Kitimat finally had its discussion on Camps on Tuesday, April 23rd at the Mount Elizabeth Theater. About half the seats were filled by the residents of Kitimat. Microphones were set up so when the main presentation was complete, the people could have their say. While the discussion was made concerning camps in general, most of the discussion revolved around Peace Trailers Industries (PTI) and their proposed lodge.
Community Planner Gwen Sewell provided a piece of the history of Kitimat and talked about the Official Community Plan (OCP). She told the story of Clarence Stine, Kitimat’s first planner who came out of retirement to implement his greenbelt concept in planning Kitimat and created a 52 volume set of documents detailing Kitimat.
“From the start, our town was designed to be civically independent and a sustainable Asian Pacific Tidewater place with room to grow. The town site selection specifically and even the street layout were influenced by climate, prevailing winds and all of those decisions were made by Mr. Stine and his team of experts. Industrial areas were and still remain separated from the residential and commercial core of our community by the Kitimat River and by a fairly condensed greenbelt of trees and natural spaces,” said Sewell.
The directive given by the Alcan at the time was to develop a town which would attract people to live there. The street layout was to keep children safe from traffic and people were able to move around the community using its walkway systems.
She stated the reason Kitimat was here was because it was on a saltwater location, making it a key port facility. She added this would help Kitimat move forward and make the town sustainable over a long term. She told those assembled Kitimat was one of BC’s busiest ports despite its size and this is what it’s returning to.
Sewell listed Kitimat’s assets. A deep water port which is sheltered and ice free year round, flat land for industry and the town site, a secure power supply and an abundant source of sand and gravel. However, changes in technology have led to fewer jobs which led to a decline in the population. Kitimat is also an aging city because most of the young people of Kitimat have moved on to other communities which has changed Kitimat’s population pyramid.
She went through Kitimat’s layout and the dates when each of the neighbourhoods grew before explaining what the OCP is. Kitimat’s OCP has been looked at several times, and she feels the two most important ones were the original one and the 2008 OCP.
Sewell explained that currently, work camps are permitted in M1 zones, or manufacturing zones. She showed a map where they are permitted and listed all the known projects which are currently looking at Kitimat. She showed the results of an examination of the potential population of Kitimat’s growth before going through Kitimat’s housing market.
“The proposal right now, is about possibly changing our Official Community Plan to recognize [camps] as an appropriate use in a residential area. That’s one question that you need to consider. Is Temporary Worker Housing a residential use or is Temporary Worker Housing an industrial use?” asked Sewell.
She stated PTI would have a separate consultation process and there will be a formal consultation process where people will have the specifics of the bylaw. With that, the floor was opened for public comment.
There were several presenters who had signed up in advance of the Town Hall Meeting. Brent Gurski, a construction worker who stated he has stayed in camps before, including a PTI, stated his biggest concern with the project is it is too close to town and will increase traffic. He pointed out the modernization has traffic steady for three hours. He suggested the town build housing for the camp workers because, as a construction worker, he’d sooner come home to a nice dinner than sit in a camp and eat food which is never as good as the stuff at home.
Derick Stinson, Chair of Kitimat Chamber of Commerce said there are housing restraints in town, there is a lack of hotel rooms and apartments are filling up. He expressed they need to take a long range approach with the PTI proposal. He added there are projects planning on coming online in 2015 and 2016. He said it would be difficult to put in housing at that time and when the construction period slows down, what happens to the homes? He stated there will be increased traffic no matter what happens so it is up to the town to plan for it.
“I think it’s going to be a balanced approach and the Chamber of Commerce wants to see a diversified growing economy, but at the same time, we need to be realistic with the type of infrastructure we have in place,” said Stinson.
The next speaker was Bill Kearley who had presented at Kitimat City Council the previous night. He delivered a similar presentation to the one he gave at Council, found here.
He stated people should not speak badly of construction workers because construction workers are involved in making the products we use every day and the things which they are accused of doing happens every day in everyone’s living room.
The final speaker who had pre-registered was William Perrier from Oviatt Contracting who read a letter from Jack Oviatt who could not be there. The letter was the same as he had read to Council on April 2nd, found here.
At this point the microphones were opened to the public.
Chris Lewis introduced herself as a protestor, not PTI but lots of other things because she believes there should be balance in Kitimat. “I don’t think financial gain is the number one factor we need to be considering,” said Lewis. “I want to live in a community I love and respect. I want to be able to go out and enjoy the nature, I don’t want to see stuff destroyed simply so we can have economic progress. When I look at the community, I want to know my neighbours.” She said she did not want to see the camp in a residential neighbourhood.
Graham Anderson hoped Council would make the correct decision. He explained Kitimat was built with industry in mind and it was strategically placed on the west side of the bridge while the east side was designed for residential and commercial use. He stated the bridge is routinely shut down to one lane. He wondered what kind of congestion this would cause with 2000+ workers using the bridge. He added the sewer system has a limited capacity. He wanted to know if there would be enough capacity to facilitate the increased load. He was concerned the camp would disrupt the water table. He concluded by saying they should not place a camp on the residential side of the bridge. He added he has no problem with construction workers.
Luella Froess stated she is not against construction workers, but expressed there has to be a better place to put it. She wanted to know who the camp was being built for, as many of the industries are planning to build their own camps on the other side of the bridge. She pointed out PTI is going to take their camp out, but others may not and she believes there are enough derelict buildings in Kitimat already. She was concerned with the people who follow camps in, prostitution, drugs, gangs and social issues. She hoped the camp workers would bring their families and concluded by pondering how to get the young people who have moved away from Kitimat to return. She pointed out the town would need housing for them.
Brad Hildebrandt told the crowd he had done research on PTI and they were a responsible company.
Rory Brown said Kitimat was built to be a town where people could raise their families and grow. “That’s not what’s happening. What is happening is our children, as they grow up, don’t have an opportunity for employment. Eurocan is gone, Methanex is gone, Alcan is downsizing, so what is there for them. I work at Alcan, I have 11 years to go until my pension. As it stands, If Kitimat continues the way it is, the only option I will have is to walk away from my house and start over somewhere else because I don’t want to live in a town of 5000 people with nothing here,” said Brown.
He stated there are stores moving into the mall including a successful store which moved into Kitimat from Terrace, pointing out this does not happen often. He stated now there is a business which wants to come into Kitimat and rather than being positive, there is nothing but negativity. Brown expressed the community is pushing the camp away to Terrace, Rupert or Prince George and the next person who looks at Kitimat will go there instead and the stores will go back to Terrace and people will continue to drive to Terrace to spend their dollars.
Brown pointed out they need a new bridge and if you have to go to the hospital: “God Help you! Emergency beds are full but apparently there are beds that aren’t even being used in our hospital. Why isn’t Council going to Regional and saying, there are people coming to Kitimat, we need a budget increase in our hospital, we need a trauma centre in our hospital. We’re the industry, not in Terrace.” He said he believes PTI could work in Kitimat, and just purchased two properties near it. He told Council they have had enough time to make a decision.
Tina Pereira stated there are good people who work in construction. The camp workers just want somewhere to live and building PTI in the down town core would benefit the community. “The workers would like a change, that means they would access all of what Kitimat has to offer, whether it is grocery stores, spas, etc. They are all within walking distance and they can go to the Keg on Friday night and they won’t have to worry about drinking and driving because they’re within walking distance to get home,” said Pereira. She stated some claim they are setting a negative environment but the workers are working up to six days a week.
Liz Thorn reflected on the Mayor of Fort Nelson who talked about how their town had been effected by the oil and gas industry. He did not put in camps and Thorn got the impression the camps were not a good thing. She wondered if anyone had called around to find out more information about camps in towns from places where there were camps in town.
The next speaker was a retiree. He said the big picture needs to be looked at. As a senior, he wondered what was in it for him. He moved to Kitimat for the quality of life. He hoped a lot of the projects come into town but he looks at the arguments on both sides. The businesses are not coming into town because they love Kitimat, they are coming into town for the seaport, which is not going away. He wanted the town to slow down, analyze the situation and build something they can be proud of.
Kelly Marsh was the next speaker and stated the people who have raised the industrial development welcome what the investment brings. Most welcome the construction workers. He said there is support for work camps to house and feed these workers. The only issue he has with the PTI proposal is the location, not the construction workers or PTI. He had a hard time understanding the benefit to the community as a whole for dropping 2100 construction workers in to a neighbourhood. He felt this is an experiment and the camp should be located in service centre or an industrial site. He expressed this is not being negative, this is sharing an opinion to help protect the health of the community.
Trish Parsons said the Chamber of Commerce has been involved with plenty of programs over the past two years. In these competitions, the teams coming into town have not been able to get rooms in town and the local teams cannot host tournaments because there are no rooms available. She said rent costs are so high people are tenting in the forests on the outskirts of town. Support costs in the community cannot support what is coming into the community and she is not going to tromp on the person working on minimum wage trying to make ends meet. They want everyone from minimum wage to high paying jobs.
Allen Hugh wanted to ask for legacy projects from the camps, such as the construction of a city hall or a fire hall.
Carl Whicher said he is not a protester, PTI is a wonderful company and he loves construction workers. He wanted to make a point about zoning. “People, when they purchase a property, buy a house in a neighbourhood, they have some guarantees about zoning that property. I really don’t think it’s up to Council to change that right of their property, it’s up to the home owners that live in the area,” said Whicher.
He expressed the camps should be built where they are zoned to be built. He admitted his generation has done a poor job at providing jobs to the next generation. He hoped Kitimat would grow and 20,000 people would live there in 20 years.
“I’m not against anybody doing stuff unless they do it at the expense of others,” said Whicher. He hoped to see the construction workers move to Kitimat for 20 years and bring their families. He pointed out there were few children in Kitimat. He asked Council to minimize the number of camp beds and maximize the number of construction workers living in Kitimat with their families and keep Kitimat as a place to raise a family.
Bill Volrath stated he thinks the camp should go where it is zoned to go and did not want to be labelled a nasty protester for saying that.
The next speaker concluded there was no one in the theatre who was opposed to the camps. He had heard nothing but welcoming comments. However, few people support the placement of the camp.
The speaker after was a construction worker who lived in camp. She expressed she has never met a nicer bunch of people. They are genuine people who have families. They raised $15,000 for the food bank. They want to be a part of the community and appreciate what Kitimat does for them.
Froess reiterated that not many were against construction workers. She wanted to see them move into town with their families and live there. As the meeting drew to a close, there were some questions from the audience concerning some of the potential development sites around town including the site on Kuldo Extension.
Sharon Nichols, a local realtor, stated there was no residential or commercial space. She speaks with investors looking for land, including one who was confused with all the undeveloped land in town which he could buy none of.
The owners of Imatra Heights, the development on Kuldo Extension got up to say PTI was interested in developing there but changed their minds, as they were told, after talking to the District of Kitimat. Another person got up and pressed the issue, calling out a Councillor in the process. Waycheshen stated he cannot debate on why PTI made the decisions they did.
Shaun Crockett, representing PTI got up to answer the question. “When PTI first came to Kitimat a year ago, we looked intensely at the Industrial Park and Service Area for a site suitable for a project. We could not find one that was large enough or available or affordable for our project. We knew that’s where the zoning existed to support our project but we could not find a site. At that time, we approached the town administration, presented them with our project concept and challenged them to find a site, recognizing the general constraints in the area with the natural state of the area,” said Crockett.
He expressed they looked at all of their options, from Imantra, to Haisla Hill to Strawberry Meadows and other options. They made a business decision to pursue Strawberry Meadows because it would better align with the Downtown Revitalization Program. It would add to the commercial sector of Kitimat and it would support infrastructure in the location in terms of road, water and sewer lines beyond their proposed site.
“We want to be a part of the solution, we want to be a part of the community, we want to be an employer of local people and we’re looking for support,” concluded Crockett.
Someone asked if a smaller camp would be more palatable to the community. Crockett said there is a lot of development cost and a smaller facility would not support the development cost. It was suggested the District of Kitimat could bear the extra costs but Crockett responded it is one way to show the community how they are going to benefit from the project.
One person asked Council to look into getting access to some available land. The administration replied they are looking into this. The final speaker wanted to say thank you for hosting this town hall meeting and permitting them to say their piece. There were no further questions.