The wood pellet terminal being proposed on Prince Rupert’s waterfront has received environmental approval, which removes the last major obstacle before construction can begin.
Both Pinnacle Renewable Energy and the Prince Rupert Port Authority are saying that the approval of the $43-million project is “good news” for Prince Rupert. But it appears that neighbourhood residents and city council still need some convincing.
The project is expected to create about 24 direct jobs at the terminal itself such as material handling workers.
According to Pinnacle’s CEO, Leroy Reitsma, the company will be negotiating a employment agreement with the local First Nations, but there will be jobs open to non-aboriginal residents as well.
Both Pinnacle and the Port Authority say that the building of the pellet terminal will meet the demand for wood pellet shipping capacity that is badly needed by BC’s lumber industry. That means the terminal will be supporting hundreds of other BC jobs in a hurting industry.
The two organizations are also pleased with how the Environmental Assessment was conducted, and the proposed mitigation measures and regulations that the working group has come up with.
“At the end of the day, I think we achieved the right balance between the economic and societal demands on this project,” says the Port Authority’s director of Public Affairs, Ken Veldman.
The mitigation measures being proposed revolve around constant monitoring of the dust and noise coming from the terminal to make sure they stay within their limits. The details of what the limits are still have to be worked out with the provincial Environment Ministry. If the facility does go over the limit, regulations will require them to fix it immediately.
With that in mind Pinnacle is also putting together extensive response plans so if something happens the company won’t have to spend time figuring out what to do about it.
And if all that doesn’t work, the port authority has the right to order the facility to shut down until the issue is solved.
The pellet terminal project has been met with vocal opposition from the residents of the neighbourhood near Westview Terminal, many of whom are not against having a pinnacle terminal, just having it so close to their homes. But Pinnacle has explained that Westview is really the only viable site, since the operation is too big for Watson Island and not big enough for Ridley Island.
Even though the public input phase of the project is now over, the port authority says it will be setting up a way for residents to make complaints about the noise or dust coming from the terminal and have them addressed by the port authority.
Ken Shaw is one of those neighborhood residents and has been leading the campaign against the project, even creating an opposition website. He says that the promises by the port authority to address complaints ring hollow.
“If they say they want a complaints line and want to engage in dialogue, their track record isn’t that good, they promised a complaints line for train whistling years ago and that has never been addressed,” says Shaw.
Both the port and Pinnacle point out that they have gone “above and beyond” what they were required to in terms of public input during the environmental assessment. That is true, admits Shaw, but argues only because no such public input was actually required because the assessment was a “screening;” which is less ring-depth because the site is already a well-used industrial zone.
As far as Shaw is concerned, the assessment has disregarded what residents were telling them.
Not so says CEO Reitsma. He says that the company has taken to heart everything that residents said during the public consultation phase of the environmental assessment, but admitted that not much of the plan has changed because of it.
The City of Prince Rupert appears to be still a bit skeptical of the pellet facility as well, even though it has received environmental approval. At their meeting on Monday, the city council decided ask the port authority to send representatives to explain what the impact of the environmental assessment findings will be on the community.
While the city has no legal power to affect the operation of the pellet plant or how the port authority oversees it, they are still wary of the concerns of the neighbourhood residents.
“The city is aware that some of the adjacent neighbours have concerns. And of course, the City is looking for assurances from the port for things such as noise and dust will not inhibit the quality of life there,” says Mayor Jack Mussallem.
According to the company, there are still regulatory issues to be worked out, but construction is expected to begin soon and the terminal will be ready for operation late next year.