Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Stirring ghosts of Watson Island

September 29th marks the latest benchmark date for Prince Rupert and it's on again, off again roller coaster ride with the Watson Island pulp mill site.

That's the day that the property could revert back to the City of Prince Rupert, which will have title to the operation that hasn't seen a productive day in a number of years and a piece of property that has much in the way of tax arrears to show for it; but seemingly nobody willing to pay the outstanding bills.

The looming day of return was first outlined by the Northern View last week, which provided us with a snapshot of these potentially final days of ownership for the largely absent SunWave corporation. They were the Chinese owners of the property, who never really seemed to reach beyond holding the assets, while deferring on the taxes. Any plans that they may have had to operate the mill as a functioning pulp mill, apparently were placed well down the list of things to do and now with a bit over a week to go, their time is almost up.

The Mayor in his Northern View article suggested that the City was working on a contingency plan for the mill, though there were few details to share on just what they have planned should they become title holders again on the 29th.

CFTK TV provided a recap of the events that have led up to deadline day later this month, with their TV7 report outlining the steps that could follow on the way to a return of the property to the city and a thought on the potential use for the site, far removed from the days of making pulp.

Perhaps lost in that television report is that one line that offers up a development option for the site and maybe a reason for the recent public interest of Lax Kw'alaams council in the property.
A surprise announcement revealed in Friday's Daily News provided the twist in the on going story that Lax Kw'alaams council, along with a mystery partner, were in the process of putting in a bid for the mill.

The article did provide one of those conspicuous by its absence moments, as Lax Kw'alaams did not specify what their intention for the site may be, with no mention of an operating pulp mill suggested or provided in the article.
In addition to keeping the identity of their mystery partners close to their vest, the Lax Kw'alaams council seems to be keeping what it may do with the site out of the public domain for the time being, with many thoughts ranging from forestry, to fishing to transportation making the rounds of the city's coffee shops.

Which leads us back to earlier in the week and that line in the CFTK story, that one potential use outlined as perhaps that as an aquaculture operation.
That would tie in nicely with recent musings from Mayor Jack Mussallem, who floated the arrival of an aquaculture partner for the region in the Northern View article of September 10 (see link above), suggesting that a partnership with local First Nations was key to such a move forward.

Mayor Mussallem kept up with the mystery theme of late when it comes to Watson Island, suggesting that the interest of Lax Kw'alaams is still more in the discussion phase, as opposed to the formal bidding stage.

Maybe that interest could for the Mayor move beyond the tire kicking stage very soon and well may be the topic of discussion at the upcoming closed meeting of council which will meet this Monday at 5pm to discuss matters pertaining to "the acquisition, disposition or expropriation of land or improvements, if the council considers the disclosure could reasonably be expected to harm the interests of the municipality."

While the meeting notice doesn't specify Watson Island as the topic of the day, all of the indicators point to the pulp mill site making for the topic of discussion at the closed session and maybe in the spirit of transparency perhaps providing for some feedback in the open session of this week's council.

Hopefully the city's residents will have a clearer picture as to what's happening out at Watson Island shortly and what its future may hold.
After all they are the ones who will ultimately be on the hook for the lost taxes of past years and will probably be required to cover the cost of upkeep upon the return of the mill.

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