Wednesday, April 07, 2010

For Jack and Bill, there seems ill will and all of us are bystanders!

What appears to be a nasty little spat between Mayor Jack Mussallem and former MLA Bill Belsey, currently in the employ of Sun Wave Forest Products, has broken out into the open on the  front pages of the city's daily newspaper.

The back and forth bickering has played out over the last week with first Mr. Belsey taking the lead by questioning some of the city's approaches to the Watson Island file while the City fired back with a salvo of its own on Wednesday, with the subject of the city's rebuttal for the most part being Mr. Belsey.

Taking to task in a fashion, the former MLA who most recently introduced himself into the spitting match, with a review of his involvement in the Sun Wave issue.

As we reviewed on the blog back on March 15th, Mr. Belsey arrived back in town seeking out the Northern View in order to take the lead and perhaps gain the upper hand of the media agenda on the issue, all while the City sat rather quietly to the side on the topic, a not uncommon situation of late whenever the issue of Watson Island pops up.

In his role as the new point man for the Chinese landowners (or former landowners we guess to be correct) Mr. Belsey has issued his own call to action for the City to sit down and discuss things with his employers, who one gathers are willing to let bygones be bygones (not to mention past taxes owed)

Mr. Belsey's latest talking points came in a Daily News front page story on March 30th, which featured some interesting observations, including his determination that the City's asking price wasn't particularly realistic and offering up the rather long shot proposition that his employers, Sun Wave, may still have a future in the development of the Industrial site that once hosted the Skeena Pulp operations.

Mr. Belsey suggests that Sun Wave is looking at development in other parts of the province, but still has hopes for the Watson Island development based on the amount of money they have already invested there. A declaration that one imagines would find few fellow travellers among the local populace, who haven't seen much in the way of anything taking place since Sun Wave arrived on the scene and no doubt have little faith in the company any more.

And perhaps the final poke in the city's ribs that required a reply, was Mr. Belsey's explanation as to how he initiated the prospect of further discussions with the City, not by any formal approach through City Hall, but rather at a social event in the city where he told the Daily News that he  "saw the mayor at the Community Foundation dinner and told him I was in town and I’ve talked to City councillors and local businesses” The Mayor dismissed that notion in that same article, indicating that he had no discussion on the issue at that event.

All of which leaves us to wonder if  a casual mention before the main course is served, is any way to take care of perhaps the most important issue of the day in the city, we're not sure that the Sun Wave message, whatever it may be got through in that particular environment.

Here's how the Daily News relayed Mr. Belsey's thoughts on March 30th:

Bill Belsey, former Liberal North Coast MLA and a former manager at the pulp mill, is now working on behalf of Sun Wave and two other Chinese companies interested in B.C. 

 From Vancouver, Belsey said it is also his understanding that all six proposals to purchase Watson Island were thrown out by 
the City. 

 “With all due respect to the City, they were looking for thirteen million and nobody believed that taxes are worth that. They were based on a value of sixty million - that of an operating pulp mill,” Belsey commented. 

According to Belsey, he was hired by Sun Wave because of his past experience in Prince Rupert and with the pulp mill. 

 “They have hired me to work with legal counsel on the current court case between Sun Wave and the City.” 

Another part of his job involves looking at possibilities in various aspects of fibre-related industries.

“Sun Wave is looking at development in other places, even Kitimat, but the company has invested quite a bit in Watson Island and is still interested in doing something there,” Belsey explained. 

 There has been speculation that Sun Wave is interested in dismantling the ‘B’ mill and taking it off the Watson Island site, but Belsey said that isn’t true.

“When I mentioned that to the Chinese they looked at me in disbelief and said, ‘that’s old technology’. They had talked about moving the digesters at one time, but realized the cost would be impossible. They have no intention of sending the mill elsewhere. I dare say there’s not much left there of value.” 

When asked why Sun Wave had filed a claim against the City in the Supreme Court of British Columbia, Belsey said the company felt it had run out of options. “If the City won’t talk to you, I guess it’s time to go another route.” 

According to Belsey, in an interview with the Northern View, he had attempted to set up meetings with the City, but his initiations were not returned. 

Upon subsequent questioning by the Daily News, Mayor Jack Mussallem had responded that neither he nor, as far as he was aware, city staff had been contacted by Belsey. 

 “I’ve never been approached by Bill Belsey to have a meeting. I saw him once in 2010 at a social function, but never discussed anything with him,” the Mayor said. Belsey, in turn, has confirmed that this had been his method of approach, “I saw the mayor at the Community Foundation dinner and told him I was in town and I’ve talked to City councillors and local businesses.” 

Belsey maintains Sun Wave is still open to talking with the City. 

 “Our legal counsel has said we need to sit down as adults with the City and then call in our lawyers when we need them. [The City] knows we’re eager to talk and they are using a moronic cliché, ‘it’s in front of the courts’. It’s sad that the City is continuing to pay a burn rate of one hundred thousand dollars a month at the mill and nothing’s happening out there and now they’re paying a burn rate plus lawyers.”

With a long weekend to think over all of those helpful points, the City finally offered up a response to some of the more interesting of Mr. Belsey's offerings.

Wednesday April 7th's edition of the Daily News outlined the details of a press release issued on Tuesday by the city, which seems to dismiss much of Bill Belsey's contribution to the debate thus far and seems to drip in what appears to be sarcasm, as they ask "Should there really be anything of interest remaining for the City to negotiate or discuss with Sun Wave?”

The full blast of the release recounts the tale thus far at least as far as the Sun Wave aspect and Mr. Belsey's involvement in it is concerned, less instructive from it however, is any indication that the process of selling the land and removing the burden of the site from the city's bank account is any closer to resolution.

Though the Mayor himself offers up some no doubt inadvertant humour when he offers up the suggestion that "the residents of Prince Rupert may not be aware that Sun Wave has launched a legal action against the City challenging the 2009 tax sale.".

Oh no worries there Mr. Mayor, we suspect that everyone knows the torturous route this whole issue is taking.

City responds to comments from Sun Wave representative 
By Monica Lamb-Yorski 
The Daily News 
Wednesday, April 7, 2010 

The City has issued a press release in response to comments made by Bill Belsey on behalf of Sun Wave. 

 Mayor Jack Musssallem said Tuesday that the City of Prince Rupert is still talking to proponents regarding the sale of Watson Island, but he was unwilling to comment on how things are progressing. 

 “We are still going with our decision to sell Watson Island,” the mayor said.“When we attain that resolve, then we will have something to say.” 

Within minutes of making that statement, a press release arrived from the City regarding comments made by Bill Belsey, as spokesperson for Sun Wave Forest Products, in an article that ran in the Daily News on March 30, 2010.  

The press release, dated April 6, 2010, reads as follows:

“Despite the comments in the Daily News on Tuesday, March 30, 2010 from Bill Belsey, Sun Wave Forest Products’ newest spokesperson, Prince Rupert City Council concluded the offer from Sun Wave Forest Products to re‐acquire Watson Island was inadequate and the offer was rejected on that basis. Other issues of significant concern to the City are as follows: 

 “The failure of Sun Wave to re‐open the mill, despite the significant City and employee contributions and efforts to make that happen, has been a huge disappointment to the people of Prince Rupert and the surrounding area. 

 “Sun Wave has failed to live up to most of its promises and obligations, contractual or otherwise, with the City. Case in point, Sun Wave had an agreement with the previous Mayor and Council to provide employment at the Watson Island facility in lieu of municipal taxes; the Council of the day even allowed a further one year extension on the tax exemption. Sun Wave failed to fulfilled their side of the bargain, despite all the concessions by others. 

“Subsequently, Sun Wave had numerous opportunities to pay its outstanding property taxes – they didn’t see fit to do that to protect their property. 

Sun Wave most recently had one year to redeem the property after they failed to pay their taxes and the property went to tax sale. Sun Wave elected not to pay the taxes and redeem their property. 

“Sun Wave has left the City with a tremendous liability and created an enormous financial strain. Sun Wave also stated that if they could not pay the outstanding property taxes, interest and penalties, that they would facilitate a smooth transition for its employees to the City of Prince Rupert – they did not live up to that commitment either.Currently, Sun Wave has shown no interest in removing its equipment and substances, including chemicals, in an orderly fashion so that the City can move on with finding new opportunities for the property. 

 “This has created an additional and ongoing liability for the City and all its residents, who may end up having to bear the additional responsibility and associated costs.

“Interestingly, Sun Wave did pay the property taxes on one small piece of property on December 1, 2009, but not those for the mill – the property of greatest importance to the City and its taxpayers. 

 “Now Bill Belsey, the newest spokesman for Sun Wave, wants to talk on his client’s behalf. 

The question must be asked, what is there to talk about after years of inactivity by Sun Wave? 

 “Sun Wave has no further legal rights to the whole of Watson Island, and has demonstrated no concern for the residents of Prince Rupert and the surrounding area. 

 “The City, its residents, and its neighbours, continue to watch with interest and concern, the aged condition of the two wood stave water lines that Sun Wave owns, and is not maintaining, and the potential liability that exists the length of those waterlines from Taylor Lake to Watson Island, especially adjacent Highway #16, should one or both of those waterlines fail. 

 “Finally Bill Belsey states, referring to Sun Wave Forest Prod,ucts, “together we still may assist the City in coming up with something positive for the area”. The residents of Prince Rupert may not be aware that Sun Wave has launched a legal action against the City challenging the 2009 tax sale, but only after Sun Wave failed to pay its property taxes and failed to redeem the property, and only after Sun Wave’s offer to purchase the property was rejected as inadequate.

 “Should there really be anything of interest remaining for the City to negotiate or discuss with Sun Wave?”

The events of the last week or so, opens up the window  a wee bit into the theatre of what has turned into a rather acrimonious twist in the long running Watson Island saga. Though as usual, when it comes to some cold hard facts about the future of the site, or where things stand at the moment we're left with little in the way of information.

In fact the entire situation is condensed into an ambiguous declaration of: “We are still going with our decision to sell Watson Island,” the mayor said.“When we attain that resolve, then we will have something to say.” Which is nice, but after almost seven months of this long running soap opera, perhaps the Mayors employers, the taxpayers and residents of the City, deserve just a little bit more.

So short of any tangible information about the fate of the albatross that continues to haunt the city's financials, we instead, get a distraction, the opportunity to stand to the side and watch everyone square off in the playground, taking part in a some kind of ritual dance of chest thumping as to who knows the best path out of this mess.

One only hopes that eventually some adults will come along and send everyone off to the corner (separate ones we imagine), maybe then, we'll get the answers that we really want to hear, with a lot less of the melodrama that seems to be the underlying theme of the day.

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