Budget nearing End – More Public Hearings – Transportation Lobbying – Food Security and Climate Change Committee Thursday

I’m still working on making the updates here more frequent!  Still trying to work out a regular timing for these that captures the information I’d like to give you and produces it in a timely manner.  I’ve had some very nice comments from folks about the information provided so far, so I am encouraged and committed to figuring out something that works!

The Budget Process Winds Down

Last Monday, Council had what was supposed to be the final session to provide direction to staff on budgeting priorities.  We were presented with all of the results from the public input and worked through a handy-dandy spreadsheet.  Click the image below for a full PDF of it.  The totals might be a little different as it is an earlier version).

Screen Shot 2015-03-26 at 7.56.37 AM

City Manager’s Budget Item spreadsheet – blank cells are items Council did not adopt, $0 cells (you will see in the PDF) are items Council adopted but that do not affect the 2015 budget tax increase.

There was so much debate and discussion (which is a good thing!) that a 1.5hr meeting turned into a 2.5 hour meeting and we only got about 2/3 down the sheet.  Our last item before we adjourned was the decision to continue the commitment to volunteer groups in the Community that have been trying to move the historic mill stones from their current location on the Catalyst property to Victoria Quay.

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My main goal in the proceedings was to advocate for the implementation of seasonal (winter) bi-weekly garbage pickup until such time that we had the kitchen and yard waste program up and running.  That motion was defeated as council decided that with concerns around food scraps in the bins for two weeks and with kitchen and yard waste pickup hopefully coming next year, two changes in as many years would make it difficult for residents.  Fair enough!

Our final budget direction meeting will be today, Monday March 30th starting at 1:30PM.

The financial plan will then move through regular council readings on April 13th, it will be adopted on the 20th, and then the final tax rates for 2015 adopted on the 27th.

Check out lots more info including the survey results at the City’s Financial Plan 2015-2019 page.

More Public Hearings Monday Night

There will be another pubic hearing at 5:30PM on Monday night.  You can download the agendas from the City website.  The hearing will deal with three different rezoning requests at once:  a new CoOp Gas Station on 10th Avenue beside Tim Horton’s; the Westcoast Aquatic interpretive centre at Harbour Quay, and a subdivision of property on Ian Avenue.

I do not expect these hearings to be nearly as controversial as the hearing earlier in the month on the Westporte park and Rainbow Gardens.

About that Rainbow Gardens and Westport Issue

Part of the reason I didn’t post anything for a couple weeks was because I did not want to do anything that might contravene the workings of the Public Hearing process for the Rainbow Gardens application.  Public Hearings are arguably the most serious and important issues Council deals with and there are very strict rules on how they are conducted including a requirement for Councillors not to engage in any discussion or new information sharing with the public, proponent or staff between the end of a Public Hearing and discussion on the motion at the next public meeting of council.

That included potentially engaging in discussion on social media or here on the blog.

That also means I cannot and will not engage in any discussion on the CoOp, Westcoast Aquatic and Ian Avenue issues on this blog after the Hearing tonight and before the motion is considered next week.

That said, I wanted to give my reasons for how I personally voted on the rezoning and land swap deal in Westporte.

I will not speak for council as it is the Mayor’s job to do that and he has been on the radio and in the papers. But here is why I personally voted against the rezoning:

This was obviously the hardest decision our new
 council has made. At the beginning, it really seemed like a no-brainer to me. We have a huge need for seniors housing in town, that is a plain and undeniable fact. This proposal was to sell the community park adjacent to the facility to Rainbow Gardens so that they could then go to Island Health with a plan to expand their facility. Without land in hand, Rainbow Gardens could not approach Island Health. That’s just how it works. In return, for the residents of the area, the City would ensure the park stayed as a park for the undetermined amount of time it took for Rainbow Gardens to secure a commitment from Island Health by leasing the park for $1 from Rainbow Gardens and in the meantime set aside a portion of the large natural area nearby so that when Rainbow Gardens was ready, a new park could be built to replace the previous one.

It all seemed very easy and it all made sense.

The reason I voted no was for several reasons which grew over time and by themselves might not have convinced me to change my mind, but together were too much to ignore:

1) The plan submitted by Rainbow Gardens was quite incomplete.  At first I was under the impression that the drawings submitted were fairly close to what was envisioned, but after listening to the proponent at the hearing indicate they really had no concrete plan on how the new facility would work and what new services or beds would be created, it became clear that there was no concrete vision for what the expanded facility would actually look like. It was very preliminary, and for a project of this magnitude and consequence, it just wasn’t enough meat on the bones.

2) The offer from the City of the Park was equally not well flushed out. Were there other options in the area or on the Rainbow Gardens footprint that could work? Was the whole park actually needed?  There was no park design submitted from Parks and Rec for consideration and there were no cost estimates provided by the City except that it would definitely be more than the $160,000 Rainbow Gardens would be paying for the original park.

3) The park itself is unique in the City. I visited almost every community park in the City and the one in Westporte pretty much unique in its centrality in the neighbourhood and safe placement surrounded by homes. The Westporte development was specifically created with that park and it is a significant draw for new buyers.

4) The proposed new site for a park was heavy bush, marsh and ravine. It would be physically difficult (ie. expensive) to recreate the same park and it would have nowhere near the advantages in terms of safety and accessibility even though the area is beautiful.  There are a great many active parks in the City bordered by natural landscapes and wooded areas.  While I do not believe that those City parks are dangerous, there is no doubt that the unique design of the Westporte park centrally located within the neighbourhood made it very different and provide unique advantages from all other natural/active parks.

5) Rainbow Gardens was going to pay around $160,000 for the park. Because it was so far below the cost of a new park, the taxpayers of Port Alberni would be on the hook twice for the same park.  

6) There simply was not enough cooperation between Rainbow Gardens, the neighbouring community and City, to make the proposal. For it to be successful everyone needs to be invovled from the start.  That cooperation would have made, I think, for a much less controversial meeting.  I did get the sincere sense from residents that they wanted to work with Rainbow Gardens to find solutions and I believe that will be the best way forward.  

All of those factors combined meant that I simply could not support the proposal. I hope that all can come back with a new proposal that is more complete and that has a better plan for replacement of the neighbourhood park. I believe there are solutions that can work for both parties. I am hopeful that those will come forward in time. I am an advocate for both young and old. I do not see there being a fight between one and the other. We simply need to find solutions in cases like this that can reasonably accommodate both. That is where I hope we get, and soon, because we need seniors housing.

Hello Mr. Minister!

Last Wednesday, I got to shake the hand of BC Minister of Transport Todd Stone.  Here is me looking awkward.

Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 8.34.15 AMI would like to make a motion that we buy Economic Development office Pat Deakin a new phone… I think he needs one with a slightly better camera. (:)) That is Zoran Knezevic, CEO of the Port Alberni Port Authority beside me.  Minister Stone is in the back speaking with the rest of our contingent.  This was at the Breakfast meeting where the Minister announced the new 10yr “BC On the Move” plan.

The plan did not include Port Alberni in particular as a priority.  Their main focus on the Island is Highway 1 from the Malahat into Victoria including the Colwood Crawl (the Ministry says this area is the worst traffic congestion in the province outside the Lower Mainland).  They are also focusing on Highway 4 west of Port Alberni to Tofino and Ucluelet.  There have already been a lot of good improvements to that stretch of highway and it sounds like that will continue to happen.

Even though we didn’t get top billing, Port Alberni did get some mentions.  There was a commitment to fund a major study into the feasibility of a Horne Lake connector highway from Coombs Country Candy at the bottom of the Hump to the Horne Lake intersection on Highway 19.  There was also an announcement of a fund to help small airports improve their facilities in order to attract more aerospace type industries.  This falls directly in line with the aspirations of our local airport to try and keep the Coulson Group at our airport and allow them to bring in their large C-130 firefighting aircraft for maintenance.

But what really stuck out for me was the public engagement feedback conducted during the study.  The most emphatic responses from the public on Vancouver Island came on the issue of transit and cycling infrastructure.

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More than 80% agree with more funding for cycling and transit!  I found this to be quite stunning in a survey spanning the entire Island and with over 2000 respondents. The ministry did heed this call and continued a cycling infrastructure program with new funding.  With our new Active Transportation Plan, the City of Port Alberni should now be better positioned to try to get some of that funding for bike lanes, trails and other active transport infrastructure.  The province will also be upgrading the fleet of BC Transit buses around the province which should include our buses in town.

My only slight disappointment in the plan was that there was absolutely no mention of the E&N / Island Corridor railway.  This remains a key infrastructure asset that has received no provincial or federal money and will not be able to be rehabilitated until it does.  The Minister did address the question on Wednesday but I fear the small amount they have already committed is only a bandaid.  The railway is our only potential zero-carbon solution for transportation on the Island for both people and freight on the East side as well as to and from Port Alberni.  It is an incredible tourism attraction waiting to be realized and could certainly help the commuter problems in Victoria.  There is so much potential there, it is a shame it continues to be ignored.

Food Security and Climate Change Committee coming and the Future of Energy!

On April 2nd the Food Security and Climate Change Committee will have its first meeting (at City Hall)!

It is a timely creation given the very sudden and widespread extreme weather events we are having of late, not the least of which being the historic drought in California.

This Committee will be charged with making recommendations to Council on how it can improve Food Security in the Valley and how it can mitigate (through GHG reductions) and adapt to climate change in the months, years, and decades ahead.

We have an excellent group of people on the Committee:  Rosalind Harper, Samantha Brownlee, Gary Swann, Guy Langlois, John Mayba, Sandra Gentleman, Bob Haynes and myself.  The meetings are open to the public (as are all committee and commission meetings) and Agendas and Minutes will be posted on the City website.

I have a ton of ideas on initiatives and things that the City can do to make a difference on these issues.

One slightly fun thing… considering it was Earth Hour this past Saturday.  I wonder how much money the City would save, and energy consumption it would reduce, if BC Hydro shut down the streetlights from 8:30PM to 9:30PM at the Earth Hour next year?  I bet we would improve our 1.6% reduction (#19 in the province!) this year.

But we do need more concrete and long lasting initiatives.  More community gardens, more education on use of and finding local food, incentives for people to reduce their energy consumption in their home and in their car, installing renewable energy infrastructure.  There are many things we could be doing and not only will much of it end up making people healthier and saving some money, they will also potentially put Port Alberni on the map as a forward thinking and vibrant place ready to tackle the big issues of the world head on.

It’s going to be *another* interesting ride!

Happy Monday all.

Posted in Climate Change, Environment, Politics | Leave a comment

Budget Rants – Community Grants – Sewage Plants

Budget fun continues!

We had a great session last Wednesday night with the public where everyone was able to give their opinions on what they thought would be good projects for the City to do, or services to cut.  Some of the details presented were new to us as Councillors as well.  There were probably around 40 members of the public there and many good conversations were had.

I highly recommend going to the 2015-2019 Financial plan website! Download the presentation from Wednesday night. It details all of the options that were presented to the public.  Of course, if you have other initiatives you’d like to see happen or services you think can be streamlined, you can send those in too!

There is also an online survey!  Click here to fill it out!

I’m a numbers and graphs kinda guy… so one slide from the City Manager’s presentation stuck out for me.

This one is very interesting.  It shows very succinctly where the majority of the homes in Port Alberni are valued, and thus, what their average municipal rate is after all of the regional, school, and hospital things are removed.  This does not take into account home owner grants.

Graph showing how many houses pay what level of taxes across the City.

Graph showing how many houses pay what level of taxes, roughly, across the City.

A common complaint I hear is that folks who own homes that have been built new in the City pay a very large amount of taxes.  And indeed that is true!  However, those same people sometimes also say that this gives people no incentive to renovate or rebuild their homes.  While this is true to a point remember that the City has a fixed bill to pay.  So if the bars on the graph were shifted gradually to the left, then the amount collected from each of those higher priced homes could actually start to decrease because to get the same total amount of money you could charge less tax.

Right now,  the most numerous 4 brackets, the $100-150,000, $150-200, and $200-250, and $250-300 account for roughly $8.9 Million in tax revenue…. adding up all the rest is less than $3 Million.

So the current situation is (these are rough estimates, not exact numbers):

  • $100-150,000 — 1617 homes x $1190 average tax = $1,924,230
  • $150-200,000 — 2087 x $1611 = $3,362,157
  • $200-250,000 — 1159 x $2041 = $2,365,519
  • $250-300,000 — 496 x $2512 = $1,245,952
  • Total = 5359 homes produce $8,897,858 in taxes at 9.2555 tax rate.Lets say the average price of a home went from the current $189,000 to $220,000 and effectively pushed the distribution to the left on the chart… now numbers of homes in the top categories might be:
  • $100-150,000 — 1340 homes x $1190 average tax = $1,594,600
  • $150-200,000 — 1640 x $1611 = $2,642,040
  • $200-250,000 — 1640 x $2041 =  $3,347,240
  • $250-300,000 — 739 x $2512 = $1,856,368
  • Total = 5359 homes produce $9,440,248 at 9.2555 tax rate.

That shift in property assessments would increase revenues to the City by at least 6%… or, taken a different way, the same homes that generate $8.9 million in taxes now, could gather the same taxes with a 6% decrease of tax rates.

That is why, in my mind, efforts to improve the desirability of Port Alberni as a place to live are the most fruitful and provide a ‘multiplying effect’ when it comes to policy that would slow or reverse the ever increasing tax rates over time.

There has been a ton of information to absorb and there are a bunch more meetings.  Here’s a list of them, some times may change but this should be it:

Monday, March 9th
3:00 p.m.
Special Meeting
Budget – council review and direction

Monday, March 23rd
2:00 p.m.
Special Meeting
Budget – receipt of survey input/public input + Council direction

Monday, March 30th
3:00 p.m.
Special Meeting
Budget – final direction regarding budget – direction to staff to prepare Bylaw

Monday, April 13th
7:00 p.m.
Regular Meeting
Introduction of Five Year Financial Plan Bylaw (3 readings)

Monday, April 20th
Adoption of Five Year Financial Plan Bylaw
Introduction of Tax Rates Bylaw (3 readings)

Monday, April 27th
7:00 p.m.
Regular Meeting
Adoption of Tax Rates Bylaw

Community Grants

A couple more things to mention in this post.  It was a wonderful feeling to be able to say yes to the $1700 request for a grant ($1600 in-kind help and $100 cash) from the folks putting on a Pride BBQ among other events on July 26th this year.  When I was in high school in the mid-90s at ADSS there was an instance where a student was ridiculed for wearing a dress to school.  It made the news.  Here’s hoping that the event in July will help address those kinds of misunderstandings.  We are all one community of amazing and unique people.  It’s good to be able to celebrate that diversity at every chance and for every reason we can.  You can join the Facebook Event group here.

If you’re wondering, here are the other recipients of the City’s Community Investment Program last year.  The Pride BBQ applied late so aren’t in the list below.

The totals are the cash grant amounts.  Many of the groups listed below also received in-kind grants worth anywhere from a few dollars to a over $1000.

  • Alberni Community & late Women’s Services request Society $500
  • Alberni District Fall Fair $500
  • Alberni Valley Curling $500
  • Alberni Valley Track $700 Club
  • Art Matters Society $400
  • Art Rave Society $3,500
  • AV Lions Club $451
  • Bread of Life $1,500
  • Community Arts $4,000
    Council of the Alberni
  • Literacy Alberni $1,000 Society
  • Navy League of Canada $875
  • PA Volunteer Income $670 Tax Program
  • Port Alberni Family Guidance Association ($1500 of Bus and Rec Passes)
  • Port Alberni Multicultural Society $423
  • Port Alberni Salmon Festival $3,000
  • Port Alberni Toy Run $765
  • Port Alberni Youth Centre $450.00
  • Royal Canadian Legion $1,300
  • Special Olympics BC ‐ Port Alberni $1,000
  • Port Alberni Friendship Center $1,725
  • Rotary Club of Port Alberni $50
  • TheAbbeyfieldHouses Alberni Valley Society ‐ Abbeyfield Port Alberni $1,100

 Sewage Plants!

I would be terribly negligent if I didn’t include a mention for the very interesting and important Wastewater Advisory Committee (WAC) I attended with other councillors last week that is working on our Liquid Waste Management Plan.

This committee has been hard at work finalizing plans for the design of our new sewage treatment plant that will be using the former lagoons formerly used by Catalyst.  This will be a huge improvement in the treatment of our water compared to what we are putting into our Inlet and Estuary right now.

The meeting centred specifically around the design of the outfall pipe that will take the settled water from the ponds into the Inlet.


The Catalyst ponds are the larger dark ponds in the centre to the left of the river.  The current city sewage pond is the lighter coloured pond at the top.

The Catalyst ponds are the larger dark ponds in the centre to the left of the river. The current city sewage pond is the lighter coloured pond at the top.

The current city pond (light coloured pond at top centre) simply allows the treated water to sluice over the edges of the pond and directly into the estuary and river.  Ya.  Gross.

The New plant will use the much larger (dark) ponds to do a better job of aerated and settling out the sewer sludge and it will then be pumped past the bottom of the picture into a location nearer the middle of the harbour.

At first read, that might sound worse, but actually because the sewage will be much much better treated than it is now, and it will be dispersed under pressure in the water (sort of like a firehose), it will be much better diluted into the water in general and will be carried out of the harbour by the current.

The meeting last week centred around how that pipe would look.   The Ministry of Environment requires these pipes to be more than 10m under the surface.  However, there are two big problems with having the pipe on the bottom of the harbour.

#1:  There is a fibre mat (woody debris from decades of forestry operations) down there that is effectively locking in decades worth of toxic emissions from the pulp mill.  (back when the Harbour was literally black like coffee… it’s not anymore thankfully).  The research done on that fibre mat and those toxins say the absolute best thing is to just not touch it or disturb it in any way for fear of releasing the toxins into the water column.  A big sewage pipe blasting out water might risk doing that.

#2:  Salmon like to be down as deep as they can where it is nice and cool as they return to spawn.  A sewage pipe could warm that area, and also the treated sewage could cause microbes to flourish that might rob the water in that area of its oxygen, making it unsuitable for fish to live.  Also, the water moves much more slowly deep down, so the sewage would not wash out with the river water.

So the meeting was focused on deciding whether the pipe outlet should be deep, or shallow (around 3m).  The decision was made for it to be shallow as that would be best for our area. Again, the sewage that would come out of the pipe will be orders of magnitude cleaner than what is being fed into the river and harbour now.  So while it might seem a little yucky… it’s actually light years of improvement over the current situation.  And in time, we can work on making that outflow cleaner and cleaner without having to worry that we are harming the fish or stirring up toxic industrial sludge.

And that… my friends… is my report for today.

Have a great week!  See you at Council or the Budget meetings on Monday!

Posted in Environment, Politics, The Good Life | Comments Off

More Dept. Budgets – Plus Planning! Co-Op on 10th Avenue

The long march of budget meetings continues with multiple departments this morning at 10AM (unfortunately I cannot attend) with Admin Services, Corporate Services, Finance and Reserves, and the ERRF gets its own (that stands for Equipment Replacement Reserve Fund) then the final department budget presentation will be Planning and SPCA at 2PM (which I will be at).

A reminder that these are only presentations of the department budgets they are not final decisions on what their budgets will be.  Departments are basically bringing forward their baseline budgets so that we can see how they tick and what the minimums are for moving forward plus what they believe they need in order to improve in future.

All the presentations are followed by questions from Council and the public.

On Wednesday the 24th there will be a chance for a different kind of discussion around the budget as the public is invited to participate in round table discussions on various aspects of the upcoming plan.  Stay tuned for more information about that.

Planning Commission Meeting today

I’m more and more happy to be on the Planning commission.  It always seems to have interesting stuff on the Agenda.

Top of the list this week is the plans for a new “4 pump, 8 lane gas station and convenience store” on 10th Avenue beside/behind Tim Hortons and across from the large apartment buildings on 10th.

It’s an interesting thing to consider that we used to have 4 gas stations at the intersection of 10th and Redford.  That has been reduced to none.

Is another gas station needed?  Should we be converted high density residential zoning to commercial gas stations?  It would be very nice to have another brand new development in the area with Tim Hortons.  Is this something that is compatible with the high pedestrian activity in the area?


Many questions…. the APC meetings are open to the public.  Come ask your questions.

Also on the agenda is the Stewardship centre application by West Coast Aquatic at the Harbour Quay and subdivision of a residential lot at Ian and Craig.

Posted in Environment, Politics, The Good Life | 2 Comments

Want to know everything about everything at the City?

Tons of information today!

All agendas for meetings today are on the City website.

First…. in just a few minutes at 9:30AM there will be a special meeting in Council chambers on the Raven Coal issue and the work that the City’s committee has done preparing the City’s response for the Working Group part of the Environmental Review process.  Unfortunately I’m at work at VIU so I won’t be able to attend but I wanted to post this in order for people to know what’s up. Their work is due into the Ministry soon so this is their chance to present it to council first and then send it along.

At 10AM, 2PM and 6PM the City continues its series of department budget presentations.  Today will be Economic Development and Chamber of Commerce (10AM), Parks and Rec and Industrial Heritage Society including McLean Mill (2PM), and Fire Department (6PM).

Come out and learn more about these issues if they are things that most interest you! I will be at the 2PM and 6PM meetings.  There are more meetings scheduled for Thursday including Corporate Services (10AM), and Planning and SPCA (2PM) plus the regular Planning Advisory Commission meeting at 12PM.

Wanna just read?

If you would rather stay home and do some light reading, check out the City’s new “Document Library” page on their website.  It is an incredible resource!  It has dozens of documents and reports on all aspects of the City going back to the 1980s.  There is a ton of information there.  Some of them I have never heard of before like the “East Bypass Study”, “Bicycle Route Proposal” from 1983(!!), and the Tsunami Frequency at Tofino and Port Alberni (1979).  Might be very interesting to read some of these very old reports and see how things have changed or evolved over time since.BagbJnNIMAAREko.jpg-jpg

Warning: At the end of either the budget meetings or after having read every report on the Document Library page (or both!), you may feel like the tired little Minion.  Don’t forget to stand up every once in a while and take a break!  But how could you be tired!?  This is riveting stuff! (No really! I like it!) :)

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Important: Special Meeting on District Energy Project Monday

After Meeting Update – Catalyst will be approach to provide steam – Next Decision at Regular Meeting on Feb 23rd – Don’t forget the poll on the side.

We had an excellent meeting on Monday afternoon.  Mr. Deakin (Economic Development Manager) and Mr. Salter (District Energy consultant) provided a very good update on where the project stands exactly and Council peppered them with questions.  Council decided to wait until the regular meeting on Monday to actually address the recommended course of action presented by Mr. Deakin so that the issue was out in the public for that much longer and it could be discussed and decided under the full scrutiny of the regular public council meeting on the 23rd.

If you would like more background information on the project, check out the Feasibility Study from 2012 (which was not previously available to the public).  It provides a very comprehensive rundown of the system though some of the facts are a little out of date now 3 years on including the price of natural gas which has dropped (as was identified in the report as a risk) and thus the profit to the City if it ran it self has potentially dropped as well.

However, there is no scenario where this project costs the taxpayer money.  The project is designed and the business plan is set to include the debt servicing costs within the operating budget of the facility.  So currently, if the project is done as a Private Public Partnership, the City will receive an unspecified (likely small) royalty as part owner, and if the project is done as a wholly City owned venture, it would see revenue of around $100,000 which if that revenue stream was in place this year would be the same as eliminating 0.8% from any residential tax rise.  So instead of a 2.8% increase, we would have a 2.0% increase.   This is in addition to savings the City would gain from paying much less for heating its facilities if they were hooked up to the District Energy system.  After the “mortgage” is payed off in 25 years or less, the system would deliver revenues of around $500,000 (in 2012 dollars).  The infrastructure (pipes etc) would last around 50-60 years.

There is a bit of urgency to moving on with the decision as the grant providers that agreed to give grants for the project way back in 2012 are getting a little impatient with us.  So now is the time to move things to a next step.

Council decided to immediately send Catalyst a letter to see if they would be interested in providing the steam for the system from the excess in their operations.  It is unclear whether they will or not, but Council thought it would be best so as to be able to support this important business in our City.  Note that this is *only* for the Steam supply of the system.  It is understood that Catalyst has no intention of building or operating the district energy system itself.

On Monday, Council will decide whether to put out a Request for Proposals (RFP) to private companies to build and operate the system in partnership with the City or to forego that and simply build and operate it as a service or corporation wholly controlled by the City. However, even if Council decides then to send out RFPs, it will still have the opportunity to examine those RFPs and come to a decision on whether to go with a PPP or do it as a wholly owned and operated municipal service or corporation.

I’m currently leaning toward what I see as the simplest approach with the least operating complexity/cost and maximum City benefit: a municipal service.  However, I’ll be keeping my eyes and ears open to all the options in what I believe is a very exciting proposal.

Initial Post…

There is a poll on the righthand side of the page to register what you would do…. below is the beginning of the explanation.  I highly recommend coming on Monday, 3PM, to hear the full up-to-date info that will be presented in full then.

You likely know that there has been a project in the works at the City for a number of years to create a biomass (wood chip) fired energy system in the City to provide heat to local large customers like VIHA, City facilities, and others.

Here is a map… one thing that has apparently changed is involvement of Catalyst.

Screen Shot 2015-02-13 at 10.55.00 PM

It appears that a number of factors including low natural gas prices are now bringing that project to a crossroads.


Download the  agenda and explanation here for the February 16 meeting at 3PM in City Hall Council Chambers.  The agenda includes a brief explanation of where the City is at, how we got here, and what the options are.

Here is the explanation from the 2014 Sustainability Report:

7.3 District Energy System

In early 2010 the City retained Stephen Salter P.Eng of Farallon Consulting to undertake an evaluation of Integrated Resource Recovery Options for Port Alberni. This evaluation was completed in mid-2010 and indicated that there were two very viable options to convert biomass to energy and circulate it to institutional, civic and large private sector residential facilities. These options had the potential to reduce GHG emissions by 4000 to 13,000 tonnes/yr, create cost savings for customers and provide new non-tax revenue for the City. The executive summary of the Farallon report is included in Appendix 12.

Initially an option incorporating a partnership with the Catalyst Paper mill was pursued. Ultimately a City stand-alone option proved to be more workable. The project will incorporate three technical innovations: a three-line district heating distribution system, a direct contact condensing economizer, and an adsorption chiller that will make use of heat from the system to replace the Hospital’s existing chiller.

Funds are identified in the City’s current five year financial plan to undertake this project d Funding grant applications have also been approved by FCM’s Green Municipal Fund and the Gas Tax Innovation Fund in the amount of $1.9 million.

Once constructed this project, as currently envisaged, would:

  • conserve 60,000 GJ/year of natural gas,
  • conserve 122MWh/year of electricity,
  • divert 2,800 tonnes/year of wood waste from landfilling,
  • reduce greenhousegas emissions by 5,100tonnes/year
  • reduce the City’s corporate emissions by a further 38% and, retain greenhouse gas offsets of $65,000/year currently paid by public organizations in Port Alberni to the Pacific Carbon Trust.

However, the bottomline now is this, like (and related to) oil prices, the market has changed both for what we can expect to sell the energy for, and how much will be consumed.

Here are the options included in Monday’s agenda. (Sorry they are images, click for larger)

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The Economic Development Manager is recommending that if Council still wants to pursue the project, that it do so in a partnership with a private company, Option 2 above.

If we choose to receive the maximum benefit by building it fully by ourselves as a City Utility or corporation (Option 1 above) then we shoulder the cost, and that would mean borrowing over $7 Million which would trigger a referendum to make that happen.

Or, we can walk away.

I am not going to state right now what I believe the City should do but I will say that I have watched this project for many years and have been a supporter of it.  It is clear market conditions are not as good as they once were…. but where are they going to be?

I want to hear what Mr. Deakin has to say on Monday and will have questions.

Below are some links to information about the system. What do you think?  Come to the meeting this monday.  It will be important.

  • A description of the project on the City’s website here.
  • Here is an AV Times report about the system in town from 2013.
  • Here is a report about a similar system proposed in Courtenay but that City did not have some of the built-in advantages we have (location and facilities)

Below are FortisBC Natural Gas prices. These are residential rates though, not commercial but they should give an idea of trends.

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Posted in Climate Change, Environment, Peak Oil, Politics | 4 Comments