British Columbia

Controversial inland port project moving forward in Terrace

Some residents believe the project will help save the city from economic demise, but others fear it will deal a death-blow to their vision of a livable community — and public opinion between the two camps is almost evenly split.

Community split on whether development will be economic boom or death-blow to B.C. city's downtown

Terrace, B.C.-based Progressive Ventures wants to build a freight transfer facility on the site of a former sawmill near the city's downtown. (Progressive Ventures)

City council in Terrace, B.C., has cleared the way for a controversial inland port development to move forward near the community's downtown core.

While some residents believe the project will help save the city from economic demise, others fear it will deal a death-blow to their vision of a livable community — and public opinion between the two camps is almost evenly split.

More than 60 residents expressed their opinion on the project during a four-hour public meeting Thursday, with nearly equal numbers for and against.

But when councillors resumed discussion Friday morning, all but one voted in favour of amending the city's official community plan to allow the project to move forward.

"The bottom line is we have to have industrial tax," said Coun. Lynne Christiansen in making her decision. "We can't stand still and go stagnant."

Coun. Sean Bujtas said he has seen most of his graduating class leave the city and he feels "sick" every time council attempts to balance the budget. He argued it was urgent for council to welcome new sources of revenue.

Pitch to cash in on growing port traffic

The inland port pitch comes from local construction company Progressive Ventures, which wants to build the project on 44 acres of land formerly occupied by a sawmill.

Since the mill shut down in the 1990s, the land has sat derelict and is in need of remediation.

In 2014 the city developed a neighbourhood concept plan that envisioned turning the area into a mixture of housing, green space and commercial use.

But Progressive Ventures asked council to amend the plan to make way for a freight transfer facility for cargo trucks and trains connected to the rapidly growing Port of Prince Rupert.

The facility would be built on a former mill site that has been derelict since the 1990s. (Google Maps)

A similar facility already exists in Prince George at an industrial site near the downtown core.

Speaking in favour of the project, Terrace Chamber of Commerce president Tom Geller said the city is losing high-paying jobs to the Port of Prince Rupert in the west and the Canada LNG project in Kitimat to the south.

"How long will a family stay here when one parent [makes six figures] in Kitimat, for example, and the other is stuck in Terrace making minimum wage?" he asked.

"We can take advantage of the growing industry around us instead of watching the trains continue to travel through our town."

Safety, pollution concerns

Those opposed to the project cited concerns about noise, traffic and safety for the people who live and work near the project, in the city's Southside neighbourhood near downtown.

Several speakers said while they trusted Progressive Ventures, they did not trust CN, citing their refusal to build a pedestrian overpass following the deaths of two men hit while crossing the tracks in 2015.

"You are giving control of this area to CN," said Lisa Hannah. "You don't have any authority to say when, what or how any activity occurs on railways."

Greer Kaiser, who has lived in the neighbourhood since the late 1980s, said she has already seen the downside of increased train and truck traffic and urged the city to find another area for the project to be built.

But others said they remembered living across the street from the mill when it was running, and said they preferred the industrial activity to the derelict land that's been in place since.

Several councillors said although they were in favour of the project for now, they would be pushing for improved pedestrian paths and noise buffers as planning moves on to the next stage.

Jessica McCallum-Miller was the lone councillor to vote against the plan.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Andrew Kurjata

CBC Prince George | @akurjata

Andrew Kurjata is an award-winning journalist covering Northern British Columbia for CBC Radio and cbc.ca, situated in unceded Lheidli T'enneh territory in Prince George. You can email him at andrew.kurjata@cbc.ca. You can also send encrypted messages using Signal or iMessage to 250.552.2058.

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