Friday, December 1, 2017

A Councillor Waxes Poetic on Watson

There's a definite feeling of celebration coming from the doors of City Hall this week, with the announcement of Thursday from the Pembina Pipeline Corporation, to advise that they will be moving forward with plans to develop a Liquid Propane Terminal on land at Watson Island.

The news from the Calgary based energy company has made for a quickened pace to the steps of some of the Council members, with Mayor Brain and Councillor Mirau among those with the loudest proclamations that the events are a game changing moment.

We recounted the Mayor's thoughts on the prospective era of change and optimism for Watson Island from our item of Wednesday, which you can review here.

As part of the City's announcement of the Pembina plans, Mr. Brain added to the theme of the rebirth of the old pulp and paper mill site as a player in global shipping, re-branding the site as the new Watson Intermodal Trade and Logistics Park ...

Thursday, as part of a growing local media and social media push in the lead up to the City's Open House of December 6th, the Mayor introduced us to the new logo for the new vision for the industrial lands

When it comes to change for the industrial site, the Mayor is not alone in singing the praises for the City's decision to move into the world of logistics.

Councillor Blair Mirau has also been quick to celebrate the achievements of Council and city staff, composing his own short historical review and testimonial for the site posted to his Facebook page.

It makes for a fourteen paragraph review of the past, along with many hopes for the future, mostly based on his recollections of some twenty eight or so years.

The overview of recent developments makes for an interesting look at how Mr. Mirau views the path that the City has now embarked upon, but also leaves a few items out there lingering .... unaddressed as they have been, reminding us that perhaps a few more details are in order when it comes to the City's new enterprise.

Two elements of his essay stand out to highlight some of the interesting aspects of the new adventure for the City of Prince Rupert, the first making note of Wednesday's news:

"After countless legal issues, speculation, and rumours. I understand why some people can have the attitude of "I'll believe it when I see it." But this weeks' announcement that Pembina will build a $270 million dollar propane export facility on Watson Island is the start of a new chapter in Prince Rupert'"

And while residents of the North Coast will surely welcome the news of the Pembina plans for an investment decision, it might be a little early to break out champagne bottles just yet.

Considering the range of regulatory processes that these projects require, one imagines that it would still be subject to some vigorous environmental review along the way.

Not only from participants along the North Coast, but with a key element of the plan to ship propane by rail across Northern British Columbia, the Prince Rupert terminal project could at some point become an item of interest for any number of communities along the CN Rail mainline into Alberta.

As residents on the North Coast have since discovered from a few of our most recent LNG proposals, even with an approval in hand from the Federal government, conditions can change, or opposition to a project can provide for enough second thought, delays or even cancellation.

In the end, any project is really just a proposal, until a shovel is in the ground and they start to pour the cement.

Considering the interest that the City of Prince Rupert has expressed in reaching the finish line for their ambitious Watson Island plans, we suspect that unlike the two LNG projects that have recently faded from view, when it comes to the regulatory hearings and such, the City of Prince Rupert won't be making quite the detailed response to the process as they did with their contribution to those previous LNG reviews.

City of Prince Rupert CEAA submission on Pacific NorthWest LNG now available on agency website

City of Prince Rupert submission among many included in comment process for Aurora LNG

And while a hopeful positive outcome is a decision that many may wish to see, until there is further clarification as to the timeline for the Pembina project, and how the environmental process will work, it might be wise to view the Investment decision announcement of Wednesday as that of a Conditional Final Investment Decision.

Still good news, but, one where a little bit of cautious optimism might be called for.

There was one other passage from Councillor Mirau's Watson Island tutorial that offered up an interesting theme as well, as one of the youngest members of Council noted how he viewed the passage of time when it come to Watson Island through a different prism than some of the more senior members.

"When our council first saw the video footage of the demolition of the old pulp mill, we noticed a distinct contrast between generations. The Mayor and I celebrated as explosions rang out and the symbol of our city's decline was falling down. But others had tears in their eyes, reminding us of the need to grieve for a place that had provided thousands of people with their first job and created so many positive memories"

And from that view of the growing dynamic between the Councillor and the Mayor when it comes to such projects, it leaves a reader to wonder what the remaining members of Council may have had to say about the new direction for the industrial site.

A blue print that will now retain the industrial land in the hands of the community, which along with the potential for renewal and hoped for revenues, will also carry some of the burdens of ownership that come from such initiatives.

As has been noted in the lead up to the December 6th Open House hosted by the Mayor at the North Coast Convention Centre, the City has not had much to say in public about their plans for the site.

With the Mayor and Council citing the many legal obligations of the past that the City faced when it came to the long running story of Watson Island as part of reason for the lack of information so far.

Still, outside of the legal particulars of the inherited troubles from the Watson files, where the billable hours for out of town legal firms regularly made for significant entries in the City's annual reports, there is one aspect of the entire plan that should be noted from the news of the week.

That being how much of the change in how the City views the industrial site took place without any discussion with the public.

Nor did the City offer up opportunity for any inquiry from the residents and taxpayers to assess if they had a burning desire to become a landlord, as opposed to receiving a lump sum sale price and just collecting taxes on a property from the tax rolls.

Missing from all the pronouncements of the last forty eight hours or so, has been any form of account of the financials from it all.

How much has the City had to spend over the three years to maintain and dismantle the site, or how much revenue did they receive from items sold off the site?

As well, there's no word on what form of administration that will be required for the new intermodal and logistics park. 

And No indication as to how many city employees will be required to administer the new site and will the workers, if any are based on the site, be city employees, or will they be contracted to third party organizations perform those services independently. 

As for the past, which the City is seemingly hoping to banish to the history books as as fast as possible:

Will past or outstanding debts be written off with the arrival of a new name and new vision?  

Will the new Watson start out with an empty spreadsheet of debits and credits as it is launched on the world, where past issues are quickly relegated to the files of that was then, this is now.

Projections of revenue streams and how those revenues will be distributed by the City and it's Legacy Corporation process also don't seem to be part of the current roll out of the game changing moment.

All of which are items which will be important to know, before anyone can adequately weigh the pros and cons of the City's plans.

When the Watson Island mess landed at the feet of the city, the main theme for the city was to find a way to resolve the outstanding issues and to have the property turned around and sold off as soon as possible.

That appeared to be the path that former Mayor Jack Mussallem had been on prior to the last municipal election, the decision to veer away from that blue print came sometime after the election of this current council in November of 2014.

In addition to the change of mind of the elected officials and their inner circle, much of that shift would appear to have taken outside of any form of public debate at City Hall, with the first indication of the new approach to Watson only really beginning to filter out earlier this year.

In effect, a City Council of six members and the Mayor have decided that the City should carve out its place in the world of global shipping, a concept clearly endorsed by both the Mayor and Councillor Mirau and judging by their silence over the last three years, the remainder of their City Council counterparts.

But it should also be noted in amidst all the celebration, that this is a significant change in position that was never discussed with the residents of the city who will be along for the ride, without having been offered the opportunity to have a say in the matter.

Mr. Mirau's essay doesn't review that particular theme of the new Watson narrative, crowded out by the enthusiastic salute to the ability to close deals and chart new courses.

The Council Six, the Mayor and Senior advisers are now in effect the civic version of venture capitalists, though they are venture capitalists who never bothered to consult the shareholders (the taxpayers) if they could use their capital.

With Council now all in on the plan to become land barons of the Northwest, Prince Rupert collectively is now on board the good Ship Watson and it would appear will stand ready to welcome the world to our inherited chunk of the shoreline.

Whether we wanted to be passengers or not, does not appear to have been much of a topic for those behind the scenes, behind closed doors discussions of the last three years from the current Council membership and their senior aides at City Hall.

It could be that after all those years of frustration over the fate of Watson Island, the city's residents may very well have endorsed the vision for the future coming from City Hall, perhaps they may even have shown as much enthusiasm as Councillor Mirau and the Mayor have expressed in the the last few days.

But we'll never really know ...  since no one outside of the Council chambers were asked for an opinion.

Back in the 1980's the City of Prince Rupert held a referendum when it came to whether it should build a performing Arts Centre, or refurbish the Capitol Theatre. That discussion proved to be a healthy and vigorous expression of civic engagement and consultation.

Fast forward some thirty years or so and the City has put in motion a major initiative without telling anyone about the plan until it was launched and taking reservations.

Some of the older members of Council may remember back to that Lester debate, to a time when the municipal government actually took the time to seek the counsel of the public before committing to a major investment and shift in direction from a previous policy.

It would have been interesting to see how the residents of the community today, might have weighed in on an issue that perhaps is even more important to the region than the Lester Centre decision had been at that time.

Perhaps that could be a discussion topic for December 6th when the City hosts its Open House and welcomes the new tenants to the industrial site and expands on those plans to come for the newest addition to the City's Legacy Fund collection of civic instruments.

You can review some of the notes on the Watson Island theme from our archive page here, more items of interest related to Prince Rupert City Council can be found on our Council archive.


  1. NCR, forever irked by these young guns who have come in and produced nothing but results. Can't wait to learn more at the open house. Way to go mayor and council, pulling off what no one has been able to for almost two decades!

  2. Not sure how asking questions on a major investment of taxpayers money is considered to be a case of being irked.

    Some folks clearly don't mind if the City makes moves without any consultation on such things.

    But others perhaps might welcome some oversight on how the Council move ahead with such things ...

    I imagine you will enjoy the Open House though, the city's plans seem to be delivering the vision you wish to see moving forward.

    Even if there really haven't been many details on how it all will work released yet, or why the City changed its original plans for the mill site without advising the residents of their shift in focus.


  3. Money talks and Bs Walks. And this article is pure Bs.

    You just crapped on a kid for being excited/optimistic. Ironically proving his point BtW

    1. Where exactly do I crap on the essay?

      I relayed his themes as posted to the Facebook post and for the most part the item I posted focuses more to theme that there are still any number of outstanding questions on the project.


    2. Your purposely Misleading by taking 2 quotes and then wrote whole piece that "for the most partt" just old-white-man-splained why change is bad. You tpttaly ignored the theme and treated his story like a Baddly Written press release.

      Plus you still don't realize the irony that you are proving the point that status quo attitude is outdated

    3. Not sure how you have divined that opinion that I am misleading on anything from my piece.

      I found two notes from the fourteen paragrpahs that caught my eye and expanded on the themes that struck me as interesting.

      At no point did I treat the story as anything other than the observations that the Councillor had presented. As well I can't quite see how I suggested it was badly written, nor did I think of it as a press release, but maybe that's how you have viewed it, I dunno.

      You also appear to have packed a lot of your own perceptions into your commentary, along with what appears some form of psychic interpretation when it comes to age and gender ... and whether such groups are allowed to have an opinion.

      I don't believe I was trying to "prove a point' just asking questions, since no one else seems inclined to do so ...

    4. doesn't take psychic abilities to know who you are just power of observation and process of elimination

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  5. Personally, I elect people to make business decisions on my behalf. I certainly don’t remember getting consulted when Jack Mussallem got us into yet another legal battle. I think what matters is that this council got that forsaken mill torn down, and got it back in business. And if you’re worried about how these guys are making decisions, why don’t you show up to a council meeting and express your concerns? Right, I forgot, you hide behind the computer from a distance, demanding democracy be upheld yet don’t want to participate yourself because you’re too afraid to put your name out there and face criticism. So I guess these guys will continue to do whatever they want, and you’ll continue to watch and complain hoping someone somewhere will ask the hard questions because you’re too afraid to ask them yourself. If you’re concerned on the direction of this town, then run for office. In the meantime, what the young councillor wrote resonated me with and I know many in the community. I’ll be attending the open house looking for further information. Great job to this council for being positive, forward thinking and not afraid to make decisions.

    1. Well everyone is certainly entitled to their opinion and if you're OK with the direction of council and how they make the big decisions then they will be pleased to regain your endorsement in November of 2018.

      Should point out, that it's not quite back in business just yet, but lets hope for a successful venture, since we're all now all in!


  6. A problem with anonymity is that NCR cannot tell one anonymous comment from another, except for maybe the wretched spelling and grammar of some guy(s) and gal(s). But I am left with a serious question: is your main complaint A: the change of municipal strategy on Watson? Or B: that the public was not consulted?

    If it is A: that is slightly stupid because the definition of lunacy is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Obviously the last groups failed multiple times so these new people tried a new approach and got a better result.

    If it is B: that is also slightly stupid because they all ran on a platform to get Watson Island back on the tax roll ASAP. There are no surprises here. The only complaint is that it took them 3 whole years to do it.

    You should go to the open house to ask questions, not anonymously bash a young man for finally having some hope for that hell hole.

  7. Again, Never bashed the young man in any way. Simply used two elements of his commentary to raise a pair of points on how the project evolved and expand on the theme ...

    And yes is the answer to both A and B of your questions though I don't quite share your opinion on the validity of such questions.