Tuesday, December 22, 2009

An information vacuum settles over Watson Island

“This is a listing of property for sale, not a show and tell, any decisions made on land, legal and labour management are made in-camera." -- Prince Rupert Mayor Jack Mussallem outlining for the Daily News last week, the city's position on the Watson Island bidding process.

The oft stated goal down on Third Avenue of transparency in civic dealings, clouded over once again this past week, as the city took those six tantalizing Watson Island bids, and locked them away in City Hall offices with a For Their Eyes Only stamp on the envelope.

With the deadline having come and gone on the fifteenth of December, the bids are now apparently firmly in place, with six would be buyers finding the minimum thirteen million dollar purchase price to their liking enough to offer up their now closely guarded vision of what Watson Island will look like in these post Skeena/Sun Wave years.

And while we can perhaps understand the need for confidentiality when it comes down to the actual negotiations of the purchase process, it's not really clear why, or what harm could come to those negotiations that leaves the City in the position that it can't or won't reveal the names of the would be industrialists.

By previous self declaration, it's understood that Lax Kw'alaams is most likely one of the six bids received, while the rumour mill runs the table with suggestions of the others, with CN and Canpotex among the favourite trial balloons floating around over Watson Island.

Making for a wonderful living room game of Who's gonna get it? Set to be played out around the city during Christmas and New Year's gatherings, all while our elected officials and the senior staff at City Hall ruminate over the possibilities this holiday season.

What's interesting about this whole process, is that the residents and current shareholders as it is (through that 100,000 dollar a month maintenance fee) of Watson Island, won't get to have a glimpse of what any of the potential investors might have to offer.

Instead, the inside those City Hall office discussions and eventual in camera deliberations will, we imagine, pick the lucky winning bid and thank the five other contestants for taking time to play the final showcase of the Rupert version of The Price Was Right.

In Friday's Daily News, Mayor Barker, er, Mussallem, outlined for Monica Lamb Yorski, how these investors are looking at the future, fifteen or twenty years down the line and how their plans could lead to employment possibilities for the region.

But in this case it appears that our City Managers, the Mayor and council are apparently best to be left alone with their thoughts on what is in our best interests.

Which for some with long memories in the city could perhaps be something to be concerned about. Considering some of the past decisions made by council's of the past and how they turned out.
With no public information session planned to provide background on this bidding review, nor to share some of those grand plans, it's a shame that the residents won't be part of that process regarding our collective and potential future, other than to read about it after the shaking of hands and the signing of contracts.

After all the time and heart break that this long running Watson Island saga has provided for Rupertites, the end (if indeed this is the final act in the drama) may be about as transparent to the residents and taxpayers, as one of those days of the past when the pulp mill was belching atmospherics full tilt, providing for a film of smoke to cover the city.

As in the past and our then concerns over those particles in the air, in the end we may be about to revisit an era, where we may get a little richer, but we certainly don't have details on how it may affect us or what all the long term options could or could have been.

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