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Ethylene plant’s tax value uncertain

The controversies around the proposed ethylene plant are numerous. Those who are for it and those who oppose it have different reasons to take their positions. As such, the issue cannot be covered in one column.
Jo Graber column

The controversies around the proposed ethylene plant are numerous. Those who are for it and those who oppose it have different reasons to take their positions. As such, the issue cannot be covered in one column.

Let me start by saying that one must wonder why the proponents planning to build an ethane cracker plant to produce ethylene as a feedstock for consumer plastics and chemicals would want to build it in an airshed already compromised with frequent inversions.

Those of us who have lived here for all or most of our lives know the air quality history. Those with respiratory diseases such as asthma, various types of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, as well as restrictive lung disease, suffer the most on poor air quality days.

That unhealthy condition still maintains Prince George at the top or near the top of the list of cities with the poorest air quality in the province.

I also wonder why city council and administration have encouraged the proponents to build the plant, plus possible additional plastic manufacturing plants, within the city limits when the Official Community Plan, based on studies which identified four heavy industrial sites in the Regional District that are within 30-minute drives from the city, does not allow such plants in the city. 

Those four sites have been identified on the city’s web page for many years so that any prudent developer interested in heavy industrial developments would be directed to those sites. Most certainly the administrator in charge of planning should have done so.

The proponents did not do that research. Not only that, but they indicated at a meeting I attended that no one at city hall brought that exclusion to their attention.

That has led me to wonder why the city is not acting according to its own bylaws, especially bylaws made by past mayors and councils to protect the still compromised, but slowly improving, Prince George air shed from unnecessary and unhealthy pollutants. Is this lapse in maintaining the public trust on purpose or are we seeing municipal amnesia?

Instead of taking the issue to a public hearing at the beginning with a proposed change to the OCP and, if successful, to a subsequent public rezoning hearing of the property, the city appears to be relying on the outcome of an environment assessment review. Based on my experience, the plant will likely be approved by that review, with some conditions. Those conditions will not include no pollutant releases to the air, or water, or soil. Quite the contrary will be true.

If approved by the Ministry of Environment, the city must then take the issue to public hearings to amend both the OCP as well as the site zoning. City council, which is the administrative body empowered to adjudicate the open hearing, will, in my opinion, be left in a compromising position. Should those attending and speaking at the hearing be predominately opposed to the plant, councilors will have forced the proponents through a costly, time-consuming legislative maze which could have been quickly avoided from the start by sticking to the well-developed municipal bylaws.

Not only that, but if it appears that there is ample opposition at the public hearing and council still approves the OCP and zoning changes, there will be valid suspicion that council had a prejudicial view, not supported by the people during the hearings. In such an event, I believe that there will be case to take the matter further to the minister responsible for municipalities and/or a judicial review.

We could be looking at a lengthy process, which may lead to unnecessarily divide the community, in part due to a lack of clear and full disclosure of facts from the city and the proponents.

Many residents believe that residential building permits alone won’t fund new swimming pools, crosswalks or library entrances. From the way city councillors are acting over the past year, with a $5 billion ethane cracker plant being waved in front of their eyes, they appear to feel the same way. 

The mantra is, we need new industrial plants inside the city to add to the tax base as well as jobs for our population, especially due to the current downturn in the forest industry.

The problem is, we are bound by an OCP which states:
* Policy 6.1.2 The City shall continue to work with the Regional District of Fraser-Fort George to identify new heavy industrial lands outside of the Bowl area

* Policy 6.1.6 The City should continue to promote programs that achieve net benefits to air quality and climate change.

Take a look at the tax burden data kept on the BC Gov statistics site and see how much each tax class contributes to municipal tax base. The majority of people do not see that information.

Last year, the city collected $116,359,230 in municipal taxes from nine property classes, with 52.26 per cent coming from the residential tax class. The assessed tax value of the residential properties was $8,566,865,450.

The next highest contributor to the tax income pie for the city is business at $32,809,371. The combination of residential properties and business properties contributed 80.46 per cent of taxes to the operation of the city.

We have three pulp mills and one refinery as the key major industries in town. Major industry is assessed at $279,158,700. Their contribution to municipal taxes is 12.26 per cent, with light industry adding another 3.01 per cent. 

The key is to have the workers live in PG and the day-to-day service industries to any heavy industry plant located in the city. The pollution should stay outside of the high-density urban area. It costs us too much for our health, medication, time off the job, and often enjoyment of life and length of life.

Until we get rid of the concept of "the solution to pollution is dilution" nonsense and get to a closed system with 100 per cent internal recovery of effluent, downwind and distance from source to recipients must be the policy. That is the current policy and has been for 15+ years.

We do not have the faintest clue what the assessed value of an ethylene plant would be. We know that the supposed cost is projected at $5 billion. But do not for one minute think that the assessed value will be anything even closely resembling that since assessment of industrial improvement on industrial property is quite different than the market value system used for residential.

We do not know what that amount would be. It is something the city should be providing to us.