Two failed resurrections, a costly dispute with an off-shore investor, and more litigation

 The economc news in the Northwest Pacific of B.C. is transitional with many possible activities that could change the city into the port of "now." The 'port of the future' has been envisioned in its history to have world-class facilities and urban infrastructure in the area surrounding Prince Rupert. 


The Industrial Revolution and Prince Rupert were supposed to be a marriage made in heaven when Charles Melville Hays aspired to create a second transcontinental railroad in Canada. He was president of the Grand Trunk Railway until his remarkable vision and life passed with the sinking of the Titanic.

A century later, the world continues to wait for the dawn of a new age in Prince Rupert, even moreso after a tortuous decade of lows including shuttering of forestry related industrial facilities in the surrounding close-knit islands hugging the coast, and through all the pain still waits a 'rebirth.' Take Watson Island remediation for example. From 1951 to 2001 a pulp mill operated about 14 km (8 mi) away from the city. It was a major economic engine until closure and no amount of effort would see it revived.

Colonial Coal's Watson Island Development Corporation (WatCo) bought the pulp mill facilities in August 2012 with plans to turn the dormant site from derelict to a revitalized bulk cargo shipping terminus. WatCo was talking about building infrastructure for the modern economy and the city of Prince Rupert was getting on with remediation of an abandoned industrial site. Here's how Colonial Coal presently describes the situation on their website:

Watson Island was the site of the former Skeena Cellulose Mill from 1951 to 2001.  In 2012, Colonial Coal through its subsidiary Watson Island Development Corp. (Watco) entered into an MoU with Lax Kw’alaams Band and Metlakatla First Nations (“Coast Tsimshian Nation”) for the formation of a Joint Venture for the potential acquisition of the Watson Island property.  Watson Island is envisioned as a multi-product bulk commodity port and offers a potential and exciting solution to expand export capacity in British Columbia in light of increasing regional bulk commodity production. Watco has an exclusive arrangement (“Exclusivity Agreement”) with the City of Prince Rupert to purchase Watson Island. Watco will compensate the City of Prince Rupert for actual land expenses in accordance with the terms of the Exclusivity Agreement.  Watco has hired consultants for an investigation into development and remediation of Watson Island. The group is working under an exclusivity arrangement with the city of Prince Rupert to acquire the site once a plan has been developed to deal with its environmental remediation. Watco is currently in litigation with the City of Prince Rupert in connection with the acquisition of Watson Island.

The company says, "For additional information visit www.watdevco.com," but there's nothing going on there.

Watson Island cleanup is a job consisting of somewhere between $50 million and $200 million to finish, including the decommission of the pulp mill and proceeding on remediation, all this taking at least two or three years, nevertheless, "This isn't the first pulp mill in B.C. that's been closed," said a spokesman for WatCo, "We recognized this site as remediated but it was not looked after and not decommissioned." It's about 80 to 100 hectares all told, and certain parts are surrounded by a sensitive water situation that is well in hand, as well there are certain parts of the island that need to be looked after, what they call 'hotspots.'

From north to south Watson Island includes four major areas: the wharf, the lower mill, the upper mill and filled areas. Many structures from the former operation remain on Watson Island along with much of the equipment. The buildings include space for warehousing and storage, along with power generation facilities, water facilities and above-ground storage containers." The spokesman says, "Lax W'Alaams First Nation, Metlakatla First Nation, and Colonial Coal formed a partnership for rehabilitation and recovery of Watson Island, all agreed the derelict facilities sat for too long. The partnership formed in June 2011," and this began proceedings on the long neglected former site of the Skeena Cellulose. Since the beginning of the proposal, however, the city and the company have been less than successful proceeding.

The remediation of Watson Island is part of the Asia-Pacific Gateway Corridor and Initiative (APGCI) of the federal government, "The Asia-Pacific Gateway and Corridor Initiative is an integrated set of investment and policy measures focused on trade with the Asia-Pacific Region. Its mission is to establish Canada’s Asia-Pacific Gateway and Corridor as the best transportation network facilitating global supply chains between North America and Asia. The Initiative is led by the Minister of Transport." [Source: http://www.asiapacificgateway.gc.ca/apgci.html] The Watson Island site is located on the CN mainline and has been identified as a long-term multi-product bulk commodity port.

The fact is the island has a history of heavy industry that includes explosives handling during World War Two, and half century of active pulp production, strongly suggesting the site contains a variety of environmental contaminants. These include chemicals, waste dumps, building debris and other materials. The challenge of addressing this contamination, including the variable costs of identifying and remediating it, has proven to be a barrier to redevelopment in the past. There have been operations and the engineering and site analysis has been part of the preliminary group of activities by the aforementioned parties, but most of the work is pending sale of the land from City of Prince Rupert. This will be a long term facility in the planning and the city is decided on putting the site back in business just as much as industrial players want to be there.

Watson Island has longer history related to the days of Coast Tsimshian staging operations in fishing and whaling, with the assumed return of the territory to jurisdiction of the Coast Tsimshian nation. The proponents of development include Coast Tsimshian as part of board, shareholders, and Impact Benefits Agreement contains skill development in the consulting, planning, and engineering being done. Remediation and development will be designed to fulfil the needs of island and community. Any time the processes involving buildings, storage containers, and a large hog fuel pile, at least .5 hectare in size left over from the days of an operational pulp mill get underway, it's possible part of the plan could turn hog fuel into biofuel or the biomass could be put to other uses.

The Skeena Cellulose closing left the site abandoned since 2001 and in the face of two failed resurrections of the pulp and paper plant including a costly dispute with an off-shore investor it would be a relief and a pleasant surprise to see all the problems resolved. The kinds of bulk commodities that could be shipped through Watson Island facilities include caustic soda, sulphur, metallurgic ore, coal, wood pellets, "CN has shown us over 50 products that are possible bulk commodities once the island is prepared and sustainably designed and operated. It's taking a lot of time to get it to this point," WatCo spokesman admits. "It's been a job of coordinating a number of very interested parties, and seeing the vision and continuing to move toward it."

Watson Island Remediation Part of the Go-forward Plans for the North Pacific Coast of Canada