City of Prince Rupert and the pulp mill

Anybody out there know what the environmental status of Watson Island is?
As pretty well everybody knows there is about a gazillion tons of hog fuel on the back of the Island leaching into the ocean. Is that the reason that China has backed off?
If the City takes over ownership will we be on the hook to clean up that mess?
It makes me a bit uneasy that the City may take responsibility for a problem that obviously nobody else wants. If anything can bankrupt the City, that will!

That is a very good and yeah important question. I have heard there is alot of cleanup which will have to be done, I am sure Jacko would be able to give an answer or maybe Mayor Dave McDonald. That question will have to be answered by a straight shooter.

Apparently there is enough hog fuel to operate the power plant for a couple of years, although I suspect that getting it back into commission and securing purchase agreements with Hydro would not be simple processes.

I went for a drive out there yesterday for the first time in years. There certainly is a lot to disassemble and remediate. The thought crossed my mind as well that owning the site could be a major cost to the City. Who would want to buy the site and incur all of those costs?

I am sure Jacko could give an answer, but whether it will be a straight answer is another question. Mayor McDonald seems to mostly shoot from the hip. Not sure if he can give straight answers either. 

I noticed a sign saying “If we can dream it we can do it”. That must be a relic from the Veniez era. Probably best not to ask him what he thinks.

That could be his slogan for his upcoming political campaign.

I heard a couple of years ago that if the city inherets Watson Island due to property tax default enviromental costs for cleanup of site are supposed to be picked up by either federal and/or provincial levels of government.  I don’t know how accurate that info was, but it would make the site a little more acceptable for the city. 

Under the BC Environmental Management Act (s 45) the current owner of a contaminated site is responsible for remediation. The previous owner can also be made responsible, but holding them to account can be a problem if they did not have sufficient assets to pay the taxes.

It is also difficult to see any scope for the feds picking up the costs. Private land in BC is outside their jurisdiction. They have a responsibility to protect the marine environment. I suspect that if anything their involvement would be on the enforcement side.

When selling industrial property - which is apparently the City’s intention if and when it takes title - it is usual to provide the purchaser with guarantees as to its environmental condition and to backstop any remediation costs.

The City may be inheriting some problems, although how much those problems could cost appears uncertain. 

I hope the City has some smart lawyers!
As a side light, there was a news item on CBC radio on Thursday or Friday to the effect that a Chinese company has made a bid to take over the McKenzie pulp mill.
If China refuses a mill on tide water, with it’s own wharf, where the pulp comes off the end of the line and right onto the ship, and then they make a bit for a mill like McKenzie where pulp has to be trucked out or put on rail cars, it has to make one go hummmm! What is the environmental assessment of that mill?
So then,tax payers of Prince Rupert, hope the City is doing ‘due diligence’ on this situation and exploring all options!

I worked on the site remediation team for almost 2 years, there is a fund to finish the site clean up that was held “In trust” lots of remediation had been done, but the mill site itself consists of 22 miles of land,  and the site has quite the lists of clean up. The Fed/Prov govt at the time )( perhaps because the BC govt at one time owned the mill) had put the $ into the remediation. Should be interesting the current owners have being selling anything and everything since they moved in.

There is no such thing as Smart lawyer’s

That’s interesting … I vaguely remember something about the province setting up a fund when they took over. Site remediation has a lot of uncertainties and can be enormously expensive. Hopefully the fund was adequate and that Mr Veniez had no involvement during the New Skeena era.

You are not the first to say that the current owners have been selling things off. Curiously, the mayor says otherwise. He has also said that the site can be used for other things, but details are not provided, and the cost of preparing the site for other uses is not discussed. Remediation aside, just taking apart the mill would be an enormous undertaking.

The pattern seems to be that new owners take over, the business is stripped of some assets, then it goes back into public hands as a further depreciated asset. If the City takes title that will be the second complete go around, only this time with what’s left sitting on the City’s books rather than the province’s.

That seems to be treated as a good news story by the mayor in that once the City takes title the tax arrears can be recovered; but there seems to be some rather big gaps in the analysis.   


The official word coming from Mayor Moustachio is that main infrastructure is not being sold off, only that which was not previously bolted down. That is to keep in line with maintenance fees, of which there are many and to make certain that the hydro system does not erode – which should have immense financial value to the city should the pulp mill fall into its hands.

More interesting news … buy a plant for not that much, cart away or sell off what isn’t bolted down, then let it revert to the public sector to sort out.

Does ‘hydro system’ refer to the large pipe (visible from Brad’s) with plumes of water spraying from it?

That is the water system … the hydro system ( turbines etc) are in in pretty decent shape. There are some failry new Admin offices ( 10 years old) and the Eng/Mtce bulding are in decent shape and these are all asbestos free. I can see two or three companies  using the dock/site and the Powerhouse for turbine generation, container storage/off loading etc.

There is an interesting PRDN article posted on the PG Citizen site.

“When asked if the City has a contingency plan in place if it does in fact become the owner of the property, Mussallem said he has been meeting with senior staff to discuss a contingency plan, but that there isn’t a plan ready to release to the public at this point.”

I think that means that there is no contingency plan.

“And, he added, the City does not want to spend money doing any due diligence on the property unless it has to.”

My understanding is that, like other pulp mills, the mill burned hog fuel to generate electricity. I have heard that the large stockpile has been sold and hauled away (apparently another mill bought it) and that one of the three generators was sold under Mr Veniez’s stewardship.

Is the mill also set up to produce hydro power? Is that part of what the City will be taking over if the taxes are not paid by Sept 29?

I think there are plans and some of the equipment is on site for a Co generation plant.  There was so much stuff out there , hidden all over the mill … double orders for shafts, bearings you name it.  The current owners are having a field day they are making money for sure selling off stuff.

Well, it will be interesting to see if the garage sale ends and the City takes ownership on Sept 29.

I see that the civic leaders have scheduled a closed meeting for Sept 21 to talk about “the acquisition, disposition or expropriation of land or improvements, if the council considers that disclosure could reasonably be expected to harm the interests of the community”.

Hopefully someday the mayor and council will feel comfortable discussing the pulp mill property in public.

I do not know if Council would be comfortable to discuss very much with the public thank you. It is almost as if they are under a Gag Order from the commander and chief. I think that since we put them in there this community has not been brought out of the Pond Era at all. I also believe that we as better known as the voting public have wasted many votes on empty seats.

Just a guess but in this case maybe things need to remain under wraps so to speak especially if there is a sale as rumoured in the PRDN tonigh.