The Northern View sat down with newly elected Prince Rupert Mayor Lee Brain to discuss the upcoming term.
Question: What are your first priorities as Prince Rupert Mayor?
Lee Brain: The city has two current priorities: The first is the rezoning of the old garbage dump site … the second priority will be the public hearing and zoning of the Lot 444 site. Those will be the immediate priorities, and that will take us right until Dec. 8. The new council will be doing two days of orientation together and there will also be a local government workshop in December.
I’ll also be meeting our lawyers in mid-December to go over some legal matters. I think by that point I will be fully up-to-date on the majority of, if not all of, the issues, that are happening in Prince Rupert. Basically getting caught up.
Question: What do you see as the biggest opportunity and biggest challenge facing Prince Rupert?
Lee Brain: The biggest opportunity the city has is some key developments, for example Lot 444. We still need to hear from the public, and we will never make a decision without hearing from the public. But just by zoning Lot 444, we will make $18 million off the bat for a two-year lease with Exxon …
Depending on the scale of the LNG terminal, we could see anywhere up to $66 million per year in annual revenue taxes from that development. I see that as a big opportunity, but again, council needs to make decisions based on public input.
But to reiterate to the public, just because something is zoned a certain way does not mean that there will be development on it. The Environmental Assessment Agency Office will be the ones who determine whether Exxon goes ahead. But again, for a town that has been cash-strapped for quite sometime, these are big opportunities for us, including all of the other developments like the port’s expansion and also Petronas and BG.
The biggest challenge is our infrastructure, in particular our waterlines. We need to upgrade our waterlines. A lot of homeowners have told me they have had issues, especially with insurance companies. I see our priorities in terms of upgrading infrastructure to be our water. That includes our dams.
The waterlines themselves within the city’s boundary is a $57 million upgrade and our dams are about $12 million, which includes building a road to Woodworth Dam. One of the issues right now is every week we have staff that have to truck 2.2 kilometres to the access the dam. We’re wasting staff time just getting to the dam.
I think in the longterm if we can get our water situation taken care of, that will be very good for the town.
Obviously, there’s other maintenance issues like roads and sidewalks.
I think this new council is really going to be laser focused on infrastructure. With the opportunities that are coming, that would give us the opportunity to address those needs.
Another challenge is the housing situation. I really believe we need to get on top of a senior’s housing development that’s affordable. A mixed-model use would be great — ownership and rental. Right now there’s nowhere for seniors to go if they want to sell their homes. We need to start creating that type of system so people feel like Rupert is a retirement-friendly community … the city doesn’t have jurisdiction over housing, but we can definitely create a favourable environment through bylaws and giving incentives to developers for affordable housing. It’s something that if LNG is approved, we’re going to really have to get on top of that quickly. It’s looking like a decision from Petronas will be made in December.
Question: There’s been a lot of talk in the community and online, so could you state your position on LNG development?
Lee Brain: I’m in favour of LNG, but it needs to be done responsibly. Ultimately, I see LNG as a transition fuel. It’s still a fossil fuel and there will still be pollution. A lot of these proponents know how to mitigate it. Ultimately, that’s caused by burning natural gas to power the plant itself which creates nox, that’s the biggest concern.
I’m very comfortable that these proponents will be able to mitigate at a high-level standard.
At this stage in our development we need to support these types of developments for the challenges we are facing as a community. They need to be done in balance, and done strategically. We can’t develop seven LNG terminals in Prince Rupert, it’s just not feasible. So we have to be calculated on which ones will be going through and which ones won’t.
Question: When will you start implementing aspects in your platform, like increased communication with the elector?
Lee Brain: I’m already starting that, mainly through Facebook. Come spring, I’ll be starting the town hall meetings, which will be monthly. I will also be starting the community updates in the spring.
For now, what I’ll do is use Facebook as our main means of communication to say what’s going on or about documents.
I’m going to communicate as legally as I possible can to the community, particularly around things like Watson Island, and try to give as much of an update as I can possible give and try to be much more transparent as a governing body so people feel that they’re in the loop.
Question: What’s your vision for Prince Rupert four years from now?
Lee Brain: I would like to secure our financial base, which would mean getting Watson Island back on the tax roll which will be a challenge, seeing one or two LNG developments go through and bringing in that tax revenue.
From there we could start to address our infrastructure needs. I would really like to see some actual upgrading happening within the next four years, not just patch work.
… I’d also like us to start exploring the options for renewable energy and tracking that type of investment. Ultimately, I’d love to see a large-scale renewable energy infrastructure within the region and using that to power LNG and start offsetting. If LNG is powered with renewables it’s about 92 per cent reduced pollution because it’s not burning natural gas. It’s going to need a lot of renewables, but it could be a legacy project and something for future generations and my generation. That’s something I’m really going to be pushing for, is that these proponents also start looking at that. I’ve talked to a few proponents who are absolutely on the same track of renewables.
Question: Anything else you would like to add?
Lee Brain: I will be going from full to part-time at my job so I am able to fulfill all of my duties as mayor.