Kitimat residents comes together for work camp town hall

Residents in Kitimat discuss the issue of temporary work camps within the District at a town hall meeting on Tuesday.

The vision of Kitimat’s future is effectively what was up for debate, as crowds converged on Mount Elizabeth Theatre to voice their opinion on proposed work camps within the District of Kitimat.

Well over 100 people attended the District of Kitimat town hall, established to address a concern in the community over whether or not people want high-density worker accommodations in town, and more specifically downtown.

Stuck in the centre of the debate is the PTI Group, the company which has bought and is in the process of buying land in the Strawberry Meadow’s subdivision with the intention of building what they dub a ‘work lodge’ to eventually house up to 2,100 people.

But their proposed location is just east of the hospital, effectively abutting the downtown core, which has some people worried.

At nearly two hours of conversation and comments, it appeared the majority of those who spoke didn’t have any concern with the PTI Group itself or a work lodge within town necessarily, but many took exception to the location, and others wanted to ensure the town was taking into consideration all other factors, such as how sewage would be handled with such a development.

“I am a construction worker, I am part of the community of Kitimat,” said one town hall participant who had concern with the location. “We will deal with nothing but traffic, traffic, traffic,”

He later added, “The camp just is in the wrong place.”

Another member of the public said economic gain shouldn’t be the prime factor when talking development.

“I don’t want to see stuff destroyed just to have economic progress,” she said, adding she wants a community she feels comfortable in, with people she knows.

More comments covered issues such as needing a second crossing of the Kitimat river to questions on how infrastructure would be handled with the proposed lodge.

One retiree who recently moved to Kitimat said the town should consider slowing down and considering development thoughtful, suggesting there was no rush to bring everything to town at once.

“These companies are not coming here because they love Kitimat, they’re coming because of the sea port,” he said. “Lets build something we can all be proud of.”

However, there was some optimism as well. One long-time Kitimat resident, who said he recently signed for some acreage in Strawberry Meadows himself, is worried that the town, by turning down PTI, would be saying no to more development.

“For the first time in years I went into our mall and I saw something, you guys should check this out; there are stores in there,” he said. “Now we have a situation where someone wants to set up a tax-based business in this community and instead of something positive for this community, there’s nothing but negative.”

He admits being a reluctant Terrace shopper, and said if the town constantly turns things away, the “Alcan dollars” will continue to be spent out of town.

Kitimat Chamber of Commerce president Derick Stinson said a balanced approach is needed, and said the camp is a realistic option to handle additional people.

“I think as a community we want to be careful. We don’t want a ton of vacant properties,” he said about developing permanent homes instead of temporary housing. “We need to be realistic with the type of infrastructure we have in place.”

An employee of Strawberry Meadows developer Jack Oviatt spoke as well, reading aloud a letter written by Oviatt, who couldn’t attend in person. Oviatt’s letter was largely the same as a recent presentation he gave to Kitimat Council. (Sentinel, April 10, page 3.) At that meeting Oviatt said he was very comfortable with the plans by the PTI Group for their lodge.

Tina Perreira also spoke in favour of the plan. Identifying herself as one of two partners working to open a Mr. Mikes restaurant in town, she said businesses could prosper with operations like the lodge.

The town hall was a venue to gather feedback. Kitimat Council had not at the time considered any bylaws for readings and only has an application from PTI Group so far. When bylaws do come before the council a public hearing will eventually be scheduled for on the record comments, ahead of any policy decisions.