Northern mayors weigh in on Kitimat opportunities

Mayors of Whitecourt, Alberta and Fort St. John discuss the needs ahead of a potential construction boom in Kitimat.

The mayors of two communities say Kitimat has to get proactive or it risks missing out on opportunities.

Mayor Lori Ackerman of Fort St. John and Mayor Trevor Thain of Whitecourt, Alberta were in Kitimat last Tuesday, speaking to members and guests of a Community Advisory Board, a collection of people set to discuss impacts, whether positive or negative, from Enbridge’s Northern Gateway proposal.

But it wasn’t just oil pipelines they spoke of, but any kind of major economic boom from the energy sector. The two have a wealth of knowledge; both Fort St. John and Whitecourt have seen a lot of development from oil and gas developments.

For Kitimat to fully embrace the opportunities from that industry, it needs to be prepared, and it needs the business community to get onside and understand demands.

“It’s not just pipeline building. I realize the pipeline is what everyone’s discussing but it’s what else goes along with the pipeline, the service industries that go with it, there’s other industries that go with it,”  said Mayor Thain. “Plus there’s the installation of the pipeline and the camps that are involved.”

He said getting the business community onside is crucial because a community that’s not ready will not see the full scope of opportunity, and in fact will make projects last longer and be more painful.

Those opportunities even apply to the most minute of details.

“Everybody comes into town to buy gloves,” said Thain, as an example. “Well, when there’s no gloves left, it causes problems.”

Mayor Ackerman said that her community’s Official Community Plan has been invaluable in providing direction as they have grown over the past decade.

As her community currently faces the prospect of a third dam on the Peace River, the Site C dam, she said they held community consultations about what the town wanted to see from that development.

“We came back with a very strong position paper on it and that’s the position we’ll be taking moving forward,” she said. That same paper will be applied to other large industrial projects in their area as well.

“We’ve seen the boom-bust cycle and we just don’t want to go through that again,” she said.

And she echoed what Thain said about the glove situation.

“The day that you run out of the right doughnuts, or bagels… or you run out of gloves, that person is not going to come back looking for gloves anymore,” she said.

She said it’s important for the business community to be approached and asked how developments would impact them, so situations like the gloves won’t happen.

And equally important to all this, is to understand the nature of the oil and gas industry itself, which is unlike other industries in how they operate.

“You cannot just jump into servicing the oil and gas industry.” said Ackerman. “It does not work the same way as the lumber industry, it does not work the same way as the agricultural industry. It’s a different culture.”

Thain said it’s a very intense work environment, and that they’re not afraid to spend money to get what they need exactly when they need it.

The bottom line, from both mayors, is preparedness is key.

“There are opportunities galore here and the best approach is to be proactive and to ensure that you are making certain you are going to take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way,” said Ackerman. “If any project is approved and the community’s not ready, there’s lost opportunities.”

Thain, meanwhile, hinted at potentially amazing times for Kitimat.

“From what I can see from Kitimat, if this pipeline goes through, and with LNG…Kitimat is going to become a major, major port on the west coast. And I don’t think you’ve seen anything yet.”