In Kitimat, there are a large number people who, just like me, have long harboured doubts that the announcement, made by Rio Tinto Alcan on Thursday of last week of the board decision to proceed with a new Kitimat Works smelter, might ever reach fruition.
For most of us it is indeed a great relief — despite the sobering fact that when the frenzy of construction is over and the plant is producing aluminum ingot, there will be approximately 500 fewer full-time employees.
The next three years will, I expect, will be somewhat chaotic in our community as Rio Tinto ramps us the expansion-modernization at the same time Kitimat LNG and all of the other LNG export proponents are scrabbling to advance their plans to make Kitimat and other west coast locations as leading LNG shipping centres for Asian markets.
I won’t even bother getting into the forecast level of upcoming strife that will be associated with the full court press over Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline project. It is going to make the U.S. Keystone Pipeline foofurraw look like a tailgate party.
I am disappointed to see the “usual suspects”, the Wet’su’eten First Nation, is again taking action to delay preparatory work for the Pacific Trails pipeline.
It’s inevitable that the opposition to various gas export pipelines will also ramp up in concert with any announced progress Kitimat LNG and other energy proponents demonstrate.
This has become a way of life across the BC hinterland.
I have no doubt whatsoever that the “what’s in it for me?” crowd will be front and centre – perhaps not just looking for simply a justifiable share of development revenues but something more.
They are constantly supported by environmental groups working in concert with many political opponents to existing government. I suggest that there may be a case here for the warning “beware what you wish for.”
A friendlier re-routing of the pipelines may be expensive, but much preferable to extended delays.
The history of delays is what I started thinking about when I heard of the Rio Tinto announcement.
I came to Kitimat in 1980 to assist with smelter corporate public relations and communications on the long-running Alcan Kemano Completion Project.
I learned very early to absorb the many and continuous delays, adjournments, BCUC hearings and many other progress-disappointments over the intervening years.
The bewildering multiplicity of difficulties associated with pushing a major project through to completion is something to behold and its truly a wonder that we have even reached this point.
The 32 years of one-step-forward, two-steps-back holdups that I have seen since coming here and joining the long effort to modernise frequently frustrated me as much as every other Kitimat Works and Kemano employee and retiree and other residents of our community who longed to see more certainty for the future of our shrinking town.
From a personal point of view opposition groups often seemed like mirages, forming and reforming as new entities, then disappearing into the background to allow another group to take the lead in providing /negotiating roadblocks for the same or different reasons.
The Kemano Completion project’s ultimate intent included a new, modernized (state-of-the-art) smelter to ensure core long term employment in Kitimat. That planning took various forms, some much more advantageous to Kitimat than others.
The announced new smelter configuration does not provide the best-possible results in terms of long term-employment.
I recognize, however, that billions of dollars in investment must be complemented by state-of-the-art productivity gains. Since before the arrival of the printing press, innovation and modernization, unfortunately, has always resulted in losses in direct employment but has opened up vast new expanses of opportunity.
The real success of any such undertaking depends on handling these losses sensibly, preferably by attrition and the ability to work co-operatively towards replacing these long-term wealth-producing jobs in a seamless manner with new hiring in other growing businesses and industries.
There will be major challenges ahead to extract benefits from job-creating investment opportunities and to take entrepreneurial advantage of the infrastructure, skilled contractor support and even from the innumerable niche openings that present themselves as projects build to a peak and then begin to wind down.
Kitimat will have an enviable opportunity to develop some of the long-time dream opportunities along its waterfront. Our new council will face some of these challenges immediately and hopefully will be able to get past some of the differences co-operatively and with success.
Kitamaat Village, it seems, will be in a position to both benefit and sustain regional growth while helping resolve many of the issues that have long frustrated many people with ambitions for a better lifestyle – at home.
I hope we will be able to see these two communities developing a significantly more positive relationship to their mutual advantage.