Thursday, March 2, 2017

City's latest industrial travelogue tours the Watson Island site

The City of Prince Rupert offered up a short review of some of the elements that currently remain in motion as part of the long running story of Watson Island, with Mayor Lee Brain taking us on a travelogue of sorts of the Industrial site on the outskirts of town.

The feature titled Watson Island - A New beginning, makes for the latest in video vignettes that the City has put together that feature the Mayor as tour guide.

Wednesday's presentation is the follow up to last years trek into the Shawatlans wilderness to bring residents up to date on the city's aging water infrastructure and part of the growing archive that started with the Hays 2.0 vision release and the City's Go Plan Survey.

From the tour we first see some dramatic video of imploding structures and then we hear from Mayor Brain who outlines a bit of history of the site and then looks at some of the more recent challenges to face the industrial site on the outskirts of town.

As the two minute, twelve second video moves forward Mr. Brain follows those thoughts up with some general observations related to recent industrial work on the site, noting that the decommissioning process continues in order to ready Watson Island for future development.

“The decommissioning of Watson Island represents Prince Rupert tearing down its past, and preparing to build a new future,” ... “Once decommissioning is complete we look forward to new prospects for Watson Island to generate tax revenue for the City again.”

The positive news associated with the decommissioning process indicates that as part of that work taken on to this point, 80 percent of old pulp mill site has been decommissioned. With the Mayor noting that the pulping chemicals have been removed from the site and are being reused in other BC pulping operations, with 95 percent of all materials at the Watson island site being recycled for other uses.

The work which is expected to be complete by the fall, was first announced by the City back in August of 2015.

In an accompanying information release from City Hall (see here) some interesting notes are relayed to the public, one of which confirms that the City's Legacy Corporation has been involved with some of the work at Watson Island.

Additional costs of the decommissioning were borne by Prince Rupert Legacy Inc., a 100% wholly owned subsidiary of the City of Prince Rupert, so as not to burden taxpayers. Once the Settlement Agreement has been completed, more financial information may be available.

That shift of responsibility for the Legacy corporation was not an item that made for any public discussion at City Council in recent months, the video from Wednesday marks the first mention by a City representative on the topic of either the Legacy Corporation, or the Watson Island site in a number of months.

It's also the second time in less than a year that it has been publicly noted that the Legacy Fund has been used to address additional costs on a city related initiative.

The most recent notice coming last year with the completion of the Prince Rupert Airport Terminal project which received a 1.5 million dollar top up to deal with unforeseen circumstances with construction.

The use of the Legacy Fund for such things would seem to suggest that it's partially being used as a kind of a back up fund for when costs on projects go outside of original projections.

That's a theme that doesn't appear to be included in the 2014 introduction of the company from the city's website, nor has it been discussed in public sessions.

Left unknown from the city's information package is how the Mayor's fellow Council members may feel about the ever expanding use of the Legacy Corporation and if this form of financing on civic projects is an area of unanimous agreement among the six members.

The background notes that come the city's statement on Watson Island include a short review of the 2013 settlement agreement with Sun Wave Forest Products.

Though that review for the most part is one of a short mention with little detail, one which includes the proviso that due to the terms of the Settlement Agreement, the City is unable to share the contents of the settlement agreement.

A second reference to legal notes has the Mayor explaining in the video that the city is moving very quickly through its legal challenges, though Mr. Brain did not expand on what those challenges might be.

The cryptic observation might be a reference to what appears to be a still outstanding bit of legal work to be done related to the city's engagement with the  Watson Island Development Corporation.

That company continues to indicate on its website, that it is currently in litigation with the City of Prince Rupert in connection with the acquisition of Watson Island

Whenever one speaks of Watson Island, "very quickly" is a measurement of time that could use a bit more of an explanation, considering the long running engagement on legal issues that has made for the story to this point .

Whether at a quick pace, or a more long term approach, legal fees continue to make for a major part of the Watson Island story, the city's payments to suppliers from last year noted that legal firms had been paid $645,006 for their work in 2015.

The ongoing court requirements have made legal billing a prominent part of the annual suppliers list for a number of years now.

From Wednesday's video tour we glean no new information on the legal questions and when they will no longer be the elephant in the room when it comes notes from the industrial site.

Another element not included in the video or background paper on Watson Island is any kind of breakdown from the City's Financial offices, providing residents with an up to date account of the financial status of the site for the City at the moment.

The most recent notes related to Watson Island were presented as part of the City's Financial Variance report from November 14  that document offered up a pair of line items on Revenues and Expenses as of September for review, a snapshot that indicated that the revenue side of the Watson Island efforts was still proving to be a challenge.

In previous years, City Council would receive a short presentation from the City's Financial Officer on such areas of note as burn rates and other indicators as to how Watson Island fits into the larger picture of the city's financial planning.

That is a theme that hasn't been tackled in the public sessions of Council for a number of years now.

Still with Wednesday's video presentation the Mayor offers a promise of a better day ahead, building a brand new future for the community, by delivering on new commercial operations that will bring in new revenue for everyone in the community to benefit from.

The Mayor envisions  a future where we can "fix our roads and fix the water supply, redeveloping the downtown core, redeveloping waterfront access, trails, recreation and transit and all the things that people want and deserve to have in our community." 

Though a firm date as to when we can "finally say good bye to our past and bring in new hope for a better future for everybody in Prince Rupert" ... was not part of the presentation.

And perhaps avoiding a fixed date is a wise approach, back in May of 2015, the Mayor noted for CBC's Daybreak North that the end of the Watson Island situation was on track for the end of that year.

As we all have learned from the ancient history of the old pulp mill site, few things ever seem certain when it comes to Watson Island.

Hopefully, the video and short information update will make for the start of an ongoing engagement with the community, with the Mayor and Council ready to release more details and documentation as the months move forward.

The prospect of "tearing down the past" is no doubt one that both City Hall and city residents will be looking forward to, however, for the moment, the ghosts it would seem will linger just a little bit longer.

Our archive of notes on Watson Island can be examined here.

While further items of interest from the City are available on our Council Discussion Archive page.


  1. It is so great to see council and mayor moving forward with our future!

  2. A reminder for those that may wish to submit comments for our items, caution should be used in how terms are phrased. Those that use improper language or terminology won't find their way to publication.