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City council hears from petrochemical complex opponents

Project could turn city back into a “dirty industrial town”
Opponents of the proposal from West Coast Olefins to build a petrochemical complex took their case for stopping the project to city council on Monday night.

Dr. Marie Hay led off a presentation by citing a litany of health concerns linked to similar complexes elsewhere - from a range of cancers to liver and kidney damage, to obesity, to reproductive disorders and infertility. Workers, residents and children will be exposed, she said.

“Air, water and land pollution from such industries harm the health of people who live up to 35 kilometres around them,” said Hay, a medical doctor, and later added fish and wildlife within that radius will also be exposed.

She said the areas around Sarnia, Ontario and in Louisiana have both come to be known as Cancer Alley as a result of the pollution from petrochemical operations in those areas.

Hay told council she is sharing “evidence-based facts,” and that council has a “fiduciary responsibility to first and foremost protect the health and wellbeing of Prince George citizens.”

“After hearing these frightening health facts, you will not in the future be able to use the defence that you did not know because it is now in the public domain and on public record,” Hay continued.

Dr. Annie Booth, an environmental sciences professor at University of Northern British Columbia said going ahead with the complex will only serve to drive away the people the city has worked to attract by turning Prince George back into a “dirty industrial town.”

Booth said council has a “very stark choice.”

“You’ll have a very industrial city, much like it was in the 60s, with a very limited and restricted population, or you have the vibrant, developing, growing community that you’ve worked so hard over the years since I’ve been here to make,” Booth said.

She maintained the number of jobs and amount of tax revenue the complex would generate are unclear while surveys indicate students, staff and faculty will leave at such a rate that UNBC would cease to exist and the losses would extend to medical practitioners and support workers that Prince George has worked so hard to attract.

Hay and Booth spoke as representatives of TooClose2Home, a group that has sprouted up to stop the project, with the aim of convincing council to pass a motion to refer the environmental assessment for the project to an “independent panel of experts to conduct a regional assessment by way of public hearings.”

In response, council voted to ask staff for an update on where the project stands.

“The community is desperate for more information and it just seems that there is a lot of confusion over what is and isn’t happening with the project, what is and isn’t being zoned, what lies with council but also what lies with the ALR (Agricultural Land Reserve), with the province and where the environmental assessment process is,” said Coun. Cori Ramsay, who made the motion.

As it currently stands, WCOL is proposing to build a natural gas recovery system on a site in Pineview that would take feedstock from the nearby Enbridge pipeline and transport it to a 120-hectare (300-acre) property zoned for heavy industrial on the BCR where it would supply an ethylene plant and an ethylene derivatives plant.

The ethylene plant would produce about one million tonnes per year of polymer-grade ethylene. At the derivatives plant, it would be further refined to produce polyethylene - essentially plastic in pellet form - and possibly mono-ethylene glycol - used as antifreeze and heat transfer fluid - mostly for export to Asia.

In all, the works would cost at least $5.6 billion to build, generate 2,000 to 3,000 jobs at its peak and employ about 170-230 people once completed. The natural gas recovery system would account for about $1.3 billion of that total, the ethylene plant for $2.8 billion and the derivatives plant for $1.5 billion.

While the site on the BCR is zoned for the purpose, the location in Pineview is not and would need to go through a rezoning process at the Fraser-Fort George Regional District.

On Monday, Mayor Lyn Hall stressed that, contrary to assertions he’s heard, Prince George’s four representatives on the FFGRD board of directors would not have a weighted vote on the matter and that he, as the mayor, would not carry the deciding vote.

“Every one of the regional directors around the regional district table have equal voting power, one person, one vote and I hope that message gets clearer and clearer as conversations take course, particularly in the Pineview area,” Hall said.

Pineview area residents have been vocal in their opposition to the project.

The Lheidli T’enneh First Nations has also come out against the project. In partnership with the McLeod Lake Indian Band, they have been working to develop an industrial park of its own north of Prince George, near Summit Lake.

In February 2021, both bands said they were close to finalizing a partnership with Prince George-based Formula Capital Corp., to develop a petrochemical complex at their site.