Kitimat ‘growing like Fort McMurray’: a mayor’s prayers answered?

With $50 billion in Enbridge, LNG and metal-processing port proposals -- Kitimat may change its name to Port Kitimat.  But with the massive industrial influx, what's the cost to the planet?

Along the Line - Vancouver Observer series on Enbridge

Part one in our 'Along the Line' series, exploring northern views on the proposed Enbridge pipeline. 

Kitimat Mayor Joanne Monaghan and Kitimat Port
Kitimat's mayor hopes to convert community's $50 billion in port-industrial proposals into "zero taxes" for residents

When Kitimat’s mayor took office five years ago, her first order of business was to reverse the almost Biblical exodus from her northwest B.C. coastal community: the bloodletting of hundreds of jobs and people. 

Residents bared witness to the painful closure of the Eurocan pulp mill.  535 people were put out of work.  Many families just left town.

“We had every house on the block for sale.  We saw a steady stream of U-Hauls moving out,” Mayor Joanne Monaghan recalled.

Crossed and stumped for economic fixes, Monaghan turned to her Baptist theology training, and looked unto God.

“I just decided, ‘well, let’s have a prayer meeting… we’ll meet once a month.’”

“Then all of a sudden, things started happening.”

Rejoicing today, the 76-year-old mayor and one-time assistant to Billy Graham, added:

“You can say it was because of [those prayers], you can say it wasn’t -- but it worked, whatever it was!”

Kitimat port tankers

Fast-forward to today, and Kitimat is more than booming.  It’s exploding with growth.

More than $50 billion in major industrial proposals are suddenly on Kitimat’s oceanic doorstep: two mega LNG complexes (backed by Shell, Chevron and other giants), a gas refinery, an aluminum smelter upgrade, and of course, the Northern Gateway project.

The mayor acknowledges the proposed Enbridge pipeline is the most controversial.  She won’t even talk about it until citizens have had their say in an April 12th plebiscite. 

“As you know, the people who are against things are usually much more vocal than those who are not,” said Monaghan.

“So let’s do a plebiscite and see what’s really out there.”

Northern Gateway pipeline map to Kitimat

The 1,177 km Enbridge bitumen pipeline from Alberta would terminate in Kitimat, gushing 525,000 barrels of oil per day on to a steady stream of 220 tankers per year bound for Asia and California. 

Vancouver, by comparison, currently only transports 50 crude tankers annually. 

The harbour may get so busy, the mayor says the municipality is flirting with legally changing its name from Kitimat to Port Kitimat.  

Even better for residents, Monaghan said, she's trying to transform this little industrial miracle into something quite unprecedented: zero taxes for residents.

“I don’t know if we can do that, but I want to come close,” Monaghan told the Vancouver Observer.

Growing like Fort McMurray

But even without the Northern Gateway pipeline, the district’s current major industrial projects are already transforming the sleepy mountain community.

Thousands of people and dozens of service businesses are flocking in.

“We have a Mr. Mikes [steakhouse], a Tim Hortons, we have new stores...” boasted Monaghan.  

There's also three new sub divisions coming in, four new hotels, and several work camps, she added.

As a result, home prices have soared 27 per cent over last year, leaving even the fast growing Okanagan wine-growing region in the dust. 

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