Mel Norton orders staff to probe Canaport LNG tax deal
'Council would want to ensure that we receive the appropriate tax,' Mel Norton says of Canaport LNG tax deal
Saint John Mayor Mel Norton says the city is investigating the status of the controversial 25-year property tax deal with Canaport LNG.
Norton broke his silence on the issue on Tuesday following a CBC investigation that revealed John Nugent, the city solicitor, has advised Saint John administrators that the property tax break given to Canaport LNG in 2005 only applies if the site is used for importing liquefied natural gas.
Norton said his office learned on Tuesday that oil handling is now being performed on the LNG site.
If that change is such that the property is no longer eligible for that tax deal then council would very much want to ensure that we collect the tax that's due and owing at law.- Saint John Mayor Mel Norton
The mayor said that could cause the city to revisit the property tax deal.
"We've asked staff to look into what the change in the use of that property is,” he said.
“If there has been a change and if that change does impact the tax status, impact that tax deal then, of course, council would want to ensure that we receive the appropriate tax, the tax that's payable by law."
Officials with Canaport LNG owners, Spain’s Repsol and Irving Oil Ltd., could not be reached on Tuesday night for comment.
But documents filed with the Energy and Utilities Board show Irving Oil Ltd. has built a crude oil pipeline from Canaport as a backup to the offshore monobuoy, which has long been used by supertankers to offload cargo.
Saint John and the Canaport LNG owners struck a deal in 2005 that saw a significant tax break given to the LNG facility.
Canaport carries the highest property tax assessment in New Brunswick at $299.4 million.
But under the tax deal, its annual property tax bill is frozen at $500,000.
When the tax deal was struck in 2005, the provincial legislature had to pass special legislation to allow for the property tax arrangement.
The legislation says it applies to property "solely for receiving" LNG. There are discussions underway at Canaport to convert the facility to manufacture and export LNG instead.
Earlier this week, Norton said in an emailed statement that it would be “imprudent to comment on hypothetical or speculative scenarios that have not and are not before Saint John Common Council.”
On Tuesday, Norton said city managers were instructed to investigate what is happening at the LNG facility and examine the city’s options.
"We're still gathering information at this point," Norton said.
"But we do understand that there was some change and if that change is such that the property is no longer eligible for that tax deal then council would very much want to ensure that we collect the tax that's due and owing at law."