WATCH ABOVE: Even if the Northern Gateway pipeline doesn’t go ahead — Kitimat is already in the middle of a major economic expansion. Brian Coxford reports.
VANCOUVER – Tuesday’s announcement that the federal government has given its approval, in principle, to the Northern Gateway Pipeline, has focused new attention on the community of Kitimat.
The town would be the western terminus of the pipeline. It is already in a major boom with preliminary work on liquefied natural gas (LNG) projects and the construction of a new aluminum smelter.
The Haisla First Nation have the most to lose if there is an oil spill along the shores of Douglas Channel. They have lived in the area for hundreds of years and after studying the issue for a decade, the choice was clear to them – they favour LNG over oil in their territory and they will go to court if necessary to keep the Enbridge pipeline from coming in.
“We’re not trying to hold out for a better deal,” said Chief Ellis Ross from the Haisla First Nation. “We know the potential for wealth here. We’ve been doing it for 10 years, we know how to negotiate but there’s no real price we can put on an oil spill happening in these waters.”
For 60 years, the Haisla have looked across the channel to see the industrial opportunities that have passed them by. Now with prospect of at least three LNG plants in Kitimat, with the companies and B.C. government inviting them to play a partnership role, the band’s economic future is bright and it seems everyone has a job.
“You just have to look through our community where young people, as young as 25 years old, are buying their first vehicle, brand new, financing,” said Ross. “My daughter is early 20s, she has a mortgage.”
Just five years ago communities in this region were in trouble. In Kitimat the Eurocan Mill was closing, Alcan Aluminium was reducing staff, the mall was mostly empty, businesses were closing and people were leaving town but the promise of LNG development has completely turned it around.
“We’re experiencing probably a growth that we haven’t seen, probably in northwest B.C. or northern B.C., in the entire province,” said Dave Pernarowski, the Mayor of Terrace. “So there’s a lot of optimism.”
LNG plants costs billions to build. The Chevron-Apache consortium is pushing ahead with preparations by building docks, roads and foundations and the final decision hasn’t been made yet. They have bought the old Eurocan Mill for staging and development and there are plans to expanded the work camp from 500 workers today to 4,500 at peak building times.
There has already been more than two billion dollars spent in the region already by LNG.
– With files from Brian Coxford