Prince Rupert mayor Jack Mussallem joined councillors Judy Carlick-Pearson and Gina Garon in fielding questions from members of the Prince Rupert and District Chamber of Commerce during a March 27 luncheon.
While the premise of the panel talk was about the upcoming budget, the focus was on two main areas: the proposed emergency services building and Watson Island.
According to Mussallem the City will be asking residents to vote in a September referendum on how to proceed with an emergency services building – whether it be a a building that includes the RCMP and the fire department, just a new detachment or just a new fire hall – or whether to proceed at all.However, Mussallem said not moving ahead may not be an option as it relates to the RCMP detachment.
“The reality is that unless we come up with a better alternative, we will be building a new detachment and I think it is better to have the municipality in control of how that looks for you, the taxpayer…In my opinion this referendum will be about if you to build a new fire hall or not,” he said, noting the current detachment has safety concerns, doesn’t meet standards and is sinking into the ground at the current location.
“We should look at the bigger picture…In the community of Summerland they had a referendum that failed twice for a new detachment. After the time period for the complaint process passed the RCMP essentially said ‘when you want police service, call us in Penticton and we can come down to help’. There is now a detachment being constructed in Summerland.”
On the issue of Watson Island, Mussallem said that there is a company currently completing its due diligence and, as part of a six month exclusivity deal, are paying all the maintenance costs. But that agreement comes to an end at the end of April.
“It is our hope that the due diligence will result in the purchase of the site…If the current group doesn’t but it, we’re optimistic another group will,” he said, though noting that three other exclusivity agreements have come and gone without a deal to purchase the old pulp mill grounds being reached.
Another topic that came up was the airport and the experience of passengers who land before being put on a bus and a ferry before being dropped off at the Highliner. Mussallem said he sees the answer as the much discussed Tsimshian Access Project.
“The end result of that is that we will have a ferry, road and bridge system that is built to a class one highway standard,” he said, noting that the sailing time would be reduced by 10 minutes and heavy machinery would be movable.
But councillor Carlick-Pearson said the issues go deeper than the transportation.
“Our airport is not appealing in any sense…My vision would be that we could at least make it more appealing out there. I have had executives who refuse to fly into Prince Rupert because of the dull sense when landing. They’ll fly into and out of Terrace and drive here and back before landing in Prince Rupert,” she said.