The curtain was finally pulled back last Monday night to show a glimpse of what exactly Prince Rupert city council thinks, both as a whole, and individually, about the Pacific NorthWest LNG project.
With mayor and council largely mum up to this point about one of the biggest financial projects ever to hit the North Coast, the doors were blown open through a motion brought forward by Coun. Joy Thorkelson that stated the council of the City of Prince Rupert not support the Pacific NorthWest LNG (PNW LNG) project until six points were met.
The points are outlined as follows:
- The project is relocated to another area not in the estuary of the Skeena River. One industry should not put another at risk in our city, and it should remain with a diversified economy.
- The project must consult with the area’s local governments and our residents as well as with First Nations.
- The City’s water supply is monitored and a specific set of responses, agreed to by the City, are in place to rectify any increase in acidification or eutrophication.
- Negative economic or social consequences will be identified by the City and PNW LNG prior to the project going ahead and solutions agreeable to the City are identified.
- Adequate contributions, agreed to by the city, for rebuilding and maintaining Prince Rupert’s infrastructure are identified and scheduled.
- Alternate forms of clean energy are identified and their development are committed to by PNW LNG.
The motion was largely met with general agreement that all points are important to city council, but that the scope of the City of Prince Rupert’s power in relation to the project is not as grandiose as outlined and enforcement of every point is not something that the city has the authority to establish, especially No. 1.
Not only were the points not enforceable by the city, but the timing of the motion was questioned by other members of council, considering that the city is still at the negotiating table with PNW LNG, and a blanket motion to not support the project at this stage would jeopardize the negotiating position of the city, and even end all talks with the company.
“My intention is not to be dismissive of the motion … but it damages our negotiating position with PNW LNG,” said Coun. Blair Mirau. “We don’t have a deal in place.”
“I would feel this is the basis for an agreement with the proponent … I’m just saying LNG should not be impacting another major industry that could be here for time immemorial if we treat our habitat correctly and that we can have these two industries live side by side if the LNG industry is built in such a way that it does not impact our salmon habitat,” replied Thorkelson.
“I believe that this is a meaningful position to take for the City of Prince Rupert,” she added, after an impassioned argument to relocate the position of the terminal off of Lelu Island.
“We need to have an opinion on this, council. What I’m suggesting is we not support this project until this project is relocated and the other [points] two to six are met. I don’t think [PNW LNG] cares whether we support this project or not, but I think we need to say that we care about the environment and the commercial fishery, we care about the people who built this town and the people who can maintain this town if they shut LNG down,” Thorkelson said, adding that she was disturbed to see nothing from the Environmental Assessment Decision Statement about impacts to Prince Rupert’s aging infrastructure, how to measure success in fish and fish habitat mitigation, concerns about more modelling work that still needs to be done, impacts on the socioeconomic climate of Prince Rupert, chum salmon harvest rates, the company not using the highest quality scrubbers required for its carbon stacks, or using alternative energy to create electricity for the terminal as more options are developed in the region.
A crowd of approximately 60 community members, largely made up of commercial fishery workers showed up to the council meeting, and cheered and jeered at various comments made by council. A couple anti-LNG signs were held aloft during the proceedings as well.
Mirau said that the role of members of city council is to look after the corporation that they are governors of, and without a deal in place with the proponent, the city can’t take a stance on the project to present to the community while still at the bargaining table, agreeing that the water supply and socioeconomic and infrastructure needs need to be looked after.
Mayor Lee Brain provided some context to the discussion and background as to where the city finds itself in relation to the project and the company. Since the company doesn’t have to come up with an Impacts Benefits Agreement with the City of Prince Rupert, already having signed a tax agreement with the District of Port Edward (the jurisdiction the project finds itself in on Lelu Island) and it could still go ahead, Mayor Brain and senior staff members have been advocating for points two to six already, and have been strongly encouraging them to re-evaluate the location of the terminal, the mayor said.
“We haven’t signed anything with this company because at this moment in time we’re not confident that this company is going to be able to mitigate the impacts,” said Mayor Brain.
“So us not signing anything has already shown that we’re not either for or against this project as of yet because I’m not going to be a mayor and sign off on anything that’s going to be detrimental to the community.”
Coun. Barry Cunningham said he was irked at seeing the company talking to the city’s neighbours and not themselves.
“If we put ourselves in a corner and alienate ourselves, we’re going to have no bargaining power and I have said from day one that the socioeconomic impact on this town is going to be front and centre that they have, as far as I’m concerned, not negotiated with us. They’ve negotiated with every neighbour around us and just totally ignored us and that bothered me to a large degree,” said Cunningham.
“Especially when we represent more First Nations people than the villages around here.”
Council largely grappled with the sobering fact that their main course of action now is to advocate for the city’s needs to PNW LNG and the various ministries imposing conditions on the company to try to get what they need, rather than hold up the project with negotiations, because the company could very well walk away due to the geography of the project not being located in the city’s jurisdiction.
“Both levels of government much higher than us (provincial and federal) have come in and said that they’re going to approve this project under a certain amount of conditions. Unfortunately we can’t necessarily control what those conditions are,” said Mayor Brain.
“It’s been two years and we’re still not there yet and I can tell you we’ve been tough on this company. There has been a lot of pressure from all levels telling us ‘You need to get on it’ and we said ‘No, you know what, items two to six are exactly what we’re concerned about and they have to be mitigated.’”
Coun. Nelson Kinney added that he’s sick of seeing young people leave town for work and that industry must be present in Prince Rupert, while the fishing work is declining through policy intervention or low stocks.
“I’m tired of saying no,” said Kinney.
Coun. Gurvinder Randhawa and Coun. Wade Niesh also said they could not support the motion as it potentially jeopardizes the city’s negotiating stake – something Thorkelson wasn’t the intent of her motion, but rather to strengthen their position through formalizing the points in a resolution. Niesh added the city must also consider the voices of those who support the project and listen to their concerns.
Council agreed they could formalize the points made in some sort of motion and resolved unanimously to table the motion so it can be re-worded by a sub-committee and staff and presented at a later council meeting.