Work camp plan sparks outcry

Residents sign petition against rezone south of Terrace while company says it hasn't finalized any plans yet

The potential for a huge worker accommodation development beside a residential subdivision in Thornhill just off Hwy37 has caused nearby residents to sign a petition against the rezoning of land for that purpose.

PTI Group, a company based out of Edmonton that specializes in worker lodging, has purchased a 93-acre parcel located north of the Churchill Dr. subdivision a few minutes south of Terrace and some clearing is already being done.

Sean Crockett, VP of Business Development for PTI said his company was attracted to Thornhill because of the proximity to the commercial centre of Terrace and also to key transportation infrastructure.

“We were attracted to the location near the airport and the proximity to the highway,” he said, adding that the plans for any worker housing development are not finalized, and that PTI has engaged in some informal public consultation.

“We have reached out to a few of the local residents that we have been put in contact with just to introduce ourselves, but we have no defined plan at this stage,” he said.

What any camp will look like and even a final decision on whether it will be built Crockett said won’t happen until later this year.

The petition against the plan for a work camp was signed by 50 Churchill residents and states that “while not formally advertised, PTI’s reported intention is to seek approval for a temporary or permanent re-zoning” from the current residential designation of the property.

The statement goes on to say that the “supposed re-zoning would be for the development of an industrial camp and/or industrial laundry or to develop other industrial activity.”

Any details such as industrial laundry and rezoning are not part of any official plan, Crockett said.

“They are speculations I think,” Crockett said. “Obviously they know PTI as a company and are making assumptions.”

Crockett said his company has had no formal discussion with regional district officials about developing or rezoning the Thornhill land, and planner Ken Newman confirmed last week that he has not seen details of any proposed worker lodging development by the company.

Regional district director for the Thornhill area, Ted Ramsey, said he wants PTI “to put their cards on the table” so that a more formal and less rumour-based discussion over its merits can begin.

The community petition contains a list of nine concerns around the potential rezoning for a work camp and is addressed to the Regional District of Kitimat-Stikine board directors. It cites increased traffic turning onto the Hwy37, threats to the wildlife corridor, and a predicted decline in property values for neighbours as some of the reasons they oppose the preliminary plan.

One Churchhill resident who spearheaded the petition against rezoning, Jonathan Lambert, believes the Skeena Industrial Development Park farther south near the airport is a better location for work camps.

“People in Terrace should be concerned. They have invested in the airport lands and I don’t understand why the airport lands can’t be used for this,” he said.

“I suspect it would be an aesthetic issue and traffic issue,” Lambert said of a work camp development in Thorhill beside his home community. “They are entitled to do what they want with it except for rezoning which needs community approval.”

“It would lead to short term tax gains and long term precedent setting for work camps close to town. If you put single family homes there you have 50, 80, 100 years of taxation potentially.”

According to Crockett, PTI specializes in semi-permanent labour housing facilities and could be looking at operating a lodging facility  in Thornhill for 10 years or longer.

The company website says it provides “permanent and temporary workforce accommodations designed with a hotelier mindset.”

“We build facilities that are higher in quality and constructed for the long term, that’s what sets them apart from a camp,” said Crockett.

“We haven’t defined whether that’s the type of project we will pursue in Terrace,” he added.

Last year PTI was successful in its rezoning application to develop worker lodging for more than 2,000 workers in a residential  area in Kitimat.

PTI is also eyeing a development in Port Edward, said Crockett.

The release of the petition comes in the wake of recent resolutions passed by both Terrace city council and the regional district asking that more input be allowed from municipalities in the permitting process for work camps and other forms of temporary worker lodging.

The resolution also calls for a single governmental body be created to consolidate the permitting process.