Thursday, October 29, 2015

Just in time for Halloween the ghosts of Watson Island return

It's baaaack ... in the news!
A surprising name from the past for
Watson Island  appeared this week

"We certainly did what we could, I don't think we ever backed away from anything. And now we have a new group that is going to realize when local government legislation forces something upon you, what a hell hole it can be, and I'm talking about Watson Island, the thing never ends ... " -- Former Mayor Jack Mussallem speaking at his final Council session in November 2014, offering the incoming Council a cautionary word on the nature of the City's Watson Island file.  

That long running tale of  the place that the past Mayor described as a hell hole for Prince Rupert returns to the forefront of our civic discussion this week, surely to make the rounds of the coffee shops and bars as something from the tales of Believe it or Not Prince Rupert style.

The discussion to be launched, coming from a notice published yesterday in the weekly newspaper that outlines the latest points of discussion from a former official of the Sun Wave group Mr. Ni Ritao, a key participant from the  days of the Sun Wave company, and apparently someone who has some comments to make on how the past legal negotiations between the city and his former company evolved.

Noting in his published four point notification through the weekly paper, that he declares that the agreement entered on behalf of Sun Wave Forest Products in August of 2013 was made without his legal authorization and he considers it to be null and void with no legal effect.  

Adding that the arbitration order made two years later was based on an invalid settlement agreement and that he considers that to be null and void as well.

All of which makes for a swirl of events which we can now add to the always expanding list of issues related to the never ending saga of the industrial site.

For those who may be getting confused, and who could blame you, what with all the various players that have passed through those Watson Island gates in over the years, Mr. Ni Ritao has a fairly colourful history from his time in the BC spotlight.

When we had last heard of his story, it included some names from the BC Liberal's past and a bit of involvement for Ni Ritao with the Chinese legal system.

Lobbyist fine upheld for former BC Liberal MLA
Beijing investigates high official tied to B.C. pulp mill fraud
Push to invest with man suing B.C. town irks NDP
B.C. Liberals tied to controversy in China
Watson Island becomes the backdrop for a Chinese legal thriller
An email chain that leads right to the gates of the Old Skeena Cel mill

Apparently free now from whatever limitations he faced over the previous two years, it seems that Mr. Ni Ritao from his Shanghai base is back, more than a little annoyed and perhaps it appears ready to rumble.

Where these latest developments may take us is the thing of fortune tellers, or in the spirit of Halloween, spell casting witches.  Though the sudden reappearance of Ni Ritao and his declaration that the previous agreement and arbitrations are "null and void" certainly takes us further into the way back machine when it comes to the long running story of Watson Island.

Following the publication of the notice, and a follow up story in the Northern View, an item which basically recreated the "declaration" quote for quote, the Mayor logged onto the paper's comments section and directed residents to the City's media release, which offered up the city's side of the renewed debate over their interaction with the Sun Wave group.

The information statement addressed some of the points from Ni Ritao's Wednesday's notification and outlined the string of events that have taken place related to the Sun Wave issue over the last two years.

The latest in developments would seem to be adding on to the city's woes when it comes to Watson Island. Earlier in the summer we made note of another legal issue, that involved the Watson Island Development Company and its efforts in the courts with the City of Prince Rupert over the site.

As we outlined on the blog in August,  WATCO found some success in the courts from the most recent proceedings of July and August, setting the calendar for further legal work heading on into February of 2017.

Should Ni Ritao follow up the prospect of further legal action himself, Prince Rupert residents could see the fascinating situation of duelling lawsuits over the same industrial lands that continue to haunt the community.

With all of this renewed focus on a topic that few at City Hall it seems ever really want to discuss in public, it surely is now time for the Mayor and Council to provide the residents of the city with a more comprehensive update than just a media release.

Delivering as much information as their legal representatives might allow for, as to where the City is with these two participants in their legal travels. As well, any update for the public should offer up information as to the current cost to the city of maintaining the industrial site, background on any outstanding issues related to the site and  details as to just how much the legal requirements of the Watson Island file are costing the community.

In previous years, while the topic was a challenge, the city did deliver occasional updates on such things as "burn rates" and the occasional hopeful indication that the long nightmare may soon end.

Mayor Brain even took on that same sunny outlook earlier this year, speaking to the CBC's Carolyn de Ryk in May,  at that time he observed that the residents of Prince Rupert would see the City move forward with Watson Island, expressing that belief that the situation was going to end this year, or as he put it in May "very soon".

As the events noted above with WATCO have illustrated, that perhaps was at best a bit of an optimistic overview.

Since that time, with the exception of an announcement that some decommissioning work was taking place at Watson Island, the Mayor or Council members have not discussed Watson Island in a public forum since, with the topic rarely  brought up during public Council sessions.

Nor since the new team at City hall took office one year ago, has the City provided residents with any kind of status report on when there may be closure on the situation.

Considering the events of yesterday and the ongoing issues with the WATCO file, closure for Watson Island may be something that for Rupertites remains as elusive as ever and still apparently somewhere far down a road, one that seemingly has no end of twists and turns.

Leaving us to think back to just over a year ago and those final comments on his way out the door and the now prescient forecast of what may come from a former Mayor.

To refresh your memory on the Fables of Watson Island, see our archive page on the topic here.

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