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THE sale by the city of nearly 10 acres of land at its Skeena Industrial Development Park to Global Dewatering for $250,000 represents the first sign of success for a project going back nearly 20 years.
More commonly known as the airport industrial lands, the park consists of 2,000 acres of property under control of the provincial government.
But it was the federal government that unlocked the potential for city control of the provincial crown land south of the airport.
That took place in the mid-1990s when the federal government decided it was getting out of the small airport business.
And since the airport was on provincial land that took in all those acres, turning the facility over to a local authority when the federal government exited the scene put into play a city move to acquire the land for itself.
Then-mayor Jack Talstra and then-city administrator Ron Poole and other city senior staffers spearheaded the move.
The theory was simple – companies would do well to set up in Terrace.
It was already the service and supply centre for the northwest as well as being in the geographic centre of the region.
South was the Alcan (now Rio Tinto Alcan) smelter, west were the port facilities at Prince Rupert and north was promising mining territory.
The first years were spent in negotiations with the NDP government of the day as the city angled for a way to acquire the land at virtually no charge.
The provincial government, however, insisted on a sizeable amount just to turn over the land.
In 1997, frustrated city councillor David D. Hull provided his opinion of the position:
“It’s 2,000 acres of gravel and scrubby little trees and they’ve going on about timber value,” he said of the provincial response.
“You’d think it was the Carmanah the way they’re holding onto the bloody thing.”
Even the defeat of the NDP by the provincial Liberals, considered more business friendly, did little to change the situation at first.
But by 2004, Talstra was able to report an improved position, suggesting that deal was possible by 2005.
Things may have been helped by the failure of the province’s own real estate arm to sell property on what it called Midway Plateau.
Talstra’s prediction came true – in the fall of 2005, he announced the framework of a deal had been reached with the province.
A free Crown grant for some of the land would be provided and a larger amount, more than 2,500 acres, would be made available under option to the city whereby it could buy portions when and as needed.
The idea was that the city would line up property deals with a company and then purchase the land in question from the province in order to complete the deal with the company.
“It all ties together and bodes really well,” said Talstra in noting the proximity of the lands to CN tracks, electrical power and roads. A Pacific Northern Gas natural gas pipeline runs right through the property.
Although not suitable for heavy industry because of the airport next door, Talstra felt it would be an ideal location for light industry and for companies looking for cheap, flat and serviceable land relatively close to the Port of Prince Rupert.
During one of his annual state of the city addresses to the chamber of commerce around the time, Talstra asked the audience to consider the impact of having a rail spur to the property connecting it to the CN main line.
The free Crown grant land, mostly on either end of the main runway, has since been turned over to the non-profit airport authority.
While the city now had a clear deal to market industrial land, it lacked the money for such basic necessities such as a road leading off of Hwy37 to the site not to mention services such as power and water.
It did land one potential client in 2009 when, amid a flurry of interest from companies interested in converting northwest forests into various types of bio-fuel, a Calgary bio-energy company signed a memorandum of understanding that might have lead to a property purchase deal.
That memorandum expired and was never renewed.
The access problem was answered in 2009 when the federal and provincial governments each promised the city $668,000, provided it came up with $668,000 of its own.
The vast majority of the money has since been spent constructing a turnoff from Hwy37 and access road to the planned industrial park.
City administrator Heather Avison says the city has to spend $28,000 more to take full advantage of the federal-provincial matching program, which runs out next year.
“All monies to date have gone to the intersection project. Some monies are still required for completion reports, etc. and the remainder will be spent on road subgrade construction,” she adds. In 2011, the city dipped into its bank account and bought 88 acres outright from the province and it is 10 acres of this piece that it has now sold to Global Dewatering.
Last year, the city was on the verge of another industrial park deal, this time to Chinese-owned YaoRun Wood. But it decided at the last minute to lease another city-owned property, the former Skeena Cellulose log yard on Keith Ave., as a spot to gather logs for export.