Kitimat Chamber executive director joins Enbridge tour to Fort McMurray oil sands

A trip to oil sands near Fort McMurray has given Kitimat Chamber Executive Director Trish Parsons a new perspective on the projects.

A trip to the oil sands near Fort McMurray has given Kitimat Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Trish Parsons a new perspective on the projects.

Parsons was in a group of numerous others — including two other as yet unnamed Kitimatians — who were invited on the tour by Enbridge, the proponent behind the Northern Gateway Pipelines proposal.

The tour took place on August 14.

The company decided such a tour was in order after facing a number of questions about the origin of the crude oil it hopes to pump for customers through its planned Northern Gateway pipeline from Alberta to a marine terminal at Kitimat, says company official Ivan Giesbrecht.

We thought it would be a lot easier to show them rather than to simply tell them,” said Giesbrecht.

Also on the tour from the Terrace area was the Terrace and District Chamber of Commerce executive director Carol Fielding, Terrace Economic Development Authority economic development officer Evan van Dyk and Alex Pietrella, the executive director of the Kitimat-Terrace Industrial Development Society.

Enbridge told the Sentinel they were waiting to hear from the two other Kitimat participants to know if they were comfortable having their name released to the media.

For Parsons, the tour helped provide the middle ground between the polarized imagery of the oil sands.

“Everything that I’ve ever seen about the oil sands was either on TV — somebody who’s totally opposed to it — or somebody like Suncor…promoting the oil sands,” she said.

What she said is that instead of huge smoke stacks and cut up geography, she found just regular out doors.

“I was expecting to see a lot more industrial, barren, wide open areas,” she said. “There was lots and lots of green space.”

She was also impressed with what she saw of reclaimed lands from oil sands projects.

She said she felt the tour was conducted unbiasedly, saying that participants were able to ask questions at any point of the tour.

As well, the variety of people weren’t just pipeline supporters. She said she knows through conversations that some of the people on the tour were actually entirely opposed to Enbridge’s pipeline plan for the northwest.

Parsons wasn’t just scoping out oil projects on her tour. She said she also got to see an active PTI Group lodge.

PTI Group is proposing to build a 2,100 bed workforce accommodation in the Strawberry Meadows subdivision.

The one near Fort McMurray, which Parsons said was attached to an industrial site, looked very plain from the outside (a different design than what’s proposed for Kitimat) but the inside was very nice and was very much like a hotel.

Fort McMurray is a good study on a growing town. Parsons said she’s aware of some talk from people who think Kitimat is on its way to being a Fort McMurray kind of town, and that Kitimat is already finding some issues with the growth, and not just the obvious ones.

For instance in Fort McMurray she said there were a lot of closed restaurants. But it wasn’t a lack of business which shut them out, but a lack of employees, she says.

It’s a similar situation which is growing in Kitimat.

“They’re having challenges recruiting and retaining staff for part time jobs,” she said. “If you’ve got after school hours, Tim Hortons has constantly got signs up, Dairy Queen…they’ve got signs up. Trigo’s they’ve got signs up. I think that’s going to be come the norm as more of these projects start to move forward. You cannot compete with construction jobs as far as salaries go.”

A company, she said, may have to look at offsetting a wage with a rental allowance as well, she said.

These sorts of concerns are why the Chamber worked with the Immigrant Employment Council and the Northwest Community College to host an immigrant workforce forum in Kitimat. (Sentinel, August 28)

Enbridge has hosted similar tours in the past. Selected people were sent to Michigan in May to see first hand the clean up efforts on the Kalamazoo River, the site of a major Enbridge spill in 2010.