Year in Review: Part 1

A look back to 2019’s biggest stories

“It seems to be almost a law of physics, that the winds of change awaken fear and fundamentalism.” – Elizabeth Lesser, the author of Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow.

It seems to be on the lips of almost everyone in the District, the realization that 2019, as much change as it heralded, is merely the tip of the proverbial iceberg, that our lives will be inexorably changed for as long as The Project (or projects) take to be completed.

Social media is replete with complaints about longer ques, higher prices, trucks speeding through red lights, waiting to get over the Haisla Bridge and how long it now takes everyone to get from point A to B.

People are divided – those that welcome the current progress and eagerly support further development, and those that feel that the idyllic lifestyle they are accustomed to is threatened.

Poised between the two, highlighting the changes, informing communities, has been the Northern Sentinel, publishing every week, 52 issues a year, bringing to the fore our communities’ concerns, allaying fears and keeping readers informed about the changes.

As is customary every year, the Northern Sentinel brings you this year’s two-part feature – The Year in Review.

January

In keeping with the theme, the very first story on the front page written by Northern Sentinel stalwart Rod Link outlined expansion plans by the Northwest Regional Airport ahead of the anticipated increase in traffic associated with work on The Project.

Airport general manager Carmen Hendry envisioned two baggage belts instead of the current one belt that delivers baggage to passengers that have disembarked, more room for people waiting for their baggage and for people waiting for incoming passengers, larger washrooms in that section of the terminal, relocating administration offices and vehicle rental offices, and possibly a larger restaurant area.

“An expansion could add 10 per cent to the existing terminal, squaring off the building,” said Hendry in January.

“We’re looking for more room for arriving passengers. With two of the Q-400s [aircraft] in at the same time, it can be fairly tight in there now. Our goal is to create a more stress-free environment.”

The Bombardier Dash 8 Q-400 seats up to 80 passengers – with two Q-400s arriving in Terrace at the same time, fully loaded, it means 160 passengers would be in the airport at the same time.

Called Phase Two, the airport is looking for bids from architects to advance the project to the point where a finished package of exact drawings and construction plans can be put out to tender.

That doesn’t yet mean the airport will tender the project immediately but it will put it in better standing to apply for various grants from the provincial and federal governments to help pay for the project, said Hendry.

“What we want is to have something ready that can be submitted to whatever program that exists when the time comes,” he added. “For this project we’re two years away at best.”

What is clear is that with the main workforce due to start arriving next year and with the increase in traffic witnessed in 2019, the expansion will be very necessary.

Voters went to the polls in January to decide on the fate of proportional representation – the end result was that B.C. voters gave the change from first-past-the-post to PR the thumbs down.

Skeena MLA Ellis Ross said while he wasn’t surprised B.C. rejected the move, he was surprised at the results.

“I have seen smaller results in referendums and I wasn’t expecting such a big result – 61 per cent is a huge number,” said Ross immediately after BC Elections released the results.

“This is a great day for B.C. and a great day for democracy. We came close to losing our riding. Had they won, our riding would have been gobbled up and we would have lost our MLA,” said Ross.

He added that if the provincial government hadn’t been so intent on pushing proportional representation, the result might have been different.

“The NDP tried everything in their power to convince voters that proportional representation was a better system. I’m pretty proud of British Columbians for having seen through it all,” said Ross.

Of the ballots posted from Skeena voters and received on time by BC Elections, 66.83 per cent (4,863) were in favour of First Past The Post, with 33.17 per cent (2,414) in favour of proportional representation, a total of 7,277 valid votes. There were also 57 invalid votes.

Property prices came under the spotlight in January, with a story by Rod Link on the sudden rise in property prices in Kitimat following the go-ahead for LNG Canada announced in October 2018.

Single-family home assessments in Kitimat rose by double digits, reversing what had been a downward trend of several years as well as indicating rising prices based on LNG development speculation.

As of July 1, 2018, the average Kitimat home was assessed at $235,300, a 20 per cent jump from the July 1, 2017 assessment of $195,700. The increase in strata title assessments was even more pronounced — up 31 per cent from $103,800 to $136,400 as of July 1, 2018.

In comparison, single-family home assessments dropped an average 16.2 per cent as of July 1, 2017 from the year before.

Kitimat REMAX realtor Graham Pitzel noted that residential sales more than doubled the total for 2017 and 2018 ended with a surge following LNG Canada’s announcement.

“For 2018 we had a total of 230 residential sales in Kitimat for $63,754,624, and for 2017 we had 104 residential sales for $22,712,230,” he said. “From September 30, 2018 (when investors kind of started speculating on a positive final investment decision) until the end of 2018 there were a total of 76 sales for $25,103,880.”

That meant in the fourth quarter of 2018, sales amounted to three-quarters of the 2017 total, a factor accompanied by higher prices for properties that were sold.

“We are in for quite the ride here in town over the next decade or so,” he added.

The Haisla Nation made the front page of the paper in January with news that Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) is considering an Addition to Reserve proposal that will see Kitamaat double in size.

ISC spokesperson Rola Tfaili confirmed in January that the proposal is for the inclusion of two lots of property south of the village, lots 305 and 306, into Indian Reserve 2 (IR2). The lots were purchased by the Haisla from Alcan, along with four other lots around Kitimat.

The other lots include Lots 309 and 99, on which a proposed propane processing facility will be built through a partnership between the Haisla Nation and Pacific Traverse Energy.

The lots remain private property and are not included in the reserve until the federal government approves the Addition to Reserve. The proposal is currently in Phase 3 of the 2016 Additions to Reserve/Reserve Creation Policy.

“The First Nation and Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) are now working together to meet the criteria listed in the letter to complete this project,” said Tfaili.

He added that the Kitamaat Village proposal had already passed the first two of the four phases – for the federal government to be able to add land to extend the boundaries of a reserve, the land has to be transferred from provincial to federal jurisdiction.

The two lots, totalling 120.2 hectares, were sold to the HNC on April 28, 2016.

Skeena MLA Ellis Ross, who was Haisla chief councillor from 2011 until he resigned to pursue a career in provincial politics, is quite familiar with the proposal.

“I think the original thought was for residential development, but my idea was to build further up the mountain behind the village instead and leave lots 305 and 306 for commercial purposes. I don’t know if the current council has any ideas for the land other than converting it to reserve,” said Ross.

He said waterfront development would be ideal for the two lots, especially considering the inland portions of the lots are quite hilly.

“Waterfront and strategic lands development was my goal for economic reasons, which I felt was a better option than treaty negotiations that were going nowhere for 30 years.”

Tamitik Status of Women’s proposed facility in Quatsino Blvd. caused a stir, filling the normally empty public gallery in council chambers to capacity.

The sticking point – rezoning the property to allow for development.

TSW initially chose to not respond to a campaign by concerned Strawberry Meadows residents to have council deny the rezoning. Breaking the organization’s silence, however, and speaking exclusively to the Northern Sentinel, TSW’s Linda Slanina said the organization would not consider alternative locations for the new facility.

She said the site at 461 Quatsino Blvd. was the site most favoured by TSW and BC Housing, who will fund the construction of the facility with $14 million, as well as cover salaries for staff at the facility for 60 years, once it has been completed.

From the inception of the idea in December 2016 for a TSW facility that would consolidate six service locations around Kitimat into one, BC Housing was adamant they would support the installation of a facility as long as it was operationally successful and financially viable.

She said, for this reason, the other two District of Kitimat sites in the city centre were not considered suitable by BC Housing and TSW – in order for the facility to be financially viable, it was imperative that consideration first be given to land that could potentially be gifted by the District of Kitimat.

Once the other two sites were ruled out and negotiations proceeded for the gifting of 461 Quatsino Blvd. to TSW, the organization was advised by the DoK that in order to accommodate the different services, the zoning would have to be changed from its current Institutional Zone, to Mixed Use Social Housing Zone.

In November 2018 Bylaw 1934 was tabled in council, paving the way for the rezoning of 461 Quatsino and the amendment of the Official Community Plan (which guides the district’s decisions on planning and land use management).

At the December 17, 2018, council meeting, the first and second readings of the proposed bylaw were completed, at which point the opposition to the proposal began in earnest.

A petition was circulated in Strawberry Meadows calling for the scrapping of the proposed rezoning, the opponents raising a number of concerns related to the facility:

Two Vancouver-based law firms, Boughton Law Corporation and Clark Wilson LLP, were hired by opponents to the rezoning. Both firms submitted letters to the District pointing out shortcomings in the rezoning process.

A vociferous debate through social media revealed deep divisions between groups supporting either side. Council meetings were packed with opponents to the rezoning.

Slanina debunked one of the key sticking issues – the development would bring property prices down.

A report published by the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness references a study in B.C. by professional appraisers show tracked the impact of seven social housing projects across the lower mainland, Vancouver Island and the interior.

“In every case, neighbours opposed the projects because they feared property value decline,” reads the report. “The study found house prices near the projects increased as much as or more than houses in the control area, in five years of tracking prices.”

Part of the team responsible for getting the cutter head in place. (Photo Dwight Magee/Rio Tinto B.C. Works)

Finally, in January, Rio Tinto BC Works announced a major milestone towards the completion of the US-$473 million second tunnel project – T2 – at Rio Tinto’s power generation facility outside Kitimat.

The massive 150 ton cutter head of the tunnel boring machine (TBM) called tl’ughus that will complete the 7.6km second tunnel (T2) was pulled to the face of the new tunnel in the early hours of January 17.

Over the next two years or so, tl’ughus will slowly make its way east from the Horetzky Landing to Tahtsa Lake, carving with precision, a new tunnel parallel to the original nearly 65-year old tunnel. The new tunnel will operate in concert with the original tunnel, bringing water from the Nechako Reservoir to the Kemano Powerhouse.

There are currently over 250 people working on-site and already 18km of road has been built to complete the project.

The second tunnel project is expected to be completed in 2020 and will ensure Rio Tinto BC Works has a stable, long-term power supply for the Kitimat smelter, creating a back-up for the original tunnel that was built over 60 years ago.

The second tunnel will connect to the existing power station with no new generators being built and won’t draw any more water than what is currently allocated in the company’s water licence.

February

Workforce accommodation company Civeo announced it would be expanding Sitka Lodge, nearly doubling capacity in 2019, adding over 450 rooms to the current 646 rooms to provide accommodation for contractors involved in the LNG Canada project.

Civeo corporate development and investor relations manager Regan Nielsen said the additional rooms were part of an 18-month commitment to provide accommodation for the workforce contracted by LNG Canada, JGC/Fluor and Coastal GasLink.

“We will be expanding Sitka Lodge to a little over 1,100 rooms. There is room to expand and the demand is there,” said Nielsen.

He said the additional accommodation requirement came about through contracted revenue of $70 million realized over the past three months.

Nielsen declined, however, to say how the rooms would be divided up between the three clients.

LNG Canada spokesperson Susannah Pierce said contracting for rooms in Sitka Lodge was part of LNG Canada’s integrated housing strategy to reduce the impact on housing demand and affordability that an influx of workers can have on a community.

Civeo expects to spend approximately $15 million in capital to expand the Sitka Lodge to over 1,100 rooms, in addition to the previously announced capital allotment of $10 million for the four mobile camp contracts supporting the CGL pipeline project.

Pacific Traverse Energy, the company which intends building a propane processing facility along the Bish Cove road, said in February it would be rolling out a rigorous program of community engagement in 2019.

Pacific Traverse Energy (PTE) spokesperson Jon Turner said the company planned to deliver an accessible engagement program “that provides a meaningful opportunity to incorporate community input into the project” by hosting project information sessions.

“Our focus over the next year is to expand our engagement and begin our community relations program, initiate permitting and undertake the engineering studies that will allow us to make important project decisions in 2020,” said Turner.

He said through early discussions with key stakeholders the company had received feedback about a number of issues, including the importance of collaboration with the community, the sighting of the railyard, public safety with respect to the facility, rail and marine transport, and local and regional employment and training opportunities.

PTE opened a community office in the Service Centre to provide a location for the company to meet with community groups, be available to the public and provide a base for our Kitimat operations.

Should a positive final investment decision be made, the project will be completed in stages– the first a railyard which will be used to park special railcars carrying propane from northeastern B.C. and Alberta on CN tracks to the rail terminus in Kitimat for offloading.

The second stage will see the construction of a nearly 15km-long small diameter pipeline to transport the propane through the Service Centre, past Rio Tinto’s plant to the third stage, a facility where the propane will be super-cooled, pumped to a floating storage vessel and transferred to as many as three tankers a month destined for clients in Asia.

One of the sticking points identified in early negotiations with the community included the proposed site of the railyard three kilometres to the north of Kitimat near to Goose Creek, a prolific salmon spawning stream, as well as an important habitat for wildlife, including grizzly and moose.

Based on its projected export volume, propane from as many as 60 railcars a day would be emptied at the company’s planned railyard and the railyard would hold between 200 to 300 cars.

At a January 21 presentation to the District of Kitimat council Turner said bringing rail to the proposed site of the propane facility on Bish Road is not feasible and that the brownfield sites they had looked at didn’t provide the right opportunity.

PTE has completed geotechnical work on the proposed site for the railyard, on Crown land, as permitted through a two-year exploratory licence issued by the provincial government in 2018.

March

BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) said in March that despite the closure of Rio Tinto BC Works’ helipad emergency chopper flights in and out of Kitimat would still be possible.

BCEHS spokesperson Lesley Pritchard said while the helipad had indeed been shut down, BCEHS would still fly to Kitimat for serious medical emergencies.

“Obviously having a helipad in Kitimat is ideal. However, we still have the capability to land helicopters in Kitimat,” said Pritchard.

“We want to assure residents that if there is a serious emergency and a chopper is needed, we will land one in Kitimat.”

BC Works spokesperson Kevin Dobbin confirmed the helipad had been closed due to the LNGC construction of Terminal A, which is adjacent to the helipad.

He said the helipad hadn’t been used much since additional ocean-going vessels had been contracted to transport personnel from Kitimat to Kemano and back to work on the completion of the second tunnel project – T2.

BCEHS was notified in December 2017 of the closure of the helipad and had switched to Northwest Regional Airport Terrace-Kitimat for any patients requiring emergency air ambulance transports.

The issue of the helipad closure was raised at a District of Kitimat council meeting on February 11 during a presentation by Kitimat Flying Club president Bob Rypma, who came before council to ask that the District of Kitimat sign on as the main applicant for a grant to upgrade the Kitimat Air Park to accommodate larger aircraft.

Tamitik Status of Women made the headlines again in March – the District of Kitimat council had made their decision on the rezoning of 461 Quatsino Blvd.

With a majority of six votes to one council approved the amendment of the Official Community Plan and the rezoning of the land on which Tamitik Status of Women intends building a facility.

A public hearing and the council meeting were held in a packed Luso Hall, where emotions ran high at times, with angry and impassioned pleas from speakers both for and against the rezoning.

The hearing allowed council to hear new submissions, either via letter or in person, that were not heard previously, including an appeal from Haisla elder Marilyn Furlan.

“There is a need for expansion for battered women and children because of the growth. You can’t choose your neighbour. You never know if your mom, your daughter or your grandchildren will need this place, whether for shelter or support that Tamitik Status of Women offers,” said Furlan.

Kitimat developer Jack Oviatt said the project had been mishandled by the District of Kitimat.

“I’m not under oath but I can testify that I have been threatened and told not to speak to the unethical way administration has handled this project,” said Oviatt.

Being the most outspoken champion of Strawberry Meadows and the green space surrounding the meadows, administration continues to treat me like a second-rate citizen. My zoning changes required to complete my projects in the meadows are continuously delayed, in some cases for over a year.”

The next phase will involve the gifting of the land at 461 Quatsino Blvd. by the DoK to TSW, followed by the submission of a development application.

Holly Thomopoulos assists Paul Engen with a query. (Photo Gerry Leibel)

The DoK provided relief for frustrated Kitimat residents and businesses in March by extending municipal office hours.

The motion to increase hours was approved at a District of Kitimat council meeting on January 7 for implementation at the beginning of March.

Speaking in support of the motion, councillor Mario Feldhoff said it was high time that the hours were increased.

“The public expressed frustration with not being able to conduct business at city hall during their work schedules. This motion will make municipal services more accessible for people during their lunch hour and for people might only finish work at 4 p.m.”

He said the motion, which would incur a minimal cost, would mean a significant improvement for people, giving them the opportunity to be able to conduct their business before the end of the day.

Kitimat mayor Phil Germuth said extending the hours was another step forward in better serving the public.

“Council believes that this is a perfect time to extend the hours, as we are anticipating a higher volume of reception desk traffic due to increased activity in our community during the construction of the LNG Canada project.”

NDP MP Nathan Cullen announced his retirement from federal politics in March, setting off an urgent campaign to find a replacement for him ahead of the October elections.

This was the first time in 15 years that the federal New Democrats in the Skeena – Bulkley Valley riding had to set out to find a replacement.

NDP Skeena – Bulkley Valley federal riding association president Dan Mesec said at the time it would be a big decision.

Cullen was first elected in 2004, ending a federal drought for the NDP that began in 1993 after another veteran NDP MP veteran, Jim Fulton, retired.

Reform Party candidate Mike Scott won the 1993 election and was re-elected in 1997 before he decided not to run again in the 2000 election. Conservative Andy Burton won the 2000 election, only to be defeated by Cullen in 2004.

Of Cullen’s five election wins, he captured more than 50 per cent in the last two elections of 2011 and 2015, continuing a tradition of NDP federal representation in the region. Frank Howard, first with the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation before it became the New Democratic Party, won six elections beginning in 1957 and Fulton won four elections, the first of which took place in 1979.

Several names quickly surfaced as possible candidates for the NDP nomination following Cullen’s announcement. One of those names was Smithers mayor Taylor Bachrach, who at the time said he and his family were giving the possibility “some careful thought” stressing it has to be the right decision for his wife and two daughters, one 11 years old and the other 14.

Bachrach described the position of being the MP for Skeena – Bulkley Valley as “tremendously challenging for anyone who fills the seat.” Bachrach would go on to win the race to replace Cullen.

Pipeline construction company TransCanada ended up in hot water after clearing trees at the wrong time of the year.

The BC Oil and Gas Commission (BCOGC) confirmed it investigated a report that Coastal GasLink cleared trees in an ecologically sensitive area outside the permitted timeline allowed.

Commission communications manager Lannea Parfitt said Coastal GasLink (CGL) had voluntarily informed BCOGC about the tree clearing which was discovered by Coastal GasLink on February 26 during pipeline preparation work.

“(The Commission) has received and is reviewing the self-disclosure letter provided by CGL. According to the information provided, the clearing took place approximately 12 km east of Kitimat,” said Parfitt.

The permitted tree clearing happened in an ungulate (moose) winter range within a restricted activity period and was discovered by the company during a routine examination of permit conditions.

Coastal GasLink president David Pfeiffer said when the clearing was discovered, work was immediately stopped, BCOGC notified and a full review launched into how the clearing happened outside the permittable period.

“We take compliance very seriously and we are working with the Environmental Assessment Office to return to compliance. We continue to strive to not only meet but exceed regulatory requirements,” said Pfeiffer.

Contractor vehicles parked along Loganberry Street before the big snowfall. (Photo Gerry Leibel)

Closer to home, at Civeo’s Sitka Lodge, a local tow truck company was kept busy on March 11 when a number of vehicles that were parked on Loganberry Street outside the lodge were towed.

District of Kitimat spokesperson Mike Dewar said eight vehicles were towed from streets around the community and an additional six to eight were towed from Loganberry St. outside Sitka Lodge.

Dewar said the District would continue to strictly enforce its snow-clearing policy – he said as many as 30 vehicles had been towed during the 2018/19 snow season.

“Any vehicles parked on the road during snow clearing operations between November 1 and March 31 will be subject to tow without warning and at the owner’s expense.”

He said prior to and during the snow clearing season (October 1 – March 31), when it is not snowing, tow-notification tags are placed on vehicles to warn drivers that if snow clearing operations had been taking place, their vehicle would have been towed. Dewar said vehicles parked along the road impact significantly on snow clearing operations.

Civeo Camps logistics and sales vice president Kris Quinn said a number of parking permits had been issued at the start of the project with the goal of aligning with travel management plans and minimizing the impact on neighbouring communities.

Kitimat Search and Rescue (KSAR) breathed a sigh of relief at the end of March when the provincial government headed off a funding deadline, with just days to spare.

In 2016 and 2017, the BC Liberal government announced two one-time grants of $10 million and $5 million for BC Search and Rescue (BCSARA) to be shared between the 80 SAR groups. That funding was set to run out by the end of March this year.

BCSARA northwest region director Mike Stekelenburg said at the time that there was nothing in the B.C. Budget 2019 for BCSARA and SAR groups were left scrambling. The government funding is used to pay for basic costs such as equipment, insurance, vehicles and building projects.

Days before their budget ran out, the provincial government stepped in with a guarantee for $18.6-million in funding for the Association, which Stekelenburg warned would only last for three years.

Before the funding runs out again, BCSARA and Emergency Management BC (EMBC) will have to have developed an Alternate Support Model (ASM), looking into ensuring the long-term sustainability of government funding.

“BCSARA and EMBC have a mandate to get the ASM finalized as soon as possible so that we can secure long-term funding as part of the annual B.C. government budget,” said Stekelenburg.

He said once the ASM is finalized, it will provide funding for operations (insurance and vehicle maintenance), training and equipment purchases.

“That funding would be permanently embedded in the annual provincial government budget. For capital expenditure we would still be able to apply for gaming grants,” he added.

Prior to the provincial government agreeing to fund BCSARA teams across the province, the 80 teams kept search and rescue operations going through fundraising drives.

In the same edition of the Northern Sentinel we reported on news that LNG Canada would be getting a tax break from the provincial government.

BC Liberal MLAs joined forces with the governing NDP to assure that legislation that would guarantee tax breaks for the liquefied natural gas industry in B.C. became law.

The provincial government presented the legislation in the legislature, which immediately faced opposition by B.C. Green Party’s three MLAs – with 83 of the 87 of the MLAs in favour of the legislation, its passage through the legislature was ensured.

“British Columbians are counting on us to attract LNG investment to B.C. This legislation completes the process of creating a fiscal framework that invites investment while creating economic partnerships with Indigenous peoples and protecting our clean air, land and water,” said finance minister Carole James.

The tax breaks were part of a broader range of benefits for the LNG industry announced by premier John Horgan in 2018, including an exemption from provincial sales tax (PST) and being billed for electricity by BC Hydro at the same rate as other industrial users in B.C.

From January 2020, the new natural gas tax credit will be available to qualifying LNG corporations, calculated at 3 per cent of the cost of natural gas. The tax credit can be used to reduce B.C.’s corporate income tax rate from 12 per cent to 9 per cent.

In addition, the PST break will save LNG Canada nearly $600 million during construction.

Then-LNG Canada CEO Andy Calitz said at the time the measures announced by Horgan provided LNG Canada’s joint venture participants with confidence that B.C. supported the project and facilitated its competitiveness against other LNG projects under development or in operations.

“The province’s support for LNG development will result in significant financial benefits over the 40-year operating life of the project. This includes operating performance payments, corporate income tax, carbon tax, royalty payments on gas, motor fuel tax, income tax from labour, PST, municipal tax and payments to First Nations,” said Calitz, who was replaced by current LNG Canada CEO Peter Zebedee.

Calitz said the benefits of the project were already beginning to show in B.C. in the form of jobs, training and skills development, social investments and the purchase of local goods along with utilizing B.C. services and trades.

April

The month started off poorly for Kitimat on the back of the news that the town would only receive 1.6 per cent of the $100 million Northern Capital and Planning Grant for regional districts and municipalities in the north announced by premier John Horgan in February.

This is despite the demands likely to be placed on Kitimat’s infrastructure ahead of and during the construction of LNG Canada’s facility and the Coastal GasLink pipeline, as well as the Kitimat LNG facility and the Pacific Traverse Energy propane processing plant should those projects announce positive final investment decisions.

Kitimat was set to only receive $1,556,000 of the $100 million that was allocated to four regional districts (Fraser-Fort George, Bulkley-Nechako, Kitimat-Stikine and North Coast) and their 22 participating municipalities to provide funding for infrastructure and long-term planning.

Among those municipalities receiving the largest amounts were Terrace ($8,197,000), Prince Rupert ($8,121,000), Prince George ($8,135,000), Smithers ($6,218,000) and Vanderhoof ($5,731,000). Kitimat received the second-lowest allocation, only slightly more than Stewart ($1,294,000).

Local governments with populations of more than 10,000 people were to receive between $6 million and $9 million, while municipalities with populations fewer than 10,000 would receive between $1 million and $6 million.

This would mean that Kitimat could receive anywhere between $1 million and $6 million.

After it was disclosed that Kitimat would only be received 1.6 per cent of the $100 million, Kitimat’s economic development director Mike Dewar said despite having a larger tax base, Kitimat faced infrastructure challenges that needed to be addressed to accommodate expansion related to LNG Canada.

“The District of Kitimat appreciates and commends the provincial government for allocating infrastructure funding to support Northern communities that are facing increased pressures associated with LNG development,” said Dewar.

“At the same time, the District believes that some of the funding allocation amounts may not reflect community demands and needs, as in the case of the amount allocated to Kitimat.”

He added that after the allocations were finalized, the DoK spoke to Horgan and met with the provincial ministers of finance, and municipal affairs and housing, along with key staff to discuss LNG-related pressures that the community is facing.

“The messaging that was delivered to these provincial representatives was well received and will be taken into consideration for future funding opportunities,” said Dewar, adding that discussions are ongoing between the DoK and provincial government to address infrastructure challenges in Kitimat.

One of those challenges was the ageing Haisla Bridge which either needed to be replaced or repaired, which would have required the District of Kitimat secure a substantial loan. The federal government announced later in the year that it would be allocating over $250 million to replacing the bridge and to paying towards funding gas turbines for the LNG Canada facility.

Buoyed by the uptick in activity accommodation camp provider Horizon North submitted designs to the District of Kitimat council for the construction of a 119-room, five-storey modular hotel at the entrance to Kitimat – the Marriott Fairfield Inn and Suites.

Horizon North president Rod Graham said in the presentation to counil that the hotel would be located on Horizon North’s Crossroads site, which extends from the Kitimat visitors’ welcome centre to the entrance to Village Road, extending further back.

Horizon North partnered with American hospitality company Marriott International, the largest hotel chain in the world, which also franchises a broad portfolio of hotels and related lodging facilities.

The Horizon North site comprises 57 acres, three which will be used to build the 119-room hotel. The original design called for 300 rooms but Graham said they had approached the District of Kitimat and secured the go-ahead to reduce that number to 119.

“We felt 300 rooms is a little stout. The last thing we want to do is dampen the profile of existing hotel rooms in the district,” said Graham.

He added that Horizon North is also considering establishing an office and retail section, which will also be modular and will be built at their plant in Kamloops.

“I would also like to see an office building go in with a food establishment on the main floor. Our intent is to make a complete showcase out of the commercial strip along the highway. We also want to make sure that strip has great curb appeal, that it’s a showcase for the district.”

Kitimat LNG also dropped a bombshell at the beginning of April, announcing the company would be applying to the federal government’s National Energy Board to double its liquefied natural gas export licence.

The application, submitted at the beginning of April, was made nine months before the expiry of Kitimat LNG’s initial licence to export LNG that was issued in 2011.

As part of the application, Kitimat LNG joint partners Chevron and Woodside also applied to extend the initial LNG export period of 20 years contained in its initial export licence, to 40 years.

Chevron Canada communications team lead Leif Sollid said the application had come about as a result of a radical redesign of the proposed natural gas processing facility in Kitimat commissioned in 2015 with the focus on improving Kitimat LNG’s cost-of-supply competitiveness relative to other global LNG projects.

“As a result, Chevron and Woodside have revised the Kitimat LNG plant design to one that may include up to three LNG trains and deliver up to 18 MTPA of LNG. The new licence application reflects this new project design,” said Sollid.

The project’s existing export licence was set to expire on December 31, necessitating Chevron and Woodside apply for a new export licence.

“Since 2015, Chevron and Woodside have made significant progress in enhancing KLNG competitiveness, reducing LNG unit costs by over 45 per cent and incorporating a new all-electric LNG plant design,” said Sollid.

The Kitimat LNG project will see natural gas piped to Kitimat along the Pacific Trail Pipeline from sources in the Liard and Horn River basins in northeastern B.C.

In Kitimat, the natural gas will be processed and shipped from the facility at Bish Cove, located outside Kitimat down the Douglas Channel.

BC Hydro followed suit with an announcement that it wouldn’t have enough electricity supply in the region to power a redesigned Kitimat LNG facility should joint venture partners Chevron and Woodside decide to go ahead with the project.

BC Hydro senior media relations advisor Kevin Aquino said Kitimat LNG would “require additional capacity beyond that which is currently available in the region” should it begin operating.

Aquino stopped short of indicating whether the amount of power needed by Kitimat LNG would come from Site C, currently under construction in northeastern B.C.

“It’s important to note that our electricity system is integrated and does not pinpoint a single generation resource, such as a dam, to a single customer, like an LNG project.”

The electricity required to power the operations of Kitimat LNG would be supplied through our own integrated system,” said Aquino, adding that he couldn’t provide details about how much power Kitimat LNG would need.

“Customer load information is confidential and commercially sensitive,” said Aquino.

May

May saw the arrival of a very strange sight – pink flamingos dotting the front lawns of Kitimat homes and businesses.

The flamingoes – plastic ones – turned up mysteriously in the mornings as part of a ‘flocking campaign’ to raise funds for the CoreySafe motorcycle safety program and to create awareness around the importance of motorcycle safety.

The idea was that to get the 50 colourful plastic birds removed, somebody had to step forward, donate some money and nominate another Kitimatian to be flocked. Co-fundraiser Delphine Wakita said all the banks in Kitimat had signed up to support the initiative, as have many of the councillors. Even LNG Canada also allowed the lawn in front of the welcome centre to be flocked.

Birds of another feather turned up at the LNG Canada plant site, necessitating the use of bird bangers to prevent them nesting.

Of course, everything doesn’t always go to plan – the automated cannons ended up losing time and going off at night, jolting a few residents out of their beds.

“A technical issue caused some air cannons to go off at night, outside of the programmed time,” said LNG Canada spokesperson Susannah Pierce.

“Deterring nesting in the project zone decreases the potential for birds abandoning nests with eggs or chicks before they’ve fledged.”

Kitimat Valley Naturalists’ president Dennis Horwood said bird bangers are a common feature at a number of locations, including vineyards, toxic tailing ponds, airports, or any other facility that requires a clear airspace or where it is necessary to deter birds from landing.

“In the case of LNG Canada, I think it would be prudent to look at the issue from their perspective, whether we like what they are doing or not,” said Horwood. “If a robin, nighthawk, or junco builds a nest on an active industrial site, then LNG Canada is bound by law to respect the nest area and leave it undisturbed until the young fledge.”

“The bottom line for me – I completely understand the need (public safety or bird safety) to keep birds away from toxic waste ponds, airport runways, helicopter landing pads, and so on. Given a choice of a shotgun or a bird banger, I would choose the bird banger,” said Horwood.

Haisla Taxi had a bumpy year, culminating recently in the sale of the company and the birth of Kitimat Taxis.

In May then-owner Jim Gristwood made a desperate plea for drivers to join the company to avoid having to shut his doors.

“Right now I’m working 17 hours a day, seven days a week, and I’m pushing 82. I’m up at 4 a.m. and I work till as late as 10 p.m., sometimes midnight,” said Gristwood at the time. “It’s crazy – the only reason I’m pushing this so hard is this town has been good to me.”

He said the company wasn’t losing money – in fact it was clearing over $70,000 a month.

“The drivers are still going over to the LNG projects – they are paying a lot more money than I can,” said Gristwood.

Haisla Taxi shut down in 2005. In June 2016 Gristwood was approached by then Haisla councillor Ellis Ross, the District of Kitimat and Kitimat RCMP, asking him to reopen Haisla Taxi to cope with the anticipated influx of people into Kitimat associated with the LNG Canada project.

“I should never have gotten back into it. I don’t have to work, but it’s the public that I’m feeling sorry for,” said Gristwood, who served as the company’s dispatcher.

Gristwood would later shutter Haisla Taxi, only to once again resuscitate the company when Terrace-based Kalum Kabs started operating in Kitimat.

A school shooting threat in May saw the Kitimat RCMP stationed outside Mount Elizabeth Middle Secondary School onMay 13 following a message posted on Facebook regarding a potential shooting at the school.

Then-Coast Mountains School District superintendent Katherine McIntosh released a statement on Sunday, May 12, about a shooting threat at MEMSS as well as Skeena Middle School in Terrace.

McIntosh said the message, written by a former MEMSS student, was first posted to the Terrace Buy & Sell page on Facebook at 3 p.m. on Sunday.

“School district officials were immediately informed of this new message, who in turn contacted the RCMP and Safer Schools Together to investigate.”

Sunday’s threat followed two related incidents at Terrace’s Skeena Middle School on May 7 and May 10.

(Photo submitted)

Coastal GasLink, working their way ever closer to Kitimat pushing the Right of Way through for the LNG Canada pipeline, came under the spotlight following the outbreak of a fire during what was a very dry season.

The BC Wildfire Service said human error was most likely responsible for a 2.7-hectare wildfire which started 13 kilometres northeast of Kitimat along the Hirsch Forrest Service Road (FSR).

BC Wildfire Service’s Northwest Fire Centre fire information officer Carolyn Bartos described the fire as having started “on an industrial right-of-way, adjacent to the North Hirsch FSR near a heavily forested area.”

Bartos said the first call came in at 1.48 p.m. on Sunday and was made by a Kitimat resident who spotted the plume of smoke rising over the valley at the base of Mount Elizabeth.

An Initial Attack (IA) crew of three BCWFS firefighters was immediately dispatched from Terrace – this is a small unit of firefighters that moves quickly using a truck that carries pumps, hoses and water.

The IA crew arrived on site and determined that more resources would be needed, after which the 20-member Firebirds crew from Terrace was dispatched to assist in fighting the fire.

She said a water bomber and a helicopter were deployed but weren’t necessary as the Firebirds, the IA crew and a “handful of industry personnel with heavy machinery” were able to bring the fire under control.

She said natural resource officers from the B.C. Compliance and Enforcement Branch would be conducting an origin of cause investigation to determine how the fire started, a report for which the Northern Sentinel never received despite further requests.

Rio Tinto BC Works received some good news in May – the scrapping of the aluminium tariffs imposed by Donald Trump’s government which had the potential to jeopardize jobs, especially in Kitimat – BC Works supplies the U.S. with a lot of aluminium.

Soon after the announcement Unifor Local 2301 president Martin McIlwrath said the tariffs were imposed during North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) talks “in what seemed to be a means to renegotiate the NAFTA agreement.”

“Commitments were made that once the new trade agreement was reached between our countries the tariffs would be removed,” said McIlwrath.

“After there was a tentative agreement on the new NAFTA, and as soon as those commitments appeared to be nothing more than words, our union sprang into action.”

He said what followed was a concerted effort by Local 2301, the national union, the B.C. and federal government and the aluminium industry to negotiate an end to the tariffs.

Unifor facilitated a meeting with premier John Horgan and the B.C. government and the federal government in Ottawa.

“Not long after Ottawa, we flew to Washington D.C., where we partnered with key leaders in the aluminum industry, including Rio Tinto. In a coordinated effort, we met with everyone with influence that would listen to us to explain how important the aluminum industry is to both our countries.

“Our message was clear – we don’t want tariffs and we don’t want quotas.”

Another good news story we featured in May was Civeo’s Sitka Lodge and the Kitimat Humane Society brilliant idea – combine walks for the camp residents with a much-needed outing for the pooches.

The Northern Sentinel tagged along for one of the walks, which take an hour and give both human and pooch good exercise.

Humane Society manager Maryanne Ouellet, and staffer David Abercrombie, arrived at the entrance to the camp in two vehicles, carrying 13 eager dogs, from very small to very big.

They were met by volunteer dog walkers, all residents of Sitka Lodge, eagerly awaiting the arrival of their charges. It took a while to arrange, but eventually, walkers were matched with a pooch.

The walk went from the camp entrance down the road into Strawberry Meadows, which provided plenty of opportunities to investigate. Each walker was provided with a bag of doggie biscuits, as well as a biodegradable poop bag, which came in very handy.

The walks are organized by Civeo recreation coordinator and community outreach manager, Ashley Hinton, who said the walks are very popular.

June

June was a little quieter, news-wise, but still significant for Kitimat, especially for the Kitimat Community Development Centre, which signed a lease for part of the Roy Wilcox school building to create more daycare spaces.

KCDC director Marianne Hemmy said the centre had signed a lease for the space on the ground floor adjacent to the space used by Kitimat Dynamics Gymnastics Club.

“In addition to the existing Stepping Stones spaces the Kitimat Community Development Centre will be creating 16 additional spaces for children from birth to three years old,” said Hemmy.

She said minor renovations would be carried out at the school to meet provincial daycare licence requirements, including a minimum number of toilets for the number of children.

The project, now complete, allows access through Roy Wilcox’s main entrance and has a very similar design to Stepping Stones that was located in the former Kitimat City High building.

“In addition the KCDC is also looking to relocate Stepping Stones currently located at Cormorant School to the new location at Roy Wilcox school,” said Hemmy.

“We will create the additional 20 spots based on securing additional funding which is currently being investigated,” added Hemmy.

The leasing of Roy Wilcox was made possible through a grant submitted under the B.C. government’s Ministry of Child and Family Development’s Childcare Major Capital Funding, submitted by former executive director Margaret Warcup. Hemmy said the increase in daycare positions comes ahead of an anticipated increase in the demand for daycare services as industrial development activity increased in the region.

Not to be outdone, however, June kept the biggest news since the announcement of LNG Canada’s decision to go ahead with the plant.

District of Kitimat staff, Minister Bill Morneau and Haisla Nation Council and LNG Canada representatives celebrate the announcement. (Photo Gerry Leibel)

Federal finance minister Bill Morneau travelled to Kitimat to announce that Ottawa would invest $275-million for two big-ticket items, one vital for making Kitimat’s liquefied natural gas competitive on the world market, the other to facilitate infrastructure development in the region.

Speaking to a small group of dignitaries and local workers at the Rod and Gun Club, Morneau said the federal government subsidies “would help support the overall advancement of the LNG Canada facility.”

The $275 million will go towards two projects, the first being $220 million provided through the federal Strategic Innovation Fund (SIF) to help fund high energy-efficient gas turbines to minimize greenhouse gas emissions and fuel use at the facility, which LNG Canada has long touted as being the world’s greenest LNG facility once it is complete and in production.

The SIF is designed to attract and support high-quality business investments in Canada’s most dynamic and innovative sectors.

The second project will see the construction of a new bridge over the Kitimat River to replace the ageing Haisla Bridge – the new bridge will be crucial for handling the increased traffic that will accompany the construction of the facility.

The $55 million for the construction of the new bridge is being made through Western Economic Diversification Canada, a federal government department that funds community economic development projects throughout Canada.

“The Haisla Bridge is a vital infrastructure linking the community of Kitimat to the sites and ports that will export LNG and aluminum to Asia,” said Morneau.

The District of Kitimat has wrestled with the question of what to do with the ageing bridge which is approaching the end of its life and requires considerable ongoing maintenance. Proposals discussed either refurbishing the bridge, or replacing it through a three-way funding split between the DoK, and the provincial and federal governments.

The DoK faced having to borrow $20 million to either overhaul the bridge or as a contribution to replacing the bridge.

Haisla Nation Council chief councillor Crystal Smith said the current bridge was built to support a growing aluminium industry.

“This investment signifies support for a new era, a new time in Haisla history where we’re meaningfully a part of this industry and other industries that we support in our territory,” said Smith. “This provides an opportunity for another level of participation for not only the Haisla but also for other neighbouring nations.”

Kitimat mayor Phil Germuth said the current Haisla Bridge has been identified as a transportation bottleneck for existing and future industry.

“Replacing this piece of infrastructure is vital for Kitimat to continue to serve as a key port location that connects our national economy to international markets. The municipality doesn’t have the financial capacity to tackle this project ourselves,” said Germuth.

He said the district was encouraged by the federal government’s support for the community and Northern B.C.

In his address, Skeena MLA Ellis Ross said the investment in Kitimat was vital when considering that the region will drive the economy of Canada in a significant way over the next 10 years.

“We need to keep supporting LNG and economic development in Kitimat. Chevron KMLNG is right behind. LNG Canada opened the door to LNG in Kitimat,” said Ross. “Pacific Traverse Energy wants to ship propane out of Kitimat. Cedar LNG is right after that. We’re going to have a huge economic impact on Canada, B.C. and the rest of the region.”

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