Prince Rupert City Council is asking the Prince Rupert Port Authority and Pinnacle Renewable Energy to extend the environmental assessment of a contentious wood pellet terminal on the city’s waterfront so the public is given more than three weeks to give their input on the project.
They are also asking the port to work with the City to develop a waterfront plan before the project moves ahead any further.
The pellet terminal has been met with opposition from residents who live near the proposed site of the pellet facility at Westview Terminal. They have raised concerns about the effect dust and noise coming from the terminal will have on their quality of life, and have been more than a little skeptical of the port and the company’s assurances that these issues will be greatly mitigated.
Last November, the Port Authority sent a letter out to the residents asking them to save their concerns for the environmental assessment, where their input would be put to better use than it would in the city council chamber.
“Simply put, your opinion matters. If Pinnacle’s proposal proceeds to an environmental assessment, your participation in community consultation will be highly valued,” reads the port’s letter.
The environmental assessment report, which provides all the information on the project and its expected environmental impact, was uploaded to the Port Authority’s website on May 14, but residents only have until June 5 to make their comments on the project. There is also an open house for the public to attend scheduled for May 29.
One of the neighbourhood residents, Ken Shaw, came to Prince Rupert city council on Monday to argue that three weeks was simply not enough time. He asked council to intervene on residents’ behalf and ask the port and Pinnacle Pellet to extend the timeline, which council voted to do.
“I’m concerned about how quickly the environmental assessment is being rushed through. And that the community will not be able to fully assess and discuss the implications of this,” said Shaw.
This environmental assessment will not be the same as one that might be performed before allowing a new mining operation to go ahead. This assessment is known as a “screening” and it is considerably less in-depth than the assessments most large new industrial operations must go through.
For instance, this assessment does not require that the company justify why the project is needed, nor will they be required to explore alternative uses for the land. This is because Westview Terminal is already considered an industrial zone, and unlike a pristine forest, is exempt from needing a justification to be built upon.
“The technicalities in regards to this project are being met. So the legal justification is there, but I think the moral justification is not,” said Shaw.
Council did ultimately agree with Shaw’s request to ask the company and the port for an extension to the environmental assessment process, saying that only giving the public three weeks notice to comment was “problematic.” But other than asking on behalf of residents, the City has no power to control anything the Port Authority decides to do.
“We have no control over whether that project goes ahead or not and we don’t have the ability to rezone it, we don’t have any ability to have any impact on it as a municipality,” said Councillor Joy Thorkelson.
One thing that the council wants is to negotiate a waterfront plan with the port authority. This would lay out a mutually acceptable vision for waterfront development for both the port and the community. This is something that has been worked toward in the past but the City has no ability to compel the port to make one with them.
Speaking only for herself, councillor Thorkelson says that the port has been avoiding a conversation that might put limits on what is considered acceptable development on the waterfront or impose new requirements on projects that want to set up down there.
“My opinion is that the port authority has been very remiss in talking to us about how much social license they have and whether they should be moving forward without a development plan that is approved by the City,” says Thorkelson.
“The port should not be going ahead – even if they can legally – without developing a waterfront plan with the City so that we can be able to talk about what kinds of things are acceptable on parts of the waterfront that are adjacent to residential areas.”
Other council members seemed to agree, and on top of asking for the environmental assessment deadline, they are asking the port not to go ahead with the project until a waterfront plan has been established.
The Prince Rupert Northern View contacted both port authority and Pinnacle for comment, but neither has called us back yet. Check back for their response in the days ahead.