Port Edward may cut off water to Watson Island if Prince Rupert does not come to the table

Tensions escalate over the Mutual Aid Agreement and Ridley Island Tax Sharing Agreement

The District of Port Edward has written a letter to the City of Prince Rupert notifying them that they have the authority to shut off the water supply to Watson Island if they do not meet their demands.

The district confirmed on May 28 that the letter has to do with the emergency Mutual Aid Agreement but are keeping their demands and the contents of the letter private.

READ MORE: Prince Rupert fire crews won’t help Port Edward after negotiations fail

“We gave them notice that we are able to do it but are not doing it at this point. But we have given notice and we are still waiting to hear back from them,” said Councillor Dan Franzen at Tuesday night’s council meeting in Port Edward.

Pembina’s propane terminal is currently under construction on Watson Island, where there is a camp of 150 workers who could potentially be relying on that water supply.

READ MORE: City approves Pembina work camp on Watson Island

Port Edward also supplies water to Ridley Island but it is unclear if the water supply for that island was also included in the letter. Neither the city nor the district will comment on why the district pumps water in both of those areas for Prince Rupert.

Mayor Knut Bjorndal said that they sent the letter six to eight weeks ago after they had not heard back from Prince Rupert for the past eight months regarding the Mutual Aid Agreement.

Without the aid agreement in place, the District of Port Edward will not receive help from Prince Rupert’s professional fire department in the event of an incident.

“If our [volunteer] guys can’t handle the size of the incident, or there’s a second incident, they won’t come out and help,” said Bob Payette, former CAO, in a previous interview in March.

Prince Rupert’s fire department’s jurisdiction covers Kaien Island and Watson Island. Fire crews need authorization from districts beyond those boundaries to ensure they will be compensated if they get injured on the job. With no Mutual Aid Agreement in place, they wouldn’t be covered.

Mayor Bjorndal said they are still waiting for a response from Mayor Brain.

“The Mutual Aid Agreement has been in effect for thirty years. We have asked them a few times that they would reinstate that. We actually sent them a signed agreement that we’ve had for thirty years and asked them to sign it and they’ve chosen not to do that [at this time],” he said.

The City of Prince Rupert said they have no comment on the matter at this time.

This quarrel is another in a long list of disputes between the district and city after Prince Rupert asked Port Edward to come to the table to renegotiate the Ridley Island Tax Sharing Agreement, an arrangement made in perpetuity in 1980 agreeing to share industrial property tax from Ridley Island.

READ MORE: All candidates agree, Ridley Island tax agreement stays

Port Edward was to receive 20 per cent of taxes collected from the island but that amount was later renegotiated to 17 per cent to cover the costs of the services the district uses from the city.

The agreement also stipulates that it be reviewed every five years, but that is not a guarantee it will be amended. Prince Rupert is looking to reduce the Ridley Island taxes they must allocate to the district, while Port Edward are looking to keep it as is.

The city pushed back in 2016 when it charged Port Edward $500,000 over two years to use the landfill, and other shared services, to be paid out of the Ridley Island Tax Sharing Agreement.

READ MORE: Prince Rupert, Port Edward reach two-year tax agreement on Ridley Island

With that agreement over, none of the parties have come to the table to renegotiate a shared services agreement, which stalled negotiations over their emergency Mutual Aid Agreement.

“We’ll come to some agreement. We’re reasonable people at the end of the day. But we made the last offer to them and we are waiting for them to get back to us,” said Bjorndal.

Jenna Cocullo | Journalist
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