Watson Island developers outline plans, challenges with former Prince Rupert pulp mill site

The company hoping to convert Watson Island from a run-down pulp mill to an export terminal says work needs to be done sooner than later.



The company hoping to convert Watson Island in Prince Rupert from a run-down pulp mill to a export terminal says work on the site needs to be done much sooner than later.

“If we do not get the mill remediated in the next 12 to 18 months, there will be a spill of some kind that will make remediating the site unrealistic…The cost of remediating the site will cancel out any economic benefit if we don’t work fast,” said Watson Island Development Corporation (WatCo) chief operating officer Tanner Elton, noting that the mill was never properly shut down and a number of tanks are still filled with chemicals.

“The clock is ticking. We’re working against time.”

The company plans to tear most of the old pulp mill buildings located on the approximately 300 acre island down to the ground, saving some building and structures like warehouses and water treatment tanks for re-purposing, and create a logistics and export facility. The plan calls for light industrial and ancillary uses near the entrance, significant bulk storage on the site, bulk liquid storage for products like Canola oil and improvements to an existing concrete dock that can currently handle two handymax ships at a time. There are also plans for a rail loop around Watson Island to carry the goods.

Destruction of the former mill, which was left with equipment like computers, chairs tools and food still on-site, is expected to take 18 months to complete.

But there are challenges. Along with outstanding legal challenges by former owners Sun Wave Forest Products about the ownership of Watson Island, WatCo estimates that the cost to clean up previous contamination to be between $47 million and $200 million. Included in that contamination is 2.3 million cubic metres of hog fuel – wood chips used in the creation of pulp – covering 70 acres of the site, and Elton notes that it would take one train per day for three years to remove.

WatCo, has reached a tentative agreement to purchase Watson Island for $5.5 million, with $5 million going to the City of Prince Rupert and $500,000 going to the District of Port Edward. The sale is contingent on the resolution of the pending legal action and the development of a remediation plan. The City of Prince Rupert took ownership of the site following a tax sale after Sun Wave Forest Products failed to pay taxes owed.

The company held an open house to gather feedback on the plans last night at the Lester Centre of the Arts. WatCo is comprised of Colonial Coal, Hillsborough Resources, the Lax Kw’alaams First Nation and the Metlakatla Development Corporation.

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