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

Sending the Northern Gateway Pipeline to Prince Rupert: A dumb, dumb, dumb idea—and here are the photos to prove it.

There’s a dumb, dumb, really dumb idea that just won’t go away—that Enbridge could solve all its problems if only, if only, it would send the Northern Gateway Pipeline to Prince Rupert.

Enbridge long ago rejected the idea. Before Enbridge updated its website to make  Gateway Facts, to make it slick and more attractive, the old website had an FAQ where Enbridge explained why it wasn’t going to Prince Rupert.

Did you consider running the pipeline to Prince Rupert where a major port already exists?

We considered Prince Rupert and Kitimat as possible locations. We carried out a feasibility study that took into account a number of considerations. The study found that the routes to Prince Rupert were too steep to safely run the pipeline, and that Kitimat was the best and safest option available.

Current proposed route for the Northern Gateway pipeline. (Enbridge)
Current proposed route for the Northern Gateway pipeline. (Enbridge)

Here in the northwest even the supporters of the Northern Gateway roll their eyes when they hear the old Prince Rupert story come up again and again – and it’s not just because these people support the Kitimat plans for Northern Gateway, it’s because those supporters (not to mention the opponents) have driven along the Skeena from Terrace to Prince Rupert.

There just isn’t any room for a pipeline. It’s a game of centimetres.

A rainbow hugs the mountains near the Telegraph Point rest area on the Skeena River between Terrace and Prince Rupert, Sept. 29, 2014.  Traffic is seen on the narrow corridor between the mountains and the river (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)
A rainbow hugs the mountains near the Telegraph Point rest area on the Skeena River between Terrace and Prince Rupert, Sept. 29, 2014. Traffic is seen on the narrow corridor between the mountains and the river (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

Alternatives to Kitimat?

Now the new premier of Alberta, Jim Prentice, who should know better if he’s going to lead that province, is hinting that Kitimat isn’t the only possible solution for the Northern Gateway.

Without specifying Prince Rupert, according to Gary Mason reporting in The Globe and Mail, Prentice was speculating about an alternative to Kitimat.

Asked whether he believes the Gateway terminus should be relocated to Prince Rupert or another destination, Mr. Prentice said, “Everything I’ve heard from the Haisla who live there is they don’t agree with the terminal being in Kitimat.” Is it possible to get First Nations approval if there is no support at the planned terminus site? “It’s pretty tough,” the Premier said.

A couple of days ago, the Prince Rupert’s Mayor Jack Mussallem told The Globe and Mail in Mayor, port authority say no room for Northern Gateway pipeline in Prince Rupert

Prince Rupert has a thriving local fishing industry that employs hundreds of people and is critically important to the local First Nations. He is convinced the community would not be willing to put that at risk.
“Overwhelmingly people in my community are much more comfortable with liquefied natural gas, with wood pellets, with coal, than any oil product,” he said.

The Prince Rupert Port Authority also rejected the idea

A spokesman for the Prince Rupert Port Authority said Wednesday there is currently no room for Enbridge to build at the port even if it wanted to. “We are fully subscribed,” Michael Gurney said. There are two large vacant lots within the port authority’s jurisdiction, but both are locked by other energy companies, earmarked for LNG projects.

So not only is there no room on the road to Prince Rupert, there is no room in Prince Rupert.

Shovel-ready?

Let’s just consider for a moment that if Prince Rupert was the ideal location for the Northern Gateway terminal (which it is not), what would be needed to get the project going today.

The Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel would have be reconstituted or a new JRP created by the National Energy Board. That’s because the bitumen comes from Bruderheim, Alberta, crossing provincial boundaries and thus it’s in federal jurisdiction.

Even under the fast track rules imposed on the NEB by Stephen Harper’s Conservative government, new environmental and social impact studies would be required, starting from scratch. So add another five years of paperwork before a single shovel goes into the ground.

The pipeline would have to cross the traditional territory of First Nations that, so far, have not been part of the negotiations, mostly the Tsimshian First Nation as well as the Nisga’a First Nation which has a treaty establishing local rule over their territory.

Traditional leaders of the Gitga'at First Nation lead a protest march through the streets of Prince Rupert, February 4, 2012. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)
Traditional leaders of the Gitga’at First Nation lead a protest march through the streets of Prince Rupert, February 4, 2012. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

In February 2012, the largest anti-Enbridge demonstration outside of the Lower Mainland took place in Prince Rupert, with the elders of the Tsimshian First Nation welcoming the elders and members of the Gitga’at First Nation, at Hartley Bay, which had organized the protest.

While Kitimat Council long stood neutral on the issue, the councils at Prince Rupert, Terrace, Smithers as well as the Kitimat Stikine Regional District and the Skeena Queen Charlotte Regional District had voted to oppose the Northern Gateway.

Audio Slideshow; No to Tankers Rally, Prince Rupert, February 4, 2012

The Skeena Route

The Skeena is one of the greatest salmon rivers on the planet. The Petronas LNG project has already run into problems because its planned terminal at Lelu Island would also impact the crucial eel-grass which is the nursery for young salmon leaving the Skeena and preparing to enter the ocean. Note that northern BC is generally in favour of LNG terminals, if the terminals are in the right place, so expect huge protests against any bitumen terminal at the mouth of the Skeena.

When I say there isn’t room for a pipeline along the Skeena, it also means that there isn’t any room for the pipeline corridor right-of-way. Enbridge, in its submissions to the Joint Review Panel, said it requires a 25 metre wide right of way for the pipeline corridor. (For the record that’s just over 82 feet).

Along that highway, as you will see, there’s barely enough room for the CN mainline and Highway 16 (also known as the Yellowhead Highway) and on a lot of places both the highway and the railway roadbed are built on fill along the side of a cliff.

Now I’ve said this all before, two years ago, in a piece for the Huffington Post, Get Over it! A Pipeline to Prince Rupert Is Bust

Albertans’ desperate desire to see the Northern Gateway go to anywhere to what they call “tide water” keeps coming up like the proverbial bad penny. The latest came when Jim Prentice speculated about a new route for the Northern Gateway.

I knew I had an appointment coming up in Prince Rupert on Monday, September 29. So I decided that only way to prove to people sitting in Calgary, Edmonton and Fort McMurray playing with Google Maps that the pipeline to Prince Rupert was a really dumb idea was to shoot photographs to show just why the Northern Gateway will never go to Prince Rupert—at least along the Skeena.

As you drive out of Terrace, you pass two large swing gates (also called by some “Checkpoint Charlie” gates after the Cold War era crossing in Berlin.) At the first rest stop west of Terrace, there are another set of gates at the Exstew. There’s a third set of gates just outside Prince Rupert.

A logging truck passes the avalanche gates at Exstew on Highway 16, Sept. 29, 2014.  (Robin Rowland)
A logging truck passes the avalanche gates at Exstew on Highway 16, Sept. 29, 2014. (Robin Rowland)

The swing gates are avalanche gates and, in the winter, Highway 16 can be shut down if an avalanche closes the highway or the danger from avalanche is too great to allow motorists to proceed. When you drive the highway from Terrace to Prince Rupert in the winter (the signs were covered up when I drove Monday) you are warned “Avalanche danger Next 13 kilometres. No stopping.”

The Exstew avalanche gates, (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)
The Exstew avalanche gates, (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

The drive along the Skeena from just west of Exchamsiks River Provincial Park all the way to Tyee where the highway turns inland to reach northwest to Prince Rupert on Kaien Island is one of the most spectacular drives on this planet. The highway snakes along a narrow strip of land with steep mountain cliffs on one side and the vast river on the other.

The problem is that apart from locals and tourists, none of the “experts” whether journalist, think tanker, bureaucrat or politician have, apparently ever driven from Prince Rupert to Terrace.

When both Opposition Leader Tom Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau were in the northwest earlier this summer to “engage” with the local people, apart from short boat trips down Douglas Channel, they flew everywhere. Scheduling you know. Stephen Harper has never visited northwest BC and probably never intends to. His cabinet members fly in for photo ops and then are on the next plane out of town.

Of all the visiting journalists who have come to the northwest only a couple have bothered to drive around the region. Most fly-in fly-out. These days, most often budget-strapped reporters never leave their offices, interviewing the same usual suspects by phone on every story.

On Monday, I took most of the photographs on my way back from Prince Rupert to Terrace after my appointment, so the sequence is from west to east. There are also very few places along the river where you can safely stop. There are concrete barricades on both sides of the highway to prevent vehicles either going into the river or onto the narrow CN right-of-way.

There are, however, two rest stops and a number of small turnoffs on the highway, the turnoffs mainly intended for use by BC Highways, but which are also used by tourists, fishers and photographers.

aberdeencreek1

The first image was taken at one of those highway turnoffs just east of Aberdeen Creek. This is what the highway and rail corridor are like all along the Skeena, the highway, bounded by concrete barricades, the CN rail line and then the towering mountains. Note where the telegraph and telephone lines are—further up the cliffside.

aberdeencreek4

A closer view of the highway and rail corridor just east of Aberdeen Creek.

aberdeencreek3

Here is the view of the Skeena River from the Aberdeen Creek turnoff. You can see to the east, a mountain and the narrow strip of fill land that supports the highway and the rail line.

 

aberdeencreek2
You see the broad width of the mighty Skeena, the Misty River, as it is called by the Tsimshian First Nation and by everyone else who lives in the northwest and on the right side of the image, the highway and rail corridor built on fill.

Any room for a pipeline?

aberdeencreek5

There’s another turnoff on the other side of the headland east of Aberdeen Creek, looking back the way we came.

khyex1

The final small turnoff is just by the Kylex River. Again you can see how narrow the highway and rail corridor are.

basalt

A few kilometres further along—as I said the highway snakes and curves its way along the riverbank–  you come to the Basalt Creek rest area. So this telephoto image shows a logging truck heading west,   taken from Basalt Creek, looking back at the highway.

Again you can see both the highway and CN line are built on fill. Is there any room for a pipeline?

Any room for a 25 metre pipeline right-of-way?

Between Basalt Creek and Telegraph Point, a few kilometres to the east, again the highway and rail line hug the narrow strip between the river and mountains.

Rowland_CN_container_Skeena

This shot, taken from Telegraph Point, in October 2013, shows a CN intermodal container train heading to Prince Rupert. The container trains and the coal trains usually have between 150 and 180 cars. If a winter avalanche took out a train, there would be environmental damage, but that damage would be insignificant from coal or containers compared to a train of railbit tankers carrying diluted bitumen.

At Telegraph Point, the second of the three rest stops between Prince Rupert and Terrace, again there is just a narrow strip between the mountain, the highway and the river.

telegraph1

telegraph2

Across the highway from the rest stop, you can again see the narrow corridor, the first shot looking west the rail line close to the cliff face, the second, east, with the waterfall, which you don’t see during the rest of the year, fed by the fall monsoon.

 

telegraphmarch2013Two shots from the same location, Telegraph Point, taken in March, 2013, of a CN locomotive hauling empty coal cars back to the fields around Tumbler Ridge. (No waterfall in March)

telegraphmarch2013_1

 

Alternative routes

Everyone has assumed that if Northern Gateway changed its route, the most likely choice given the configuration of the pipeline at the moment is to follow the Skeena.

There are alternatives. The Petronas LNG project and its partner TransCanada Pipelines have proposed a more northern cross-country route, which would go north from the Hazeltons, avoiding the Skeena 

Proposed natural gas pipeline. (TransCanada)
Proposed natural gas pipeline. (TransCanada)

The BG Group and Spectra Energy are also contemplating a pipeline…although details on the website are rather sparse.

If Enbridge wanted to try a northern route, similar to the one TransCanada contemplates for Petronas, Northern Gateway would again run into trouble.

It would require reopening or creating a new Joint Review Panel, many more years of environmental and social impact studies of the route, even under Stephen Harper’s fast track system. The TransCanada/Petronas pipeline would also cross the traditional territory of the Gitxsan First Nation and if Enbridge tried that the company would have to deal with the fact that it signed a controversial agreement with Elmer Derrick that was immediately repudiated by most members of the Gitxsan First Nation and eventually dropped by Enbridge.

So why does this idea of a pipeline to Prince Rupert keep coming up?

In most cases, the idea of the pipeline to Prince Rupert is always proposed by Albertans, not from any credible source in British Columbia, or the suggestions come from desk bound analysts in Toronto and Ottawa both in think tanks and in the newsrooms of dying newspapers who have never seen the Skeena River apart from a tiny handful who have looked at Google Street View

(Yes you can Google Street View Highway 16 along the Skeena, I recommend it if you can’t do the drive)

Perhaps the worst example of this failure of both analysis and journalism came in the Edmonton Journal on July 7,2014, when it published a piece by Bob Russell, entitled Opinion: Make Prince Rupert the terminus, which went over the same old inaccurate arguments.

The overland route currently proposed by Enbridge is fraught with environmental issues because it goes over coastal mountains and streams before entering Kitimat’s port. This port will also be the base of perhaps as many as four liquefied natural gas terminals, which will result in the channel always busy with LNG ships outbound and returning from many Asian ports.

There are existing rights of way for the major highway, the Yellowhead, and CN Rail line from Edmonton to the Port of Prince Rupert, so this eliminates the issue of transgressing First Nations lands. The technical issues of narrow passages can be overcome with engineering. In fact, the pipeline can be buried in the roadway at some restricted locations if absolutely necessary, but two different engineers have assured me that for the most part, the right of way should be able to handle the pipeline. A vital factor, of course, is to reduce the impact by eliminating the need for two pipelines.

The clue is how the Edmonton Journal describes Russell;

Bob Russell has an extensive background in planning and was a member of the Edmonton Metro Regional Planning Commission. He has flown the Douglas Channel, visited Kitimat and toured the Port of Prince Rupert.

This is so typical of the Albertan attitude toward northwest British Columbia,  people fly in for a couple of days, make a quick observation, and fly out again and present themselves as experts on the region. (Some “experts” on Kitimat, very active on Twitter have apparently never left Calgary).

It obvious that the “two engineers” who assured him “the right-of-way could handle of pipeline” have no idea what they’re talking about. As the photos show there is barely enough room for a highway and a rail line much less a 25 metre wide pipeline corridor.

If the pipeline was to be built as Russell proposed, the only highway between Prince Rupert and the rest of Canada would have to be closed for years, there are no detours.  All so a pipeline can be buried under the asphalt not in solid ground, but in the fill on the side of a riverbank in an avalanche zone?

Of course, closing a highway up here won’t inconvenience anyone in Edmonton or Calgary, will it?

Would CN be happy with years of disruption of their lucrative traffic to Prince Rupert with grain and coal outbound to Asia and all those containers coming in to feed Chinese products to the North American market? (you can be sure Walmart wouldn’t be happy about that, not to mention prairie farmers including those from Alberta)

Russell’s statement

There are existing rights of way for the major highway, the Yellowhead, and CN Rail line from Edmonton to the Port of Prince Rupert, so this eliminates the issue of transgressing First Nations lands.

Is also inaccurate.

I was told by First Nations leaders during the Idle No More demonstrations in the winter of 2013, that, a century ago, when the Grand Trunk built the railway along the Skeena , they did just that, built it without consulting the First Nations along the route, sometime digging up native cemeteries and sacred spots.

While apparently CN has worked in recent years to improve relations with the First Nations along the rail line, according to those leaders some issues of right-of-way remain to be resolved.

If there were any plans to build a diluted bitumen pipeline along that route, that would likely mean another court battle adding to those already before the Federal Court, a court battle that would cost Enbridge, CN, the federal government, environmental NGOs and the First Nations more millions in lawyers’ fees.

It’s doubtful if in the long gone (and perhaps mythical) days of “get it right” journalism that the Russell opinion piece would have passed the scrutiny of an old fashioned copy editor and fact checker.

In 2012, the Edmonton Journal (in a story no longer available on their website) also cited former Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed and former Bank of Canada governor David Dodge, as also favouring Prince Rupert.

Dodge, who was in Edmonton Tuesday to deliver a speech on the global economic outlook at MacEwan University, said Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline to Kitimat looks like even more of a long shot.
“I think the project to Kitimat looks, objectively, more risky. So why hasn’t much greater effort gone into looking at Prince Rupert and taking (bitumen) out that way? My guess is, the easiest place to get B.C. to buy into the project would be to go to Rupert.”
Dodge’s views echo those of former Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed, who also favours looking at an alternate pipeline route to Prince Rupert, where ocean-going supertankers can navigate more easily.

Back in 2012, I finished my piece for the Huffington Post by saying:

So why do people insist, despite the evidence, that the Northern Gateway go to Prince Rupert? It’s no longer an pipeline; it’s emotion and ideology. Ideology in that opposition to the Northern Gateway is seen by conservatives as heretical opposition to free enterprise itself. Emotion among those who see promoting the oil patch as an issue of “Alberta pride” and even Canadian patriotism.
For the promoters of the pipeline to Prince Rupert, ignoring the science of geology and the study of geography across all of northwestern B.C. is no different than repeatedly knocking your head against the Paleozoic metamorphic greenstone of the mountain cliffs along the Skeena. It only gives you a headache.

Things haven’t gotten much better in the past two years. In fact they’re getting worse as opposition to pipelines mounts.

It seems that in 2014  the Alberta and the federal government policy in promoting pipelines Northern Gateway, KinderMorgan’s TransMountain, Keystone XL, Line 9 Reversal and Energy East (slick PR and smiling representatives at open houses, politicians at strictly controlled photo ops) is to ignore facts on the ground and to refuse to deal with the concerns of local people from coast to coast.

There could, perhaps, be a more inclusive and truly science-based pipeline planning process that could see pipelines go on optimum routes but that isn’t happening.

The policy  for the oil patch and its politician supporters when it comes to pipelines is facts and geology don’t really matter. So they put on ruby slippers, knock their heels together three times and send pipelines down a yellow brick road to an Emerald City (while telling the locals to ignore the man behind the curtain)

Related links

The Save Our Salmon website has a different view, arguing that federal government and the energy companies have a plan to create an energy corridor for bitumen pipelines to Prince Rupert.

Kitimat: Do you know the way to Santa Fe? Time for some vision in development

St. Miquel Santa Fe
The San Miquel Mission in Santa Fe, New Mexico, was built between 1610 and 1619. Santa Fe  mandates that building in the city continues to reflect its historic heritage. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

Updated with additional links

“Is there  a longterm vision for Kitimat?” Spencer Edwards,  one of the public delegates, asked District of Kitimat Council Monday night, August 18, as there was yet another public hearing on the highly controversial development on Kingfisher Avenue.

If there is a vision for the future of development in Kitimat, it appears, to say the least, that both Council and the overworked Community Planning and Development division are struggling to find something. It is more likely that with the sudden increase in development, that both Council and staff just don’t have time to “do the vision thing.”

Clarence Stein Kitimat
Clarence Stein’s Kitimat Townsite report

The growing objections to the Kingfisher development of either 40 or 53 townhouses and a second development Riverbrook Estates, that would be beside the Dyke Road  off Kuldo near to the Riverlodge Tennis Courts, a mix of single family homes, townhouses and apartments, shows the vision gap.

Public delegations are demanding just that— a vision.

Download Clarence Stein’s Kitimat Townsite Report from the DoK website (large PDF  file)

At council meetings over the past weeks, a number of delegates have referred to Clarence Stein’s original vision for Kitimat from the 1950s. A note to Council from the residents of Marquette Street presented in opposition to the Kingfisher development says:

This is not what the famous American Architect, Urban Planner and Founder of the Garden Cities movement, Clarence Stein had envisioned a modern town with a population of 50,000 resident when he designed Kitimat over 60 years ago. He would be turning inside his grave.

Stein asked the same question. In his plan for Kitimat (page 45) he said future councils, staff and developers must ask: “What do the people themselves want?”

It’s fairly obvious by now that what the people of Kitimat want is more housing—there is, after all, a housing shortage at the moment. It also crystal clear that the residents of Kitimat do not want cookie cutter town houses and apartments built, as the Marquette note says “as is happening in Surrey, Port Coquitlam and so many other places in the Lower Mainland.”

Spencer Edwards
Spencer Edwards asked District of Kitimat Council on Monday, “Is there a strategic long term plan, long term vision for the development of Kitimat. Does it simply involve industry or a diverse range that’s in place, and if that plan is in place, is it possible to view it at some point.”
(Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

“Kitimat is full of hicks”

While developers (just like energy companies) come before Council and make presentations of their vision, with assurances of respect for this community, there is a dark side.

When the developer delegations left the Council Chambers Monday after their presentations, some of them were overheard by witnesses in the parking lot disparaging what had just gone on inside from both council members and citizen delegations, saying that “Kitimat is unsophisticated”….”doesn’t understand how things were done in the big city” and… “Can’t make up their minds.”

As one of my sources who overhead the conversation remarked, “They must think Kitimat is full of hicks.”

While it is uncertain which of the developer and real estate delegations made the remarks in the dark, it is clear if that is the real attitude toward development in Kitimat, then vision, not “let’s get on with it” must be the priority.

There must be strong development regulations to ensure that anyone building in the District must be held strictly to account to keep those assurances (and not be allowed to say market conditions have changed to get out of any commitments). More than that what Kitimat needs and needs now is an updated version of Stein’s vision, not the “motherhood” statements found in the current Official Community Plan.

So Kitimat, do you know the way to Santa Fe? (We’ll get there in bit).

Community Plan

Council and staff keep referring to the Official Community Plan (OCP) which some delegates complained was hard to find on the District website. (You can download it from the District website at http://www.kitimat.ca/assets/Business/PDFs/official-community-plan-2008.pdf )

Unfortunately the OCP is more of a motherhood document than a plan for the future of Kitimat. It’s also obsolete: a 2007-2008 rewrite of the original 1987 plan, updated with a few paragraphs in 2013 (as required by law, it is reconsidered every five years) There’s an already obsolete table predicting continuing decline of Kitimat’s population over the next quarter century (although a nearby graph does include possible population increases as well as declines).

On the future of Kitimat, the opening paragraphs read circa 2008

Kitimat’s population, after peaking in the mid-80s, has been in a general decline to fewer people than in 1956, primarily because of external factors beyond the control of the local municipality. Kitimat, like many other rural communities across Canada, is being affected by world markets and resultant demographic shifts as economic power and population is concentrated in major metropolitan centres. It is hoped that population will grow again and there are potential projects that would support this. New industry may locate here or existing businesses may expand based on the deep sea port, relatively low-priced land, and the proximity to natural resources. Kitimat’s future remains uncertain.

Even with the few updates in 2013, it seems no one expected the current building boom. That means the OCP can’t handle the boom, whether or not it continues or fades away.

The problem facing those who want development in Kitimat is that much of provincial law is pretty clear, a developer looks at the OCP, which has little specifics, then the zoning and then, if everything is in order, apply for a development permit, gets it and the goes ahead.

At Monday’s meeting,  Edwards asked, “Is there any indication of what quality of development is being put in place?”

Deputy Administrative Officer, Warren Waycheshen, replied that the zoning plan for the Kingfisher development “allows what the setbacks are going to be, height, distances, it doesn’t set the building quality. That will come through the development permit stage.”

There have been the same arguments over and over in Kitimat in the past year, where a new developer or a developer doing renovations, often from out of town, were able to go ahead and do what they wanted, with little regard for the residents of Kitimat, its history and the vision of Clarence Stein.

This brings me to Santa Fe, how Kitimat can maintain Stein’s vision and how Kitimat can use the development permit process to ensure that happens. That means an urgent program of updating and strengthening the development permit system to reflect Stein’s vision across the district.

Santa Fe

Stanta Fe

Santa Fe, New Mexico, was a crossroads of the Old West, home of the Pueblo First Nation which for centuries before the coming of Europeans built pueblos out of adobe. Adobe  (not the software) is an old Arabic word meaning “mud brick” adopted into Spanish during the time of the Moors, brought to the New World and used by the Spanish in New Mexico, and taken up by the Americans who came via the Santa Fe Trail and then the railhead for the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway.

In 1912, New Mexico became the 47th US State; Santa Fe became the capital.

At the same time, the Santa Fe local government adopted the 1912 equivalent of a BC Official Community Plan,

Here from Wikipedia is a short explanation: 

In 1912, when the town had only 5,000 people, the city’s civic leaders designed and enacted a sophisticated city plan that incorporated elements of the City Beautiful movement, the city planning movement, and the German historic preservation movement. It anticipated limited future growth, considered the scarcity of water, and recognized the future prospects of suburban development on the outskirts. The planners foresaw conflicts between preservationists and scientific planners. They set forth the principle that historic streets and structures be preserved and that new development must be harmonious with the city’s character.

As CBS News Sunday Morning reported earlier this year: 

The end of the fabled trail of pioneer days, Santa Fe is today the oldest state capital city in our nation. And if its earth-tone structures hark back to the Pueblo originals, well, that’s by design….. Almost a century ago, city fathers mandated use of the style all over town, predicting — accurately, as it turned out — that it would be good for the tourist trade. Today, even fast food outlets and big box stores are clad in Santa Fe style.

That CBS report was right on. I visited Santa Fe a few years ago, and noted how much of the town, especially the famous art galleries reflected that adobe style. The big box stores and the fast food joints are the same—and who cares about corporate building branding; the familiar signs were all that was needed.

What struck me was a mall I saw on the outskirts of town while driving to the airport. It was a mall, in many ways no different from the boring cookie cutter malls you see in Surrey, Coquitlam or Nanaimo—with one exception. It was built in the Santa Fe Adobe Style and looked a whole lot better than the uniform malls you see from almost every highway in North America.

Editor’s Note: CBS News Sunday Morning is scheduled to repeat its special report on Santa Fe By Design, this Sunday,  August 24.   Due to sports programming Sunday Morning is usually pre-empted in the Pacific Time Zone. If you have cable or satellite and access to a CBS east coast station, watch or set your PVR from 0900 to 1030 ET (0600 to 0730  PT)

That is what “new development must be harmonious with the city’s character” means and that’s what Kitimat should do. Make sure all future development is truly harmonious with Kitimat’s character.

santafeadobe2Not that there aren’t the usual tensions and disputes over what harmonious means. As the Wall Street Journal reported last year, there is now some resistance to the old style among residents, including those outside the municipality’s jurisdiction or away from the historic districts where the rules are the strictest.

As the Journal reports:

a new wave of contemporary homes is springing up around the city’s less regulated outer edges, transforming the once uniform landscape and pushing southwestern design in new directions. Glints of glass and steel are now dotting the city’s earth-toned desert surroundings

Some home owners want to be completely contemporary and get away from the adobe style. On the other hand, as the Journal reported, some architects are working on innovative designs that blend the adobe style with the ultra modern:

Some local architects aim to meld traditional and contemporary architecture in their designs. While traditional materials of adobe homes—stucco and plaster walls, for example—are still used in many contemporary homes, the lines on modern designs are crisp and clean instead of rounded. Many of the contemporary homes around Santa Fe are characterized by large expanses of glass, clerestory windows and skylights—sometimes in unexpected places, such as in laundry rooms and showers—and muted stucco exteriors accented with steel that blend into the landscape.

A vision for development permits

Note that these new buildings “blend into the landscape,” something that Clarence Stein emphasized for Kitimat.

Although Kitimat Community Planning and Development says on their website that Stein’s Townsite Report is a “must read,” it is doubtful that any of the developers have actually read it.

Note also that the Garden City concept that was the foundation of Kitimat was itself, in part, based on the now century-old City Beautiful movement that gave Santa Fe its character.

So there is a connection between the design of that desert city and this small town in the rainforest of the Northwest.

After Monday’s Council meeting, I asked Warren Waycheshen if there were any “heritage” or “look and feel” policies in British Columbia. Waycheshen told me that while it is difficult to mandate “harmonious character” and “blending into the landscape” at the zoning level, it can and has been done at the development permit stage in a few BC communities.

The closest example is Smithers which mandates downtown businesses be consistent with the town’s European alpine style. As well, both Whistler and Gibson’s have stringent development permit guidelines that do maintain the nature of both towns.

(And for those developers who think that wanting harmonious development is “unsophisticated,” well they can look at Santa Fe and Whistler)

Up until now in Kitimat, some in politics, some in the real estate and development communities have had an Oliver Twist approach, saying to every developer “Please, sir can we have some more?”

So far none of the designs presented before Council for any development have shown any innovation or imagination. None of them have any harmony with Kitimat’s character

. Even with the need for housing, there is time to slow things down and reconsider whether taking “off the shelf” projects originally designed for the land crowded Lower Mainland are right for Kitimat.

That’s because none of the Liquified Natural Gas projects are anywhere close to the Final Investment Decision Stage.

Many of the delegations to Council have warned about overbuilding and the possibility that slap dash, cookie cutter development could quickly deteriorate into slums if the boom doesn’t happen. There is some limited time to consider all the issues. Most residents who live around the Kingfisher development would prefer buildings with a higher quality that could be sold on the basis of its proximity to the golf course. There are fears that many developments, based on the Lower Mainland “build higher” philosophy would be inappropriate for seniors.

There is one consideration—that is the size of buildings. Both District Staff and developers cite changing demographics (average household size dropping from 3.2 to 2.4 persons) and the fact the large single family homes, such as the “berry” development by Oviatt Construction are too costly for young families who would prefer and could afford townhouses.

Dreary weather in Kitimat
Do Kitimat planners consider the sometimes gloomy weather as Clarence Stein proposed. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

Harmonious townhouses

We have to ask what kind of townhouses? The original Stein report, in a chapter written by planning subcontractors Mayer and Whittlesey noted on page 220,

Larger-than-normal houses, for people will stay much indoors; covered terraces and breezeways where children can play. A large number of houses should have a cellar or attic space for workbench and game table. Provision of wood burning fireplaces should have special consideration, as a focus of interest and cheer in a rainy climate.

So smaller houses for affordability or larger houses so people can get through the fall and winter without getting cabin fever? Just how much Seasonal Affective Disorder happens in Kitimat? And beside the weather, people are staying indoors a lot of these days watching satellite TV, playing video games and on the Internet. All factors the developers aren’t considering.

Have Kitimat’s planners and builders ever considered how home design might help alleviate SAD?

Let’s throw out the boxes and have the architects go back to the drawing board or AutoCAD and design a townhouse that is right for Kitimat.

There are a lot of worries about snow clearing and parking in the narrow streets of the proposed developments. While district staff say the Kingfisher development meets “municipal parking standards” perhaps all those concerns by experienced long-time residents mean that those standards should be reconsidered rather than used as a rubber stamp.

It’s amazing that in the late 1940s and 1950s a bunch of men in New York (yes men, Stein, the man of his age, calls for planning by men) who at first had never been here, could imagine and create the Kitimat that became “the town of the future,” while today developers from Vancouver, Calgary or wherever do nothing more than pull an AutoCAD file off a hard drive, make a few tweaks and cosmetic changes and then try to convince residents, staff and council that this will be great for Kitimat.

Yes many of the original houses in Kitimat were “off the shelf” at the time but they were also often new and innovative for the 1950s. This is a chance to create a new vision but practical vision for the 21st century. The provincial government has mandated all community planning must consider climate change. There is no indication at all that the current development designs take climate into consideration.

What must be done

Isantafeabobe4t’s time for Kitimat to rewrite the development permit standards, so that the original Stein vision is incorporated into every future development, whether residential, commercial, industrial or institutional. Some of the ideas will have to be updated from the 1950s to reflect changes in demographics, economics and technology. If Santa Fe, a modern hub of artistic and high tech innovation can do it, Kitimat can do it on a smaller scale.

 

 

Immediately

Since time is somewhat tight, ask the current developers, on a voluntary basis, to submit new ideas that show their projects won’t be just another subdivision in Surrey, new designs compatible with Kitimat.  If developers want to build here, now and in the future, they are going to have to use their imagination and skill to bring Stein’s vision into the 21st century. Tell the developers that now they have to prove to Kitimatians that they don’t really believe this is a hick town.

Short term

Update development rules and guidelines

District staff, Council members, the Housing Committee and other interested groups should take a crash look at development guidelines and development permit rules and as soon as possible update those that can act as a guideline for future changes that reflect the Stein vision.

Hire a District Solicitor

We recommended this during the Enbridge Northern Gateway Joint Review hearings and when the LNG companies began environmental review. All the problems with potential development again show the need for a full time District Solicitor who will be in the District offices working with staff and members of council and attending council meetings to understand the needs of the residents of Kitimat on all issues. Having a lawyer on retainer who is not involved with community is no longer an option.

Medium term

Overhaul development rules and guidelines

Continue the work recommended for the short term and have staff, locally based developers and locally based engineering companies familiar with Kitimat form a task force to overhaul the development rules and guidelines so that developments fit into both an updated Clarence Stein vision and the uncertain economics of this region

Longer term

A new Official Community Plan Kitimat OCP

The current “maybe this, may be that” Official Community Plan is completely inadequate for the needs of Kitimat. It is little more than a collection of database copy and paste, motherhood bureaucrat speak with no significant reference to Stein’s original vision.

The community needs an OCP that has a strong, well-defined two track approach, one that assumes the LNG boom will go ahead, that Kitimat will grow, and a second that assumes that the new industry might pass us by and Kitimat may have to revert to planning diversification with an emphasis on tourism.

That also means looking for and hiring the Clarence Stein of the 21st Century, whether that person is in New York, Vancouver, London or Singapore.

The current OCP was largely written by Stantec, which seems to be the go-to consulting firm for everyone. While the involvement of Stantec may not have been an issue in 2008, Stantec is the same company that is now working for Enbridge and most of the LNG projects. That is a clear conflict of interest.

Kitimat needs a visionary who can build on what Stein and his colleagues did 60 years ago. While Stein was working for Alcan, what is needed in 2014 and beyond is truly independent consultant, not one serving a dozen different masters.

That includes maintaining harmony with the forested nature of the region. Without going completely the same way as Santa Fe, perhaps future construction in Kitimat should conform, within market conditions, to a style that reflects the demands of building in the northwest, like heavy snow loads and long days of dreary rain while at the same time is more reflective of the northwest natural environment. That means including the brilliant idea of sidewalks and green spaces at the back of houses, not just boxes on standard suburban streets. That doesn’t have to mean duplicates of First Nations’ longhouses or settlers’ log cabins.

A Kitimat “look and feel” should challenge architects to create a style that says Kitimat and the northwest while at the same time drawing plans that are economic for both the developer and the buyer, just as architects in Santa Fe are bringing a century-old vision into the 21st century.

If the current crop of developers think that Kitimat is unsophisticated, doesn’t understand what goes on big cities, and takes too long to make its mind, well we live here and you don’t and you won’t. If Kitimat does have a rosy economic future, it is highly likely that the community and district can find developers who aren’t in-and-out carpet-baggers but who will build something that will make a profit, be affordable for the buyer and be harmonious with the community and Stein’s vision updated for the 21st century.

As Stein asked, “What do the people themselves want?”

Editor’s note: My late father, Frederic Rowland, was Alcan’s assistant property manager in Kitimat, involved in town planning from Vancouver in the mid-50s and in Kitimat from 1957 to 1965 and thus one of the Alcan staff charged with implementing Stein’s vision.

 

Additional links

Kitimat Daily
Kingfisher Housing Development to be continued in September

Massive Density Increase Gets Mixed Reviews

Santa Fe

Santa Fe Architecture

Santa Fe’s Historic Adobe Architecture

Los Angeles Times

Santa Fe proudly boasts its Pueblo-style architecture

 

Kitimat votes: High turnout expected for Gateway ballot but what will the results mean to Kitimat?

No Enbridge t-shirts
Members of the Haisla Nation wear No Enbridge t-shirts at the finals of the Kitamaat Open Basketball Tournament, April 6, 2014. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

A high turnout is expected Saturday for the non-binding plebiscite where residents of the District of Kitimat can, perhaps, say yes or no to the Enbridge Northern Gateway project. In some ways, it all depends on how people interpret the convoluted question.

Warren Weychasen, Kitimat’s Deputy Administrative Officer said Thursday 910 people voted during advance polls on April 2 and April 9, compared to 470 over the two days of advance voting in the 2011 municipal election.

Even who can vote has can be the matter of heated debate. Members of the Haisla Nation who live in Kitamaat Village feel strongly that they should have a voice, even though legally they live outside the municipal boundaries. “It’s our land they’re talking about,” one Haisla member, who wouldn’t give his name, said Friday as he was getting off the Village bus at City Centre.

The District also decided to allow residents of Kitimat who have been here longer than 30 days to vote, even if they are not Canadian citizens.

Another group that can’t vote, many from outside the northwest region, are living at the Rio Tinto Alcan Kitimat Modernization Camp or at smaller camps for the developing LNG projects. An informal poll of those workers at City Centre Friday showed that if camp workers had been allowed to cast a vote, many would have voted “yes,” something the opponents of Northern Gateway said they feared would overwhelm local residents.

The $6.5 billion project would see two pipelines, one carrying oil sands bitumen from Alberta to the port of Kitimat, and a second carrying a form of natural gas used to dilute the bitumen from Kitimat to Alberta. The bitumen would then be loaded onto tankers for shipment to Asia along environmentally sensitive areas of the British Columbia coast.

Janet Holder
Enbridge Vice President Janet Holder talks about the Northern Gateway project at an Open House April 8. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

Northern Gateway’s campaign has concentrated on the promise of 180 permanent direct local jobs worth $17 million and more spinoff jobs for contractors and suppliers. The company also promises that the District will receive $5 million in property taxes.

Northern Gateway also emphasized its commitment to safety and the environment, saying that the National Energy Board Joint Review Panel that held two years of hearings on the project, has made many of the company’s voluntary commitments a mandatory part of the conditions for granting permission to go ahead.

The main opponent, Douglas Channel Watch, maintains that the risk from either a tanker accident or pipeline breach is too high for the small number of jobs Northern Gateway will bring to the community.

Advance voting
District residents vote in the advance poll, Wednesday, April 9. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

Controversial question

Even the question, as chosen by the District of Kitimat Council, is controversial, because it focuses on the 209 conditions placed on the project by the Joint Review Panel:

Do you support the final report recommendations of the Joint Review Panel (JRP) of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency and National Energy Board, that the Enbridge Northern Gateway project be approved, subject to 209 conditions set out in Volume 2 of the JRP’s final report?

After the district council decided on that question, debate on the wording continued through several council sessions in January and February.

Public delegations, some from Douglas Channel Watch, told council that there should be a simple yes or no question.

On January 13, Donny van Dyk, Northern Gateway’s local manager for coastal aboriginal and community relations, told council that the company preferred a series of simple questions, because “We avoid an adversarial feeling plebiscite and we generate dialogue and debate amongst the plebiscite but also so we as a proponent can come away with value and create a better project.”

Council rejected a proposal for a series of simple of questions, leaving voters to decide on whether or not they supported the Joint Review recommendations. That raised the question of whether voters would make their choice on some of the provisions of the report and not the project itself.

What does it mean?

That means that even Council is unsure of what the vote will mean.

The main reason for holding the non-binding plebiscite is that it fulfills a promise from an all candidates meeting during the municipal election in November 2011, where every candidate agreed to “poll” the citizens of Kitimat on Northern Gateway.

After the new council took office, on Jan. 16, 2012, it voted to hold some sort of poll or vote to find out whether the community supports the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline project. At the time, it was unclear after the vote how the survey would take place.

For the almost two years of the Joint Review Panel, the District of Kitimat did little more than act as spectators when the JRP was in town, claiming its neutrality policy precluded participation.

The District could have participated without violating the neutrality provisions, but chose not to do so. It’s now clear that decision angered the Haisla Nation, as Chief Counsellor Ellis Ross said in a letter to the media, “the District stood by and did nothing”

The debate in the District of Kitimat Council on March 3 showed that even members of council were uncertain what the vote would mean.

Councillor Corinne Scott said, “As much as we wanted to know what the feeling of the community is, all we know so far is that we’re split. What the percentage of split is, we don’t know,” said Scott.

Councillor Phil Germuth said the vote is not on the project itself, but on the Joint Review decision. “We’re asking about 209 conditions that nobody understands fully. Even Enbridge doesn’t fully understand them.”

Councillor Edwin Empinado said once the results are known, that would give the District “more bargaining power” in future dealing with company and the federal government, a sentiment echoed by Douglas Channel Watch which admits the vote will do little more than send a message to Ottawa.

It was Northern Gateway’s decision to put major resources into the campaign that raised the profile of what was originally intended as way of discovering the feeling in the small community. With the ruling from the Joint Review Panel that Northern Gateway is in the national interest and the final decision in the hands of the federal cabinet, it is equally uncertain what effect, if any, the vote will have on Ottawa.

Acrimonious debate

Throughout the hearings, most people in Kitimat kept their views to themselves. When the campaign began in earnest, which in turn, triggered a fierce and often acrimonious debate on social media, mainly on the Facebook group Kitimat Politics, showing the divide in the community, although it appears from the comments that there are more opponents than supporters on the forum. The e-debate on Kitimat Politics is continuing up to the last minute Friday night and will likely get hotter once the results are known.

The adversarial feeling that van Dyk had said the company wanted to avoid was amplified in the past month when Northern Gateway began an aggressive public relations campaign with newspaper ads, glossy brochures and a door-to-door campaign by employees, some brought in from Alberta.

When news of Northern Gateway’s campaign effort spread on social media, which in turn prompted a counter campaign using the hashtag #adsforkitimat. Ads created by people from across BC were posted on Facebook and YouTube.

Campaign signs
Campaign signs on Haisla Blvd. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

Campaign spending

Douglas Channel Watch positioned itself as the David vs. the Enbridge Goliath.

On Monday, Murray Minchin of Douglas Channel Watch told Council, “When Kitimat and northern BC residents found out how many resources Enbridge was pouring into their Kitimat plebiscite advertising campaign, some of those citizens made unsolicited donations to Douglas Channel Watch. This has allowed our small group to mount an advertising campaign of our own.” Minchin said donations went up after the group launched a website adding, “People began handing us money on the street while we were putting up lawn signs. Somebody, anonymously, left a $2,000 money order in one of our member’s mailboxes.

On Thursday, Douglas Channel Watch released its advertising budget showing that the organization spent $10,970.00 on print media ads, $792.92 on supplies, and has an outstanding debt of approximately $2,600.00 in radio ads, for a total of $14,362.92. Minchin challenged Enbridge to release its own ad budget.

Ivan Giesbrecht, a spokesperson for Northern Gateway said in an e-mail to the media that the company “will discuss our advertising spending after it’s over [the plebiscite] this weekend.” Late Friday, Giesbrecht released partial figures to the Northern Sentinel, saying the company had spent $6,500 in print and $3,100 on radio advertisements during the campaign.

Those figures don’t include the glossy brochures Northern Gateway distributed in the community, sponsored posts on Facebook, or the signs the dot the streets of Kitimat.

Douglas Channel Watch did put up signs. Many were recycled from earlier protests, came from Friends of the Wild Salmon or were created by volunteers from as far away as Smithers.

Giesbrecht told the Sentinel  said the company felt that the discussion in the community about which side of the vote has spent more had “become a distraction” from the real issues. But instead of a discussion on jobs and taxes, on Friday night there was a raging debate on Kitimat Politics on Facebook about the Gateway release on its spending and what was missing from those figures.

Owen McHugh of Northern Gateway
Northern Gateway’s Owen McHugh explains the “supertugs” during a Powerpoint presentation at the Open House (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

Super tugs

On a cold and rainy Tuesday afternoon, Northern Gateway hosted an Open House and barbeque at the Rod and Gun. Northern Gateway not only outlined the jobs they say the project would create, but emphasized how far along the company is coming in meeting BC Premier Christy Clark’s condition for a “world-class” tanker spill prevention and response system.

Janet Holder, Enbridge Vice President of Western Access described what she and Northern Gateway staff called “super tugs,” 50 metres long. “One will be tethered to the tanker, one will be following the tanker,” Holder said. “So there will be two escorts whenever that tanker is in Canadian waters. The important thing about the tugs is not just they can move that tanker if it get into difficulty. It also contains emergency response equipment right with the tankers. We’ll also have strategically placed barges with emergency response equipment along the shorelines. We will be bringing in an enormous amount of equipment before we even start operating.”

Owen McHugh, a Northern Gateway emergency manager said, “Adding these four or five tugs to the north coast provides a rescue capability that doesn’t exist in this format. So for any large commercial vessel that is traveling on our coast, this capacity to protect the waters of the north coast.” The tugs will also have firefighting capability. “The salvage capability that BC describes as ‘world-class,’ Northern Gateway is bringing that to the north coast,” McHugh said.

The plebiscite has raised tensions between the District of Kitimat and the nearby Haisla First Nation, which adamantly opposed to Northern Gateway.

Haisla anger

Haisla chief counsellor Ellis Ross wrote a scathing letter to local media, saying, in part:

Deciding to hold a referendum at this late date is a slap in the face to all the work done by the Haisla Nation on this project. The Haisla Nation dedicated time and money toward testing Northern Gateway’s evidence and claims about safety and environmental protection, while the District stood by and did nothing.

The review process for this project has already left town, with the District taking no position on the project. Still undecided on what its views are on the project, the District now proposes to conduct a poll, instead of examining the facts in the JRP process. A poll to vote on a JRP report that we view as wrong to begin with including the flawed process itself!

On Sunday, the Haisla Senior Women were playing the Prince Rupert Thunder in finals of the annual Kitimat Open Basketball Tournament which has the aim of promoting “Cultural Warming” among everyone living in northwestern BC. At half time, members of the Haisla Nation distributed black T-shirts labelled with “No Enbridge” to spectators in the bleachers. After the Haisla won the game, 67 to 45, as Kitimat mayor Joanne Monaghan was called on to congratulate the winners, she was greeted by chants of “No Enbridge, No Enbridge.”

At Tuesday’s Open House, one of the audience asked Enbridge officials, including Janet Holder, “Why are you ignoring the Haisla?”

Donny van Dyke responded, “We are actively working to strengthen that relationship….” Then when the questioner persisted, van Dyke said, “With this question perhaps it’s better to take it offline.” Then he asked, “Are there any other questions?”

Special meeting

Monaghan has said the council will wait for the outcome before taking a stand. District Council has called a special meeting on Monday night to consider the results of the plebiscite.

For years the District of Kitimat has been officially neutral but voting over the past years shows that council is evenly split on Enbridge issues with swing votes sometimes going one way and sometimes another on what are often four to three votes.

The federal cabinet has until mid-June, 180 days after the release of the Joint Review decision to approve the panel’s findings. It is expected by most observers that Prime Minister Stephen Harper will give the go ahead. That doesn’t mean the project will start immediately, the Joint Review findings already face about a dozen court challenges from First Nations and environmental groups.

Minchin said Saturday’s non-binding plebiscite “is not going to affect the Prime Minister’s decision per se. But it’s very important for Enbridge to squeak out a win here in Kitimat. It’s just my feeling that this proposal is associated with way too many risks for very little gain.

“If it comes back as a ‘no’ from Kitimat, it’s a clear signal back to Ottawa that they really need to rethink their priorities. For the amount of bitumen that would be coming here and exported as a raw product’ that same amount of bitumen would provide a couple of thousand direct jobs in Alberta. It seems crazy to be shipping off all our raw resources without any upgrading, it’s like raw log exports.”

Enbridge Vice President Janet Holder, speaking at the Open House said, “This is not a pie in the sky type project, it is real, we do have the shippers behind us, we have First Nations behind us.”

Outreach continues

No matter what happens Saturday, both sides will continue to push their positions.

Holder said she would not speculate on the outcome of the plebiscite, “We’re going to communities throughout British Columbia, talking to citizens, providing the information, listening to their concerns. We’re just continuing with that outreach and we’ll continue with that outreach over the next year.”

How Kitimat voters cast their ballots depends on factors that go beyond the simple environment versus economy and jobs argument, so the outcome of Saturday’s plebiscite is far from certain.

In 2010, West Fraser’s Eurocan paper mill closed, with the loss of 500 jobs, a devastating blow to Kitimat’s economy. The Eurocan closure, the earlier closure of a Methanex plant and cutbacks at the Rio Tinto Alcan smelter and the abandonment of mills and mine across the northwest in recent years have left many people skeptical of corporate promises of jobs. Others believe the Northern Gateway project, along with proposed Liquefied Natural Gas projects in Kitimat and Prince Rupert will bring a much needed boost to a struggling economy.

Even though Kitimat has been an industrial town since the aluminum smelter was built in the 1950s, most residents fish in the Kitimat River, boat on Douglas Channel and hike or hunt in the back country, which means environmental concerns are always high on the agenda. There are fears even among some supporters of Northern Gateway of an environmental disaster.
Northern Gateway, which has admitted that its relations with northern communities started off badly in the early stages of the project, has a lot of catching up to do, no matter what the outcome of the plebiscite.

Nathan Cullen, NDP MP for Skeena Bulkley Valley and Opposition Finance Critic came to Kitimat last week to assist Douglas Channel Watch with its door-to-door campaign. “There will be PhDs written on how Enbridge blundered this,” Cullen told reporters at the time.

 

(Spelling of van Dyk was corrected. We regret the error)

 

 

 

 

District of Kitimat calls for plebiscite on the Northern Gateway project

Phil Germuth
Councillor Phil Germuth listens as District of Kitimat Council debates his motion that would have required Enbridge to enhance monitoring of leaks on the pipeline in the Kitimat watershed. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

District of Kitimat Council voted Monday night to hold a plebiscite on whether or not the community supports the controversial Enbridge Northern Gateway project.

District council and staff will decide the actual question for voters and the date for the plebiscite in the coming couple of weeks.

A staff report described a plebiscite as “a non-binding form of referendum,” as defined by the BC Local Government Act.

The council decision comes after the Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel released its decision on December 16, that approved the pipeline and tanker project along with 209 conditions.

After the release of the Joint Review decision, the District of Kitimat issued a news release saying, “Kitimat Council has taken a neutral stance with respect to Northern Gateway. Council will take the necessary time to review the report in order to understand the content and reasons for the decision.”

On January 16, 2012 the council adopted a resolution “that after the completion of the JRP process, the District of Kitimat survey the residents of Kitimat regarding their opinion on the Enbridge Northern Gateway project.” After the JRP decision, the District reaffrimed that it would “undertake a survey of Kitimat residents to determine their opinions of the project now that the JRP has concluded its process.”

District staff had recommended hiring an independent polling firm to conduct the survey, pointing to a pollster’s ability to craft the appropriate questions and provide quick results.

Council quickly shot down the idea. A motion by Councillor Mario Feldhoff to use a polling firm did not get a seconder.

Councillor Rob Goffinet, who made the motion for the plebiscite, noted that even as a politician he doesn’t answer phone calls from unknown numbers. He said, “People do not want a pollster to phone them and do a check list how do you feel on a project. How can we be assured if someone in or out of their home will answer a call from a pollster? I would give total responsibility to every adult citizen of Kitimat who has a point of view to express it in a yes or no ballot.”

Councillor Phil Germuth added, “Those are the same companies that went out prior to the last provincial election and said one party was going to wipe it out and we know what happened there.” Germuth was referring to BC Premier Christy Clark’s come from behind majority victory which was not predicted in the polls.

Germuth told the meeting he believed an unbiased question could be posed in the form of a referendum on the Northern Gateway project. “I have full confidence in our staff that they will be able, along with some assistance from council, to develop questions that are not going to appear biased. It should be very simple, yes means yes, no means no.”

Councillor Mario Feldhoff, who earlier in the evening had, for the first time, declared that he is in favour of the Northern Gateway project, told council that he preferred using a polling firm because it could come back with a “statistically significant” result.

Council voted six to one in favour of the plebiscite. The lone dissenter was Councillor Edwin Empinado who told his colleagues that a mail-in ballot, another of the options presented by staff, would be more inclusive.  Empinado said he was concerned that a plebiscite would mean a low voter turnout.

Warren Waycheshen, the district’s deputy chief administrative officer, told council that the plebiscite would have to be held under the provisions of BC’s Local Government Act which covers elections and referenda, but with the plebiscite the council would have more flexibility in deciding how the vote would take place. The act would still cover such things as who was eligible to vote and the use of campaign signs.

Mario Feldhoff
Councillor Mario Feldhoff reads a statement at council, supporting the findings of the Joint Review panel on the Northern Gateway project. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

The neutrality that council had maintained for at least the previous three years began to break down during Monday’s meeting meeting when Germuth proposed a motion that would have required Enbridge to install within Kitimat’s jurisdiction a detection system capable of locating small volumes of leakage from the pipeline, a measure that is likely beyond the recommendations of the JRP decision.

It was then that Feldhoff became the first Kitimat councillor to actually declare for or against the Northern Gateway, telling council, saying he agreed with the JRP, “The overall risk was manageable and the project was in Canada’s interest. On the whole I am in favour of the conditions and recommendations of the JRP… Not only am I a District of Kitimat Councillor, I am a Canadian. To my mind, opposition to the JRP Northern Gateway report at this stage is yet another case of NIMBY-ism, not in my backyard.”

In the end, at Feldhoff’s urging, the council modified the original motion, so that it called on the District to meet with Enbridge to discuss an enhanced pipeline leak detection system where a leak could “impact the Kitimat watershed.”

It’s not clear what Council will do with the result of the plebiscite, since it is “non-binding.”

 In the past two years, Terrace, Prince Rupert and Smithers councils, together with Kitimat Stikine Regional District and the Skeena Queen Charlotte Regional District, all voted to oppose Northern Gateway. Those were all council votes, taken without surveying local opinion.

Most of the decisions are in the hands of the federal government which has 180 days from the release of the JRP report to approve the project.

 

Second floating LNG terminal eyed for Kitimat at Douglas Channel log sort

PNG Pipeline Looping Project map (PNG)
PNG Pipeline Looping Project map (PNG)

A second floating liquified natural gas terminal may be planned for Kitimat, Northwest Coast Energy News has learned.

According to multiple sources in Kitimat, Altagas, the parent company of Pacific Northern Gas plans the terminal at the old log sort site on Douglas Channel, where the barge carrying the liquifaction equipment would likely be moored next door to the already planned BC LNG/Douglas Channel Partners LNG project which would be served by gas delivered by the PNG pipeline system.

Pacific Northern Gas has filed an application with the BC Environmental Assessment Office to construct and operate an approximately 525 kilometre, 610 millimetre (24 inch) diameter natural gas pipeline from the natural gas hub at Summit Lake, near Prince George, to Kitimat that would loop or twin the existing PNG existing natural gas pipeline.

The application to the BCEAO says: “The proposed Project would supply natural gas to proposed liquefied natural gas (LNG) export facilities as well as the Proponent’s existing customers. The proposed Project would include the replacement of four existing compressor stations and would have an initial capacity of 600 million standard cubic feet per day.”

PNG Open House
PNG Pipeline Looping Project Open House at Tamitik. Nov. 26, 2013. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

On Tuesday, November 26, Pacific Northern Gas held a sparsely attended open house at Tamitik Arena as part of the BCEAO public comment procedure.

A 38 day public comment period on the application information requirements started on November 25 and will end on January 2, 2014.

At the open house,  PNG officials explained that “looping” means that there would be a second or twin pipeline that would mostly be on a parallel route to the existing pipeline. Since both pipelines would begin at the Summit Lake terminal and end at the Kitimat terminal that is where the term “looping” comes in.

The PNG officials said that the pipeline was initially designed to service the first floating LNG terminal at the old log sort site on Douglas Channel south of Kitimat, but north of the KM LNG site at Bish Cove.

It would be operated by  BC LNG Energy Cooperative, through Douglas Channel Energy Partnership, a partnership with the Haisla Nation and LNG Partners, the energy investors mainly from Texas,

Unlike the bigger project Kitimat LNG or KM LNG, a partnership between Chevron and Apache (and according to reports possibly Sinopec) or the Shell-led partnership LNG Canada, the BC LNG project would allow smaller companies to provide LNG to Asian customers.

At the open house, the PNG officials said the two pipelines could also service “another Kitimat floating LNG project” but declined to give details for confidentiality reasons. The same officials also said the proponent of that project was also looking at Prince Rupert as a possible site for the second floating terminal.

Kitimat sources have confirmed that AltaGas has told them that the company is also considering Prince Rupert as a site for a floating LNG terminal.

However, the current documentation and maps filed with the BCEAO show the PNG looping pipeline terminating at Kitimat, not Prince Rupert.

PNG pipeline map
Detail of the PNG Pipeline Looping proposal. The existing pipeline is shown at the dashed line, the new pipeline is shown in purple. (PNG)

According to the maps filed with the BCEAO and made available at the open house, the new pipeline would not be twinned completely along the existing route across the mountains west of Smithers to Terrace, but would head north at Telkwa parallel to Highway 16 before making its own way through the mountains, crossing the existing pipeline at the Zymoetz River east of Terrace and then taking a westerly route toward Lakelese Lake before joining the existing pipeline corridor along Highway 37.
AltaGas took over Pacific Northern Gas in the fall of 2011.

The Texas-based arm of Douglas Channel Energy partnership, LNG Partners,  is currently in financial difficulty. Reports say that the Texas investors in the company are having difficulty repaying a $22.5 million loan from China’s ENN Group.

The problems currently faced by the Texas group have no affect, at this point, on the Haisla Nation investment in the BC LNG Energy Cooperative. There is already speculation in Kitimat that if the LNG Partners get into further financial difficulty, AltaGas may step in and take over. The would raise the question whether or not there would still be two floating LNG terminals on Douglas Channel, or just the one, as originally planned, but under new ownership.

In it’s project proposal PNG says

The Project will generate approximately 1800-2400 direct person years of employment during construction. Additionally, tax benefits will be generated for Kitimat and the regional districts crossed by the pipeline. PNG anticipates the project will also result in a significant reduction in natural gas transportation rates for its existing customers.

Natural gas transportation costs are a major issue in the northwest, for those costs appear to keep going up while the price of natural gas in North America is generally going down. Natural gas transportation costs in Kitimat spiked after the closure of the Methanex plant and have continued to be quite high, which is just one of the increasing burdens for residents of Kitimat on fixed or low incomes, who are not benefiting as others from the current boom town economy.

Another problem facing PNG is that the new pipeline will cross the traditional territory of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation, where one house, the Unist’ot’en oppose both the Northern Gateway and Pacific Trails Pipeline and have set up a blockade camp on access roads.

The PNG filing with the BCEAO promises consultation with both the Wet’suwet’en Council, and the Office of the Wet’suwet’en, which represents the hereditary chiefs and matriarchs, as well as other First Nations along the proposed route.

 

PNG Open houses for the project are scheduled for:

Vanderhoof
Friendship Centre Hall
Thursday, November 28, 2013

Terrace
Best Western Inn
Monday, December 2, 2013

Smithers
Hudson Bay Lodge
Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Burns Lake
Chamber of Commerce
Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Summit Lake
Community Hall
Thursday, December 5, 2013

 

Analysis: The Harper government’s week of history-making blunders

The Panama registered bulk carrier  Azuma Phoenix is seen tied up at Kitimat harbour seen on the afternoon of Jan 9, 201. In March 2013. the federal government announced it was making the private port of Kitimat into a public port,  (Robin Rowland)
The Panama registered bulk carrier Azuma Phoenix is seen tied up at Kitimat harbour on the afternoon of Jan 9, 2012. In March 2013. the federal government announced it was making the private port of Kitimat into a public port. (Robin Rowland)

When the story of the Stephen Harper government is told, historians will say that the week of March 17 to 23, 2013, is remembered, not for the release of a lacklustre federal budget, but for day after day of political blunders that undermined Harper’s goal of making a Canada what the Conservatives call a resource superpower.

It was a week where spin overcame substance and spun out of control.

The Conservative government’s aim was, apparently, to increase support for the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline project with a spin campaign aimed at moving the middle ground in British Columbia from anti-project to pro-project and at the same time launching a divide and conquer strategy aimed at BC and Alberta First Nations.

It all backfired. If on Monday, March 17, 2013, the troubled and controversial Enbridge Northern Gateway project was on the sick list, by Friday, March 23, the Enbridge pipeline and tanker scheme was added to the Do Not Resuscitate list, all thanks to political arrogance, blindfolded spin and bureaucratic incompetence. The standard boogeymen for conservative media in Canada (who always add the same sentence to their stories on the Northern Gateway) “First Nations and environmentalists who oppose the project” had nothing to do with it.

Stephen Harper has tight control of his party and the government, and in this case the billion bucks stop at the Prime Minister’s Office. He has only himself to blame.

All of this happened on the northern coast of British Columbia, far out of range of the radar of the national media and the Ottawa pundit class (most of whom, it must be admitted, were locked up in an old railway station in the nation’s capital, trying interpret Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s spreadsheets).

The story begins early on that Monday morning, at my home base in Kitimat, BC, the proposed terminal for Northern Gateway, when a news release pops into my e-mail box, advising that Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver would be in nearby Terrace early on Tuesday morning for an announcement and photo op.

I started making calls, trying to find out if anyone in Kitimat knew about Oliver’s visit to Terrace and if the minister planned to come to Kitimat.

Visitors to Kitimat

I made those calls because in the past two years, Kitimat has seen a parade of visitors checking out the town and the port’s industrial and transportation potential. The visitors range from members of the BC provincial Liberal cabinet to the staff of the Chinese consulate in Vancouver to top executives of some of the world’s major transnational corporations (and not just in the energy sector). Most of these visits, which usually include meetings with the District of Kitimat Council and District senior staff as well as separate meetings with the Council of the Haisla Nation, are usually considered confidential. There are no photo ops or news conferences. If the news of a visit is made public, (not all are), those visits are usually noted, after the fact, by Mayor Joanne Monaghan at the next public council meeting.

It was quickly clear from my calls that no one in an official capacity in Kitimat knew that, by the next morning, Oliver would be Terrace, 60 kilometres up Highway 37. No meetings in Kitimat, on or off the record, were scheduled with the Minister of Natural Resources who has been talking about Kitimat ever since he was appointed to the Harper cabinet.

I was skeptical about that afternoon’s announcement/photo op in Vancouver by Transport Minister Denis Lebel and Oliver about the “world class” tanker monitoring.

After all, there had been Canadian Coast Guard cutbacks on the northwest coast even before Stephen Harper got his majority government. The inadequacy of oil spill response on the British Columbia coast had been condemned both by  former Auditor General Sheila Fraser and in the United States Senate. The government stubbornly closed and dismantled the Kitsilano Coast Guard station. It’s proposing that ocean traffic control for the Port of Vancouver be done remotely from Victoria,  with fixed cameras dotted around the harbour.  Leaving controllers in Vancouver would, of course, be the best solution, but they must be sacrificed (along with any ship that get’s into trouble in the future, on the altar of a balanced budget).

The part of the announcement that said there would be increased air surveillance is nothing more than a joke (or spin intended just for the Conservative base in Alberta, Saskatchewan and the Toronto suburbs,that is not anyone familiar with BC coastal waters). Currently the Transport Canada surveillance aircraft are used on the coasts to look for vessels that are illegally dumping bilge or oil off shore. As CBC’s Paul Hunter reported in 2010, Transport Canada aircraft were used after the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster to map where the oil was going after it erupted from the Deepwater Horizon. 

Given the stormy weather on the west coast (when Coast Guard radio frequently warns of “hurricane force winds”) it is highly unlikely that the surveillance aircraft would even be flying in the conditions that could cause a major tanker disaster. Aerial surveillance, even in good weather, will never prevent a tanker disaster caused by human error.

I got my first chance to look at the Transport Canada website in late afternoon and that’s when a seemingly innocuous section made me sit up and say “what is going on?” (I actually said something much stronger).

Public port

Public port designations: More ports will be designated for traffic control measures, starting with Kitimat.

(Transport Canada actually spelled the name wrong—it has since been fixed—as you can see in this screen grab).

Screengrab from Transport Canada website

Kitimat has been one of the few private ports in Canada since the Alcan smelter was built and the town founded 60 years ago (the 60th anniversary of the incorporation of the District of Kitimat is March 31, 2013).

The reasons for the designation of Kitimat as a private port go back to a complicated deal between the province of British Columbia and Alcan in the late 1940s as the two were negotiating about electrical power, the aluminum smelter, the building of the town and the harbour.

For 60 years, Alcan, later Rio Tinto Alcan, built, paid for and operated the port as a private sector venture. For a time, additional docks were also operated by Eurocan and Methanex. After Eurocan closed its Kitimat operation that dock was purchased by the parent company Rio Tinto. The Methanex dock was purchased by Royal Dutch Shell last year for its proposed LNG operation.

The announcement that Kitimat was to become a public port was also something that the national media would not recognize as significant unless they are familiar with the history of the port. That history is known only to current and former residents of Kitimat and managers at Rio Tinto Alcan.

The port announcement came so much out of left field; so to speak, that I had doubts it was accurate. In other words, I couldn’t believe it. I went to Monday evening’s meeting of District of Kitimat Council and at the break between the open and in-camera sessions, I asked council members if they had heard about Kitimat being redesignated a public port. The members of the district council were as surprised as I had been.

Back from the council meeting, I checked the Transport Canada news release and backgrounders. I also checked the online version of Bill C-57, the enabling act for the changes announced earlier that day. There was no mention of Kitimat in Bill C-57.

Harper government outlines new tanker safety measures for west coast

Confirmation

Tuesday morning I drove to Terrace for Joe Oliver’s 9 am photo op and the announcement at Northwest Community College (NWCC) that the government had appointed Douglas Eyford as a special envoy to First Nations for energy projects, an attempt on the surface to try and get First Nations onside for the pipeline projects, an appointment seen by some First Nations leaders as an attempt by the Harper government to divide and conquer.

As an on site reporter, I got to ask Oliver two questions before the news conference went to the national media on the phones.

In answer to my first question, Oliver confirmed that the federal government had decided to make Kitimat a public port, saying in his first sentence: “What the purpose is to make sure that the absolute highest standards of marine safety apply in the port of Kitimat.” He then returned to message track saying, “we have as I announced yesterday and I had spoken about before at the port of Vancouver we have an extremely robust marine safety regime in place but we want to make sure that as resource development continues and as technology improves, we are at the world class level. As I also mentioned there has never been off the coast of British Columbia a major tanker spill and we want to keep that perfect record.”

For my second question, I asked Oliver if he planned to visit Kitimat.

He replied. “Not in this particular visit, I have to get back [to Ottawa] There’s a budget coming and I have to be in the House for that but I certainly expect to be going up there.”

The question may not have registered with the national media on the conference call. For the local reporters and leaders in the room at Waap Galts’ap, the long house at Terrace’s Northwest Community College, everyone knew that Kitimat had been snubbed.

Oliver confirms Kitimat to become a public port

Back in Kitimat, I sent an e-mail to Colleen Nyce, the local spokesperson for Rio Tinto Alcan noting that Joe Oliver had confirmed that the federal government intended to make the RTA-run port a public port. I asked if RTA had been consulted and if the company had any comment.

Nyce replied that she was not aware of the announcement and promised to “look into this on our end.” I am now told by sources that it is believed that my inquiry to Nyce was the first time Rio Tinto Alcan, one of Canada’s biggest resource companies, had heard that the federal government was taking over its port.

The next day, Kitimat Mayor Joanne Monaghan told local TV news on CFTK the Kitimat community was never consulted about the decision and she added that she still hadn’t been able to get anyone with the federal government to tell her more about the plan.

Who pays for the navigation aids?

Meanwhile, new questions were being raised in Kitimat about two other parts of the Monday announcement.

New and modified aids to navigation: The CCG will ensure that a system of aids to navigation comprised of buoys, lights and other devices to warn of obstructions and to mark the location of preferred shipping routes is installed and maintained.
Modern navigation system: The CCG will develop options for enhancing Canada’s current navigation system (e.g. aids to navigation, hydrographic charts, etc) by fall 2013 for government consideration.

Since its first public meeting in Kitimat, in documents filed with the Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel, in public statements and advertising, Enbridge has been saying for at least the past four years that the company would pay for all the needed upgrades to aids to navigation on Douglas Channel, Wright Sound and other areas for its tanker traffic. It is estimated that those navigation upgrades would cost millions of dollars.

Now days before a federal budget that Jim Flaherty had already telegraphed as emphasizing restraint, it appeared that the Harper government, in its desperation to get approval for energy exports, was going to take over funding for the navigation upgrades from the private sector and hand the bill to the Canadian taxpayer.

Kitimat harbour

RTA not consulted

On Thursday morning, I received an e-mail from Colleen Nyce with a Rio Tinto Alcan statement, noting:

This announcement was not discussed with Rio Tinto Alcan in advance. We are endeavoring to have meetings with the federal government to gain clarity on this announcement as it specifically relates to our operations in Kitimat.

Nyce also gave a similar statement to CFTK and other media. A Francophone RTA spokesperson in Quebec did the same for Radio Canada.

On Friday morning, Mayor Monaghan told Andrew Kurjata on CBC’s Daybreak North that she had had at that time no response to phone calls and e-mails asking for clarification of the announcement. Monaghan also told CBC that Kitimat’s development officer Rose Klukas had tried to “get an audience with minister and had been unable to.” (One reason may be that Oliver’s staff was busy. They ordered NWCC staff to rearrange the usual layout of the chairs at Waap Galts’ap, the long house, to get a better background for the TV cameras for Oliver’s statement).

Joe Oliver
Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver (front far right) answers questions after his news conference at the Northwest Community College Long House, March 19, 2013. (Robin Rowland)

Monaghan told Kurjata, “I feel like it’s a slap in the face because we’re always being told that we’re the instrument for the whole world right now because Kitimat is supposed to be the capital of the economy right now. So I thought we’d have a little more clout by now and they’d at least tell us they were going to do this. There was absolutely no consultation whatsoever.”

By Friday afternoon, five days after the announcement, Transport Canada officials finally returned the calls from Mayor Monaghan and Rose Klukas promising to consult Kitimat officials in the future.

Monaghan said that Transport Canada told her that it would take at least one year because the change from a private port to a public port requires a change in legislation.

Transport Canada is now promising “extensive public and stakeholder consultation will occur before the legislation is changed,” the mayor was told.

On this Mayor Monaghan commented, “It seems to me that now they want to do consultation….sort of like closing the barn door after all of the cows got out!”

Transport Canada promises consultation on Kitimat port five days after announcement it will become public

 

Blunder after blunder after blunder

Blunder No 1. Pulling the rug out from Northern Gateway

Joe Oliver and the Harper government sent a strong political signal to Kitimat on Tuesday; (to paraphrase an old movie) your little town doesn’t amount of a hill of beans in this crazy world.

Not that attitude is new for the people of Kitimat. The Northern Gateway Joint Review panel snubbed the town, bypassing Kitimat for Prince George and Prince Rupert for the current questioning hearings. Publisher David Black has been touting a refinery 25 kilometres north of Kitimat to refine the bitumen, but has never bothered to meet the people of Kitimat.

There are a tiny handful of people in Kitimat openly in favour of the Northern Gateway project. A significant minority are on the fence and some perhaps leaning toward acceptance of the project. There is strong opposition and many with a wait and see attitude. (Those in favour will usually only speak on background, and then when you talk to them most of those “in favour” have lists of conditions. If BC Premier Christy Clark has five conditions, many of these people have a dozen or more).

Oliver was speaking in Terrace, 60 kilometres from Kitimat. It is about a 40 to 45 minute drive to Kitimat over a beautiful stretch of highway, with views of lakes, rivers and mountains.

Scenic Highway 37 is the route to the main location not only for the controversial Northern Gateway pipeline but three liquefied natural gas projects, not to mention David Black’s proposed refinery half way between Terrace and Kitimat.

Why wouldn’t Kitimat be a must stop on the schedule for the Minister of Natural Resources? In Terrace, Oliver declared that Kitimat was to become a public port, run by the federal government. Although technically that would be the responsibility of Denis Lebel, the Minister of Transport, one has to wonder why the Minister of Natural Resources would not want to see the port that is supposedly vital to Canada’s economy? You have to ask why he didn’t want to meet the representatives of the Haisla Nation, the staff and council of the District of Kitimat and local business leaders?

Oliver has been going across Canada, the United States and to foreign countries promoting pipelines and tanker traffic, pipelines that would terminate at Kitimat and tankers that would send either bitumen or liquefied natural gas to customers in Asia.

Yet the Minister of Natural Resources is too important, too busy to take a few hours out of his schedule, while he is in the region,  to actually visit the town he has been talking about for years.

He told me that he had to be in Ottawa for the budget. Really? The budget is always the finance minister’s show and tell (with a little help from whomever the Prime Minister is at the time). On budget day, Oliver would have been nothing more than a background extra whenever the television cameras “dipped in” on the House of Commons, between stories from reporters and experts who had been in the budget lockup.

According to the time code on my video camera, Oliver’s news conference wrapped at 9:50 a.m., which certainly gave the minister and his staff plenty of time to drive to Kitimat, meet with the representatives of the District, the Haisla Nation and the Chamber of Commerce and still get to Vancouver for a late flight back to Ontario.

On Tuesday, Joe Oliver’s snub pulled the political rug out from under the Northern Gateway supporters and fence sitters in Kitimat. Oliver’s snub showed those few people in Kitimat that if they do go out on a limb to support the Northern Gateway project, the Conservatives would saw off that limb so it can be used as a good background prop for a photo op.

Prince Rupert, Terrace and Smithers councils have all voted against the Northern Gateway project. Kitimat Council, despite some clear divisions, has maintained a position of absolute neutrality.  Kitimat Council will continue to be officially neutral until after the Joint Review report, but this week you could hear the air slowly leaking out of the neutrality balloon.

Oliver may still believe, as he has frequently said, that the only people who oppose Northern Gateway are dangerous radicals paid by foreign foundations.

What he did on Tuesday was to make the opposition to Northern Gateway in Kitimat into an even more solid majority across the political spectrum.

Blunder No 2. Rio Tinto Alcan

It doesn’t do much for the credibility of a minister of natural resources to thoroughly piss off, for no good reason, the world’s second largest mining and smelting conglomerate, Rio Tinto. But that’s just what Joe Oliver did this week.

I am not one to usually have much sympathy with rich, giant, transnational corporations.

But look at this way, over the past 60 years Alcan and now Rio Tinto Alcan have invested millions upon millions of dollars in building and maintaining the Kitimat smelter and the port of Kitimat. RTA is now completing the $3.3 billion Kitimat Modernization Project. Then without notice, or consultation, the Conservative government—the Conservative government—announces it is going to take over RTA’s port operations. What’s more, if what Transport Canada told Mayor Joanne Monaghan is correct, the federal government is going to start charging RTA fees to use the port it has built and operated for 60 years.

Construction at Rio Tinto Alcan

There are problems between the people of Kitimat and RTA to be sure; the closing of the town’s only beach last summer was one problem (a problem that was eventually resolved.)

Too often RTA’s London headquarters acts like it is still the nineteenth century and the senior executives are like British colonialists dictating to the far reaches of the Empire on what do to do.

No matter what you think of RTA, it boggles the mind, whether you are right wing, left wing or mushy middle, that the federal government simply issues a press release–a press release– with not even a phone call, not even a visit (even to corporate headquarters) saying “Hey RTA, we’re taking over.”

There’s one thing that you can be sure of, Rio Tinto Alcan’s lobbyists are going to be earning their fees in the coming weeks.

(One more point, even if there wasn’t a single pipeline project planned for Kitimat you would think that the Minister of Natural Resources would want to see what is currently the largest and most expensive construction project in Canada, a project that comes under his area of political responsibility).

Blunder No 3. The Haisla Nation

Douglas Channel is in the traditional territory of the Haisla Nation. The KM LNG project at Bish Cove is on Haisla Reserve No. 6  legally designated an industrial development by the federal government. Any changes to that project and to the Kitimat waterfront as a whole will require intensive negotiations with the Haisla Nation.

Blunder No 4. The state of Canadian democracy

It took five days, from the time of the minister’s news conference on Monday until Friday afternoon, for officials in Transport Canada to return phone calls from Mayor Joanne Monaghan and Rose Klukas, to explain what was going to happen to the Port of Kitimat.

This week was yet another example of the decay of Canadian democracy under Stephen Harper. Executives from Tokyo to Houston to the City of London quickly return phone calls from the District of Kitimat, after all Kitimat is where the economic action is supposed to be. At the same time, the federal government doesn’t return those calls, it shows that something really is rotten in our state.

Blunder No 5. LNG

There are three liquefied natural gas projects slated for Kitimat harbour, the Chevron-Apache partnership in KM LNG, now under construction at Bish Cove; the Royal Dutch Shell project based on the old Methanex site and the barge based BC LNG partnership that will work out of North Cove.

None of these projects have had the final go ahead from the respective company board of directors. So has the federal government thrown the proverbial monkey wrench into these projects? Will making Kitimat a public port to promote Enbridge, help or hinder the LNG projects? Did the Ministry of Natural Resources even consider the LNG projects when they made the decision along with Transport Canada to take over the port?

And then there’s…..

Kitimat has a marina shortage, especially since RTA closed the Moon Bay Marina. The only one left, the MK Bay Marina, which is straining from overcapacity, is owned by the Kitimat-Stikine Regional District. That means there will be another level of government in any talks and decisions on the future of the Kitimat harbour. There are also the controversial raw log exports from nearby Minette Bay.

Although Transport Canada has promised “extensive public and stakeholder consultation,” one has to wonder how much input will be allowed for the residents of Kitimat and region, especially the guiding and tourism industries as well as recreational boaters. After all, the Harper government is determined to make Kitimat an export port for Alberta and the experience of the past couple of years has shown that people of northwest count for little in that process. Just look at the Northern Gateway Joint Review, which more and more people here say has no credibility.

Big blunder or more of the same?

I’ve listed five big blunders that are the result of the decision by the Harper government to turn Kitimat into a public port.

Are they really blunders or just more of the same policies we’ve seen from Stephen Harper since he became a majority prime minister?

This is a government that has muzzled scientific research and the exchange of scientific ideas. The minister who was in the northwest last week, who has demonized respect for the environment, is now squeezing the words “science” and “environment” anywhere into any message track or speech anyway he can.

The government closes the busiest and most effective coast guard station at Kitsilano without consulting a single municipal or provincial official in British Columbia. The government closes two of Canada’s crown jewels of scientific research, the Experimental Lakes Area in Ontario and the Polar Environmental Research Laboratory in Nunavut. Keeping the coast guard station and the two science projects open and funded would be a drop in the deficit bucket at a time that the government is spending countless millions of taxpayers’ dollars in promoting itself on every television channel in Canada.

That’s just the point. Joe Oliver’s fly-in, fly-out trip to Terrace was not supposed to have any substance. Changing the chairs at the Waap Galts’ap long house showed that it was more important to the Harper government to have some northwest coast wall art behind Joe Oliver for his photo op than it was to engage meaningfully with the northwest, including major corporations, First Nations and local civic and business leaders.

Joe Oliver’s visit to Terrace was an example of government by reality television. The decision to change the private port of Kitimat into a public port was another example of Harper’s government by decree without consulting a single stakeholder. The problem is, of course, that for decades to come, it will be everyone in northwest British Columbia who will be paying for those 30 second sound bites I recorded on Tuesday.


Epilogue: Alcan’s legacy for the socialist Prime Minister, Stephen Harper

If an NDP or Liberal government had done what Harper and Oliver did on Monday, every conservative MP, every conservative pundit, every conservative media outlet in Canada would be  hoarse from screaming about the danger from the socialists to the Canadian economy.

That brings us to the legacy left by R. E. Powell who was president of Alcan in the 1940s and 50s as the company was building the Kitimat project.

As Global Mission, the company’s official history, relates, in 1951, Alcan signed an agreement with the British Columbia provincial government, that “called upon the company to risk a huge investment, without any government subsidy or financial backing and without any assured market for its product.”

According to the book, Powell sought to anticipate any future problems, given the tenor of the times, the possible or even likely nationalization of the smelter and the hydro-electric project.

So Powell insisted that the contract signed between Alcan and the province include preliminary clauses acknowledging that Alcan was paying for Kitimat without a single cent from the government:

Whereas the government is unwilling to provide and risk the very large amounts of money required to develop those water powers to produce power for which no market now exists or can be foreseen except through the construction of the facilities for the production of aluminum in the vicinity and….

Whereas the construction of the aluminum plant at or near the site of the said waterpower would accomplish without risk or to the GOVERNMENT the development power, the establishment of a permanent industry and the new of population and….

(Government in all caps in the original)

…the parties hereto agree as follows (the agreement, water licence and land permit)

Powell is quoted in the book as saying:

I asked the political leaders of BC if the government would develop the power and sell the energy to Alcan and they refused. We had to do it ourselves. Someday, perhaps, some politician will try to nationalize that power and grab it for the state. I will be dead and gone but some of you or your successors at Alcan may be here, and I hope the clauses in the agreement, approved by the solemn vote of the BC legislature, will give those future socialists good reason to pause and reflect.

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, the federal government had very little to do with the Kitimat project. With the declaration that Kitimat will be a public port, the federal government comes to the party 60 years late. But one has to wonder if the late Alcan president, R.E. Powell, ever considered that the “future socialists” he hoped would “pause and reflect” would be members of Canada’s Conservative party, Stephen Harper, Joe Oliver and Denis Lebel?

Kitimat-Stikine Regional District votes to oppose Enbridge Northern Gateway

Map Regional District Kitimat Stikine
Map showing the Regional District of Kitimat Stikine (RDKS)

The Regional District of Kitimat-Stikine voted on Sept. 14, 2012, to oppose the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline. Eight of the twelve Regional District Directors of Kitimat Stikine voted to both to oppose the Northern Gateway project and to support resolutions of the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) on the pipeline.

Telegraph Creek director David Brocklebank, who originally proposed the motion, was supported by Dease Lake alternate director Joey Waite, Terrace municipal directors Dave Pernarowski (mayor) and Bruce Bidgood (councillor), Nass director (and regional district chair) Harry Nyce, Hazelton village mayor Alice Maitland, the Hazeltons and  Kispiox/Kitwanga director Linda Pierre and Diana Penner (who was sitting in for the director Doug McLeod) for the rural area around Terrace and Kitimat.

Brocklebank had proposed the motion at the August meeting. It was tabled to allow for the directors who represent the various regions and municipalities time for consultation.
Voting against were Kitimat municipal director Corinne Scott, New Hazelton mayor Gail Lowry, Thornhill’s Ted Ramsey and Stewart municipal director Billie Ann Belcher.

Scott said she was voting against the motion, continuing the Kitimat council’s position that it remain neutral until the report of the Northern Gateway Joint Review panel. Ramsey also said Thornhill wanted to also remain neutral.

Other directors pointed to what they called the politicization of the Joint Review and how they believed it had been influenced by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

While the District of Kitimat remains neutral, the Skeena Queen Charlotte Regional District, Prince Rupert, Terrace and Smithers have all voted to oppose the Northern Gateway.

Smithers council votes to oppose Northern Gateway, fourth council within a month

Smithers has become the third northwestern British Columbia municipal council to vote against the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline, joining Prince Rupert and Terrace. Earlier, one regional district, Skeena Queen Charlotte, also voted against the controversial pipeline and tanker project.

The vote in Smithers was 5-1.

Smithers Councillor Phil Brienesse, in a statement posted on his Facebook page,  said

I brought forth a new motion to oppose the Enbridge Northern Gateway project. The motion passed 5-1 after careful and considerable debate by council. My decision was based in part on new information that came out from recent decisions made in Terrace, SQCRD, and Prince Rupert that made it clear that local governments had the right and are clearly permitted to provide information to the Joint Review Panel. Since the previous motion was tabled with the reasoning being that it was felt we should not be influencing the JRP it seemed appropriate to bring forth a new motion at this time taking into consideration that we made the decision based on the information currently available.

 

Brienesse was quoted by CFJW on Tuesday night: “I hope this really brings our community together and in particular what it does, is it brings the north together so now we have Smithers, Terrace, Prince Rupert, and the Skeena Queen Charlotte Regional District all opposing Enbridge, in their own unique ways that makes sense to their community,” said Brienesse, adding “we have  a united North, so I am very positive about this.”

CFJW said the only vote against the motion was from Councillor Charlie Northrup, who noted not all councillors were present for last night’s meeting — and he wanted to table it until everyone was there.

Enbridge spokesman Paul Stanway, speaking on CBC Radio, repeated what he said to Northern View after the Prince Rupert vote, that it was better for all communities to wait until the Joint Review Panel had finished the hearings and then make a decision based on all the evidence.