A $12-million train cargo facility has been proposed for the former Skeena Cellulose sawmill site on Keith Ave. in Terrace.
The inland port, or “transload facility” in industry lingo, would allow for transfer of shipping containers between trucks and trains. There would also be room to pack or unpack contents from inside shipping containers and room to store containers, among other related activities. This means upgrading a rail line that splices off the main CN line to bring trains into the facility, as well as building a loading ramp, warehouses and offices.
Progressive Ventures, the prominent Terrace development company driving the project, received several requests to develop a transload facility after purchasing the former mill site in 2019, said Hatha Callis, a Progressive Ventures spokesperson.
“Very shortly after that, we started getting approached by various companies who ship products through the region, suggesting that we do it,” he said.
Callis said he can’t name any companies that may be involved in shipping through the facility because the development still needs to clear some approval milestones such as rezoning by the City of Terrace, but Progressive Ventures is confident business will be good when the facility is up and running.
“We have spent a significant amount of time doing early market engagement on potential usage,” he said. “This is a significant capital investment that Progressive Ventures is prepared to make, and we’re excited to do it, but we would not do it if we did not have a reasonable level of certainty from shippers of commodities at this point.”
Progressive Ventures has received plenty of interest from companies not local to Terrace, Callis said, and the proposed Terrace facility will provide more efficient access to rail shipping for much of northwestern B.C.
“Much, much better access to rail is sort of the regional, large-scale business impact,” he said. “We have interest from large companies that want to do business in the region, and would need access to rail.”
There are transload facilities in Prince Rupert, Prince George and another is being developed by Kitsumkalum First Nation near Terrace, but Callis and City of Terrace officials both say regional demand for transloading services is not being met.
The 44-acre former mill site is bounded by the CN rail tracks to the north and Keith Ave. to the south and stretches from the Sande Overpass on its eastern boundary to Kenney St. on its western boundary. The inland port would take up about 27 acres on the north side of the site.
Progressive Ventures plans to subdivide the south side of the site into smaller properties for light industrial or commercial use, similar to existing businesses on the other side of Keith Ave.
Callis said Progressive Ventures is aware of significant demand in Terrace for those type of properties, and once built they would form a “buffer ring” between the transload facility and Keith Ave.
“Progressive Ventures fields a lot of phone calls for property,” he said. “Based on the previous year of getting approached and asked for land, we expect [the subdivided properties] will fill up quickly with people and we will either sell direct to them, or build to suit and lease, or build to suit and sell.”
The former mill site requires some relatively minor environmental remediation, according to Callis.
“You can picture a different time when people weren’t as careful about changing the oil in their truck, or leaving cans of hazardous materials laying around that have leeched into the ground,” he said. “Fortunately, our assessments have proven that those issues have not become widespread or migrated off the property.”
Callis said Progressive Ventures expects initial approval on its environmental assessment and cleanup plan to be approved by B.C.’s environment ministry within a month or so, which would then allow the developer to begin cleanup and earthworks. Final environmental approval from the ministry following cleanup is expected near the end of 2020.
Terrace city council discussed the inland port project at a July 13 council meeting.
David Block, director of development services for the City, told council that a traffic impact study will be conducted for the inland port project.
Progressive Ventures will be required to provide to the City a 4 metre strip of land along the north side of Keith Ave. between the overpass and Kenney St., Block said. This would widen the total space available for Keith Ave. and could be used to widen the pavement.
Mayor Carol Leclerc said Keith Ave. is a very busy road east of the overpass, and she asked what plans are being made to accommodate a potential spike in traffic on the west side of Keith Ave. where the transload facility would be located.
“If you’re going to expand Keith Ave. in front of the former sawmill site, you’ve got the traffic that’s coming off of Kenney St. and Frank St., and I’m wondering if that is also being considered in the transportation [assessment],” she said. “How far are we looking down the road? Let’s not make a mistake and make it too short-sighted.”
Councillor Brian Downie noted that Keith Ave. is a prime truck route which might also see increases in traffic from other possible industrial developments in the city, and he asked whether the traffic study could provide data that would support upgrading Keith Ave. into a four-lane truck route, possibly with a second overpass to the west.
“What are the terms of reference for this traffic impact study? And is this bigger scope included in that?” Downie asked.
The traffic study is focused mainly on the inland port project itself, Block said, but will incorporate traffic projections for the whole area, based on information from B.C.’s transportation ministry.
Block said the City’s transportation master plan includes a design for widening Keith Ave. west of the overpass from two lanes to three lanes, with the middle being a dedicated left turn lane, and including bike lanes and sidewalks. The 4 metre strip to be provided by Progressive Ventures would provide room for the three lanes.
That three-lane design is “based on significant volumes beyond what exist today,” Block said.
Kitsumkalum transload facility
Block noted that another train transload facility is being developed west of the city by Kitsumkalum First Nation. He said he has co-ordinated with Diane Collins, Kitsumkalum’s economic development manager, who told him the projects won’t clash.
“From my perspective, that was important to have an understanding of Kitsumkalum’s plans, their projects, and the way they’re moving forward on their land development, to make sure that these were complimentary and not competitive,” he said. “It seems clear that there’s opportunity here for both of these developments to move forward.”
Collins was not available for comment by press deadline.
Community plan, zoning amendments
The project will require significant deviation from the Keith Estates Neighbourhood Concept Plan, a subsection of the City’s official community plan addressing the former mill site and lands west of Kenney along Keith. Drawn up in 2014, the Keith Estates plan envisioned a residential and light commercial neighbourhood being developed on the site.
Block told council that when the Keith Estates plan was originally drafted, there were various upcoming industrial developments in the city that were expected to create significant job growth, so City officials believed the former mill site should be used for residential purposes to accommodate an influx of workers. However, many of those planned industrial developments have yet to materialize.
“We did develop the Keith Estates in a time when it was really hard to grasp what might happen, but we had to plan and try to be prepared,” he said.
“[City] staff realize it’s time to revisit the right land use in this area, and this [inland port] project has very good potential.”
Councillor Sean Bujtas inquired if the Keith Estates plan was now entirely obsolete, but Block said it can be adapted to accommodate the port project.
“[City staff] considered that. Is it just time to repeal that neighbourhood concept plan outright? We don’t think so, we think there’s aspects of it that apply,” Block said, noting that Progressive Ventures has ensured their plan adheres as closely as possible to the Keith Estates plan.
The development will also require several other changes to Terrace’s official community plan and its zoning bylaw. Council passed first and second reading of those amendments at the July 13 meeting, which means the development will now head to its public feedback phase.
Progressive Ventures is planning an open house on July 29 from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Days Inn to provide more information about the development and to gather feedback.
Callis said the company hopes to limit the meeting to 30 participants at a time in order to maintain pandemic distancing precautions, and participants will be encouraged to wear masks.
Additionally, there will be an online version of the open house which will begin July 29 and remain open for two weeks. It can be found at nsdinlandport.com/open-house-welcome/
Once public feedback has been collected, the City will hold a formal public hearing, likely in late August, Block said.