Friday, December 5, 2014

Lot 444 Rezoning proposal gets official nod from City Council

Prince Rupert's newly elected City Council members had their first major decision to make on Wednesday evening, holding a Public Hearing and then a Special Session of City Council regarding the rezoning proposal for Lot 444 along the Tuck Inlet area.

All of the Council Members except for Councillor Kinney, as well as members of City staff were in attendance for the Public Forum and subsequent Council session on the topic.

Mayor Lee Brain opened up what would turn out to be a three and a half hour journey, by outlining the nature of the process for the night and then to introduce a few presentations on the subject of Lot 444.

For those wishing to follow along at home, the entire evening was posted to the City's Video Archive, though home viewers should be aware that the audio quality on the night ebbs and flows at times.


City Planner Zeno Krekic was the first to outline the path to Wednesday night, reviewing some of the early work to bring Lot 444 inside the City boundaries and then to review his work of the last few months regarding the re-zoning aspects of that lot.

( 9:30-- 20:00 ) Next Ms.Donna Parker,  a representative of Exxon/Mobil/Imperial the proponents of the LNG proposal for Tuck Inlet provided a short review of their plans for the area that they are considering for their LNG Terminal project.  Highlighting the some of the key aspects of that proposed development and some of the challenges that they might find along the way towards making it operational.

She provided a short timeline of what they have done so far and what the plan ahead is when it comes to exploring the potential of the Tuck Inlet area for their proposed terminal. With Environmental Assessment, Baseline studies, technical reviews and dialogue with the Community and Aboriginal representatives in the region all still to come.

Her comments of Wednesday evening, expanded a fair amount on this introduction of July  when representatives of Exxon/Mobil/Imperial first outlined their proposal to an open Council session.

( 20:00 -- 32:00 )  Dr. Barb Faggetter was next to make a presentation reviewing much of her work as delivered in her report to the City. She outlined the areas of study that she worked on in relation to the Lot 444 re-zoning proposal, highlighting her findings on air and water quality issues and impact on areas such as Shawatlans and Woodworth Lakes and to the community.

The two lakes made up much of her focus in her presentation, with Dr. Faggetter making not of recent studies in Kitimat and from the Pacific Northwest LNG project to help explain the impact to those lakes, with Woodworth of key interest owing to its use as the city's drinking water reservoir.

You can review much of what she covered on Wednesday evening from this report

( 32:00 -- 36:00 ) City Manager Robert Long then provided an overview of the proposal, covering much of the same material as he delivered in his report to Council for the November 24th meeting.

As part of his review, he outlined how the zoning is required to move forward before the project can.

In regards to the commercial arrangements the City will receive 18 million dollars guaranteed for the first two years of Exxon/Mobil's investigative access to the property, at which time the proponents will make their decisions regarding the status of their interest in the proposal.

He also outlined some of the other financial aspects of the proposed project and how they would impact on the city's financial picture, with the project falling within the City's boundaries.

Much of his material for the Public Hearing audience was culled from his Report to Council which you can review here.

( 36:00--2:27:00 )  The Mayor then outlined the process for the Public Hearing, with four people registered on the Speakers list, to be followed by others in the crowd who wished to make statements or observations on the nature of the Rezoning proposal.

Some of the presentations were on topic and to the point, others tended to ramble a bit with a fair amount of time directed to comments regarding provincial, federal and at times even global issues.

All in all perhaps providing a valuable lesson for the new Mayor for future reference, and the need to keep meetings focused and on topic and if required at times, to put time limits on those that are participating in the topic at hand.

During the public hearing portion of the night, the majority of those participating appeared to express caution or outright opposition against any development of an LNG Terminal for the Lot 444 area.

Of the four that registered for the opportunity to talk, comments ranged from a suggestion to cautious oversight on the proposal to some serious concerns over it's relative close proximity to the city's water supply.

Other issues of note on the night included, observations regarding weather patterns, concerns over whether the proponents have any plans to use water from either of the lakes within the Lot 444 proposal area and a number of concerns related to harbour issues, including the nature of the transit of the LNG vessels, as well as the turn around zone required for the large vessels.

Some expressed opposition to any form of LNG and fossil fuel development as a larger issue, and while they were cautioned to keep their overview to issues related to the Lot 444 rezoning issue. A good number of those making comments took a larger overview of the entire LNG issue.

Highlighted by concerns over environmental damage across BC and pressure on First Nations far beyond Prince Rupert was raised as an issue, with one participant suggesting that it would be an issue that could divide the community.

The issues of First Nations rights across the Northwest was also introduced as part of the Public hearing, with Council warned that taking time to review all the issues is required before embarking on the prospect of any LNG Terminal in the region.

Bringing things back to a more local approach, as part of some of those concerns, a focus on the nature of larger health concerns for the community that could potentially be found from any development.

The topic of the City created Legacy Corporation made for an interesting review from one participant who had a number of questions and raised a number of issues regarding the city's mechanism for Lot 444 issues.

She outlined her concern over how much power was being provided to three members of City Staff who are unelected and with less than five years experience in the town.

From there an observation was offered up questions on reporting and oversight of the entire Operation of the Legacy Corporation and expressed concerns that the entire overview of the creation of the Corporation has not been delivered to the public very well.

As for the proposed terminal development she offered up questions on the nature of the project's development and what benefits the city might receive from the project depending on whether the project is land based or based on a barge.  As well, she observed how there hasn't been much information as to how at the end of the process whether the city wold be selling the land or leasing it out.

All issues that she suggested have not been outlined to the public.

By the time all that wished to speak had delivered their far reaching reviews of issues well past the topic of the night, the rezoning of Lot 444, some 17 residents had explored a range of themes, the vast majority of them clearly against LNG Terminal development in Tuck Inlet, many of them against any LNG development anywhere.

There were a few in favour of the prospect of development in the region, and in particular towards momentum for an LNG Terminal in the Tuck Inlet area, with John Farrell representing the Chamber of Commerce taking lead on those in favour of the motion to rezone the land, providing the support of his organization towards the application.

However, for the most part of the night, those that chose to speak in favour of the motion would be found in the minority of the participants in the public forum.

Councillor Thorkelson became a participant of the public portion of the Public Hearing, shifting from the Council table to the microphone to provide a number of photographs that she had taken of the site in question and offering up a review of some of her impressions on the area of Lot 444 under review on the evening

With the public presentations complete, Council took a ten minute break and then deliberated for close to an hour on the issue as part of their Special Session of City Council.

( 2:28:00 -- 3:23:00 ) To start that review off, Councillor Thorkelson moved to consider recommendations from Mr. Long's Report  as an item to be added to the Agenda on the night, with Council providing their approval for that move.

Council then began the process of discussion to the topic at hand.

During that phase of the review, each of the members of Council provided their thoughts and opinions on the evening's work related to the amendments of the Official Community Plan.

With the Mayor making for the opening remarks, highlighting the initial 18 million dollars to be received from Exxon/Mobil as an important consideration, speaking to the issues of infrastructure that could begin to be addressed in part from that money.

He also spoke to the concept of Prince Rupert approaching a new economy and more sustainable energy initiatives, something he would like to see, however he pointed out how those things require money, but  that the city doesn't have the money for that at the moment.

Turning his attention to the proposed LNG Terminal, he outlined that there was a need to take a new financial base by exploring what the proposal will look like over the next three years and that while it's a risk, he believes Prince Rupert has to take that risk.

Councillor Cunningham observed that the City could be more involved in the monitoring process of the process ahead. He also highlighted how this could add to the industrial tax base of the community and that it was the right step to take at this time.

Councillor Thorkelson provided some observations on the Official Community Plan and how the changes to Lot 444 would impact on the plan.

Councillor Niesh compared the proposal in front of Council with what the Mill once meant to the community and the jobs it provided to the region.  He also touched on some of the infrastructure concerns that the city faces and how developments such as the one under consideration may help the community survive.

Councillor Randhawa offered up a few observations in favour of the proposal.

Councillor Mirau outlined how it was a very tough decision, and even in these early days of their four year mandate perhaps the most important ones that they will have to make. He stressed how they weren't selling the land, but entering an investigation to explore what the opportunities might be from the proposal.

He then turned his attention to the need for change attitudes  in the community, how it's easy to say No, but the hard decisions come from sometimes having to say Yes.

Suggesting that the results of the election gave this council a mandate for change.

The Mayor picked up on that theme, with the City ultimately required to diversify its economy.

Making note of recent decisions from Petronas and BG to suspend their efforts for the moment, Mayor Brain reminded the audience of the need for the City to maintain options, and that saying No to options was not something the City could afford.

To bring the discussion on the Official Community Plan amendment to a close, the motion was approved by Council by all, with the exception of Councillor Kinney who was absent on the night.

On the zoning bylaw, Council discussed an attempt by Councillor Thorkelson to amend the bylaw to change the property lines of the are under consideration. With Councillor Thorkelson warning that as it is defined now, could provide for a range of Pinnacle Pellet type complaints regarding her area of concern.

Suggesting that Council doesn't want to rush through the process and that they should get it right the first time. She then once again recounted her disappointment that the public information forum of last week was not set up as the Public Hearing session was conducted on the evening.

After a review of her observations, Council voted down her motion to amend.

From there, Council returned to the  Original re-zoning issue.

( 2:57:00 -- 3:23:43 ) Councillor Thorkelson opened up the discussion on the re-zoning issue, making note of the other concerns raised through the night of Fracking issues, Pipelines going through First Nations territory and environmental items noted, providing some of her personal thoughts on those issues and the need for Canada to have an Energy Strategy.

However she outlined that whether Prince Rupert has or does not have an LNG plant in operation is not going to change that larger discussion.

She then offered up a range of observations as to some of the current proposals for the region.

Once again expressing her strong opposition to the Lelu Island project, she then expanded her review further, as she listed off some of the other proposals currently in place and pointed out that of the many LNG plants proposed for the region, the Lot 444 proposal would be the only one to at least provide a significant financial benefit to the City of Prince Rupert.

While at the same time allow for the City to have some control over the development process.

She also made note of the concerns over the Prince Rupert Legacy Corporation and some of the issues raised by the public regarding the way it has been set up.  Suggesting that Council will have to address some of those concerns.

On the theme of industrial taxes and how they are inevitable and how LNG companies should realize that their share is going to be larger than hers.

She also reviewed how many of the environmental concerns and other items of note raised would be addressed through the Environmental process to come and those are not issues that the City needs to answer in a Public Hearing.

Councillor Cunningham then offered up the suggestion that Exxon could sit down with the City to discuss Councillor Thorkelson's boundary concerns as the first step in a good partnership. He observed that so far they have reached out the City to address other items of discussion to this point.

With the Council members exhausting their talking points they voted again in a unanimous count (with the exception of the absent councillor Kinney) to approve the motions to amend the bylaws in question.

For the third item on the Agenda, Council reviewed Councillor Thorkelson's motion to consider the recommendations of Mr. Long's Report as part of the requirements of the proponent to be dealt with in conjunction with the re-zoning of Lot 444 being successful.

Councillor Thorkelson made her case regarding the twelve points found in the report, and added two more of her own to those recommendations.

One, that the LNG proponent will undertake to negotiate with the City any noise and light issues.

The second addition she would put in place,  recommended that the City direct the Legacy Corporation to pay for an environmental officer responsible to the city, to ensure that these recommendations are followed and to pay for sufficient staff and resources to attend the Environmental Assessment Process on behalf of the City.

The Mayor suggested that a better option would be for staff to provide a report on the potential cost of providing for staff and resources on the EA Process.

Councillor Thorkelson called attention to the non refundable 1 million dollar deposit that the City already has in place, as well as to remind the new council of the work of the old council on the issues and their desire to have such a process of overview put in place.

Mayor Lee then offered up another idea, asking what would be the difference in contracting out Dr. Faggetter once again to be a part of that, rather than have to hire an in house staff member to that task.

Going further he advised that at this time, he wasn't comfortable making a financial decision that has a question mark next to it.  Councillor Niesh agreed with the Mayor's interpretation of the situation at the moment.

Councillor Cunningham offered up the thought that the project will need some kind of transparency, suggesting that the only way that will take place is if the City has somebody on their side watching over it.

The Mayor advised that while he did want someone to be watching over the project, that he however disagreed with the recommendation from Council Thorkelson as it was outlined, without any kind of financial concept in place.

On that theme and in a spirit of conciliation on the topic, Councillor Thorkelson then adjusted her plan to request of Council asking staff to report on what it would cost for the City to move on the rest of her motion.

Councillor Cunningham seconded her motion, but highlighted some of the concerns he has with the message that Council may be sending to the community on the topic.

The Mayor reviewed some of his concerns over the proposal that Councillor Thorkelson had outlined,  seeking to have all the information at hand before the move forward with her suggestions.

With that, Council held their vote with all in favour, bringing the three and a half hours of discussion to a close.

As the Public Hearing fell under the Local Government Act regulations (890), (and not the Community Charter as we noted yesterday) the usual need for a separate Council session to adopt the measures won't be required in this case, in effect bringing an end to the Lot 444 re-zoning process.

On Thursday the New City Council issued its first media announcement on the issue, heralding the how the City has "turned the Corner" highlighted with a note as to how the "new council made a courageous move to restart Prince Rupert's economy and initiate change"

For some in the audience and maybe even for those watching at home, at the end of the whole process, an old Steve Miller Band song would perhaps seem to define the theme of Wednesday night.

With 18 million dollars in initial money on the table, just for the early investigation phase of the proposed project, Council it would seem took the money and ran.

However, judging by some of the feedback that they received from the public during the lengthy open microphone session of Wednesday, any plans that the city may have for future tax revenues and ancillary income may face a fairly healthy push back from a very vocal portion of the community.

Considering that this was but a re-zoning issue for consideration and not the over-all review that will be required from the Development Permit phase and Environmental Assessment process, the need to block off a fairly large chunk of time for the discussions to come in the future is clearly going to be needed.

Beyond that, the lasting impression of the Public Hearing is the apparent still mysterious nature of the City's Legacy Corporation, which still it seems has many in the community (and maybe one or two on Council it seems) wondering what it is, what it does and who is in control of the decisions it makes.

That is another issue that the City, the Council and the Mayor may have to re-think, should the Legacy Corporation have any other arrangements to make with any industrial proponents.

You can review the history of the Lot 444 proposal to this point from our archive page here.

For more items related to Prince Rupert City Council developments see our Council archive here.

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