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Kitimat Council defers decision on environmental fund spending

Public engagement sessions will help determine the purpose of the Ecological Reserve Fund
Council voted to table a motion from Councillor Michelle Martins until a public consultation can be completed.


Councillor Michelle Martins narrowly avoided a defeated motion for environmental spending, instead securing a unanimous vote to table the issue for public engagement sessions. What is now at the heart of the issue is the very principle for why an Ecological Reserve Fund was established, and how that $500,000 should be spent. 

Reluctantly accepting the tabling motion, Martins said, “I would hate to see my third attempt at environmental protection defeated, and go back to the drawing board—which I will if necessary. I will persist.”

In her original motion, the councillor had proposed using monies from the Ecological Reserve Fund to address inadequacies in mapping old growth forests, wetlands, and marshes in the area, and to provide a baseline report on local flora and fauna, particularly in light of increased industrial activity in the area.

Local environmental groups had submitted proposals to also study immediate industrial impacts on the environment, such as imminent flaring at the LNG Canada site, but these were not moved by Martins. Three letters from the public, including the Kitimat Valley Naturalists, also did not support the study of industrial activities, noting the importance of the issue but cautioning that the fund should be earmarked specifically for ecosystem preservation and restoration.  

Martins emphasized her support for industry while underscoring the importance of environmental protection. “I appreciate it would be hypocritical of me to oppose industry when it has provided me with so much,” she said. However, she argued that municipal government has a critical role in safeguarding the environment, especially with large-scale industrial activities in the area.

“Industry can be generous and good corporate citizens, but at the end of the day, even if a company does care about the community it operates in, what’s best for our community will never outweigh what’s best for a company,” Martins stated, highlighting the need for council to establish baseline environmental data.

She pointed to a current development proposal for a gravel quarry that council unanimously opposed recently due to lacking environmental information in the application, compounded by staff concerns of nonexistent baseline information for the area. “Loss of habitat and species decline are being noted by local groups, and I think it’s prudent to be proactive, especially as industrial activity continues, rather than react to a disaster after the fact... especially when we have hundreds of thousands of dollars at our disposal to do just that, Martins said.”

Councillor Terry Marleau supported the motion in principle but “strongly” opposed its current form. He called for a comprehensive proposal backed by staff input and public consultation. Councillors Edwin Empinado and Mario Feldhoff agreed, suggesting tabling the motion to allow for discussions with environmental and stakeholder groups. “We’ve got these letters that say ‘we want to meet with you,’ and I think we should,” Feldhoff said.

Also in support of tabling, Mayor Phill Germuth stressed council’s need to understand the fund's purpose, which he interpreted as facilitating tangible projects that enhance the community's natural appeal: “Something that people can actually feel and see and touch, not a stack of paper.” He stressed the importance of including all Kitimat residents in the engagement process, not just environmental groups.

But Councillor Gerry Leibel objected to further delays, saying the topic of spending priorities for the fund has been kicked around long enough, and Martins' original motion to gather baseline data comes at an urgent time before the LNG Canada facility goes online the community forever loses the chance to gather that pre-emissions data.

Martins accepted the tabling motion as “the lesser of two evils,” expressing confidence that community dialogue would support her environmental initiatives.

District staff are now preparing a public engagement strategy for council’s approval at a later date.

About the Author: Quinn Bender

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