Prince Rupert city council unanimously approved a motion to expropriate a fee simple interest in land on Watson Island.
Expropriation means the forced purchase of land by a public authority from a private owner.
The land, identified as Lot 4, is comprised of two portions totalling approximately 13 acres and currently belongs to Sun Wave Forest Products.
A report prepared by Robert Long, city manager, refers to Watson Island as the “holy trinity of trade,” with rail, road and waterfront access. Acquiring the lot from Sun Wave will allow the city to have complete ownership of Watson Island.
Acting City Manager, Corrine Bomben, read a prepared statement outlining how the expropriation of the land, in conjunction with the city’s vision for putting Watson Island back to use as an industrial site would help to replace lost tax revenues, which the city has operated without since the closure of the mill. The city would look to lease lots on the island, instead of selling the property.
The option to lease the lot from Sun Wave, as an alternative to expropriation of a fee simple interest, was not considered given the city’s history with the company. In 2013, a protracted legal battle ended when the city and Sun Wave reached an out of court settlement, which gave the city clear title to approximately 230 acres of the island.
The city served Sun Wave with a notice of expropriation in April 2017 and in May the company served the city with a Notice of Request for Inquiry, alleging that the city’s proposed expropriation was not necessary for the city to achieve its goals. Per the legislation, an inquiry officer was appointed by the attorney general and minister of justice.
A public hearing was held in Vancouver on June 13, 28 and 29 where representatives of Sun Wave and the city presented their cases. The inquiry officer recommended the expropriation be approved saying, “I am unable to find that these [the city’s] objectives can be better achieved through an alternative site or by varying the amount of land to be taken.”
Council approved a motion to accept the recommendation of the inquiry officer unanimously.
Council also approved a motion to exclude a statutory right of way owned by Pacific Northern Gas.
“Having gas on the island is preferable, so the expropriation notice should be amended to exclude the PNG right of way,” Bomben said.
The council asked no questions in approving the motions. The land will be purchased at the fair market value assessed by an appraiser.
The costs and how the city will purchase the land will be presented to council at an open session in the future.
The island was used a pulp mill from 1955 until 2001 and served as the largest employer in Prince Rupert. After the mill closed, jobs were lost, people left and the city lost a significant amount of tax revenue.
Sun Wave Forest Products purchased the island and pulp mill assets with a promise to restart and operate the pulp mill again but those plans never came to fruition.
Sun Wave failed to pay its taxes on the land and because there were no purchasers during a tax sale, the city became the involuntary owner of all the parcels on Watson Island, except Lot 4, the land to be expropriated.
Niesh wants city to look into clearing derelict cars.
Councillor Wade Niesh asked city staff to look into measures to begin clearing abandoned vehicles from the city.
“What I would like from the city staff is to look into what the cost would be to bring a crusher in,” he said, adding that he’d like to see the city work with towing companies to dispose of vehicles.
Corrine Bomben, acting city manager said a report is forthcoming.