“Kitimat needs to become a truly coastal community.”
So says Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen after the economic development forum he and Skeena MLA Robin Austin hosted here January 14.
About two dozen people braved blowing snow and chilling temperatures to offer their ideas on what the community needed to turn its economy around.
The format saw those attending broken into three groups then brought back together to share their ideas.
When they did, a recurring theme was public waterfront access to Douglas Channel for recreational, tourism and commercial purposes.
“We talked a bit about how communities regionally would be interested in seeing another marina go in the Douglas Channel,” said Louise Avery, representing one of the groups.
A provincial park was another idea from that group.
Representing another, Austin said, “they thought we need a public port, and a marina would become a part of it.”
Robin Lapointe explained, “Having another private port here, a private commodity, isn’t going to help us in the long-run.”
Further discussion focused on how local businesses can take advantage of the upcoming influx of money related to construction of the Kitimat Modernization Project and the Kitimat LNG terminal.
“People who come in to work on major construction projects don’t tend to spend money the way a local worker does at all, they’re not buying a mortgage, you spend the least that you can,” Cullen said, summarizing the concerns about a possible boom and bust related to the upcoming construction phases.
There was also discussion about accessing hot springs to use as a local geothermal energy source for hot houses or other industry.
Regional ideas included a water taxi to isolated communities and a ferry service.
An argument was presented that Kitimat had hit bottom, and the planning of government services based on the city’s current situation will be inadequate for the expected growth of the city into the future.
An example cited by Avery were people on social assistance moving to Kitimat because of the low cost of housing, but unable to get access to a local social worker.
A regional issue the group would like addressed are raw log exports as well as the return of appertunancy, the system which used to tie timber to the region in which it is logged.
They also agreed future economic development should happen in co-operation with the Haisla.
In terms of the public port idea, the Sentinel asked Cullen what he and Ottawa could do to help it along.
Cullen noted the idea had been raised by both Kitimat council and the Kitimat-Stikine regional district before “in a more visionary kind of way, what would if we could.”
But in the forum it was the citizens focusing on the fact there was a lack of opportunities for people to access the salt chuck, “an inability of people from the region and outside the region to get at the water.”
The only way to change that, to make Kitimat a coastal community, was to “get access to the lands and start building the plans to build a proper port.”
He encouraged council and residents to put together “some real working proposals” and see what the provincial and federal governments needed to do, maybe Rio Tinto Alcan and the regional district as well.
Asked if the Eurocan wharf could be a starting point for the public port, Cullen replied, “It could well be.”
However, he noted the primary focus at the forum was on recreational with some industrial.
Noting there are a number of economic development groups in the community looking at a Kitimat port project, Cullen stressed, “What [they] really need to do is get some specifics and start identifying location.”
While admitting he didn’t expect salt water access to be the big issue when he walked into the forum, Cullen added, “I think it’s a great idea and long overdue.”