Monday, March 31, 2014

Seafest planning just around the corner

The highlight of Prince Rupert's summer season (even if it takes place before summer starts) is Seafest weekend, the three day celebration of the North Coast, usually based on a maritime theme of some sort.

This year's Seafest theme is a Celebration of the 125th Anniversary of the North Pacific Cannery, with the events of the 36th Annual Seafest weekend taking place from Friday, June 13th to Sunday, June 15th

Planning for this years festival is about to get underway, with the Special Events Society sending out the call for assistance last week.

The Community Planning Meeting has been scheduled for Monday, April 7th at 7 PM at the Special Events Office, at City Hall.

For more information call the Special Events Society at 250-624-9118

The Society is looking for ideas and plans for this years event, more on the Society and the four Community Events that they organize can be found from their website.

For more on events in Prince Rupert through the year see our Events Archive page

Inland support continues for bid to reverse proposed Ferry Cuts

As we outlined last week on the blog, the City of Prince Rupert's Ferry Study has been making the rounds of Northern British Columbia.

As city and town councils from Haida Gwaii through to Prince George and beyond, read up on Mayor Mussallem's talking points on the theme of the provincial government's proposed cutbacks to the Northern routes of the ferry system.

And as we get closer to the introduction of those schedule changes, communities far from the Ferry docks of Prince Rupert, Port Hardy and Skidegate have started to weigh in on the proposed cuts to the BC Ferries schedule for the Northern Routes of the Service.

In particular, the report seems to have resonated in Prince George, where the Fraser Fort George Regional District has given it a thumbs up and offered their support to the cause of slowing down the province's rush to slashing the sailings from the North Coast.

Some of the attention to the city's study can be found below:

Fraser Fort George Regional District opposes cuts to BC Ferries
Pressure on to restore Northern BC Ferries Routes
Ferry cuts to be felt downstream

Time however is running short for the save the sailings campaign, the revised schedule goes into effect on April 28th.

Ferry users can view the schedule for the summer, fall and ahead into 2015 from the BC Ferries website.

At the moment it seems doubtful that the province will be moving to suspend their plans to reduce the sailings.

However, keeping the pressure on the government could at least provide for a review of the entire situation, complete with the financial impact study that the City of Prince Rupert would like to see as part of any comprehensive review of the situation.

Something that the North Coast's MLA Jennifer Rice might want to enlist some help on from members of her NDP collective in Victoria, while the City works the community to community aspect both on the coast, Vancouver Island and far into the interior of the province.

We have more items of note on BC Ferries on our Transportation archive page

Tis the season for Information Guides for education and recreation

It's been a busy week for deliveries to your mailbox, as guides for both Northwest Community College and for the City of Prince Rupert's recreation department have arrived at homes across the city in the past week or so.

Northwest Community College has delivered their program guide for the Spring of 2014 over the last week,  providing a glimpse into the education options available at both the Prince Rupert campus and the main campus of Terrace.

The trades have proven to be where many of the Northwest's students are heading these days and the wide range of trade programs and partnerships that the college has formed get a fairly lengthy review.

Included in that is an extensive explanation of the Trades Foundation Program and apprenticeship training program.

As well, the college offers up a glance at their Mobile Training program, with a particular focus on the Health Training Unit and the Heavy Equipment Operator Mobile Unit.

A review of the University Credit Field Schools that NWCC offers is also outlined,

With 46 per cent of NWCC enrolment of Aboriginal descent, in addition to the program offerings, background on opportunities and support services for First Nations students are reviewed.

There is also a preview of what is to come to the Prince Rupert campus, with a look at the School of Marine and Coastal studies which is set to launch in 2014.

For more on the education options available through NWCC see their program guide here.

Over at the recreation department the much promised push to increase participation numbers appears to be on, as the City tries to entice residents to the Recreation facilities with a number of programs for old and young alike.

While a good portion of the guide consists of advertisements or full page displays for such groups as Minor Hockey and Swimming, other recreational and arts activities receive a mention as well.

With a variety of sports available for both adults and children, ranging from Ladies indoor soccer and ball hockey to European handball and something known as Afternoon pickle ball.

Creative Arts, Seniors Programs Group Fitness and Aquatic Centre activities also get highlighted in the 24 page guide.

The City is also quick to remind residents that Civic Centre facilities are available for rental for social events, as well as to seek out partnerships with the community to offer more programs.

There is a mention of the Everybody gets to play program and contact information on how to learn more about it.

They also offer up that the recreation guide is a valuable advertising vehicle, suggesting the guide stays in most households for up to two months.

For a full review of what the City has to offer for the Spring of 2014 see their guide here.

While we wait for further word from the City on the Watson Island situation...

It's been four days now since word first broke that the City of Prince Rupert would apparently be heading back to the courts, this time seemingly playing defence we guess, as they prepare to face off against the Watson Island Development Company in a lawsuit over the land deal that seemingly has gone off the rails.

And still after those four days, there has been no word from the City regarding the pending litigation, other than a short statement by the Mayor on Friday to the weekly paper that he doesn't comment  on matters before the court.

No explanation to the residents of Prince Rupert as to why the deal is now apparently off, no word from any of the city's six councillors to let us know if all of them are onboard with the situation and most importantly, no word on what the path ahead may be (other than another need to keep the lawyers on the payroll).

A quick trip back into the time machine takes us to August 2013, when times were clearly happier between the two sides, a time when the City of Prince Rupert wasn't quite so media shy...

On August 29th, 2013, with peace with Sun Wave at hand, the Mayor proclaimed by way of a press release...

"This is excellent news" said Prince Rupert Mayor Jack Mussallem, 'the private sector can now move on with repurposing Watson Island resulting in numerous jobs, while the mill is decommissioned. Congratulations are in order for our new City Manager, Robert Long, who has taken on this complicated file and found a workable solution that is good for Prince Rupert"

Now, just seven months later it and all those hopeful thoughts appear to have vanished.

The file "complicated" once again to use the Mayor's term of August of 2013 and all of it without word one from the City, as to why we appear to be heading back to a court room to solve a situation that we all thought had been solved.

There is no mention of the Watson Island situation in the Agenda items for Council's Special Session of Council for April 1st, that meeting to be dedicated to a report from Chief Financial Officer regarding Further Budget Options

So, while we wait for some kind of substantial update from the City, or it's Council members, here's something else that might be worth wondering about.

That being the lack of comment so far, from the other two key partners of WatCo and their proposed redevelopment of Watson Island.

Both the Metlakatla First Nation and Lax Kw'alaam First Nation, were major participants at the time of the announcement of the Watson Island proposal.

The review of the unique collaboration of the two First Nations and WatCo, suggesting a new dynamic at work to bring some economic life back to the old pulp mill site.

Their silence so far leaves open for many the question as to what they may think of the latest developments and how it all may affect their plans for the industrial site.

Questions such as whether they are continuing on with their support of WatCo, as these latest developments continue to play out.

Or, if they were caught by surprise, like many residents as to the announcement of last Thursday.

If they have left the WatCo fold, then there may be much more to recent events than we are privy to and their overview of events might be helpful to finding out what's going on.

However, if the two First Nations, like Watco President David Austin, are "extremely disappointed at the sudden change in direction by the City's Mayor and Council", then the possible repercussions for the City of Prince Rupert may go far beyond just the now seemingly troubled sale of the industrial site of Watson Island.

In recent months, City Council has made much mention on the need for more of a working relationship with other communities in the region, seeking to have a more collective approach to some major issues.

One item that the Mayor and City Manager Robert Long have both mentioned frequently in recent months is the wish to have the Airport situation become more of a regional interest.

Looking to share the burden of operations and access to the North coast transportation link with neighbouring communities.

In recent months, the Mayor has also commented that with much industrial development projected for the future, there will be a need for a more regional approach to such things as policing, health, transportation and infrastructure issues.

Then there's that blue print of expansion for Prince Rupert of one year ago, which we imagine is still of interest to all of the city's neighbours, who no doubt keep a wary eye over the proposal.

If the the two First Nations groups involved in WatCo have been caught by surprise as to how this has all developed, it will be worth watching their reaction to the ongoing drama of Watson Island, particularly if it affects their economic plans for their communities.

One imagines, that if the city did not consult with those communities on the fate of the proposed sale, it all may provide the need for some fence mending down the road for the City.

Particularly if the City wishes to see any of their larger regionalization plans to ever see the light of day.

So many questions from Thursdays surprise announcement of the start of legal actions, so few answers provided from anyone involved so far, other than the folks launching the lawsuit.

For a review of the entire Watson Island saga both past and present, we have more available on our Archive page.

A hint of what a surge of North Coast Housing might look like

While Prince Rupert Council tries to shepherd through a modest proposal for a Graham Avenue housing development, which would provide  housing geared mainly to retired residents, an indication of much larger projects to come, perhaps can be found in Kitimat and Terrace.

With both of those communities currently the Northwest hot spots for economic development with a number of industrial projects underway, the push for more housing is quickly moving forward.

Terrace has recently heard of development plans for a number of projects around that city, designed to try and answer some of the growing demand. With plans announced for a pair of projects which would deliver over 184 lots for housing to help to meet some of the demand that the community is seeing, as its economy continues to grow.

Two large subdivisions planned
Housing crunch predicted as Terrace and area population grows

Over in Kitimat, much has been made about the spike in housing prices and the need for more housing and the need for it fast.

One item of interest that has surfaced is a splashy prospectus for a housing development  known as Baxter Landing.

The large scale housing proposal looks like what many would be familiar with from much larger communities, an impressive looking project that will deliver some 36 homes, and perhaps set the tone for the many future developments that are anticipated as that community continues to attract industry.

And while that amount of 36 homes, won't likely make much of a dent in the housing needs of the anticipated surge in those moving to the community.

It does seem to suggest that Kitimat is going to see a rapid increase in their housing supply, as more developers arrive to meet the demand of new housing.

For the moment, Prince Rupert isn't quite sharing that same kind of excitement as found in both Terrace and Kitimat.

For the most part, the only impact that the talk of economic development on the North Coast has had, is to send the price of existing housing stock upwards.

To date, there have been few plans delivered for an expanded housing base for Prince Rupert, which has only seen some small development in recent years along the 11th Avenue area.

Our plans it appears may still be a few years down the line, however it would seem that if all goes according to plan, Rupertites will soon be leafing through brochures and scrawling through websites looking for new ideas and new styles of housing.

For more items on Housing in the Northwest see our archive page

Port CEO and President provides Port's view of taxation, PILT and community involvement

It was an interesting place to find the Port providing a rebuttal to some perceptions in the community,  as President and CEO Don Krusel provided some talking points for the community, by way of a letter to the editor of the weekly newspaper.

With the Port currently involved in negotiations with the City of Prince Rupert regarding their Payment in lieu of Taxes requirements, there has been a bit of a backlash by some towards the Port, with some suggesting that the Port is not paying a fair amount in compensation to the City.

It's a perception that at times finds itself introduced in discussions at Council, with some Councillors expressing frustration, at what they feel is not a large enough financial contribution from the Port.

In his letter to the weekly paper, Mr. Krusel would seem to be providing some of the counter points to those perceptions, while at the same time, not having to sit through one of those presentations to council sessions, which at times come across as more of a Civic inquisition.

For the most part, the letter provides a bit of background on the nature of the Port's work in the community and how the Port and its partner terminals operate.

With Mr. Krusel highlighting the six million dollars in revenue that the Port delivers to local municipalities and how in the case of Prince Rupert, that revenue has made up a substantial portion of the City's operating budget, providing stability to the community through a period of declining industrial tax revenues.

He then offers up a primer of sorts on the relationship between the Port and the Federal Government and the function that the Port Authority serves in that dynamic and how Port terminals and tenants are subejct to the BC Assessment Act, are assessed by the BC Assessment Authority and pay property tax.

That point is followed by a listing and explanation of the financial contribution of some of the major groups on the Prince Rupert waterfront at the moment, such as Ridley Terminals, Prince Rupert Grain, Maher Terminals, Quickload CEF, Pinncale Pellet as well as BC Ferries and Alaska Ferries.

Mr. Krusel then addressed issues of PILT, outlining how Federal land that has not been leased and is primarily vacant land that is not generating revenue or requiring services is not subject to the BC Assessment Act and instead falls under the Payment in Lieu of Taxes regimen.

He further provides background on how the PILT process works, with an independent appraiser providing the appraised value of those lands that fall under the PILT process.

As for contributions to the community beyond the PILT payments and those properties that pay property tax, Mr. Krusel then highlighted the Community investment fund introduced in 2010, which thus far has invested some 1.6 million dollars into local projects.

All of it an interesting recap of the process that the Port is involved in,  a  side of the current funding issues which haven't heard a lot about during the lengthy council sessions dedicated towards the city budget process so far.

You can review his complete listing of the Port's contributions both monetary and by way of community interest, from the Wednesday e edition of the Northern View, Mr. Krusel's letter can be found on page A5

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Blog Watching, Week ending March 30, 2014

As part of a weekly feature on the blog, every Sunday we offer up this weeks recap of the top five items viewed over the course of the last seven days.

Included in the countdown, we will provide links to the articles in question, offering up with one click of the mouse, those items of the week that you may have missed.

This week, a 4.5 temblor on Haida Gwaii set off a Richter scale on the blog, with numerous views following Wednesday's mild quake.

From the shaking of the earth, the rest of the week's interest was for the most part fixated on civic politics which featured their own kind of quakes.

With the City's Financial planning, new court room developments for Watson Island and the city's tabling of  a letter of support for a dry dock proposal all collecting interest through the week.

The final item in our top five, involves events with NWCC and their reversal on accepting proposed bursary program from Enbridge energy, with the college turning down the $15,000 opportunity this week.

Kicking off the review, our top item of the week:

4.5 magnitude temblor jolts Haida Gwaii --  Wednesday afternoon quake rattles Haida Gwaii 106 kilometres south of Masset. (posted March 26, 2014)

That item was followed by:

City Council waits for more information before revisiting financial plan discussion  --  After two hours plus of discussion on the theme of the budget, Council decided to wait for further discussion, until they had a chance to discuss airport ferry options with the Airport Society and seek out an increased dividend from CityWest.  ( posted March 27, 2014 )

No sunshine after all after Sun Wave Settlement - as the court room beckons again -- The surprise developments of Thursday advising that WatCo was taking the City to court over the Watson Island site was of much interest as the weekend approached.   (posted March 27, 2014)

Council holds back on support for proposed dry dock  --  A request for a letter of support for a proposed dry dock proposal gets put on hold after Councillor Thorkeson raised issues with the request.  (posted March 27, 2014)

Northwest Community College turns down Enbridge bursary offer  -- After previously accepting a 15,000 dollar bursary from Energy giant Enbridge, NWCC reverses field and turns it down.   (posted March 26, 2014)

You can find our Blog watching featured posted every Sunday morning by 9AM, a handy way to catch up to the week that was, at a leisurely weekend pace.

The Permanent link to the feature can be found here or above our Blog Archive section, found on the right hand side of the title page.

For those looking for updates to items as they are posted to the blog, don't forget about our email alert access.

A daily review of the latest items on the blog can be delivered to your email in box, simply by entering your email address into the information bar, items posted to the blog will be delivered to your e-mail account each day.

You can find the link to that feature on the upper, right hand side of the blog.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

BC Housing outlines the path ahead for housing on the North Coast

Lost amid all the talk of the city's finances at Monday's council session,  was a fairly interesting presentation from Ms Stephanie Allen, a Senior project officer with BC Housing, who provided about a twenty minute overview of the recent developments with the Government agency and the changing nature of the delivery of social housing to communities in the Northwest.

It was particularly informative as it relates to the current concern over affordable housing across the region as these major economic projects begin to take shape, with Kitimat and Terrace at the moment serving as the canaries in the coal mine when it comes to potential housing issues to come for Prince

During the course of her presentation of Monday, Ms. Allen provided some background on the process involved with BC Housing as it seeks to address issues related to housing for those most in need, within the scope of the current economic climate of cutbacks and required partnerships.

Following the slide show presentation, some of the city's councillors asked questions, or made comments to Ms. Allen regarding the state of housing on the North Coast.

Among the key talking points,  a question from Councillor Garon as to any proposed BC Housing developments in the works for Prince Rupert; she was advised that there is nothing on the table at the moment, however BC Housing is identifying potential prospects for the future.

Councillor Thorkelson had a number of thoughts on the topic, outlining her desire to see more targeted and supportive housing in the community, and inquiring as to the prospect of redevelopment of housing stock in Prince Rupert, this after BC Housing took down a number of housing sites over the last few years.

The new word when it comes to social housing seems to be partnerships, a theme that Ms. Allen referenced a number of times both in her presentation and in the question period that followed.

Councillor Kinney spoke out in support of more housing for seniors in the community, however at the moment it appears that none is in the planning stages for the North Coast.

Councillor Ashley inquired as to whether the City could work with BC Housing to identify housing needs at present and with an eye towards the future when the economic development for the region may begin to increase.

Following up on that theme, the City Manager advised council as to the nature of some of the discussions he, staff and Ms. Allen shared during the day and the prospects of further research and cooperation with BC Housing.

For those with concerns on Social  and affordable Housing in the community, the presentation is well worth a viewing of, offering as it does a bit of a guideline as to what may be ahead for the community.

You can review it from the City's Video Archive for March 24th starting at the 1 hour two minute mark and continuing on through until 1 hour, twenty eight minute point.

For more items of note from City Council sessions see our Discussions from Council Archive page.

For items of interest on housing issues of the Northwest see our archive page for the topic.

MLA's week March 24-27, 2014

A snapshot of some of the talking points from North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice, during this week's proceedings of the Legislature.

The first week after the Legislature's spring break proved to be a quiet one when it came to appearances from the North Coast MLA in the House or Committee rooms in Victoria.

Through the fifteen sessions of the Legislature in House or Committee work listed for the week of March 24-27, MLA Rice appears in the index for the Legislature week session three times.

Twice with short appearances, when she introduced some visitors from the North Coast riding, constituents who were watching the proceedings from the Legislature Gallery.

The second when she stood in the Legislature to offer up congratulations to the Queen Charlotte Secondary School Saints basketball team, as well as making mention of the efforts of the various Charles Hays Rainmakers squads through March

As for committee work, MLA Rice is a member of the Standing Committee on Children and Youth, that Committee met on March 26th, however the draft record shows no contribution to the proceedings from the North Coast MLA at that session.

Our recap of those items, as well as other matters regarding the Week in the Legislature, can be found below:

Time for City Council to send a few files the way of their MLA in Victoria
MLA Salutes Northwest Basketball Success at the Legislature

You can review our reviews of past weeks of the Legislature session from our Legislature Sessions archive page.

We have more background on the North Coast MLA from our General Archive on Legislature issues as well.

Earth Hour 2014 and its hour of powering down arrives tonight

The cause of taking a stand against climate change will get its annual review tonight, as the annual Earth Hour campaign rolls across the world as the evening arrives.

The project in Canada is through the efforts of the World Wildlife Fund, and they are expecting millions of Canadians to power down their electronics and turn off their lights from 8:30 to 9:30 this evening to make their contribution to the cause.

They outline the project for 2014 through their website, where they also explain the Earth Hour City Challenge.

For those that plan to participate, they offer up a spot to share your contributions to the night

The annual event has varying degrees of success from country to country around the world, with the goal of organizers to show how easy it can be to make a difference when it comes to issues of the environment.

With Social media now a part of any movement or cause, Earth Hour has a number of portals for participants or the curious to learn more about tonight's hour of darkness.

There is a facebook page available for updates on the event and a twitter hashtag has been created for tonight's observance of the hour.

You can follow along (before and after the hour we imagine the organizers prefer) through the twitter feed of #momentofdarkness

The WWF is also making use of YouTube to get their message across

In recent years, Prince Rupert has trended towards the middle of the pack when it came to shutting down the power on a Saturday night.

April 2013-- Rupertites prepare to power down for an hour as Earth Hour approaches
April 2012-- Prince Rupert trends middle of the pack in Earth Hour involvement

Perhaps with the Vancouver Canucks falling out of the playoff race in the NHL, the North Coast will see a bump up in its participation rate from the 8:30-9:30 hour.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Time for City Council to send a few files the way of their MLA in Victoria

As Prince Rupert City Council continues to work on its financial plan for 2014, they may want to make a phone call, touching base with an old friend living in Victoria.

Looking to bring Jennifer Rice, the MLA for the North Coast into a discussion that she should be familiar with, that of some local issues that are prominent in the local debate on issues of transportation and infrastructure.

As we outlined on the blog this week, Council spent a fair amount of time on Monday evening discussing the deficit for the Airport Ferry, which this year could deliver the need to come up with over 900,000 dollars for operations.

As part of the discussion of Monday night, the topic of seeking more information on the prospect of the provincial government taking responsibility for airport access came up, with a fairly instructive presentation from former Mayor Don Scott on the topic.  (see here)

And while Mayor Mussallem seemed to suggest that most of those avenues have already been pursued, there does seem to be some question as to having received a final and definitive answer on the topic.

So much so, that Councillor Garon suggested that the City needs to follow up on the issue and push it with the provincial government.  The City however, shouldn't have to do all the heavy lifting on that topic, the process could perhaps be assisted with some inquiries in the Legislature from the MLA.

She could seek out the Transportation Minister and ask the popular question of Monday night as to why some communities in the interior have access to their airports in effect covered by the province, while in Prince Rupert, the entire transportation process appears to be a civic responsibility.

Perhaps with a two pronged approach, from the MLA and the City, we at least can finally get a definitive answer on the topic, providing the city with an idea as to what steps may be required to bring down the cost of access which is almost in the million dollar range.

The second item for Ms. Rice's Legislature day timer, may be a follow up on some thoughts from the discussion on the City's Financial planning for 2014.

In particular the aspect of the ability of the city to set a taxation rate that could deliver more revenue from industry  (see here).

During Monday night's session, Councillor Thorkelson spoke out during discussions regarding the prospect of money from the Port by way of Payments in Lieu of Taxes.

Reminding council that the Port concerns with PILT are not the only ones that Council has to deal with and that the province has some responsibility for the current situation as well, as they place a cap on the mill rate and only subsidize old items and not the newer ones.

She suggested that the provincial cap is ridiculously low and needs to be addressed, with many municipalities having to charge their residents more because of the cap on their heavy industry.

(The discussion on that can be found on the City Council Video Archive starting at the 2 hour 12 minute mark and continuing on through until the 2 hour 15 minute mark.

That issue of those cap limits and the impact that they have on the community should be another item that the MLA could offer some assistance with. Taking it to the Legislature and reminding the Government of the burden that some of their financial regulations are providing to communities.

Both items are rather important to the North Coast particularly in light of the financial balancing that they have to engage in at this time of the year.

So making sure that the Government in Victoria is aware of them is something that Ms. Rice should be taking up frequently, setting the table if you will for a follow up discussion with the City and the relevant Ministers.

We have more on the work of the North Coast MLA at the Legislature from our archive page.

Snapshots from the City's Ferry Study

Most Prince Rupert residents have by now, heard about the City's recently commissioned study into the potential impact of proposed Ferry Cuts on Northern British Columbia.

The basic approach of the Report is to try and secure support across Northern British Columbia to provide for a united effort,  designed to at least postpone the cuts to service until 2015, in order to allow for a proper economic assessment to be conducted on the issue.

The Mayor has taken every opportunity to remind anyone of the body of work and delivering it to visiting Provincial Cabinet Ministers and other municipal officials whenever the moment presents itself.

It's a document that has been introduced in the Legislature and used by the opposition NDP to try and reverse the planned cutbacks to Ferry Service along the coast, an effort that so far hasn't found the Province inclined to divert from their path.

Yet, it's a safe bet, that for the most part, many of us in Prince Rupert haven't actually seen the document yet.

For those that have not had a chance to review any of the talking points from the City study, we offer up a quick snapshot of the 28 page report. Which goes by the title of Beyond Hope - BC Ferries and Northern British Columbia

The Report is divided up into  6 different segments, An Executive Summary, Background, Tourism Impacts, Economic Development Impacts, General Responses and a Conclusion.

While most have probably already heard of much of the background on the cuts, the impacts both in the Tourism Sector and in Economic Development provide the best indications as to how the proposed cuts may affect local communities across Northern British Columbia.

While there were contributions from many communities across Northern British Columbia, all offering up an indication of the importance of the topic far from the ferry docks.

For Prince Rupert residents, some of the thoughts of local business owners and tourism directed industries provide for a good cross section of the concern that cuts are bringing to this community.

The impact on Breakers business will be significant. I would say that BC Ferries adds at least 30 per cent to our business in the summer months. When I schedule servers I will add at least one more, if not two, the night before the ferry leaves. This includes the Haida Gwaii ferry as well -- Breakers Pub

It is a complete mystery why the province does not know or has not considered the importance of the ferry to tourism in the north. It defies the imagination that alternatively the Province does note care and is willingly undercutting the entire industry-- Museum of Northern British Columbia

The projected cuts will likely impact the amount of tourism traffic moving through the Inside Passage, and so will definitely impact the business of the Wilderness Trail. Currently, approximately 70 per cent of our business comes from referrals from local hostels,  whose guest have come up the Inside Passage with BC Ferries a majority of the time. -- Metlaktala Wilderness Trail, Metlakatla First Nation

BC Ferries is a large and valuable customer of ours. Of course with any reduction in service/business in our northern economy, we will be impacted financially. I will have to read and react as these changes in service occur. I do think the northern communities will experience some negative impacts, these reductions in service will bring.--  Rupert Cleaners and Laundry

Those are just a few examples of the concern that local operators have with the prospect of reduced service and the financial impact that could come from it.

The conclusion to the report outlines that the City is in line with those that believe that the province has created an unnecessary crisis and that if the cuts go ahead (as they still appear to be) then serious damage to the Northern BC economy could be the result.

You can review the full report here.

We have more background on issues surrounding BC Ferries on our archive page.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

No sunshine after all after Sun Wave Settlement - as the court room beckons again

Watson Island, the tar pit of Prince Rupert politics is bubbling once again, with word that the Watson Island Development Company is taking the City to court.

With the would be owner of the old pulp mill site seeking a legal decision over issues regarding the industrial site that once held the region's economic base and what was hoped would soon be an economic engine again.

"WatCo continues to be committed to the people of Prince Rupert, and to the purchase of Watson Island and the significant remediation and redevelopment work required to ensure that this important local asset is productive again and contributing to local employment and the tax base in Prince Rupert,"-- Part of the text of a statement from Watco Company President David Austin

Yes, just when we thought it was clear sailing for the industrial site on the outskirts of the city, Rupertites learned Thursday of the latest twist, a new shift in the plot if you will, in what has to be one of the longest running sagas in Northern British Columbia history.

The latest troubles at the Watson Island site and the return to the courts, apparently being placed at the door step of the Mayor  and Council.

That at least according to this press release from Watco on Thursday.

The key takeaway being: WatCo Director and Company President, David Austin, stated that he was extremely disappointed at the sudden change in direction by the City's Mayor and Council, precipitating the need for WatCo to commence litigation.

Further into the information package released by WatCo is a hint as to when the discussions over the sale of Watson Island may have fallen off the rails, with a reference that the two parties were still talking up until February to settle the terms of a definitive agreement.

With WatCo stating that at that time, they accepted all of the terms of the definitive agreement proposed by the City and the City then advised that it would not proceed with the sale of Watson Island to WatCo.

Another quote from the company would appear to offer up some of the background to the current status of the situation.

"WatCo has paid in good faith millions of dollars to the City over the past two years and now we must take legal steps to protect our shareholder's interests." -- WatCo Chief Executive Officer, Perry Braun outlining the company's position in its move to the courts.

As well, in order to protect their interest in the situation, the Watson Island Development Company has filed a Certificate of Pending Litigation, so as to prevent the land from being sold to others while the litigation is outstanding.

According to a story in the weekly paper the Northern View, the Mayor was not available for comment on the situation, which if past history is any indication isn't a particularly great omen for those that may wish to know what's going on.

If past is prologue, then it may be helpful to take a refresher course on the lengthy tribulations of the Sun Wave days.

A time when more often than not, City Council took to the closed session of council to discuss the issues surrounding that court fight.  With updates for the public in open forum few and far between.

Today's shocker comes almost one year to the day, when the Mayor offered up a stark synopsis of the Watson Island situation and the impact of the time as to what it all may have meant for the City with the endless litigation, and now, well one year later, suddenly here we go again...

Clearly council needs to get out in front of this story this time, and offer up some kind of explanation as to what has gone wrong this time.

And more importantly for the city's residents, offer up a much more open approach to information sharing with the public.

Considering things seemed to deteriorate in February, Council it would appear had at least two opportunities to offer up a heads up for the public, advising that there may be trouble on the horizon once again, for what seems like an endless horror story.

As recently as March 10th, the City Manager in his report to Council advised on the topic of Watson Island stating that the city "continued to strive towards their goals on that issue, though those items must remain in camera in nature" 

No alarm bells there, just the usual notice that it was something that council prefers to discuss in closed session. Though we suspect that the public will be looking for some answers this time around.

It's surely going to be puzzling to Prince Rupert residents as to why, with an apparent deal in hand and after the long nightmare of the Sun Wave Days, the City, if the WatCo information is correct, decided to not accept the negotiated deal.

The last thing anyone in Prince Rupert probably wanted to hear was Watson Island is back in the news and back in court, yet apparently here we are again.

With the developments of Thursday, it looks like we'll have to dust off the archive box of the Watson Island files, you can find updates on the situation placed here as the story moves forward.

Prince Rupert to play host to 2015 Southeast Conference membership meeting

The annual gathering of Southeast Alaska communities will be making its way to Prince Rupert in 2015, as our city plays host to the three day conference that year.

Mayor Jack Mussallem informed council of Prince Rupert's hosting duties at Monday's City council meeting, a short mention as part of his Mayors Comments section of the council session.

The Southeast Conference is one of the major conferences of Alaska's Southeast region, it was last hosted by Prince Rupert back in 2008.

The conference, which is normally held at mid-September, brings a large number of delegates to the host community, to work on a wide ranging agenda of items of note for the panhandle region of the state.

The mission of Southeast Conference is to undertake and support activities that promote strong economies, healthy communities, and a quality environment in Southeast Alaska. -- The Mission statement for the Southeast Conference Annual Membership Meeting

For Prince Rupert, the hosting duties will provide another opportunity to strengthen links between the city and the member cities of the conference, as well as offer a glimpse for delegates into the economic changes taking place on the North Coast and how they could be of benefit to communities up along the Alaska coast.

With Prince Rupert now marked on the calendar for the 2015 session, one imagines that the prospect of the city of Prince Rupert cancelling their annual visit to Ketchikan for the Fourth of July weekend will probably not gain much traction.

That suggestion was made on Monday by Councillor Ashley, who offered up the  suggestion of a cancelled trip as a possible option as the City continues to work out its budget woes for 2014.

Most likely a good case could be made that with a major conference destined for Prince Rupert in 2015, skipping the annual visit to Ketchikan might send the wrong message to the neighbours.

Still, if Council is inclined to try and save some dollars on that trip, perhaps a scaling down of the delegation might be the right approach, while at the same time keeping the friendly ties between Prince Rupert and its northern neighbour intact.

Last years visit attracted a fair bit of attention based on the cost that was estimated to be at close to 6 thousand dollars.  A figure that may not be appreciated by Prince Rupert's taxpayers who it appears will be facing tax increases once again with the delivery of this year's budget.

Rather than the all hands on deck approach of past years, Council may wish to send a reduced delegation in the name of cost savings for 2014.

Perhaps Council could select participants for any slimmed down roster for the trip based on attendance at Council sessions leading up to July.

Putting those who are in council chambers the most through this first half of 2014, placed first in line to take advantage of the Alaska getaway.

We have more items on developments from City council available on our archive page.

Council holds back on support for proposed dry dock

It didn't appear to be a controversial topic when it appeared on the Agenda for Prince Rupert City Council, a simple request from the City's Economic Development officer, that the city write a letter of support for a Dry Dock Proposal for the city.

The proposal as outlined from Monday's agenda (page 11)  was one from Spiller Marine Services, who were basically asking for a letter of support from the City that outlines that a dry dock is need and in the public interest. The nature of the city's letter would be is assistance of the proponent in their application for a grant subsidy from the Federal Government.

Other than the city's letterhead and words of support, there would be no cost, or budget implications associated with the letter for the City.

In his conclusion, the city's newly hired economic development officer Paul Venditelli advised that "the dry dock project would be a regional asset,  supporting the economy and creating employment opportunities for residents."

Employment and Economic development! Something you might think the City would be interested in generating.

As the process continued, Councillors Garon and Ashley had offered up initial support for the motion to write the letter of support, neither seeming to find issue with the request.

However, it appears that the request did not sit well with  Councillor Joy Thorkelson who weighed in on the theme, suggesting that Council hold off on the requested letter until staff had time to contact McLean's shipyard and seek out their thoughts on the topic.

Councillor Thorkelson's concern was one that the city may be perceived as supporting one business at the expense of another. She made particular note of how McLean's had stayed with Prince Rupert through the tough economic times.

Perhaps her Council counterparts were weary from the long night, or maybe they just have no opinion when it comes to economic development. As her request, that Council table the issue until staff  could contact the existing shipyard was accepted, with no discussion from the remainder of council on the question.

While most may understand the concept of concern over an existing local company, we're not sure this should be the over-riding issue for the City, which we would think should be seeking out any and all economic opportunity for the community.

The handling of the letter of support issue does make for an interesting approach to economic development, particularly for a council that had just spent close to two hours examining their financial woes and outlining the need to find ways to bring more industry in the city to help defray the burden on the residential tax payer.

By not offering up support to the prospect of a dry dock, the city could be perceived of sending out a message that the economic picture isn't particularly a positive one locally and that there is no need for this kind of infrastructure in the region, not exactly the image a city government should be looking to project.

As they try and figure out their current financial predicament, Council may wish to give some thought to the mixed messages that they seem to send out to industries that show interest in locating in the community.

You can review the discussion on the letter request from the City's Video Archive, it's probably one of the shortest items of the night, taking up but two minutes of council's time, from the 2 hour and thirty three minute mark, running to the 2 hour thirty five minute mark.

There are more items from council sessions available from our archive page.

MLA Salutes Northwest Basketball Success at the Legislature

North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice offered up her thoughts on the success of the Northwest in recent basketball tournaments through March, making mention of the Queen Charlotte Saints and Charles Hays Rainmakers as well as the success of the Prince Rupert Middle School during the course of her presentation to the Legislature.

Speaking to the morning session of the Legislature, Ms. Rice, for the most part she focused on the journey of the Saints, recounting for the Legislature how the Haida Gwaii squad captured the attention of the Vancouver media during their time at the AAAA basketball championships.

The Queen Charlotte Secondary Saints had a great showing at the 2014 BC High School Boys 4A Basketball Championships, despite coming from a single-A school. They are quite possibly the smallest school to have ever played at this level, the highest level of B.C. high school basketball. 

The team's efforts were recognized with the most inspirational team award, while Nathan Vogstad was presented with the most inspirational player award. 

Many members of the team then went on to compete in the junior all-native tournament in Kamloops. 

In the words of Desi Collinson, the coach of the Queen Charlotte Secondary Saints, basketball teaches you discipline, how you're supposed to carry yourself, the strong history that we have, the storytelling and how you should have a sense of pride. But just because you inherit something doesn't mean you have an automatic right to it. You have to work. A sense of who you are is going to make you a better person and a better basketball player. 

She also made note of the success of the Charles Hays Rainmakers, both AAA Boys and Senior girls, as well as offering support to the work of the Junior Girls Rainmakers and of the Prince Rupert Middle School which claimed their zones title in February.

The Charles Hays secondary senior boys placed second at the 2014 BC High School Boys 4A Basketball Championships in Langley last week, while the senior girls finished their provincials with a 15th place finish. 

The Charles Hays Secondary School junior girls also competed in the respective provincial tournament as well. 

In a sneak peek of what's to come, both the boys' and the girls' grade 8 teams from Prince Rupert Middle School won the respective zone titles in February as well.

Basketball is, in many cases, the lifeblood of the north coast, particularly for First Nations, which make up almost half of the north coast population. I stand here today and salute those young players who have worked so hard and represented their families, schools and communities so well.

You can review her presentation to the Legislature from the Draft Minutes of the Tuesday morning session (10 minute mark).

You can also view her remarks by way of the Legislature Video Archive, her recap of the basketball highlights can be found at the 10 minute mark of the House Video for the Tuesday morning session..

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

National Energy Board issues long term export licence to Pacific Northwest LNG and Prince Rupert LNG

Another benchmark moment for LNG development on the North Coast has been reached with confirmation by the National Energy Board on Wednesday, that the federal regulator had approved  long term export licences for both the Pacific Northwest LNG project and the Prince Rupert LNG project.

Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford announced the export licence approval in a press release late Wednesday, this is the last step in the Government of Canada's approval process for the issuance of an LNG export licence.

Minister Rickford recently took on the Natural resources post as part of the recent Federal cabinet shuffle, replacing Joe Oliver who took over the duties of Finance Minister.

The export licences mark the first announcement since his arrival to his portfolio and authorizes the export of up to 73.38 million tonnes per annum of LNG for the four companies.

The normal length of the export licence is between 20 to 25 years.

Pacific Northwest LNG has targeted exports of 19.68 mtpa per year by late 2018, while Prince Rupert LNG is proposing exports of 21.6 mtpa beginning in 2021.

Beyond the two Prince Rupert based projects, the NEB also issued licences for projects from WCC LNG for a terminal to be located either in Kitimat, or Prince Rupert and Woodfibre which has a proposal in place for an LNG terminal in Squamish.

The four export licences granted on Wednesday, follow the path of three previous licences issued since 2011.

The National Energy Board is now reviewing five additional applications.

You can review the announcement here, from the Natural Resources Canada website.

For the Petronas backed bid of Pacific Northwest LNG, Wednesday was a very good day in the news department, with the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency announcing the start date for a 30 day comment period regarding their proposed development for Lelu Island.

Further information on the two Prince Rupert based LNG proposals can be found on our LNG archive page.

30 Day public comment period to begin April 2nd for Pacific Northwest LNG project

On Wednesday afternoon, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency announced the terms of a 30 day public comment period regarding the Pacific Northwest LNG project proposed for Lelu Island.

Public comments will be received starting on April 2nd and will be accepted by the Agency until May 1st.

The call for public comment comes following last months publication of an environmental impact study, which outlined among many items that the effects on air quality would not be significant, but would have an impact on the province's green house gas emissions. (pages 21 and 22)

As well as the environmental comments, the impact study also provided a glimpse of the Operation and management plans (page 46)

This next stage of the assessment process will provide the CEAA with public feedback on the project which will then be considered as part of a draft environmental assessment report.

As part of the process, there will be two Information sessions during the comment period, the first on April 7th at the Port Edward Community Centre with the second in Prince Rupert on Tuesday, April 8th at the North Coast Convention Centre.

You can review more information on the public comment process from the CEAA website, all submissions that are received by the Agency will be posted to the EAO website and will become part of the Agency project file.

Details on the process are also available from the provincial government's project information website

We have more on the Pacific Northwest LNG project available on our archive page.

Alaska Marine Highway signs 50 year lease for Fairview Terminal

As Mayor Jack Mussallem mentioned at Monday evening's City Council session, the Alaska Marine Highway System has confirmed its intentions to service Prince Rupert for a fair ways into this century.

Delivering word of the signing of a fifty year lease between Alaska and Canada, for their terminal location at Fairview Bay on the City's West side.

Details of the lease arrangement and the plans for some 11 million dollars in rebuilding costs for the AMHS dock can be found in the minutes of an Alaska Department of Transport meeting from February  13th. (Attachment three)

As part of that discussion, AMHS officials outlined the relevant factors in continuing their port call of Prince Rupert and the importance of the southern terminal to the system, despite a decline in traffic over the last ten years.

Key among the factors is the use of Prince Rupert as a way for Alaskan commercial haulers to get frozen fish and other goods onto the road system as quickly as possible. As well as the convenience of Prince Rupert as opposed to the longer journey to Bellingham, Washington.

For now, the Alaska Marine Highway system will continue to service Prince Rupert for 1 -2 days per week from October through June, with four day a week service in place for the summer months. AMHS officials will continue to monitor the usage numbers and will match their service with the need it demands.

City approves purchase of new Fire Rescue vehicle

In a three hour marathon meeting, the need for a new Fire Rescue Van for the Prince Rupert Fire Rescue service didn't take up much of council's time on Monday evening.

Fire Chief Dave McKenzie made his case quickly and rather succinctly, outlining for Council members that the current vehicle in use is already five years past its usable date.

Council members had been provided with the prospectus on the new vehicle prior to Monday's meeting, the specifications of the new truck available as part of their Agenda package. (Page 8)

The vehicle which will cost the city $338,904 will be built by Rocky Mountain Phoenix of Red Deer, Alberta.  Their bid was the one selected among the five that were received by tender, as it was the one that met Fire Department specifications within their budget parameters.
Sample of the Product line

It's estimated that if properly maintained, the vehicle could remain in service for up to twenty years.

The entire presentation and subsequent questions and comments from Councillors Garon and Ashley took up all of five minutes of the nights proceedings.

You can review the Fire Chief's review of the recommended purchase from the City Council Video Archive for March 24th,  it runs from the 2 hour 27 minute mark to the 2 hour 33 minute mark.

We have more items on the discussions of Monday night's Council session on our archive page.

Council grants zoning permit for Graham Avenue development

Monday night, the final stage of municipal approval for a proposed housing development on the west side was completed, as Prince Rupert City Council rezoned the land in question and then granted a zoning permit for Prince Rupert Living Concepts' Graham Avenue development.

The decision to allow the project to move forward came after a half hour Public Hearing on the topic, which started with an overview of the process taken by Council to date and what the next stage in the process would be.

Following his presentation, Council heard from the public gallery in which a representative of a number of residents of the area outlined some of the concerns that residents have regarding the development.

The main ones being issues of traffic, parking and infrastructure worries, with residents expressing their thoughts on the nature of water and sewer services in the area as well as what impact the development may have on Internet service to the area.

Council listened to those concerns and weighed them against the advice that they had received from City Planner Zeno Krekic on the topic, he advised that engineering staff had confirmed that the infrastructure issues were not of a major concern of the engineering department.

Councillor Cunningham relayed some of the concerns he had received about water pressure in the area, a concern echoed by Councillor Thorkelson.

Councillor Ashley suggested that the City table the application until the city engineering department could provide a report on the nature of the water and sewer service in the region.

However that quest not to move forward as Councillor Garon observed that the City Planner had stated that engineering had no concerns over the issues raised. Making that issue not one that should hold back the proposed project.

Kevin Newton one of the proponents of the development also offered up some responses to questions raised by the public as to the nature of traffic flow and parking requirements of his proposed condominium development.

As we outlined on the blog back in February, the proposed project will be towards an upper scale development, geared towards seniors or those looking to downsize their current living accommodations,.

With their zoning requirements in place Rupert Living Concepts will now set to work developing a timeline for construction of the housing development.

You can review the Public Hearing aspect of the process from the City's Video Archive for March 24th , it runs from the 0:00 mark to thirty eight minutes.

The actual re-zoning and discussion of the project takes place later in the City Council session, you can view it from the three hour  four minute mark to the three hour seven minute mark.

For more items of note from Prince Rupert City Council see our Discussion points archive.