Port Edward’s all candidates debate narrowed in on Ridley Island — the increased train traffic, the whistling, safety concerns, coal dust, emergency response training, and renegotiating the tax sharing agreement with Prince Rupert for more money.
In a way, all eight candidates agreed to defend the Ridley Island Tax Sharing Agreement — a deal made with Prince Rupert and the province in 1980 — to the bitter end.
“We’re not going to renegotiate, not under my watch,” said incumbent councillor James Brown. “We should enter a Watson Island Sharing agreement, which we are the major impact community to all this that comes along the rail to Prince Rupert to Watson Island, it’s important that we get a share of that too.”
On Tuesday, Oct. 9, five councillor candidates (for four positions), incumbents Brown, Grant Moore, Christine MacKenzie and Dan Franzen, as well as Murray Kristoff, were in favour of keeping the 20 per cent, approximately $1-million, from the Ridley Island Tax Share Agreement. The three candidates for mayor, incumbent Dave MacDonald, Knut Bjorndal and Doug Larsen also shared their thoughts on other Ridley-related issues.
“The coal terminal has been dumping dust on Port Edward for the last six to eight years,” Bjorndal said. The former councillor added that it’s a health hazard, and something has to be done about it. Larsen also said coal dust is an issue.
Franzen added later that if there’s a problem, then council is on the phone with ‘them’ right away.
“That’s probably the worst issue. [The coal dust] comes into your house on our carpets and all that,” he said, adding that he has to hose the coal out of his boat before he goes fishing.
But while the long-term effects of coal dust was discussed by candidates, the need for an emergency response crew was a more acute issue.
Train traffic is only increasing with the development of the AltaGas propane terminal on Ridley Island, another propane terminal on its way on Watson Island, a proposed project by Vopak to transport methanol and diesel to the coast, as well as the burgeoning business at the port. Candidates were in favour of all the new business, but concerns of derailments, and what to do in the event of emergency, peppered their speeches.
Kristoff said there’s a good chance there could be a derailment down by the harbour authority, and the people there need to be trained. He suggested having proponents, such as AltaGas or Pembina, pay for emergency training.
“Make them pay for whatever training our guys need,” he said. “Pay for a full time fire chief, it should come out of their pockets, not ours.”
Incumbent mayor MacDonald confirmed that CN Rail has agreed to speak at a public meeting after the election on Oct. 20. Then residents can inquire about their safety concerns.
Candidates didn’t offer much on the subject of affordable housing. Some addressed the complication of the matter and that they at least convinced the provincial government to build eight affordable housing units for seniors.
While the trailer court is up for sale again, councillor candidates agreed they don’t have control over the property itself, but they do have control over how it’s zoned — and right now it remains zoned to be a trailer park.
“It’s a long process involved in changing the zoning for the trailer court. A trailer court is what I want. We do have control over what gets built on it,” Brown said.
Mayoral candidate, Larsen, agreed, however MacDonald and Bjorndal both said they’re willing to work with any agency to get any type of housing for Port Edward.
“I don’t think the current council they’ve got the stomach to rezone it. As Dave said, I would look at anything if someone was willing to build there,” Bjorndal said.
Population, schools and business
Another issue made clear was the need to draw more people to Port Edward. There is fear among candidates that if they don’t bring more families into the community the school will be shut down. There’s only approximately a dozen students at the school this year.
Kristoff said keeping the school open is a top priority for him.
“The school probably has an all time low enrolment. We have to encourage people to come here. Our infrastructure has to be visually appealing for people to come move here,” he said. Another priority for him is to have the sidewalks and roads fixed.
The district is still licking its wounds from losing a massive LNG (liquefied natural gas) project in their backyard. Attracting more moderate business, any business, is the new focus.
MacKenzie likes Port Edward the way it is, but that doesn’t mean she’s closed to any kind of industry, or a hotel or a Tim Hortons. Moore said he’d like to see the district open up for advertising for potential business.
The all-candidates forum was held at the Port Edward community centre, and was moderated by Michael Gurney with Toastmasters Prince Rupert, and the Prince Rupert and District Chamber of Commerce.
A couple dozen residents turned up to watch their candidates in the hot seat, and even a couple Prince Rupert candidates turned up to check out the debate.