B.C. Premier Christy Clark provided the first hint that something was secretly going on behind closed doors at the City of Prince Rupert.
Those paying close attention to Clark’s address to delegates at the Union of BC Municipalities conference in September may have picked up a hint of it with her glowing message of admiration of Prince Rupert’s mayor and council.
“Lee Brain has incredible vision. Charles Hays, who died aboard the Titanic in 1912, had a vision too and that was to see Prince Rupert become a port city for the world. Lee has taken that vision up … to ensure his community can achieve success,” Premier Christy Clark said in her UBCM speech to delegates.
However, the exact reason for the tribute was still thinly-veiled to what exactly Brain and city council have in mind for the North Coast city.
What they have planned for Prince Rupert, and what they pitched to Premier Clark, is the kind of think-big ideas reminscient of Charles Melville Hays in the late-1800s and early-1900s.
A Prince Rupert Northern View investigation led to an exclusive interview with Brain prior to the expected public announcement of Hays 2.0 on Thursday, Nov. 26.
In what Mayor Brain is dubbing ‘Hays 2.0’, the City of Prince Rupert has been pitching a multi-faceted vision for the city that goes beyond even the recently-branded big-ticket ideas such as ‘Re:Build Rupert’ and ‘Re:Design Rupert’, though it involves those too.
In fact, this vision reaches beyond restoring the much-maligned waterfront access, a newer and more urban Third Avenue and downtown redesign, and it even reaches beyond the borders of Canada.
Hays 2.0 is a 25-50 year vision that starts right now.
At the crux of the multi-pronged vision for Prince Rupert is the opening up of the Northwest Passage and the Northern Sea Route, due to receding glaciers and melting ice in the northern areas of the world. While not an entirely new concept, the City of Prince Rupert has compiled a number of projects together to position the idea, and the city’s strategic location in North America, as a central hub to global trade and the new routes that would create.
Alaska plays a pivotal role in the plan, as does Re:Build Rupert (the City’s branded action plan to tackle its $288 million infrastructure deficit), Re:Design Rupert (the City’s branded action plan to engage the public as to what they’d want the city to look like in all areas of town with a potential industry boom in the area), 2030 Sustainable City (a yet-flushed out plan to balance burgeoning industry with environmentally sound practices and sustainable growth) and First Nations Partnerships.
“Our question is that if 30 years from now both passages are more accessible and safe to use, would Prince Rupert be the ideal location to connect both these trading routes, since we are in the middle of both of them and are connected into the heartland of North America via rail and road?” Brain said.
Many of the facets to the plan are exploratory ideas and simply connecting dots with Prince Rupert stakeholders to help switch the light bulb on in their heads, as opposed to solid, tangible plans just yet.
Hays 2.0 is of course a reference to Charles Hays, the former president of the Grand Trunk Railway and founder of Prince Rupert, who had a grand vision of making the city a part of a global trading network and a pivotal gateway to Canada.
Hays died on the sinking of the Titanic in April 1912, and with it, his vision for the city. Since then, Prince Rupert has experienced the rollercoaster of a resource-based economy, but Hays 2.0 is designed to tell the world that, in terms of investment, Prince Rupert is open for business.
“Regardless of whether or not people buy into Hays [the man and vision] or not Hays, this is just about the upgrading of the original vision of Rupert as a community,” said Mayor Brain.
“This time it’s going to be more about inclusivity, economic diversity, sustainability and quality of life. So 2.0 is the modern spin of the upgraded version.”
Prince Rupert’s port is well-known as North America’s deepest, natural ice-free harbour and the continent’s closest port to Asia by as many as three sailing days. Not only is the port closer to Asia than Vancouver or Los Angeles, but its connection to ship as well as rail and truck makes it an ideal strategic location for companies to ship reliably, efficiently and quickly.
With a ‘Northern Sea Route’ (a passage north of Russia from Yokohama, Japan to Rotterdam in the Netherlands) and a ‘Northwest Passage’ (a passage from Rotterdam to North America’s west coast), Prince Rupert is geographically located smack dab in the middle of the two as a hub. The potential routes make a Prince Rupert hub nine days closer to Europe.
“This is a huge, key piece with why Rupert is strategically located to be the Northern Passage hub. People say, ‘well, what about Alaska?’ They don’t have that rail connectivity like we do – that quick link-in. Over the next 20 years, we’re going to see a shift in how the global trading system works.
“So, right now, you go all the way across the Atlantic, underneath and above, and around up to San Francisco [with the Northwest Passage alleviating that travel]. [On the second route] as ice recedes, you’re going to be able to go up through the Northern Sea Route, above Russia and then to Europe. Currently you’ve got to go all the way down and under the Panama Canal,” Brain explained.
As ice-breaking ships become more common and cheaper to utilize, and the arctic glaciers begin to recede due to climate change, Prince Rupert becomes a major hub for trade activity.
“One of the reasons that DP World has purchased the container facility is because they realize that we’re going to have to be the next Northern Passage gateway. So this is going to be a major game-changer globally. Prince Rupert is strategically positioned to be the next Panama Canal essentially, because you’ll be able to go atop the globe through the arctic … It would make us nine days closer to Europe and that would open up a whole new opportunity of market that we haven’t possibly imagined for Prince Rupert,” Mayor Brain continued.
“[Efficient ice-breaking technology] is a couple decades away still, so this is looking way down the future, but what we’re trying to say to the world is ‘Look, because of these things, this is a place to come and invest in’ – because it’s gearing up for the later part of the 21st century – opportunities that people haven’t been able to see before.”
While a record 30 ships made the trek across the Northwest Passage (NWP) in 2012 and 17 managed the feat in 2014 due to a short and cold summer, the science may still be out on the viability of the Northwest Passage.
“The Global Climate Model’s predicting an ice-free Arctic by the middle of this century may lead many into a false sense of optimism regarding the ease of future shipping in the Canadian Arctic. Sea ice conditions are highly variable and there will still be summers of occasionally heavy ice conditions … Future navigation in the NWP may see a blockage of the western NWP routes by the southern shift in pack ice and an increase in drifting [old ice] creating choke points in narrow channels and significant navigation hazards. It is important to remember that with our present imperfect ability to predict future impacts on Arctic sea ice, there are a number of plausible climate change scenarios,” reads “Shipping in the Canadian Arctic: Other Possible Climate Change Scenarios” by researchers with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Meteorological Service of Canada and the Institute of Ocean Sciences.
ALASKAN CONNECTION – TSIMSHIAN ACCESS
If Hays 2.0 is to be fully realized, an extremely close relationship will have to be cultivated and sustained with the state of Alaska.
With a proposed Alaskan Trade Gateway linking a ferry and trade system with the American state and the Prince Rupert area, the City is pitching to the American and state governments that Prince Rupert is the ideal location to conduct international trade.
“One of the things we’d love to be able to do is relocate the Alaskan Marine Highway system to Port Simpson, to be able to enable a much quicker link to the Alaskan peninsula. It’s a very costly situation right now for them to do that, plus we have federal trade barriers that don’t allow us to do business more efficiently with Alaskans,” Mayor Brain said.
Currently Alaskan exports involve barging products all the way to Seattle, and sometimes back to Canada.
“What’s the potential for the Alaskan economy, for example, to come and use Prince Rupert’s container facility and rail access to get their products out to market?
Is there an opportunity for the Canadian and American governments to come and say, ‘Look, Prince Rupert could potentially be a zone for trade between America [and us]?’ What if they just go down to Rupert and go to rail and go out to market here. That would be quicker and easier for them, so we could potentially open up a whole gateway for the Alaskans that we never thought possible,” Mayor Brain continued.
But that plan would be moot without the completion of the Tsimshian Access Project – a $250 – $300 million proposal that links Lax Kw’alaams, Metlakatla, the Prince Rupert airport and the city of Prince Rupert together through a road and ferry system.
Phase One of the project is already underway with the road to Lax Kw’alaams (Tuck Inlet) being paved through an agreement between Lax Kw’alaams and the provincial government.
Should Exxonmobil’s WCC LNG project come to fruition on Lot 444 on Tuck Inlet, Phase Two would involve a new road over the Tsimshian peninsula and a bridge connecting the airport and Digby Island to the peninsula. In all, the access road and ferry system would connect both Metlakatla and Lax Kw’alaams, Prince Rupert and the airport, while passing by three potential LNG facilities as well – Exxonmobil’s site, Woodside Energy’s project at Grassy Point and Nexen’s Aurora LNG proposal at Digby Island.
“[The Tsimshian Access Project] would make it more economically feasible for an LNG company to invest here as well, plus fix our airport situation. That way, we can increase flights because you can come and go and drive on the ferry yourself [with one departing every 11 minutes] and you can get out there yourself without worrying about what a bus is doing or anything like that. We would fix the whole link issue,” Brain said.
LAND OWNERSHIP, OPERATIONS
The Prince Rupert Port Authority has a federal mandate to enable trade to occur through its gateway in Prince Rupert. And while some land is owned by the Port, other pieces are owned by the province, city or other industrial owners.
In terms of an Alaskan trading gateway, with a potential ferry dock located at Port Simpson to enable the Alaskan Marine Highway relocation, these are conversations that the City of Prince Rupert have been conducting and aren’t necessarily visions that the Prince Rupert Port Authority share at this time.
“This is the City’s view as a port community. As a City, we have these relationships with Alaska and other parts of the world and that we want to showcase the fact that, as a city, this is how we’re positioned … We’re not saying it’s going to happen, we’re just saying if that Tsimshian access can happen, and we can have these discussions between our two federal governments, what is the potential of Alaska and Rupert becoming more of a trade network rather than just a tourism hub?” Brain said.
Who owns what, where and who operates what is still up in the air. The City has engaged with Partnerships BC, a provincially-owned company which brings together private sector corporations, ministries and agencies to develop joint projects. Partnerships BC’s ‘P3’ setup sees the federal and provincial governments team up with a third party to fund the opportunity.
“We’re still exploring that third payment and what that looks like, so whether it’s the City taking that on, or if we have regional partnerships between us, First Nations and the port or Port Edward to help pay for that [is not yet figured out],” he said. “We’ve left this in the hands of Partnerships BC and they’re coordinating with the Ministry of Transportation to get this whole thing sorted out. But in terms of costs and who’s paying and who’s in charge and all those things, those are still up in the air and that’s all going to be assessed [in 2016] on how this is going to look.”
RE:BUILD, RE:DESIGN, 2030 SUSTAINABLE CITY
In summary, Hays 2.0 encompasses a potential intercontinental NWP-Northern Sea Route hub, the Alaskan Trade Gateway and the Tsimshian Access Project.
But these are the end goals and some are projects that won’t be fully realized until potentially a quarter of a decade passes by. What is the City of Prince Rupert doing right now and where will the money come from to support these costly initiatives?
The foundation of the City’s ambitious plan is centred around branding. Re:Build Rupert symbolizes the city barely treading water when it needs to be racing to the finish line a la Michael Phelps.
A massive infrastructure deficit, characterized by a yet-to-be-built $150 million Waste Water Treatment Plant, needs to be addressed. A grant to take care of the water dam already in place was received this past year to get the city’s water supply secured and repaired. Some of these internal infrastructure needs will have to be addressed before the city can turn its gaze globally.
“We’re hoping to be able to look five years down the road because we have a capital budget where we can say ‘OK, this is how much money we’ve got and here is the list of things’. There are things that are falling apart to the point where they need to be repaired, so those things will need to go first versus the ‘nice-to-haves’,” Mayor Brain said.
Re:Design Rupert is the second platform that will be supporting Hays 2.0 – an 18-month public engagement process set to start in the new year that sees Prince Rupert residents provide feedback to the City with how they want the layout of the city to look. Everything from the waterfront to downtown, to school zones to the outlying areas will be covered in Re:Design, often involving state-of-the-art public outreach techniques, that are to be centred around more than just town hall meetings.
2030 Sustainable City is the newest venture by the City. Not many details have been revealed of the plan, but along with Re:Build and Re:Design, 2030 Sustainable City is the third cog in developing sustainable practices for business development and ensuring Prince Rupert retains its pristine, outdoor environment in co-habitation with industry and business.
The final, underlying theme for Hays 2.0 is First Nations partnerships.
“I would say it’s [of top importance],” Brain said.
“Without the partnerships we can’t enable the global trading situation. We want to have those partnerships in place so that we’re all on the same page. It’s the foundation of a vision like that, that requires the community and First Nations to come together and say ‘Look, we’re all on the same team. We all want the same things for our communities and that’s what we want to see happen.”
The City has been approaching the Prince Rupert Port Authority, the Prince Rupert District School Board, the Prince Rupert Rotary Club, the Community Futures board, the Chamber of Commerce board and a few other organizations in pitching this vision.
“The Port’s a major component of all this. The port facilities and attracting those investments to the port is a key piece to the equation … DP World’s vision is to make us the Northern Passage hub and so I think the Port Authority’s focusing on the 2020 vision to get the immediate vision set up. We’re saying look at this next 50 to 100 years of potential … [The Port is] the ones who would operate [any Hays 2.0 trade networks]. They’re given that federal mandate to operate, so we’re just here to help facilitate that vision,” he said.
The provincial government was notified of the potential of the area at the 2015 UBCM conference and mayor and council have ideas to get federal attention as well.
“We’re sending some messages, as much as we can, because everybody wants [Trudeau’s] attention at the moment, but the message we’re trying to send is [that] there’s billions of dollars worth of investments coming to this area and it’s a Canadian vision. This isn’t just about Prince Rupert and B.C. This is a Canadian vision and First Nations are ready to partner and this is a place to come and take a look at,” he added.
A website outlining further details of Hays 2.0 is expected to be launched sometime in January-February of 2016, as well as a public presentation. Re:Design Rupert is also aimed at ramping up at the beginning of 2016.
The City will be boosting their communications presence with info-graphics detailing Re:Build Rupert projects, how much they cost, how long they will take and what’s coming next.
While the speed and velocity of how quickly Hays 2.0 becomes a reality is obviously dependent on investment in the area. Each phase of Hays 2.0 is expected to be announced by the City. The Go Plan Survey and Housing Needs Questionnaire will also be presented to the public in an accessible format.
MORE THAN JUST LNG
“We’re going to need some big investments in order for this to happen. So we need everybody on the team: the provincial government, the federal government, First Nations – because we can go places if we can hit something like that. The City’s income base needs to be increased by a few million a year for us to be able to rebuild the town and not just maintain the town. We need new income [streams], other port investments, and for us, if one LNG [facility] were to locate here, that would be a massive investment for the community. But our message for LNG is we want it done right and we want to make sure it abides by the environmental assessment process … and that it minimizes as much impact to residents as possible. Hays 2.0 isn’t saying yes or no to any development. Really, what it’s saying is that something will emerge here regardless if LNG says yes now or doesn’t say yes,” Brain said.
“From the City’s perspective, since we’re going to be here for the next 100 years, we’re trying to say ‘OK. There are so many opportunities’. Regardless of which ones come or don’t come – the location that we’re in, the vision of a global trading network, we will be successful as a community regardless …
If LNG were to come and invest, that would be the seed funding that would enable this to happen quicker. However, if it’s not, it’s just going to take more time, that’s all. We need to balance development with revenue. I’m not a person that just says ‘Build it all’ without thinking of the costs. At the same time, the town also needs to understand that we have $300 million worth of problems and that we’re going to need some sort of balanced development approach to LNG,” he added.
“[The City’s] role here is just to provide a vision. Regardless of who the mayor or council is, we’ve set a trajectory for the next 100 years for this town so that there’s no upheaval in terms of leadership.
“Every council and mayor who comes into Prince Rupert will be able to just keep adding to the vision. There’s something here for everyone.”