Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Podunk Below the Masthead (Monday, February 1, 2010)

The Olympic torch arrives in Prince Rupert, the Prime Minister's secretary is about to get a lot of mail and word of another closed meeting a city hall about the fate of Watson Island, some of the items of note in Monday's news files.

Daily News, front page, headline story
NORTHERN TRANSMISSION LINE IS LOOKING AT ANOTHER STEP FORWARD -- Some further background on the application for an environmental review of the proposed Northwest Transmission Line, as the Northern View and CFTK TV News outlined last week, the proposed Transmission line is a much anticipated addition to the northwest infrastructure grid with the potential of more development in the region once it is online and in operation.

A letter writing campaign by local students is in motion to try and bring the Prime Minister to Prince Rupert for the city's 100th birthday celebrations. Up for grabs for local students is the chance to be eligible to win books for their school library, for the school which sends off the most mail to Prime Minister Stephen Harper's office. The City has extended an invitation to the Prime Minister, but as of yet no reply has been received to that correspondence, it's hoped that with an avalanche of paper arriving at his office, Mr. Harper may find time in his political calendar to attend the March 10th celebrations.

City Council will sit in closed in camera session on Tuesday afternoon, the Daily News confirmed from two un-named councillors that the topic of the meeting will be the ongoing efforts to bring to a close the sale of the Watson Island industrial site. The council and mayor will meet behind the closed doors at 5 pm.

The sports section on Monday featured coverage of this weekends visit to Prince Rupert of the Ketchikan Kings basketball team, the Alaskan visitors ranked as one of the top teams in Alaska's competitive High School basketball conferences took on the AA ranked PRSS Rainmakers in two highly exciting games at the PRSS gym. The Kings prevailed in both contests, 103-98 on Saturday night and 96-54 on Sunday afternoon. They wrapped up their barnstorming tour of Rupert with a match on Monday at Charles Hays.

The Northern View
Olympic Torch Relay comes to Prince Rupert -- The Northern View had the first reports on the fun filled evening of entertainment and national pride as the Olympic torch relay traveled through the streets of downtown Prince Rupert before its arrival at City Hall on Monday evening (see article here)

The Northern View
Details on today's Olympic Torch relay in Prince Rupert -- Prior to its review of the nights activities, the Northern View provided a preview of what to expect at the celebration (see article here)

CFTK TV 7 News
There was no updated news provided on the CFTK website for Monday.

Queen Charlotte Islands Observer
MP, spouse expecting twins -- Haida Gwaii's news outlet has the first news of an addition coming up for the family of Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen, Mr. Cullen and his wife Diana are expecting twins in July (see article here)

CBC News Northern British Columbia, Daybreak North
The return of local content on the CBC website continues to experience delays as technical woes appear to be continuing. The CBC has once again revised their start up date for the new service, advising that the site will launch "shortly".

Daily News, front page, headline story
Northern Transmission Line is looking at another step forward
By George T. Baker
The Daily News
Monday, February 1, 2010

The British Columbia Transmission Corporation has applied for an environmental review of their proposed Northwest Transmission Line.

While the review is expected to take 180 days, it is still unknown when construction would begin if it were to pass.

However, there is plenty of interest in the 287 kV line’s construction, from Alaskan independent power generators to Canadian mining firms. And if all goes ahead, the project will become a 335 km transmission line between the Skeena Substation (near Terrace) and a new substation to be built near Bob Quinn Lake. This could be the necessary coping mechanism the region needs to overcomef current economic hardship.

“The purpose of this transmission line and what it will do for British Columbia and specifically northwest B.C. is it will provide a clean source of power for mining projects, so that mining projects in the area can then build a line to the Bob Quinn substation when it’s built,” said BCTC spokesperson Leslie Woods.

There will still be skeptics as to whether this project will actually see the light of day. Like a Frankenstein-infrastructure project, the NTL has been proposed then killed, resurrected and then subsequently killed again. On October 1, 2007, the $400 million project was then the darling of a partnership between the provincial government, Teck Cominco and NovaGold. It was called the The Galore Creek Partnership. It lasted two months.

On November 29, the project was shelved when Teck Cominco and NovaGold shelved their Galore Creek project as costs ballooned from US$2-billion to close to US$5-billion. To date the two companies have spent approximately $660 million on access roads and infrastructure.

Without a major industrial customer in place, the proposed high-capacity line no longer made economic sense, then Energy Minister Richard Neufeld said.

But his replacement has a different story to tell. Blair Lekstrom said that the timing couldn’t be better for an infrastructure project like this.

“We never said we were not going to build it, we said hold it. We want to have a look at this and find out what other options are available to us and that’s when the partnership with the federal government became evident, they were very interested in looking at it and noticing the importance of that line and what it meant particularly to the northwest,” Lekstrom explained to the Daily News on Friday.

“The whole idea of a strong infrastructure is allowing job opportunities and future generations.”

If job creation is the story the provincial government wants to tell, they are likely to find sympathetic ears in a B.C. region that has suffered the worst decline of any since 2008.

According to a report by the Northwest Regional Advisory Committee - which includes Mayor Jack Mussallem – made to the Northern Development Trust Initiative board of directors last month, the area has faced ten years of population decline.

The value of building permits in the region dropped by 24.6 per cent in 2008. The Northwest’s job creation tool is the government right now, with most job creation taking place in the services-producing sector.
No industry has faced more challenges in the region than the forestry industry, which dropped half its workforce in the past three years.

So, if the provincial government is talking jobs people are likely to listen.

“We began this process some time ago, so there was no indication of some of the issues the Northwest was going to face, particularly Eurocan, but the timing, though, has to bring some optimism to the Northwest,” said Lekstrom.

Discovering mines is all the rage in the Northwest. The region led the province last year in dollars spent on exploration activity, making up nearly half the total expenditures in 2009.

Exploration reached $65 million in 2009. The Red Chris mine just passed a major hurdle with a Supreme Court ruling that amounted to a pass - although there had been significant deficiencies in how the project was environmentally assessed.

There is also some interest flowing in from Southeast Alaska, too.

One of the tenets of the proposal for having a transmission line in the region would allow for further development of independent power projects both in the Northwest and in Alaska.

Paul Southland of the Alaska-Canada Energy Coalition said the potential job opportunities the NTL could provide for the 77,000 residents of southeast Alaska is just as important.

“We just briefed [State Governor Sean Parnell] on Monday with a document that had an estimate with the construction value of 2,000 MW of hydropower stored in the southeast. The capitalization of that was estimated at $6 billion,’ said Southland. “For an area with our size of population, a couple hundred thousand dollars is a big investment.”

Not everyone is happy with how the project will be assessed.

Iskut resident James Bourquin of the Cassiar Watch Society said that the government could be missing an opportunity to really investigate what is possible for the region. With low manufacturing output in the Northwest, he would have preferred the project undergo a rigorous Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency investigation rather than the provincial level one. That assessment could have addressed why copper manufacturing would take place in China rather than here in B.C.

He points to a 2008 Mining Association of B.C. study that identified the power requirements for six proposed open pit copper mines in the region. He believes it would take 30-to-40 years to max out the mines, which will be trucked to the port and then shipped to China where it will be smelted.

“We can do it better and greener than anyone else in the world and we are not even looking at it,” said Bourquin.

Bourquin also added that transportation was also being ignored.

“The only thing that the NTL assessment will provide is the power requirements. It will not look at the transportation requirements and therefore we have put ourselves in a situation that if we ramp up the power, what is going to happen after these mines get set up?” Bourquin wondered.

“With all the projects that the Mining Association of B.C. is talking about, you are looking at 300-to-400 trucks on the [Cassiar] highway each day, which is crazy. It’s only seven meters wide and there are no passing lanes.”

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