City backs RTA over water license

Kitimat has given RTA their full support over their approval for amendment to their water license for the Kemano back-up tunnel.

Kitimat City Council voted unanimously in favour of supporting Rio Tinto Alcan involving their latest water licensing crisis. This was obviously the hot button issue at Monday’s council meeting.

“I worked on this particular issue for 13 hours on Saturday and it was really interesting, I don’t know how many ministers I talked to but it came out ok in the end,” said Kitimat mayor Joanne Monohan.

RTA’s work at the Kemano Power Facility came to an abrupt halt when they began taking the workforce off of the site Friday afternoon after BC Minister Pat Bell withheld his signature from their application for a water license. The license would allow them to put water into the second tunnel, currently under construction to be used as a back-up power source at the Kemano Power facility.

RTA was shocked at the decision, as they were not using more water, simply wanting the amendment to put the second tunnel into use. In response RTA, who have already invested over a hundred million dollars on the project, ordered everything shut down.

“Obviously this has drawn a huge amount of public concern as it came out on Saturday and Sunday,” said Kitimat councilor Phil Germuth.

The latest bargaining update on the possible strike was released Tuesday. The day after being notified, RTA filed an application for an “Essential Services” order and Bechtel filed an application for a “Common Site” order to CAW-Canada. RTA is arguing there is the element of essential services as they make ongoing efforts to manage the water along the Nechako river to reduce flood risk. RTA feel if they are unable to generate power in Kemano there will be flooding in the Vanderhoof area, much like recent floods in the Prince George area. For this reason, RTA is asking the Labour Relations Board that certain hourly employees in the Kemano and Kitimat control rooms continue working during a strike/lock-out.

The scope of this essentail service will be determined next week as The Union will take part in negotiations through the LRB in Vancouver. In the meantime, RTA are prohibited to commence a strike/lock-out until the application has been ruled on.

Germuth discussed a few key questions on the Kemano issue such as power generators and the allocation of water flow for the second tunnel.

“Generators for facilities like this aren’t something companies just stock on the shelves, it takes years to actually build these and get them out,” says Germuth. “As for the water flow, they (RTA) are actually allowed 170 cubic metres per second, they are only increasing three, not going above the 170 but up to 147, so it’s a very nominal increase in the flows.”

Minister Bell mentioned the water license is not required until construction on the new tunnel is completed. The Minister will not sign the amendment until the three communities primarily affected by the tunnel , Kitimat, Vanderhoof, and Prince George, have held council meetings to discuss the issue.

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