Thursday, November 17, 2016

Council sends its Pacific NorthWest LNG motion back to committee for review and rewording

The Pacific NorthWest LNG project
was the main topic for Monday night
as Council discussed a motion from
Councillor Joy Thorkelson.
Monday night's City Council session lasted one hour, forty six minutes in total, twenty six of them dedicated to routine matters of your regular night of work for our elected officials.

The remainder of the evening was then turned over to a lengthy and at times rambling discussion, on a project that takes place in another community and a situation which in the end, the city will have no real ability to effect any control over.

Councillor Joy Thorkelson's motion and her recommendation for six conditions as to how the City should approach its ongoing discussions with Pacific NorthWest LNG was brought forward for consideration on Monday night.

During the course of the one hour and twenty minutes that was dedicated towards it, Council addressed a range of issues on the theme and engaged in a lengthy bit of soul searching, as to how it should conduct its negotiations when it comes to the energy company and its Port Edward plans.

The six conditions that Council reviewed included:

1. The project is relocated to another area not in the estuary of the Skeena River. One industry should not put another at risk of our City should remain with a diversified economy. 

2. The project must consult with the area’s local governments and our residents as well as with First Nations. 

3. The City’s water supply is monitored and a specific set of responses, agreed to by the City, are in place to rectify any increase in acidification or eutrophication. 

4. Negative economic or social consequences will be identified by the City and PNW LNG prior to the project going ahead and solutions agreeable to the City are identified. 

5. Adequate contributions, agreed to by COPR, for rebuilding and maintaining Prince Rupert’s infrastructure are identified and scheduled. 

6. Alternate forms of clean energy are identified and their development are committed to by PNW LNG.

Through the discussion Councillor Thorkelson made a number of passionate defences of those key elements of her motion, with the main focus directed towards the first condition of the six, and the demand that Pacific NorthWest LNG relocate the project.

That one condition, proved to be the most divisive for Council, with many Council members noting that that project was outside of the city's borders and that in reality, the city had no real power when it comes to demanding any relocation.

They did seem to agree that the five other conditions were items where the city could find some success at the negotiating table, but also indicated that with the first condition worded as it was, the prospect of any positive negotiations may be hampered.

The evening featured frequent interruptions by members of the public gallery, many of them members of the fish workers union UFAWU-Unifor, who cheered many of the points Councillor Thorkelson would make through the evening.  At times the group also seemed to be challenging the other Council members on their opinions related to the discussion.

Council members expressed a number of themes through the course of their review, with Mayor Lee Brain and Councillor Blair Mirau making note that owing to the location of the project, which was outside of the city limits, the ability for the City to make demands on location would seem to be out of the scope of the city's mandate.

Councillors Niesh, Kinney and Randhawa all explored a range of themes related to the need to have some employment generated in the community and how the continuation of negotiations with Pacific NorthWest would be one of the few ways to gain any kind of support for the city's infrastructure and social concerns.

Councillor Cunningham spoke to some of his frustration with how Pacific NorthWest had approached past discussions with the city, noting that at times it appeared that they were ignoring the city and its concerns.

However, he also had some hesitations as to the current wording when it came to the first of the six conditions that Councillor Thorkelson was putting forward, offering up the belief that some tweaking of the item might be in order.

By the time the conversation had exhausted itself towards the nine o'clock hour of the evening, Council had decided that their best course of action was to defer any decision on the motion for the night, a process that this council seems to take more and more often when tough decisions are required.

In this case, they decided to send the issue to a sub-committee and seek input from Hans Seidemann, the City's Manager of Community Development and Civic Innovation, tasked to conduct a review of environmental and associated issues for the city.  The Department and staff position, something that many residents of the city may not have even known was on the city payroll.

As for when they may come up with a final decision on the topic, Council members offered no timeline as to when the motion might return to Council chambers for consideration.

While they settle in for their sub-committee review of the motion, Council members might be best served by the main observation of the night, that being that any actual ability for the City to demand any change towards the location of the project is really the guiding issue.

That was a decision which was in the hands of the Federal and Provincial governments, and as we all discovered together back in September, those levels of government have provided their approval of the selected site.

If the City is looking to negotiate any form of benefits agreement with the company, making their first demand one that the company relocate their now approved project, would seem to be a proposal that will for the most part probably not set a good tone for how those talks may go forward.

Over the years, City Council has frequently brought the issue of Lelu Island up during the course of Prince Rupert council sessions, going as far back as to when the North Coast's current MLA Jennifer Rice sat on council.

That period was one where both Ms. Rice and Ms. Thorkelson made the concept of an LNG terminal in Port Edward among their top concerns, at times making it quite clear to Pacific NorthWest officials that they opposed the proposed development in that location.

The entire debate of Monday seemed very much a case of deja vu and one of fighting a battle that has already ended,  as we outlined on the blog back in April, the City had previously raised many of its concerns with this submission to the CEAA process earlier this year.

That document which outlined many of the same themes as the motion discussed on Monday, was just one of many that the Federal Government reviewed on their way towards its decision to approve the project, the City's contribution to the process seemingly duly noted and filed.

Whether the city of Prince Rupert agrees with that ruling or not, is no longer of much consequence at this point. Where the real focus of the city's elected officials should now be directed, is towards how the project may impact on the city and how they can best negotiate some of their many concerns with Pacific NorthWest LNG.

How they move forward on their approach to the motion will set the tone for those discussions, but the one thing they should carry with them into any further talks is the cold, but hard realization that the project will most likely be built where it has been approved. Providing of course Pacific NorthWest LNG actually makes the final investment decision to go ahead with the project.

While there is a very good case to be made that Pacific NorthWest has an obligation to discuss and work with the City on issues that the project may deliver to the community, the fact of the matter, and one that was pointed out frequently during Monday night is simple, the Project isn't located here and there is not much control that the city has when it comes to how it progresses.

The city can lay out as many conditions as they like, but geography trumps their first one right out of the gate, the sooner they can get back on track towards finding some common ground with the energy company might go a long way in  helping to deliver their long sought after benefits agreement.

A full overview of the back and forth of the Council discussion can be found on our Council Timeline feature here.

The video presentation of the Council proceedings from Monday can be viewed below, Councillor Thorkelson's motion makes its appearance at the 26 minute mark.

More background on the Pacific NorthWest files can be found on our archive page here,

Those looking to review the amount of time that the City has dedicated towards the Pacific NorthWest LNG file, can find a large number of items related to those discussions, as well as many other issues, as part of our Council Archive page here.

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