PRINCE RUPERT – The City of Prince Rupert and our partners at McElhanney were proud to take home the Best Overall Large Project award on behalf of Prince Rupert at the “Brownie” National Brownfield Awards in Toronto recently. The Brownie Awards recognizes brownfield rehabilitation projects across Canada on sites that were once contaminated, under-utilized and undeveloped that have been transformed into productive developments that support the economic vitality of their communities.
“Prince Rupert’s Watson Island project was among multiple deserving finalists in the category of brownfield development, and the City and our partners are honoured to have received an award,” said Prince Rupert Mayor Herb Pond. “The previous Mayor and Council, together with City staff, turned what was once a major challenge and environmental liability for Prince Rupert into a source of new revenues and opportunity for the community. That’s a win!”
The project had many partners the City can credit for its success alongside McElhanney, including their partners at Trillium Environmental Ltd, the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change, as well as numerous both local and non-local contractors.
To reduce the up-front financial burden of remediation on the City and its taxpayers, the site is being redeveloped and remediated through an innovative proponent driven process with the Provincial Ministry of Environment and Climate Change. The first project to come online was Pembina’s propane facility, which began operations this past year. With the start of Pembina’s project, the site has been returned to the tax roll and is also now bringing in lease revenue for the City’s Legacy Corporation – which then provides dividends to the City to offset major one-time capital costs like the dam replacement.
Thanks to a resourceful and creative approach – the City was also able to repurpose the pulping chemicals from the former Watson Island pulp mill back into the pulp industry elsewhere in BC, and recycle the vast majority of metals. This led to a 95 per cent recycle rate for materials that were left on site. This approach was not only more environmentally friendly, but overall reduced the costs of remediation to a fraction of what was originally anticipated.
As other municipalities across Canada find themselves similarly burdened with abandoned industrial lands, it’s notable that Prince Rupert is also now frequently contacted to share about the City’s experience and to provide guidance. Staff have also made presentations at multiple municipal conferences. Additionally, the Watson Island project has now been turned into a case study for the Provincial Ministry of Environment and Climate Change in how to successfully manage and remediate a large industrial brownfield. With the site now attracting potential interest from a host of industries including renewable energy – Prince Rupert is witnessing a new beginning for the Watson Island site.
The City was initially the unwilling owner of Watson Island and the former pulp mill, inheriting it through tax sale. Due to the abandoned pulp mill, the site once cost the community significant holding costs, which came with considerable environmental liability. A settlement agreement with the former owners of the site signed in 2015 enabled the City and our partners to initiate dismantlement and proceed with the eventual brownfield redevelopment plan according to a phased approach.
The City and Province worked together on an innovative repurposing of the Agreement in Principle instrument to remediate portions of the site as new industrial partners came online, with industry bearing the upfront costs of remediation. Going forward, with additional industrial lands remaining for development, Watson Island is well positioned to continue to entice new projects – include potentially in the renewable and green energy sectors – a current focus for the City’s Economic Development Office.