Backlash against a proposed wood pellet terminal on Prince Rupert’s waterfront was centre stage at this week’s city council meeting.
What started as a couple of concerned residents from the neighbourhood nearest to the proposed site has grown into a full-scale lobbying effort, with opponents of the facility coming to council armed with a slideshow presentation and a petition signed by other residents.
Making their case to the newly-elected city council was one of the original three residents who raised the issue in September, Francis Kavalac, and another long-time neighbourhood resident, Ken Shaw.
Kavalac presented council a petition that had been circulated around her neighbourhood. The 91 residents who signed it are concerned that dust from the terminal as well as increased train will negatively affect their health and quality of life in a neighbourhood that already experiences plenty of noise from the rail yard currently used by CN – a rail yard that would need to be expanded for the terminal.
“The objective of this petition is to have Pinnacle Renewable Energy Group reconsider their location for the pellet terminal,” said Kavalac to the council
“The additional pellet terminal and trains would be operating within minutes of the homes of the people of Prince Rupert. This business will devalue our real estate and make selling it impossible. We want this business to go to an industrial site, like Ridley Island.”
The petition has also been sent to the Canada Transport Agency, the Canadian Human Right Commission, the Prince Rupert Port Authority, MP Nathan Cullen, Health Canada and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.
Kavalac claimed in front of the council that the Prince Rupert Port Authority’s manager of Public Affairs, Maynard Angus, told her that there were many other sites under consideration for the pellet terminal and not just the waterfront site at Westview Terminal.
The Port Authority denies that they told her any such thing. In a e-mail Angus sent to members of the council the day after the meeting, he says that he told Kavalac that the pellet facility being proposed is too small to be set up on Ridley Island when she asked him why it wasn’t being planned there. This conversation, according to the e-mail, took place on October 31 after the port authority found out about Kavalac’s petition. Angus believes she misunderstood what he told her.
“I talked to Francis this morning (Tuesday) and informed her she has misunderstood our conversation and explained that she will have ample time to share her comments and ask her questions at the community consultation stage should the project proceed to the environmental assessment stage,” reads Angus’ email.
Pinnacle Renewable Energy project’s environmental assessment will take the concerns of the public into account before deciding the future of the project. A few weeks ago, the Port Authority sent out a letter to the neighbourhood asking residents to do just that.
Port Authority representative Michael Gurney said that it was regrettable that residents had decided to go to city council where neither the Port Authority or the company had no opportunity to respond. Pinnacle’s president, Leroy Reitsma, says that the assessment is the best time to address public concerns.
“We’re just in the development phase, and when we do get to the Environmental Assessment portion of the development phase – if we do – there’s going to be widespread community consultation. We look forward to engaging with them at that point in time, looking at what their concerns are and making sure that we adequately consider them in the designs of the program,” said Reitsma.
The residents are arguing that Prince Rupert needs to decide exactly what its plans for the waterfront are. Adding another industrial project there would risk allowing the city’s waterfront to turn into another industrial area. Ken Shaw pointed out that the city’s own Official Community Plan intends for the waterfront is for it to provide “a sustainable mix of commercial use, some light industry and other uses that open the waterfront to greater public access.”
“Sounds good, but the basic problem is that city doesn’t really have ownership any legal authority over much of the waterfront because its under the jurisdiction of the port or owned by CN. Just as the former council was able and willing to endorse the Pinnacle pellet proposal, I think that this new council could take a leadership role in defining a broader vision for the waterfront,” Ken Shaw told the council.
Shaw and Kavalac aren’t the only ones who think a pellet terminal would preclude the use of the waterfront as a public area.
Bill Flaten is an employee of Ridley Terminals – although he was quick to point out that he does not speak for them. He says that when the pellet storage terminal (which is used by Pinnacle) was built on Ridley Island in 2007 workers were told that the dust would very minimal.
When there turned out to be lots of dust, workers were told they would only need to wear simple dust masks to protect themselves while working until the problem was solved. Flaten says that workers began to complain of shortness of breath and feeling stuffed up from the dust and eventually began to refuse to work in the facility.
“I myself had to leave the site twice due to respiratory problems,” says Flaten
The Prince Rupert Northern View asked Ridley Terminals to confirm Flaten’s story, but they have not responded yet.
The solution was to give workers a fully enclosed helmet with a hose for attaching to a dedicated air supply. Flaten brought one of these helmets into city hall to show the council to illustrate is point on how harmful the dust is; which he describes as a being so fine it takes two days to wash it off equipment.
“You’re going to get sunny days in Prince Rupert when people want to walk along that waterfront and you’re going to have dust being blown inland …That dust is going to be all over the facility and the tracks so anyone walking is going to disturb it,” said Flaten.
Pinnacle Renewable Energy Group has maintained that the technology such as slow moving, covered conveyers it plans to use in the small terminal will make it almost dustless and very quiet. The company’s president, Leroy Reitsma didn’t want to discuss the specifics of the design until the environmental assessment has begun.
But he did say that the technology has been used in a pellet terminal in North Vancouver owned by Kinder Morgan. So The Prince Rupert Northern View asked David Knee, the president of the Norgate Park Community Association which represents the residents of the neighbourhood close to the Kinder Morgan terminal whether it was effective or not.
Knee points out that the Kinder Morgan terminal has not been used for wood pellets for years, but says that the design does cut down drastically on the amount of dust no matter what is actually being loaded into a ship.
“They’re actually quite good. They’ve actually covered most of their operation with sheds and things and they have quite a good dust collection system,” said Knee.
The good news for Prince Rupert is that the rain tends to cut down on the dust as well.
The City Council’s reaction to the presentation was sympathetic but reserved. Council encouraged presenters to make their case during the Environmental Assessment whenever it begins. After they were over, council also discussed the possibility of talking to CN about the existing noise problems experienced by the neighbourhood and about the possibility of going forward with a waterfront plan, which the presenters pointed out is lacking.