The lack of public consultation and discussion on the proposed sale of plywood lots A and B have both waterfront advocates and members of city council up in arms.
“I have always believed that the key to success for an initiative is to have good public input, with an opportunity for community participation and the resulting support,” said former Port Alberni mayor John Douglas following the current council’s announcement last week that the sale of lots A and B to the parent company of Canadian Alberni Engineering was pending.
“The city is proceeding with the sale of lots A and B of the former plywood mill site to 1076565D B.C. Ltd. This numbered company is wholly owned by Canadian Maritime Engineering.”
They in turn own Canadian Alberni Engineering, Mayor Mike Ruttan announced at city council on May 24. Lots A, B and C are located on the Alberni Inlet waterfront to the south of Western Forest Products’ Alberni Pacific Division sawmill and to the north of the Tseshaht First Nation owned Polly’s Point. Lots C (now known as Canal Beach) and A are adjacent to the water, although Lot A’s foreshore is crown and not city-owned land.
Lot B, located above Lot A, is currently largely used for storage and overflow parking by WFP and events taking place at Canal Beach.
The two lots have had a contentious history. The city originally purchased Lots A, B and C (now know as Canal Beach) from Macmillan Bloedel in 1993 for $1.
(Interested in the history of plywood lots A and B? Read about the initial lease to the port authority in 2014 here, the public’s reaction here, council’s discussion about terminating the lease in summer 2015 here, the city’s decision to terminate the lease here and the end of that lease here.)
The catch? A restrictive covenant (now transferred to WFP) which bans overnight stays and any other use than industrial or commercial.
According to the covenant, “the city shall not use the city lands for any purpose other than for industrial or commercial use…and the city shall not use the city lands for any residential or tourist accommodation purposes.”
The lots are also contaminated—they were never properly remediated before the sale, according to an environmental assessment commissioned by the city and carried out by SLR Consulting Ltd. in 2011.
According to the report, “a risk assessment indicated there were no unacceptable human health and ecological risks present at Lot B if the groundwater will not be used as a potable water source. The assessment indicated that for Lot A there could be potential unacceptable adverse health effects for construction and utility workers when exposed to contaminated groundwater and/or soil vapours.”
According to Ruttan, the remediation costs (estimated between $1.63-5.5 million), the covenant and the possibility of job creation were good reasons to sell the lot to CAE.
Both the covenant and remediation costs will be passed on to the buyer, he said.
“There are some significant remediation issues there and we believe that (CAE) has the potential to create significant additional economic activity and significant additional jobs for residents in this community.”
Russell Industries, the parent company of Canadian Alberni Engineering, did not return calls to the News by press time.
Coun. Chris Alemany disagreed with the thought that the land merely needed to be sold off, pointing to the city’s 2007 Uptown and Waterfront Redevelopment Study.
“The 2007 report identified a desire in the community to try to remove that covenant so the site could move in a different direction,” Alemany said.
While Douglas said that the city had tried to negotiate the covenant during his term without any results, Alemany said that it’s time to try again—and approach WFP “as stakeholders in the community that mutually benefit from the community evolving and diversifying, particularly on the waterfront.”
Until the covenant is lifted, Alemany said, there’s little point worrying over the contamination.