THE RIVERBANK PAPERS: After the flash flood on September 11, 2017, Northwest Coast Energy News filed Freedom of Information/Access to Information requests with a number of provincial and federal agencies who have jurisdiction over the Kitimat river and riverbank camping. The first response to the FOI request is from the Ministry of Forest, Lands and Natural Resource Operations & Rural Development.
A preliminary assessment by the British Columbia Ministry of Forest, Lands and Natural Resource Operations & Rural Development indicates that the District of Kitimat can regulate access to camping on the Kitimat River bank because although the shoreline is on Crown Land, the camping area is within the boundaries of the District.
One of the possible policies that the District staff is considering is allowing only “day access” to the riverbank.
An email on October 11, from Liz Williamson, a senior policy analyst in the ministry’s Land Tenure Branch to Gwen Sewell, the District’s Director of Planning and Community Development, reads:
Permission does not apply to Crown Land within a municipality—as a result even in the absence of zoning/bylaws, any camping that does occur is technically in non-compliance with the permission and therefore could be subject to enforcement action under the Land Act.
Williamson notes that the province likely will have to be involved.
Ultimately that does rely on provincial resources and it looks like DOK would want a greater role in the use and ability to locally enforce the use as you have mentioned zoning and associated bylaws would likely be a course of action you could consider.
Williamson went on to write:
I’m waiting to hear back from one of my more experienced colleagues but I am not aware of any specific limitation to DOK creating bylaws to regulate public recreational use of vacant Provincial land within the municipal boundaries, so long as it doesn’t conflict with a government interest.
She added that the laws and regulations are complex and advised the District to get legal advice. Then she added the District should have “upfront discussions with appropriate provincial authority to ensure that the bylaws do not conflict with existing policy/legislation or other agency interests.”
Right after the flash flood both Sewell and District of Kitimat Chief Administrative Officer, Warren Waycheshen, exchanged emails with officials of both the Ministry of Lands and Forests and the Ministry of the Environment asking first if the province would have any objections to a proposed plan to put gates on municipal land to limit access to the riverbank. Council later put the gate plan on hold.
The emails quoted provincial land use permission policy that says
“Crown permission to use land requires the activity must abide by and comply with all applicable, regulations and bylaws.
Before any person may rely on the Permission they must ensure that the activity is taking place on unencumbered Crown land. The Crown land must not be within
A Protected Area includes Ecological Reserves, Parks and Conservancies
In his email to Cam Bentley, Resource Manager for the Skeena Lands district, Waycheshen asked if the province was interested in some form of joint administration of the riverbank and if the ministry was interested in joining the working group.
Sewell sent a similar email to Williamson noting,
Camping has been occupying the banks of the Kitimat River—opposite a municipal campground called Radley Park—for decades….This had been a somewhat divisive local issue (it’s no cost and traditional use, grey water, residual garbage, human waste, blocking river access for day users etc. and there is a new willingness to consider regulation or prohibition of camping following a flash flood that required a dangerous multi-force rescue effort to save 14 campers and resulted in significant property loss (RVs, vehicles and camping equipment). As camping is “unregulated” the first responders had no idea how many people were in danger or where to look for campers.
Sewell went on to say:
Given…municipal authority to regulate land use by zoning, I believe Kitimat Council may use their zoning power to limit all or selected land along the Kitimat River to “day use only.” I am far from certain this will be the course of action Council will choose to pursue. For now, we only want to identify possibilities.
Williamson replied to Sewell saying that it was good there was no loss of life in the flood. She noted the Keremeos had been going through a similar situation but that village’s problem was that, unlike the District of Kitimat, the camping was outside the municipal boundaries of the village.
KEEP THE RIVERBANK PAPERS INVESTIGATION GOING.
These days filing Freedom of Information and Access to Information requests is much more expensive than it was in the past. It is part of obstruction of freedom of information by all levels of government. One agency wants $900 for their files on the Kitimat River camping issue. That is currently under appeal. Donations (see right hand column) will help the residents of Kitimat know more about what is happening on the camping issue.
District of Kitimat Council voted Monday five to two to create a “working group” of “concerned citizens and community groups” to consider the future of riverbank camping along the Kitimat river. The working group will consider issues such as access to the river, pollution and how to control extended camping along the river.
That vote came after council split five to two again to defeat a motion by Councillor Mary Murphy to stop riverside camping altogether.
A proposal from District staff to put access gates at three locations, the Giant Spruce Road, the Sewage Plant and the Pump House was tabled for the time being. However, the councilors and staff marked the pump house gate as a priority for study by the engineering staff due to concerns that “the risk of fuel, oil and other contaminants (i.e. Illegal dumping ) occurring. This is the source water area for the city’s water supply, reducing access reduces contamination risks.” Staff said that unlike other portions of the riverbank, the District does “have authority under drinking water protection act to protect this area.”
Council also voted to close Hirsh Creek park immediately because the roads at the camping area were washed out by the flood last week.
Councillors noted that many people still go to Hirsch Creek after the gates are closed at the end of the season to walk dogs or hike. This results in a parking jam at the front of the gate and on busy times, cars park on Highway 37 which could endanger pedestrians.
District staff will study moving the park gate down further to a point that the road narrows near the first campsite to allow safe access for dog walkers and hikers.
The main problem facing the District of Kitimat is that most popular sites along the riverbank for campers are on provincially owned Crown land. In 2014, the former BC Liberal government passed a regulation that says people can camp on Crown land for up to 14 days. As some councillors pointed out this restriction regularly abused by some campers who stay on the riverbank for weeks, some apparently camping from Victoria Day to Labour Day.
During the debate it was pointed out that often those camp on the riverbank like to “claim” a camping/fishing spot and try to prevent others from using it. “I know of a couple of fistfights,” Murphy told Council.
As Councillor Rob Goffinet pointed out, whether or not the District could place gates on municipal land to stop access to provincial Crown land would require a legal opinion.
Murphy told Council that she had received emails, blaming Kitimat for “almost drowning” some of the campers. She said that her views may be unpopular among some residents, but added, “I don’t care if I’m unpopular, I want to keep people safe.”
Councillor Larry Walker, who pointed out that he likes of fish along the river, who supported Murphy’s motion told his colleagues to get their act together and “do something about the riverbank.” He later proposed that if council does nothing, perhaps Kitimat should hold a referendum on the future use of the river bank.
The majority on Council were more cautious, while acknowledging problems. They pointed out that the many of the campers both on the east bank and on the west bank at Radley Park patronize local businesses during the summer months.
While there was wide discussion on social media before the council meeting, only three people showed up to give their opinions, mostly concerned about permitting access to the river for people with mobility issues or small children.
There were many comments and questions about how other areas police provincial Crown Land, with some saying that some places restrict access to only a couple of days. However, no one either on Council or staff had any idea of what exactly other locations are doing, if anything.
There were no details of how the working group would operate and who would participate. During the debate it was pointed out that as well as the province, participants would have to include Rio Tinto, LNG Canada and DFO. As well, Council did not set a deadline for the working group to report back.
As Murphy pointed out back in 2014, Fisheries and Oceans refused to attend a Council meeting or make a public presentations on its views of the river bank situation. (DFO snubs District of Kitimat Council for a second time ) while offering to meet with staff “they will continue to meet at an operational level to provide information on DFO’s regulatory role.” That, of course came during the Stephen Harper administration which severely restricted any public participation by the civil service on environmental issues. Whether the Justin Trudeau government has changed that policy remains to be seen.
Was the rain storm an anomoly?
During the debate, Mayor Phil Germuth, pointed to the sudden onslaught of rain during Sunday and Monday September 10 and 11 and called it “an anomaly” which means that Kitimat should not overreact to the storm.
Climate science has repeatedly shown that global warming is increasing the odds of extreme precipitation and storm surge flooding. Refusing to acknowledge this impairs our ability to prepare for future extreme weather and endangers American lives and property.
Scientists can now even evaluate how much climate change has increased the odds of individual extreme events, including rainfall and flooding.
As the 2015 American Meteorological Society report quoted by The Times indicates, those unpredictable and extreme events don’t just include floods but the widespread forest fires in Alaska in 2014 and we all know how bad the fire season has been in British Columbia this year.
As Noah Diffenbaugh of Standford University pointed out in The Times
Being smart about managing exposure and vulnerability is critical to reducing risks. But doing so requires acknowledging that global warming is happening, that humans are the primary cause and that the odds of catastrophes like Hurricane Harvey are increasing.
The District of Kitimat has issued a map clarifying just who owns the banks of the Kitimat River, a subject that has been debated for years, as campers have come and gone as they please.
The map issued by the District staff shows that the District of Kitimat has jurisdiction over much of the land on the east side of the river while Rio Tinto owns much of the western bank–but also does own some of the eastern bank in the lower levels.
District staff are recommending that gates be installed in three areas along the eastern bank on municipally owned land, at the Giant Spruce Road, at the Pump House and at the Sewage plant. That could cut off vehicular traffic while still allowing access for pedestrians and those who wish to fish on the river bank by getting access on foot.
The proposed locations of the gates are marked in red on the map.
You’ll find a larger version of the map, and staffs’ recommendations to District Council in the report.
The District of Kitimat Friday afternoon lifted the boil water advisory declared during a heavy rain storm late last Saturday. The District says system flushing may result in some discoloured water, but it is safe to drink and the water should run clear quickly.
The precautionary boil water advisory issued on Sunday, October 11 has been lifted.
This advisory was issued by the District of Kitimat, with advice from Northern Health, after the extremely high flood levels in the Kitimat River caused an increase in turbidity in the municipal water supply. It has now been lifted after two consecutive sets of samples confirmed there was no total coliform or E.coli contamination in the potable water.
Chlorination was increased and maintained over the boil water advisory period and municipal crews flushed the water system to speed up removal of the turbid (cloudy) water. The flushing itself could result in some discoloration of the water but it is safe to drink without boiling. If your water is discoloured, let your cold water run until it clears.
The District of Kitimat apologizes for any concern or inconvenience this precautionary measure may have caused.
The District of Kitimat in an update on the boil water advisory says it could last until the end of the week. There is no immediate problem because the water is still being treated.
Kitimat Chief Administrative Officer Warren Waycheshen says the turbidity from the high water means that it is not possible to do a full sample on the safety of the water. There are no delays due to the holiday weekend, the labs are open and ready, Waycheshen told Northwest Coast Energy News.
There are no immediate dangers to Kitimat from the high water, he said.
October 11, 2015
The boil water advisory issued by the District of Kitimat will remain in place at this time. Until further notice, continue to boil water for 2 solid minutes before using it for cooking or drinking.
The District of Kitimat, with advice from Northern Health, will not consider terminating the advisory until two samples conclude there is not a health risk. Sampling is not expected to be complete until at least the end of the week of October 12, 2015 and could be longer if the rain continues.
The District is treating the water as usual. There is nothing to suggest contamination is occurring; however, as a precautionary measure please continue to boil water prior to use.
Turbidity in this case means high levels of particulate matter in the river, including sand and possibly salts. Waycheshen said the Kitimat River rose four metres on Saturday, then dropped by about two metres overnight but with the later Sunday afternoon rain the river is rising once again.
The Environment Canada forecast issued at 4 pm Sunday, calls for rain for the next week.
Rain. Amount 15 to 25 mm. Windy. Temperature steady near 8.
Showers. Windy early in the evening. Temperature steady near 8.
Tue, 13 Oct
Showers. High 11.
Cloudy with 70 percent chance of showers. Low 6.
Wed, 14 Oct
A mix of sun and cloud with 60 percent chance of showers. High 13.
Cloudy periods. Low plus 5.
Thu, 15 Oct
Cloudy. High 15.
Cloudy with 60 percent chance of showers. Low 7.
Fri, 16 Oct
Cloudy with 60 percent chance of showers. High 12.
Cloudy with 60 percent chance of showers. Low 7.
Sat, 17 Oct
Periods of rain. High 11.
Wind Warning continues
The Environment Canada wind warning for the north coast was continued this morning but there are currently no alerts in effect for Kitimat.
Wind warning in effect for:
North Coast – coastal sections
The third and final disturbance in this series of storms is moving onto the northern BC Coast. The front will cross the central coast tonight. Southeast winds up to 110 km/h will develop over Haida Gwaii near noon then spread to the North Coast – Coastal Sections and Central Coast – Coastal Sections this afternoon. Winds will shift to southwest with the passage of the front then diminish this evening.
Damage to buildings, such as to roof shingles and windows, may occur. High winds may toss loose objects or cause tree branches to break.
Wind warnings are issued when there is a significant risk of damaging winds.
Waycheshen says there probably has been some flood damage to Radley Park, but at this point District staff are unable to get into the area to assess the damage.
Tuesday night’s District of Kitimat Council meeting, crowded with striking members of Unifor 2300 deteriorated to what became a shouting match between the bargaining committee and Mayor Phil Germuth.
If the hostility and anger continue, it is quite likely the strike will last for months. The fallout will last much longer. It is often said that the bitterness following a strike is directly proportional to its length and the repercussions can last for a decade or more.
That is not good for the future of Kitimat.
There’s talk of mediation, and that’s a good idea, but mediation only works when both sides are willing to sit down and actually listen and talk through the issues. So mediation doesn’t appear to be practical, at least for a few weeks, until both sides are feeling a lot more pain, which is unfortunate.
Even if mediation isn’t possible at the moment, it’s time for both sides to stop and bring in some outside experts, experts with cool heads and no personal axes to grind, to guide each side in the negotiations.
Do they know what they’re doing? Unifor 2300, apparently not as stunt, but to get their point across, attempted a clause by clause negotiation of certain points at public meeting of council, in front of a partisan crowd. Negotiating in public seldom works, especially if the other side isn’t really listening.
Do they know what they’re doing? It appears that mayor and council didn’t bother to actually take a copy of the union offer and read it, at least so they would know what the District bargaining committee was doing. “Did anybody on council actually look at the whole document? No. We didn’t ask for it, we asked, give us an update,” Mayor Phil Germuth said. (Having been through the 2005 CBC lockout, I know that most union members do look carefully at the proposed changes in a contract, especially if there is trouble on the horizon. Management usually does the same. In this case, council is the responsible body and should have taken the time to actually read the proposals.)
There is too much confusion and contradictory statements from mayor, staff and council over the timeline of when they saw the offer from Unifor, even it was just a summary.
The trouble with a small town like Kitimat is that this has already become too personal, and both sides are losing perspective. That’s why cooler, outside heads are needed.
UPDATE: Deescalation not Escalation
A few moments after this analysis was initially posted, Mayor Phil Germuth issued a open letter, threatening to withdraw the District’s offer:
If the Final Offer is not accepted by the Union by Sunday, April 12, 2015 at 4 p.m. the offer will be withdrawn. The District will then retain the services of an external negotiator who will have the mandate to conclude a Collective Agreement. That negotiator can make decisions on the best way to achieve this goal, including mediation or arbitration.
When this piece was written, our idea of bringing in outside experts was to deescalate the volatile situation, not escalating and making it worse. If the District of Kitimat brings in a hard ball “outside negotiator” that will be a long term disaster for the region, even if a settlement is reached (or forced), because as we say above the long term bitterness could last for a decade or more. When we said an outside negotiator respected by both management and labour, we meant just that, an expert in industrial relations that can deescalate the anger. One has to wonder just who is advising mayor and council on this issue?
In this analysis calling for Unifor 2300 to also bring in outside experts, we were hoping for deescalation, in a small town where the dispute has become very personal. If the District brings in that outside negotiator, Unifor 2300 will have to call headquarters and bring in the “big guns” and call for national support (which has happened in other labour disputes).
Unless there is immediate deescalation, the situation can only get worse.
Get on the phone
That means Unifor 2300 business agent Martin McIlwrath, Unifor Local 2301 President Rick Belmont who does have some experience, and the rest of the bargaining team should get on the phone to Unifor headquarters today and ask that an experienced negotiations facilitator and an experienced researcher get on a plane for Kitimat immediately and stay here for the duration. (McIlwrath has told reporters he has consulted with other labour leaders by phone. That’s not good enough. This situation needs experts here, on the ground).
For Unifor 2300 members, part of your dues goes to union headquarters, so that’s what you’re paying for. A “One Big Union,” which is what Unifor is, has bench strength for situations like this.
For Mayor Phil Germuth and CAO Ron Poole, that means immediately hiring an experienced industrial relations consultant, one who is respected by both management and labour, who can also tell the obviously dysfunctional negotiating team what works and what doesn’t.
A union researcher and the staff of the labour relations consultant could soon find out what (from their perspective) what is economically feasible given the uncertainty of Kitimat’s future.
The Immediate Problem: No picket line protocol
It was very clear at the council meeting on March 2, when there was a loud picket line at the meeting and now with the secondary picketing of the museum and the public library, that Unifor 2300 has failed to establish a proper picket line protocol.
Old time union activists may not like it, but the idea of “never crossing a picket line” is becoming obsolete in the 21st century, especially in situations where there is no longer one single plant gate. These days what usually happens where striking or locked out workers may be picketing office buildings where there are other businesses or where members of other bargaining units may still be working is to establish a picket line protocol.
The accepted procedure these days is to establish a waiting time before entering a location. Often this is even agreed between management and the union (where they are still on speaking terms) before a strike or lockout begins.
In 1999, the CBC management locked out the then technicians’ union, NABET/CEP. The Canadian Media Guild had settled and was bound by the no strike/lockout clause in the collective agreement. That meant everyone else; CMG, non-union staff and management crossed the NABET/CEP picket lines. The protocol was that everyone waited ten minutes before entering the buildings. At shift change the lines could be quite long and sometimes the wait was as long as a half hour (in Toronto, in January, in the snow).
By the time of the 2005 lockout, NABET at CBC had merged with the Canadian Media Guild and everyone was out. Protocols were put in place, management and non-union staff lined up for ten minutes before entering the building.
Similar protocols are put in place elsewhere. There have even been cases where truckers entering a multi-company facility wait for ten or fifteen minutes before being waved through. In some of the recent university disputes, students and non-striking staff have had to wait in line before entering campuses.
The other problem is the secondary picketing of the museum and library. Neither are parties to the core dispute, although they do receive funding from the District. Museum staff are non-union and library staff are members of CUPE. So the employees at both locations are not part of the dispute.
The other problem is that with the library there is collateral damage for the users, especially for students who may want to complete assignments as the school year comes to an end. Students have already been hurt by the teachers’ disputes and this is another burden on their education. Did the Unifor 2300 leadership think about that?
In addition, secondary pickets are usually information or leafleting pickets. If Unifor wants to continue to picket the library and museum, it should be clear that line is for information only. If Unifor continues to insist on picketing the two institutions, (which is unfair to those involved) there should be a wait time protocol. Unifor should call CUPE and agree on one. The museum non-union staff should follow whatever CUPE and Unifor agree to.
If, in the future, Unifor wants to picket council meetings, which is a democratic and elected body, even if it is party to the dispute, and should be free and open to the public, then a proper waiting time protocol should be either negotiated or, if the union moves unilaterally, they must make it clear what the protocol is.
The labour relations earthquake
As we found out this week, with the study of the Haida Gwaii earthquake, a tremor happens when locked in strain is suddenly released. So the Kitimat labour relations earthquake was caused when grievances going back 30 years landed on the table this year.
Why were the grievances, the strain, allowed to build up for three decades? There is obviously blame on both sides. At Tuesday night’s meeting, there were shouts of bring back Joanne Monaghan. Really? Monaghan was a member of council or mayor for most of those 30 years when the problem was building.
Why put all the blame on the current council, which only took office in December? Two members of Council, Larry Walker and Claire Rattée are brand new. Phil Germuth was on council for one term and only became mayor a few months ago. Other council members have been there a lot longer.
Both CAO Ron Poole and Deputy Warren Waycheshen are fairly new as well, but they should have been aware of the problems. As far back as early fall, the District’s senior staff told me they were expecting fairly smooth negotiations. My Unifor sources now tell me, at the same time, the union was conducting extensive research on other collective agreements to look for language to improve the poor work environment at the District of Kitimat.
The responsibility here lies with the line managers of the District. What did they know and when did they know it? Did they tell Poole, Waycheshen, mayor and council that there were problems escalating? If the line managers knew and didn’t tell, they should be fired. If they didn’t know, then their management of their departments is incompetent, or if they were ignoring the problems, as my union sources allege, then they are part of the problem. If everyone knew and did nothing about it, then that raises questions about management incompetence across the board. Again heads should roll. (And staff managers shouldn’t make snide comments in a public meeting about speakers before council, especially if those managers sit beside the media table. It shows they’re unprofessional and bolsters the union’s case).
There is also blame on the union. Labour relations were not an issue during the municipal election. If the problems have been building for 30 years, why wasn’t it an issue?
Members of Unifor 2300 can’t shout “Why did I vote for you?” If what the union calls “a poisoned work environment” has existed for years, why did it never come up during the election or the debates? In any situation where a labour dispute is building, the rumblings inside the shop and outside are obvious months in advance. If the line managers and senior managers were either ignoring the problems or were part of the problem, then it was the responsibility of Unifor 2300 to make it an issue in the election.
Salaries and management
Given the current situation in Kitimat, the current high salaries for senior staff are somewhat justified. Kitimat is not just a small town, it is a small town working with at least four major industrial projects, the Rio Tinto Alcan Kitimat Modernization Project, Shell-led LNG Canada, Chevron-led Kitimat LNG and the Altagas floating LNG project. This involves negotiations and meetings with both government and corporate officials with even much higher pay grades. There is also the ongoing issue of trying to mend the long history of poor relations with the Haisla Nation.
The workload for senior staff has been increased exponentially in the past four or five years. I am told by sources that burnout is becoming a factor and that staff, both management and union, involved in industrial development, infrastructure and related issues are taking lots of time in lieu, since most don’t get overtime. Some members of the professional staff are members of the Unifor 2300 bargaining unit. That means workload and burnout for those professional members should also be an issue, one that hasn’t, so far, been raised in union media releases.
Here again we see a lack of leadership, both with current management and with the current and previous councils. Any competent manager would have understood that the high salaries for senior staff, however justifiable those salaries may be, would bring questions from the union rank and file and would be a factor in current contract negotiations. (If none of the LNG projects actually proceed, then the salaries for managers and professionals will have to be reassessed).
At Monday’s meeting, Phil Germuth said the District had decided to hire a health and safety manager? Why now? Why not years ago? This is a town that lives and breathes on health and safety briefings. Every time, as a member of the media, I visit the RTA Smelter, the Bish Cove site or any other construction or industrial site, I get a health and safety briefing. If you go fishing, whether it’s on a charter or with a friend, there is safety briefing before leaving the dock. This seems to prove the union’s contention that health and safety was a low priority with the District.
If the District is going to hire a health and safety manager, why not also hire a Human Resources Manager? The current HR staff at the District are “overworked payroll clerks” (to quote a union source). A qualified HR manager would take that burden off the administrative officers, be aware of proper industrial relations procedures and negotiations practices and be the manager who would implement and enforce anti-harassment procedures.
The one group caught in the middle of all this are the summer students. Summer students are hired by many organizations to fill in for vacationing staff and to work on special projects. Summer students should not, as the union is claiming, be used to ensure that casual staff do not get enough hours to qualify for seniority. Reducing the number of summer students, however, is going to have a long term negative effect on the community. Jobs for young people are far too scarce, student loans are becoming such a burden that Millennials who have graduated and those who actually have jobs, can’t afford to buy houses. A lack of summer jobs in Kitimat would be an incentive for young people to leave town or if they are away at college or university, to stay away. Unifor is also not doing the future of the union movement any good by alienating a new generation of potential union members. The summer student program should be restored as much as possible.
Senior and youth health
In a larger community, youth counselling and medically necessary therapeutic pool or gym exercise for seniors and those with disabilities could move to other venues. In Kitimat that is not an option since there are no other locations, so an interim agreement to resume those activities should be high on the agenda—if both sides actually resume talking.
The future of Kitimat’s economy
Today Royal Dutch Shell, the main company behind the LNG Canada project, took over BG Group which had proposed an LNG project at Prince Rupert. The price of oil is bobbing around the $50 a barrel mark. That means David Black’s refinery project, which depended on high oil prices is “vital signs absent.” The long term prospects for the LNG market are good given the increased demand in Asia. The short term prospects are poor, given that the energy sector’s income from oil has dropped and that means those companies have less money to spend on new projects.
The council is being prudent in refusing to lock itself in to long term expenditures based on projects that may never materialize. At the same time, the cost of living in Kitimat, up until recently a mini-Fort McMurray, has skyrocketed. That means the union request for a salary increase should not have been unexpected. It also means that a large number of Kitimat residents, who are paying more for goods and services, many of whom do not have the higher paying project jobs, cannot really afford an increase in property taxes. A compromise on this is essential.
That’s why outside experts, with cool heads, research staff and no personal stake in 30 odd years of hostility, should be brought in to bring both sides to an agreement as soon as possible.
Disclosure: I am the current chair of the Board of Directors of the Kitimat Museum and Archives. My term expires at the end of May. I am a retiree member of the Canadian Media Guild/Communications Workers of America from my time at CBC. When I freelance, depending on whether or not the specific job is covered in a collective agreement (some are, some are not) I work under CMG jurisdiction for CBC and the wire services and under Unifor jurisdiction for Global TV and certain newspapers. In 2005, CBC management locked out employees from August 15 to October 10. During the period of the lockout, my assigned “picket” duty was as one of the CMG’s official photographers.
CORRECTION: This post has been corrected. The events took place on Tuesday, not Monday.
“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.”
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.
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.”
“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).
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, 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,
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.
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.
Not that there aren’t the usual tensions and disputes over what harmonious means. As the Wall Street Journalreported 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.
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.
(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.
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
It’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.
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.
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.
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
A new Official Community Plan
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.
Kitimat Mayor Joanne Monaghan has slammed Douglas Channel Watch for a “disrespectful” demonstration held during the ceremony that saw the transfer of land from the province of BC to the Haisla Nation. BC Premier Christy Clark came to Kitimat for the event.
There were two groups of protesters across Haisla Boulevard from the transfer ceremony. While some were from Douglas Channel Watch, the vast majority were striking teachers.
In an e-mail from Monaghan to District staff and to Margaret Ouwehand, who handles e-mail traffic for the environmental group, obtained by Northwest Coast Energy News, Monaghan wrote about the protest:
This was not respectful to the Haisla. This was one of the greatest moments in the government between the Hasila and DOK and all we could hear were blaring horns. How disrepectful and a shame on our community. It would have been so much more cultured if that could have waited for an hour until the ceremony was concluded.
In the original notice of the protest sent to Northwest Coast Energy News and Douglas Channel Watch subscribers on Monday, Ouwehand wrote:
It is important to remain respectful of the Haisla event and to indicate our support their position regarding Enbridge
At the beginning of her remarks at the ceremony, Monaghan also said, “First I would just like to apologize for some of the noise in the background and the disrepectfulness of what’s happening at this great, great celebration, we’re having with the Haisla people today.”
It was clear for reporters who went across Haisla Boulevard to cover the demonstration that teachers, who began a full-scale strike on Tuesday, far outnumbered the handful of Douglas Channel Watch demonstraters in front of the “Downtown Kitimat” sign. It was mostly the teachers who lined Haisla Boulevard and waved signs, encouraging passing traffic to honk in support. Most teachers continued to protest while some members of Douglas Channel Watch left the protest to attend the ceremony that marked the return of the old hospital lands to the Haisla Nation.
UPDATE: District sprinklers disrupted teacher demonstration
At least three rallies are planned for Kitimat on Tuesday, June 17, as BC Premier Christy Clark is scheduled to arrive to announce a new agreement with the Haisla Nation and, a few hours later, the Harper government will announce its decision on approving the Northern Gateway project.
The Harper government is expected to approve the highly controversial pipeline, terminal and tanker project and once that happens, it is likely that Kitimat will be the focus of protests against (and perhaps for) Northern Gateway.
District Council was told Monday, June 16, that the RCMP and District staff have had meetings to come up with contingency plans if large numbers of protesters come to Kitimat in the future.
Answering a question from Councillor Phil Germuth, Staff Sergeant Phil Harrison, Kitimat detachment commander told Council that RCMP had met with Kitimat deputy chief administrative officer Warren Waycheshen to discuss the groups they were aware of that might be protesting in Kitimat.
“It’s actually hard to plan for some of them, we don’t know how large they’re going to be, “Harrison told Councl, “There are all sorts of different factors that go into coming up with an operational plan for any kind of a demonstration
“We’ve talked about where we may be able to hold demonstrations, how we are going to do accommodate the people, what are we going to do for sanitation,
what we are going to do for garbage collection. all that kind of stuff,” the staff sergeant said.
“Until we get more information regarding what kind of demonstration it’s going to be, it’s hard to plan for. We do encourage any leaders of any organization that’s going to be demonstrating to come and chat with us.
:Demonstrations are fully legal in Canada. We have no problems with those. Our concern is when it comes to the safety of the public and so, therefore, if there isanything we can do to help to mitigate any kind of problems that might arise if the safety of the public, we’d like to know that before hand.”
Waycheshen said it was up to Council to set policy but noted that the staff has been working on long term plans, saying. ‘We do a lot of pre-planning and then just wait to see if it comes or not.”
Waycheshen said that while the RCMP and District staff have studied the more obvious locations, “as the RCMP point out, there are certain times when people won’t congregate where you want them to, so we have to work around their locations.’
“We’ve looked at the need for water, porta-potties, meals and stuff,” Waycheshen said. “It’s always tough until you know the numbers When they come in, are they going to be self sufficient or not?
“We’ve talked to our suppliers to make them aware that this could be happening at short notice, so they’re aware of it,
“We’ve done as much as we can And almost like the emergency plan, we’ve talked to the emergency planning group for the District. There might be a point where we activate the EOC [Emergency Operations Centre] plan, not to treat it as an emergency but to give you a lot more flexibility to react in a quick way.”
“Some of the suppliers say we should be able to get you this and that, but we will have to know at the time.
“It’s really contingent on when they’re coming in. Our purchasing department has been really good about contacting people, this is the potential of what we could
It all starts on Tuesday when Premier Clark is scheduled to arrive at the old hospital site to announce the agreement with the Haisla.
Douglas Channel Watch says it plans to rally at the “Downtown Kitimat” sign across the street from the hospital site at 10:45. Kitimat’s teachers who will officially be on strike on Tuesday, plan their own rally at Centennial Park at the same time.
The Harper government will announce its decision on the Northern Gateway shortly after 4 p.m. Eastern Time, after the market close in the east, 1 p.m, Pacific Time.
Shortly after the government announcement, Douglas Channel Watch will then hold a second rally in Centennial Park.