildly) to speak to the media but sometimes they let things slip. Earlier this summer, at a social event, I heard an Enbridge official (probably inadvertently) reveal that when the company’s engineers came before District of Kitimat Council earlier this year they were surprised and somewhat unprepared to fully answer the detailed technical questions from Councillor Phil Germuth on pipeline leak detection.

In January, 2015, Phil Germuth will take the centre chair as mayor at the Kitimat Council Chambers.

The results of the municipal election in Kitimat, and elsewhere across BC show one clear message; voters do want industrial development in their communities, but not at any price. Communities are no longer prepared to be drive by casualties for giant corporations on their road to shareholder value.

The federal Conservatives and the BC provincial Liberals have, up until now, successfully used the “all or nothing thinking” argument. That argument is: You either accept everything a project proponent wants, whether in the mining or energy sectors,  or you are against all development. Psychologists will tell you that “all or nothing thinking” only leads to personal defeat and depression. In politics, especially in an age of attack ads and polarization, the all or nothing thinking strategy often works. Saturday’s results, however, show that at least at the municipal level,  the all or nothing argument is a political loser. Where “all politics is local” the majority of people are aware of the details of the issues and reject black and white thinking.

Ray Philpenko
Northern Gateway’s Ray Philpenko gives a presentation on pipeline leak detection to Kitimat Council, Feb. 17. 2014. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

The Enbridge official went on to say that for their company observers, Germuth’s questions were a “what the…..” moment.  As in “what the …..” is this small town councillor doing challenging our expertise?

But then Enbridge (and the other pipeline companies) have always tended to under estimate the intelligence of people who live along the route of proposed projects whether in British Columbia or elsewhere in North America, preferring to either ignore or demonize opponents and to lump skeptics into the opponent camp. The Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel also lost credibility when it accepted most of Northern Gateway’s arguments at face value while saying “what the ……” do these amateurs living along the pipeline route know?

Pro Development

“I am pro-development,” Germuth proclaimed to reporters in Kitimat on Saturday night after his landslide victory in his campaign for mayor.

On the issue of leak detection, over a period of two years, Germuth did his homework, checked his facts and looked for the best technology on leak detection for pipelines. That’s a crucial issue here where pipelines cross hundreds of kilometres of wilderness and there just aren’t the people around to notice something is amiss (as the people of Marshall, Michigan wondered at the time of the Line 6B breach back in 2010). Enbridge should have been prepared; Germuth first raised public questions about leak detection at a public forum in August 2012. In February 2014, after another eighteen months of research, he was ready to cross-examine, as much as possible under council rules of procedure. Enbridge fumbled the answers.

So that’s the kind of politician that will be mayor of Kitimat for the next four years, technically astute, pro-development but skeptical of corporate promises and determined to protect the environment.

Across the province, despite obstacles to opposition set up by the federal and provincial governments, proponents are now in for a tougher time (something that some companies will actually welcome since it raises the standards for development).

We see similar results in key votes in British Columbia. In Vancouver, Gregor Roberston, despite some problems with policies in some neighborhoods, won re-election on his green and anti-tankers platform. In Burnaby, Derek Corrigan handily won re-election and has already repeated his determination to stop the twinning of the Kinder Morgan pipeline through his town. In Prince Rupert, Lee Brain defeated incumbent Jack Musselman. Brain, who has on the ground experience working at an oil refinery in India, supports LNG development but has also been vocal in his opposition to Northern Gateway.

The new mayor in Terrace Carol Leclerc is an unknown factor, a former candidate for the BC Liberal party, who campaigned mainly on local issues. In the Terrace debate she refused to be pinned down on whether or not she supported Northern Gateway, saying,  “Do I see Enbridge going ahead? Not a hope,” but later adding, “I’d go with a pipeline before I’d go with a rail car.”

 

election signs
Kitimat election signs. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

Plebiscite confirmed

Kitimat’s mayor and council elections also confirm that Northern Gateway plebiscite vote last April. Kitimat wants industrial development but not at the price of the community and the environment. The unofficial pro-development slate lost. A last minute attempt to smear Germuth on social media was quickly shot down by people from all sides of the Kitimat debate. Smears don’t usually work in small towns where everyone knows everyone.

Larry Walker, an environmentalist with a track record in municipal politics as an alderman in Spruce Grove, Alberta, won a seat. Together with Rob Goffinet and Germuth, that is three solid votes for the environment. The other new councillor is Claire Rattee who will be one to watch. Will the rookie be the swing vote as Corinne Scott was?

Mario Feldhoff who came to third to Goffinet in the overall vote (Edwin Empinado was second) is a solid councillor with a strong reputation for doing his homework and attention to detail and the unofficial leader of the side more inclined to support development. Feldhoff got votes from all sides in the community.

During the debates, Feldhoff repeated his position that he supports David Black’s Kitimat Clean refinery. But as an accountant, Feldhoff will have to realize that Black’s plan, which many commentators say was economically doubtful with oil at $110 a barrel, is impractical with oil at $78 a barrel for Brent Crude and expected to fall farther. Any idea of a refinery bringing jobs to Kitimat will have to be put on hold for now.

LNG projects are also dependent on the volatility and uncertainty in the marketplace. The companies involved keep postponing the all important Final Investment Decisions.

There are also Kitimat specific issues to deal with. What happens to the airshed, now and in the future? Access to the ocean remains a big issue. RTA’s gift of land on Minette Bay is a step in the right direction, but while estuary land is great for camping, canoeing and nature lovers, it is not a beach. There is still the need for a well-managed marina and boat launch that will be open and available to everyone in the valley.

Germuth will have to unite a sometimes contentious council to ensure Kitimat’s future prosperity without giving up the skepticism necessary when corporations sit on a table facing council on a Monday night, trying to sell their latest projects. That all means that Germuth has his job cut out for him over the next four years.