The development footprint, it seems, is growing larger and larger as new industrial projects are proposed in the Prince Rupert and Port Edward area but with it, residents are making sure that above all else it’s responsible.
In a specially scheduled luncheon hosted by the Prince Rupert and District Chamber of Commerce at the North Coast Convention Centre last Tuesday, March 1, responsible development was defined and discussed by four different community leaders on the North Coast. First under the microscope for large scale projects possibly on the horizon was that of Pacific NorthWest LNG’s Lelu Island export terminal, currently in the public input phase of the environmental assessment process.
Clifford White, elected Chief of the Gitxaala First Nation, Blair Mirau, City of Prince Rupert councillor, Glen Edwards, president of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 505, and James Witzke, environmental assessment manager for the Kitkatla Environmental Monitoring Office of the Tsimshian Environmental Stewardship Authority (TESA) all took to the mic to help inform the luncheon audiences of some of the background and behind-the-scenes work and unique expertise that their position has given them.
Chief White started things off with some eye-opening statistics, including the fact that 90 per cent of Kitkatla faces unemployment today.
“Don’t leave us out,” he asked the decision-makers.
“I need a job. We all need jobs in Kitkatla. Our people who are unemployed in Kitkatla and Prince Rupert are finding it very hard to get a job,” Chief White explained.
He stated that while it might be easy for workers to build a terminal, use it and go back to their original homes outside the region, White’s First Nations communities do not have that option and they do not want to leave. For them, the North Coast is home.
“It’s easier for you to move away. It’s easier for you to move back to your mother lands. For us, this is our mother land. This is where we come from. We’re not going away. For your grandchildren and great grandchildren who are going to be living right beside my grandchildren and great grandchildren, we want to make sure we leave them a legacy where there’s a lot of opportunity and for them to have a relationship with each other, rather than babbling the last couple centuries like you and I have been babbling,” said Chief White.
The elected chief also offered some insight into the discussions with the hereditary chiefs within his Nation, often intense in nature.
“I wish everybody the best of luck, because I know I’ve put my neck on the line for this and when I’m speaking with the hereditary table, when I’m speaking with our chief and council, we have very heated conversations in terms of whether or not [this project] should go. But right now we’re supporting the process so long as the environmental assessment continues to have the highest standards possible,” he said.
After White came Coun. Blair Mirau, and his unique perspective of growing up in “one of the worst economic periods of Prince Rupert” in the 1990s and early 2000s.
“I had to grow up asking my parents questions like ‘Why is my soccer league now four teams instead of 12? Why is the Dairy Queen closed? Why do all my friends have to move away … You can’t rationalize that to a 12-year-old,” said Mirau.
The councillor went on to explain that with the disappearance of one-third of the population after the pulp mill closed, also came the disappearance of one-third of the City’s operating budget. Upcoming necessities like a waste water treatment plant, a new fire hall and police station, and other aging infrastructure has left the City with an infrastructure deficit of $180 million.
“The City of Prince Rupert is supportive in the development of the liquefied natural gas export industry in our city. We believe that if it’s done responsibly with the right environmental conditions, mitigations and monitoring, that the industry can peacefully coexist with our community and create significant benefits. Our support is not just in words, it’s also evident in the fact that council rezoned District Lot 444 just north of Seal Cove and subsequently signed an option agreement with Exxonmobil,” said Mirau, adding that the City is still negotiating a community benefits agreement with Pacific NorthWest LNG.
“Isn’t it a much better situation to be planning for growth than to have to continue planning for population decline and businesses closing and people leaving the community?” he said.
Edwards took over after Mirau, painting the audience a picture of the ups and downs of harbour labour over the past few decades.
The picture is looking more and more rosy, ever since the Prince Rupert Port Authority and Maher Terminals/DP World Prince Rupert have been involved in container cargo activity.
“At the time [before 2007] we had 35 members and probably 40-50 casuals. Now, I just swore in our 127th member and we’ve got about another 300 casuals – all local jobs … Clifford’s right. We have work to do with First Nations and we will work with First Nations because we always have. They have always been a part of the waterfront and they always will be, but we do need work to be done,” said the president.
Edwards noted that the union will be looking to fill another 250 jobs this year and that the number of man-hours worked has risen all the way from 60,000 in 2009 to 646,061 man-hours in 2015.
“We certainly, as a union, do support responsible development as long as it’s done in a balanced way with the environment and jobs,” he said.
The last speaker of the day (Port Edward Mayor Dave MacDonald was regrettably absent due to illness) was Witzke, who helped educate the audience on the lengthy process behind Kitkatla’s environmental monitoring process and the newly-developed TESA.
“Kitkatla, and all of the other Nations that are up here – they’ve known for hundreds, if not thousands of years that that area is important for fish. A lot of people say ‘Why is everyone making a big deal about it We know that, let’s just assume that … because we’ve known that for hundreds, of not thousands of years’. But we still have to prove that in our modern day with technology,” he said.
Witzke went on to explain that TESA contracted independent reviewers to look at the modelling work done by Pacific NorthWest LNG, and though they found gaps in the science through their critical analysis, they also found that the proposed terminal as it stands now with a suspension bridge, wouldn’t catastrophically impact Flora Bank. This was also confirmed by “four to five other independent reviewers” that saw the model.
“We will still continue with our due diligence to make sure [collective First Nations’] values, rights and title are maintained,” he said.
Closing the luncheon was the Chamber’s Keith Lambourne, who ended on an encouraging note.
“We had a lesson to learn as a city and that lesson was we couldn’t keep putting all our eggs in one basket. We learned our lesson from the pulp mill. We need to get weaving and we need to make more baskets to put our eggs into. And the future of Port Edward and Prince Rupert and the surrounding areas is diversity … Do not let apathy win because if you do not make your voice heard, nobody’s a winner,” said Lambourne.
Find out more information on Voices for Responsible Development on its website at www.v4rd.ca or on Facebook at the page: Voices for Responsible Development.