Saturday, April 24, 2010

A rumble brews in The Watson Island tar pit

Snapping and growling from separate sides of the Watson Tar pits, Rupertites can only sit back in amazement and maybe with a wee bit of trepidation, as the two key combatants seemingly circle each other warily around Rupert's version of Jurassic Park.  

The Megalosaurus Mussallemus, is quick to the attack but given to sudden retreats into its safety zone prepared to bide its time as the opposition circles.

The Brontosaurus Belseyus tends to make much in the way of noise as it prepares to engage in battle, this as it seeks to exert its control over the situation, once regularly found in the Northwest it has been a wandering species of late, recently returned to its environment as it joins up with more recent arrivals from the Far Eastern reaches

There's been much noise from the tar pits these days of late, you sense a clash is imminent, though perhaps there will be an accommodation at the Tar pits, providing relief for those creatures on the sidelines fearful of what such a battle could bring.  

The signs however for now, seem to suggest a rumble is brewing!!

The headline from Friday's posting to the Northern View website is a little deceptive,  reading as it does "Sun Wave, Prince Rupert Mayor talk Watson Island sale, litigation and possible bankruptcy".

Yet judging by the flow of information coming out of both sides of the increasingly nasty dispute between Sun Wave and the City of Prince Rupert, while there's a lot of noise coming out of both corners, and there may in deed be talking, it's just that there's seemingly not a lot of face to face varitey going on.

Instead, in what seems at time to be feud last found in high school, the animosity level appears to be increasing by the day as the two key participants seek to find supporters.

Rather than of any form personal contact on the issues of concern, it seems that media delegates are taking the talking points of late, Shaun Thomas of the Northern View for the moment has become the one to channel the words of Mr. Belsey, while the Mayor at times seems to have favoured the Daily News to deliver his point by point admonishments.

Mr. Belsey most recently suggesting that he's an aggreived party here, simply seeking a little conversation with the city, stating that he finds it, “disturbing” that the City is using local media to convey their message rather than meet "face to face".  Perhaps a wee bit overplayed, as he himself hasn't been particularly shy about taking his talking points to the media since he last blew into town as the new point man for Sun Wave.

The Mayor for his part, seems not to want to talk with Mr. Belsey in any capacity, recently recounting a brief passing conversation at a social function as his only contact thus far, and now standing on the ages old cloaking device of explaining that his "not meeting with Sun Wave at present is a matter of the City being cautious in the face of court action from the company."

Belsey offers up his thoughts on the current lack of communication, advising his impression is that with so much uncertainty over the property now, potential buyers may hold off until the dust settles and may not show any further interest until all matters of remediation and such are taken care of.

To that end he fires off perhaps the latest salvo of this ongoing drama, with a preview of his possible recommendation to his clients at Sun Wave, that if there is no progress on the retrieval of property issue his recommendation would be that Sun Wave "look into declaring bankruptcy and walking away from it all."

A move we imagine that also would find its way into a courtroom and could possibly leave the City with expanded legal costs and perhaps further expenses related to environmental remediation and site maintenance.

The Mayor counters that talking point by suggesting that such a move would not leave Sun Wave in "a very good light", hopefully that's not the best the city can come up with on that particular issue, as we suspect Sun Wave at this point isn't particularly concerned as to what kind of light they are held in on the North coast.

While we have the feeling that a lot of Mr. Belsey's bravado on the situation is the normal chest thumping of negotiations, or attempted negotiations we guess in this case, the one point that he makes that has some resonance is the ability for this whole process to drag on for a bit more than most Rupertites might like.

With the meter running on the lawyers and maintenance costs by the hour, not to mention that all this uncertainty is surely taking a toll on the opportunity to sell the land and move it off of the city's files. The added concern of having the city on the hook for any environmental concerns surely won't provide much comfort for anxious citizens more thank likely wishing to be done with the place.

Much as it seems to go against his nature at the moment, perhaps having the city have some out of court discussions might help after all, if for no other reason than to try and move the agenda on to other issues, such as finding a buyer and reducing the current level of hyperbole.

What's worrisome is that the further we move along in this process, the farther away we seem to be getting from some resolution to it all, seemingly like the dinosaurs of old, getting stuck further and further into the tar.

Short term the omens don't seem too positive, the full Northern View article doesn't offer up much hope that things are in store for a change anytime soon.

Sun Wave, Prince Rupert Mayor talk Watson Island sale, litigation and possible bankruptcy
By Shaun Thomas 
The Northern View 
Friday, April 23, 2010

Sun Wave Investments representative Bill Belsey is once again calling for the City to meet with him in hopes of finding an amicable resolution to what has turned into a legal dispute between the City of Prince Rupert and Sun Wave, this time in a letter to council dated April 14 that he says only one councillor acknowledged.

Saying that it was “unfortunate” that the City released a statement in which it “chose to attack me personally over the Sun Wave – Watson Island issue” and it that it is “disturbing” that the City is using local media to convey their message rather than meet face to face, Belsey says he “sincerely believes there are a number of topics we could discuss that would benefit both the City and Sun Wave”. In fact the letter contains a list of 16 issues for discussion that includes the time and financial burden of litigation, the state of the economy and the impact of population and business decline on the tax base, “the difficult position the previous Sun Wave administrators left the current Sun Wave administration”, the environmental issues left on the site, and discussions Belsey has had with both the province and “other organizations that submitted proposals in January to purchase Watson Island”.

 “Others I have spoken with have said they won’t take over that property until the environmental clean-up is done. They’re concerned about the environmental issues, First Nations concerns and the taxation formula being used,” said Belsey in an interview with The Northern View, noting that the property was bought by Sun Wave for $3.3 million but is taxed based on an operating mill valued at more than $50 million.

 “The other organizations I have spoken with have also told me they are more than willing to sit down with us to try and get that property utilized.”

 The letter also says that Sun Wave has tried twice, unsuccessfully, to meet with the Mayor and that a lengthy message left earlier this month went unreturned.

However, Prince Rupert Mayor Jack Mussallem said that not meeting with Sun Wave at present is a matter of the City being cautious in the face of court action from the company.

 “I don’t talk to anybody that has taken the City to court, even though Mr. Belsey has previously said that is a moronic statement, which I take exception to...I do not want to have any discussions with anybody who, in turn, could have their lawyer subpoena me to appear in court to repeat that conversation. Once somebody has decided that they are going to take the City to court, the only recourse is to see them in court rather than to try and have a conversation about any sort of topic,” he said. 

“That’s fairly standard despite the fact that he thinks it’s moronic.”

 Along with the letter, Belsey supplied Sun Wave’s offer to purchase the land from the City, dated December 15, 2009. The offer includes a purchase price of $13 million based on four conditions being satisfied. These include that the purchaser will be satisfied with its investigations to the land, the purchaser will have a commitment for financing, the purchaser and the seller will agree the purchaser has no liability for past property taxes and the land be exempt from property taxes for five years, and that Sun Wave will have a certificate from the province saying the government “will be fully responsible for all costs relating to the environmental remediation of the Watson Island site” within 90 days of sale. If the City chose not to agree to those conditions, the sale price would be $2 million. 

“Sun Wave, when they purchased the site, had been working out environmental issues with the government. When I left in 2006 we had already had a number of meetings with the province about the environmental concerns,” said Belsey.

 “Sun Wave put that condition in because we knew we could sit down with the province and work this out.”

And Belsey said given the City’s unwillingness to sit down and talk, their denial of a number of proposals to purchase the land, the taxation structure and conditions placed on retrieving equipment, his recommendation to Sun Wave would simply be to look into declaring bankruptcy and walking away from it all. But doing so, he says, would leave the City with considerable costs related to environmental remediation and site maintenance.

 “My only comment would be that the history of Sun Wave in regards to the City of Prince Rupert and the community has not been good, and if we were to hear that Sun Wave did that I don’t think that would show them in a very good light. They haven’t lived up to any former agreements, whether verbal or contractual, they still have some outstanding liabilities that are of concern to the City of Prince Rupert and the District of Port Edward and to walk away would not show them in a very good light,” said Mayor Mussallem in response to the bankruptcy idea. 

“There is some expectation going forward that they would live up to their obligations with regards to equipment removal off of Watson Island, which is theirs, and to remove the various liquids that are in storage out there that are being monitored on a continual and daily basis and to pay those costs.”

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