Silja Festival leaves Kitimat

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

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

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

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



RTA donates part of Minette Bay waterfront to District of Kitimat

Updates with corrected figure 156 acres from Rio Tinto Alcan and District of Kitimat

Rio Tinto Alcan has donated 156 acres (63 hectares) of waterfront land on Minette Bay to the District of Kitimat, Gaby Poirier, RTA  General manager BC Operations, said Wednesday, November 12, 2014. It’s a major step in getting people in Kitimat access to the waterfront which is being closed off by industrial development.

In a news release, Poirier said.

It is with great pleasure that Rio Tinto Alcan confirms today a gift to the people of Kitimat of  approximately 56 acres of water front land that make up District Lot 471, located in Minette Bay.

For more than half a century Rio Tinto Alcan has participated with pride in the development of  Kitimat and Northwest British Columbia. In the 1950’s Rio Tinto Alcan developed a company  town from mostly undeveloped land. Today it is a mature, vibrant, and highly liveable northern  community. We are very proud of our involvement in making this happen.

Now, 60 years later, a new era of industrial development is on our doorsteps. Rio Tinto Alcan’s  BC Operations is looking forward to having new neighbours beside us near the smelter site and  port terminals. It is important now, more than ever, to ensure the people of Kitimat continue to  have direct ocean access.

Minette Bay
A view of Minette Bay June 5. 2014. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

To that end, Rio Tinto Alcan is pleased and committed, in this our 60th Anniversary year, to  transfer ownership of the water front lot DL 471 to the District of Kitimat in trust for its citizens use for all time.

Minette Bay beach
Map shows land that Rio Tinto Alcan has donated to the District of Kitimat (RTA)


Ron Poole, District of Kitimat Chief Administrative Officer, tells Northwest Coast Energy News, “As part of the gifting of Lot 471, RTA has agreed to guaranteeing road access across their property to access this lot.”

“It has roughly one kilometre of waterfront on Minette Bay,” Poole says. “We do not have preliminary plans for the site, however, council for years has been negotiating with RTA to provide water access and this is one lot they owned that meets the public need.”

If the Shell-led LNG Canada project goes ahead, with LNG Canada taking over the old Eurocan dock (it already owns the old Methanex dock), that means Rio Tinto Alcan would have to expand its port facilities at “Terminal A” (the original port) and that would cut off access to Hospital Beach which has been the only beachfront available to residents since the 1950s.

RTA charters Baltic ferry for KMP accommodation, to be called “Delta Spirit Lodge”

Rio Tinto Alcan and the Kitimat Modernization Project (KMP) are chartering a converted Baltic ferry to expand the modernization project’s work lodging for nine months, as the company gears up for “the final construction year,” RTA said Tuesday in a news release.

The ship, the Motor Vessel Silja Festival, will be renamed the “Delta Spirit Lodge” in honour of the first ship used for worker accommodation in the early days of the Kitimat project, the Delta King.

M/V Silja Festival
M/V Silja Festival

RTA says the ship left Estonia on Monday and is expected to arrive in Kitimat near the end of February. The ship “will have a service staff of approximately 110  and will offer first rate amenities including 500 bedrooms, kitchen, dining and lounge facilities.” The “Delta Spirit Lodge” will dock at RTA’s “Terminal B,” the former Eurocan wharf for the duration of the contract.

The charter agreement was made in cooperation with Transport Canada and Bridgemans Haisla LP to provide the accommodation services. RTA spokesperson Colleen Nyce said in the release, “With the decision to secure a very large accommodation ship, Rio Tinto Alcan has taken another responsible action to ensure that the temporary workforce associated with the Kitimat Modernization Project causes minimal burden on its host community.”

The 34,414 gross tonne, 171 metres overall, eleven deck ferry was built in Aker Finnyards in Helsinki, Finland and went into service on September 1, 1986, as a passenger and roll on roll off ferry. It was renamed the Silja Festival in 1991 and refitted in 1992. It has 588 passenger cabins, plus restaurants, a show bar, shops, cafés, a sauna and conference facilities. The ship also boasts a casino.

The registered owner is the Tallin Swedish line, based in Tallinn, Estonia. It is managed by HT Shipmanagement of Riga, Latvia and flags the Latvian flag.

Earlier a news  release from US Shipbrokers announced the deal,  saying:

US Shipbrokers is pleased to announce that we have just facilitated with co-brokers the Charter/Purchase of the M/V Silja Festival from her owners Tallink Group to Canadian interests . The Cruise Ferry Silja Festival will be used as an accommodation vessel for a construction project in British Columbia. US Shipbrokers was contacted by charterers in December due to our vast experience with accommodation charters throughout the United States and the Caribbean, and with our network of worldwide brokers and our proven results, we were able to close this charter/purchase within one month.

The Delta King was a California riverboat with a colourful history that was moored at Alcan Beach during the early days of the original Alcan construction project. It is now a luxury hotel moored in Sacremento and on the US National Register of Historic Places.

One of the Kitimat LNG projects plans to self-generate power for liquefaction plant

At least one of the two large liquified natural gas projects in Kitimat is, at least at this point, planning to self-generate the power required using a gas-fired, steam-driven electrical generation system.

A job ad posted this weekend by the headhunting firm Fircroft is seeking a Lead Project Engineer, Power Plant for “Our client, a major international owner/operating company, requires expertise for their LNG mega-project in Western Canada.”

The job, which requires 20 years and more experience, would be located in Calgary for eighteen months, then move to Kitimat for the remainder of a four year contract paying from $1650 to $1850 per day.

By Fircroft describing the job as a “mega-project” means that the client is either Shell’s LNG Canada project or the Chevron and Apache KM LNG project, since the much smaller BC LNG project could not be described as a “mega-project.”

As well as the standard qualifications for a senior engineer, the job posting lists:

• Power Plant design, operation and construction experience required.
• Boiler design, construction, operation, and commissioning experience required.
• Heat Recovery Steam Generation (HRSG) design, processes, construction, operation, and commissioning experience required.
• Integrates inherent safety in design and operability in concept selection and development for gas resource opportunities.

Providing the power for the Kitimat and other northwestern LNG projects is becoming controversial. The power is needed to cool the natural gas so it can be loaded onto tankers for shipment to customers.

The BC government recently announced a $650,000 study of the cumulative effect on air quality for the planned industrial expansion in the Kitimat area, including the Rio Tinto Alcan Kitimat modernization project, which would increase the amount of sulphur dioxide emissions, combined with as many as three LNG projects and the associated increase in tanker traffic, as well as the possible and even more controversial Enbridge Northern Gateway project.

At the time of the BC announcement, the Globe and Mail reported:

If natural gas is used either for direct-drive or combined-cycle electricity generation to produce the energy required for the proposed Shell LNG facility at Kitimat, approximately 300 million cubic feet of natural gas would be burned. The proposed Chevron Apache LNG facility could burn approximately 140 million cubic feet of natural gas.

The other alternative for powering the LNG plants is to use hydro-electricity, and BC Hydro at the moment doesn’t have the capacity to supply the LNG projects with power. One possibility is the controversial Site C dam project in the Peace River basin, which is also under review by the BC government. 

Although the job is restricted to Canadian citizens or permanent residents, it is clear that the engineer will have to also answer to the project’s overseas partners since one requirement is to conduct:  “Overseas VIP workshops, including Value Engineering, Process Simplification, Process Optimization and Design to Capacity.”

Kitimat port announcement surprise to Rio Tinto Alcan, District of Kitimat

The announcement Monday that the federal government intends to turn the private port of Kitimat into a public port, an announcement confirmed by Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver in Terrace, Tuesday, came as a surprise to Rio Tinto Alcan, which now operates the port.

This morning RTA issued a brief statement:

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.

On Wednesday, Kitmat Mayor Joanne Monaghan told CFTK news the community was never consulted.

Monaghan told CFTK she still hasn’t been able to get anyone with the federal government to tell her more about the plan.

Since today, Thursday, is budget day, it is likely that federal officials would be unavailable for further comment until next week.

Who pays for upgrades?

Another point that is unclear from Monday’s announcement is whether or not the federal government fully intends to take over the navigation aids and enhancements on Douglas Channel and the BC Coast. If so, that means that the Canadian taxpayer would become, at a time of budget cuts, responsible for millions of dollars that Enbridge Northern Gateway has consistently said that the company will pay for.


How “On the Waterfront” could decide the fate of Enbridge’s Kitimat terminal

Water, not oil, is the hot issue this summer in Kitimat

Rio Tinto Alcan reopens access to Kitimat waterfront

After the earthquake: Kitimat must immediately upgrade its emergency communications

As a 7.7 magnitude earthquake hit off Haida Gwaii shortly after eight o’clock on Saturday, I was at the Haisla Recreation Centre as the Haisla Nation marked the return of the G’ps Golox totem pole. Like a boat being lifted by gentle waves, the Rec Centre began to quietly roll up and down, then the rolling seemed to accelerate just a bit. I realized that it was an earthquake. As I told CBC’s Ian Hanomansing  later in the evening, I have been in a number of earthquakes, and for me at least, this quake, at least at Kitamaat Village, the rec centre was not shaking as badly as in some of the others I have felt.

The subsequent events of the evening show that the emergency communication system in Kitimat needs immediate improvement.

Cell service

Cell phone service at the village is poor and after the rolling stopped neither myself nor my Kitimat Daily colleague Walter McFarlane was able to get “bars.”

Now as a former network producer for both CBC and CTV I have handled a large number of earthquake stories from around the world over the past quarter century (sitting at a desk, I should add). With that experience, I was hoping to get a cell hit at the village so I could bring up Twitter. I already subscribe to the US Geological Survey and Canadian earthquake alert feeds. The US and Canadian computers automatically report earthquakes within seconds of detection and send out a Twitter bulletin as the same time as those computers are alerting their human masters. If I had been able to get cell service I would have known within minutes that the Haida Gwaii earthquake was a major event. (I did follow the alerts from my computer once I got back to Kitimat itself).

Recommendation One. Cell service in Kitimat, Kitamaat Village, the harbour area must be upgraded as soon as possible. Telus has applied to council to erect a new cell tower here. Given the events of the past 24 hours, District Council should make sure that all parts of the District of Kitimat and the Haisla Nation have proper cell coverage no matter what service one subscribes to, not just for the convenience of subscribers but for emergency situations.

Automatic alerts

With experience one knows that in a situation such as Saturday night, the official websites such as the US Geological Survey and the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center as well as  Natural Resources Canada are often overwhelmed. That is why the media use RSS feeds, Twitter feeds and e-mail alerts. It is also important to realize that these emergency organizations have their own language and procedures. It appears that a lot of the confusion on Saturday came from misinterpretation of the various Canadian and US warning systems.

Recommendation Two. If Kitimat emergency services are not familiar with how the US based earthquake and tsunami centres work, they should be trained in those systems, simply because the Americans are well ahead of Canada in these areas because the alerts go out by computer automatically and are constantly updated and as Saturday night showed, are often quicker and farther ahead than the Canadian systems.

Once I was back in Kitimat, it was clear that communications were breaking down, and this was at a time the tsunami warning was still active. There were numerous messages on Twitter and Facebook, from residents of Kitimat either trying to find out what was going on or retweeting/reposting rumours including one that the Kildala neighbourhood was being evacuated. I am told that residents were calling the RCMP to ask what was going on. This was another breakdown since North District HQ in Prince George handles all police services in this region and were likely busy with quake calls on Haida Gwaii, so that information calls in Kitimat that should have been handled by an emergency services public communications person were being handled the Mounties.

There were reports that one man was going door to door in Kildala telling people to evacuate. Whether this person was well intentioned but misinformed or a imposter intent on mischief doesn’t matter, there was an information vacuum.

It was clear from Twitter that other districts and municipalities were using that service to spread official information. (I don’t follow other areas on Facebook so it is unclear if information was being posted on Facebook. There was certainly no official presence from Kitimat on Facebook Saturday night.) It appears from reports in the Kitimat Daily and tweets about the Northern Sentinel that Kitimat emergency services was sending information out by fax. While faxing information was an advance in the 1980s, faxes are obsolete in 2012. Many major newsrooms no longer use fax machines after being inundated by junk faxes and after they laid off all the editorial assistants who would have cleared those fax machines (even by the late 90s most faxes were dumped in the garbage unless the EA had been told to look for a specific fax). Also though it is now more than two years since I returned to Kitimat and I regularly freelance for Global, CBC and Canadian Press, I had no contact from anyone in emergency services (also I don’t have a fax machine).

Recommendation Three: The District of Kitimat must immediately bring its emergency communications into the 21st century, with Twitter accounts, a Facebook page and an emergency e-mail or text message plan for media and other officials who can get the messages. ( A number of jurisdictions already use text messages for emergency alerts at various graduated levels, official, media, public). When the main means of communication today is social media, an emergency organization can no longer follow outdated procedures, an organization must be on social media immediately it becomes clear that there is an emergency (as we are seeing with all the official tweets with the Hurricane Sandy crisis on the east coast)


In an emergency situation, local radio and television are vital to communications and letting people know what is going on.

CFTK did a much better job on March 27. 1964 after Kitimat felt the magnitude 9.2 Good Friday Anchorage earthquake than it did on the weekend with the Haida Gwaii earthquake.

The inadequate coverage of the quake was certainly not the fault the of the current CFTK news staff who were working hard (probably on their own time and unpaid) keeping Twitter updated with what they knew. The fault lies with corporate management across the media which these days doesn’t want to spend the money and resources and training to fulfill the public service portion of their broadcast licence mandate.

(There was a similar breakdown in the May 2000, Walkerton, Ontario e-coli crisis where the local medical officer of health was initially unable to alert the public because local radio wasn’t staffed on the weekends–the local stations were taking satellite feeds from their corporate headquarters)

In 1964, long before satellites, when the microwave towers that joined CFTK to the Canadian networks were still being built, the staff of CFTK, then, of course under local management, went to a live special within an hour of the Anchorage quake being felt far off from Alaska in Kitimat. The CFTK anchors were keeping its audience updated with “rip and read” wire copy, a camera on an atlas for a map and phone interviews.

In contrast, on this Saturday night, CFTK was taking the CBC BC network feed which was a hockey rerun (hardly a show that attracts  major audience numbers and certainly not a vital broadcast) until the CBC management in Vancouver decided to go to full network news special.

Since CFTK is the station that broadcasts not only to Kitimat, but to Haida Gwaii as well, CFTK should have been ahead of Vancouver on this story, called in its staff and mounted their own live special, joining the CBC feed when it began but, as on an election night, breaking away for local news when justified. CFTK has a responsibility under its licence from the CRTC to provide that service to the northwestern region, not just sending what ad revenue it generates back to Astral.

Rio Tinto Alcan

Another question that must be asked in this situation is where was Rio Tinto Alcan on Saturday night? In all areas that were under a tsunami warning the first scrutiny and clue if there was to be a problem is that region would be found by observing what has happening between the low tide line and the maximum hide tide line. In Prince Rupert, from the Twitter feeds I saw, public officials were monitoring the waterfront and the tide lines and updating the public. RTA has all the advantages of the private port of Kitimat. It appears that monitoring the water level at the tide lines at the port of Kitimat was the responsibility of Plant Protection. Was RTA communicating what was happening with emergency services? Since RTA runs the private port, unlike in other jurisdictions, RTA had a responsibility to the people of Kitimat to report promptly to the public the conditions on the waterfront. Corporate public relations cannot just be sending out news releases with “good news.” That means that RTA public relations should have used its corporate Twitter account which usually sends out a news release every few weeks, to keep Kitimat updated on a minute-by-minute basis. If RTA communications staff in Kitimat do not have access to the RTA corporate Twitter account, they should establish their own local Twitter feed.

Both in 1964 and in 2012, the tsunami that came up Douglas Channel was minimal. But we know that this region does have a record of major quakes and that Douglas Channel has also experienced major landslides that can, in some circumstances, trigger a tsunami without an earthquake. The next few years will be seeing more industrial development along Douglas Channel which can also bring other hazards to the Kitimat region. While there are always communications breakdowns in situations like happened on Saturday, it is clear that the Kitimat emergency communications system needs a major upgrade to make sure the public is informed quickly and accurately of what is going on.







RTA issues lockout notice, CAW responds with strike notice as Alcan smelter contract deadline looms

Negotiations between Rio Tinto Alcan and Canadian Auto Workers Local 2301 are going down to the wire. The current contact expires Monday, July 23.

The CAW says 96 per cent of members voted in favour of strike action during voting Thursday and Friday. The Local represents 1150 workers at the Alcan smelter. One of the main issues in the negotiations is a reduction in the workforce to 699.

CAW Local 2301 president Rick Belmont said the union received a 72 hour lockout notice this afternoon and the union responded with a strike notice.

RTA spokeperson Colleen Nyce says issuing lockout and strike notice is standard practice during negotiations.

Both sides say negotiations will continue through the weekend.

If there are picket lines it could be a confusing and possibly volatile situation because the Kitimat Modernization Project is on the same site with a work camp full of construction workers on RTA property.

Most construction workers are employed or contracted by Bechtel, the construction contractor and are not members of CAW 2301.

Kitimat Modernization will create competitive contractors for future energy projects: RTA CEO

Jacynthe Côté, CEO Rio Tinto Alcan
Jacynthe Côté,the CEO of Rio Tinto Alcan, briefs reporters on the progress of the Kitimat Modernization Project,March 8, 2011(Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

The Kitimat Modernization Project, the $3.3 billion upgrade of the Kitimat aluminum smelter will create capable and competitive contractors that can go on to work at the future energy developments in the region, Rio Tinto Alcan CEO Jacynthe Côté said Thursday, March 8.

Côté was in Kitimat to tour the region, a trip that was postponed in December, at the time of the “Notice to Proceed” on the modernization project, when her aircraft was diverted to Prince Rupert by a snow and sleet storm the day of the announcement.

During a dinner on Wednesday night, Côté met with leading contractors, the leaders of the Haisla First Nation, Mayor Joanne Monaghan and members of the District of Kitimat Council.

The prospect of future energy projects, three liquified natural gas terminals to be built by the KM LNG partners, by the BC LNG partnership and by Shell was one factor in Rio Tinto Alcan giving the go ahead for the modernization project, she told local reporters.

“We have seen the critical mass in other parts of the world, “she said. “One of the reason to do full speed in December was to aim that we will be ramping down as the others are ramping up. Of course, I cannot say for the other projects that will be their decision.” Given the current schedules, she said, “we should be out of the way when others pick up.” (Another key reason for the go ahead, according to RTA primary metal vice president Jean Simon, speaking at the launch last December was the growing market for aluminum in Asia)

Côté added that the contractors now have “great abilities that could be redeployed.”

Michel Lamarre, Director of KMP said that despite some delays due to the harsh winter, RTA is still aiming for first concrete at the new potlines on June 1. First new metal is scheduled for the second quarter of 2014. Peak employment, about 2,500 people, is expected to be in the first quarter of 2013.

“We have the ambition to make the project a real showcase, for us, for British Columbia, for Canada,” Côté said. “So we’re pretty proud that 62 per cent of the work done so far has been done by the community in the area., 95 per cent of them in British Columbia, which is absolutely spectacular for a project of that complexity and magnitude.

“It requires a lot of skills, a lot of organization.”

Côté said she stressed RTA’s safety priorities when she met with the local contractors (a point the company made both at the Notice to Proceed gathering in December and at a local meeting for contractors last month). The contractors are very enthusiastic, Côté said. “I’ve seen in other regions as contractor and employees moved to that level of safety performance, it becomes a competitive edge, there’s going to be other projects coming in the region, there’s a lot of discussion around LNG, and it will be an advantage for contractors who have demonstrated superior performance and safety. We’re here to support that. I think they’re going to be more compelling and competitive, I mean it’s good business.”

She says that RTA is spending $3.1 million each day on the modernization project.

Asked about both the prospective LNG projects and the fact that accommodation in Kitimat is now at a premium, she said that “crowding” was a significant part of her discussions with both the Haisla and the District of Kitimat.

Rio Tinto has worked on what she called “disproportionately big” projects at sites compared to local communities around the world. “So we adjust, my message was we adjust.[There are] Different formulas in different parts of the world, depending on the conditions. The model is to bring in as many people from the community as we can.”





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