Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Jobs sailing in to Victoria

There's not a lot to support in the province's decision to abandon the Capital Commission and sell off key assets to finance operational debt.  This trade of lands for those the city owns at Point Hope, however, is one of those exceptions that make good sense. 

During my time on council I was also pressing the case that we sell Point Hope the leased lands to give them certainty for at least some of the investments they had then mapped out.  I hope they proceed with the graving dock they planned that would allow more and larger vessels to come into the yard, creating new and better jobs than I am expecting from the more shaky LNG industry that some operations will service. 

There will no doubt be some who strike the match and light their hair on fire, insisting, wrongly, that the land should be saved for housing or a park.  Both of those soapboxes are too shaky to stand for long.

For the city, the new provincial properties along the other side of the harbour will help to consolidate the city’s holdings on the downtown waterfront, and make it easier to advance a harbour pathway project that has been in the works for years.  That will be a welcome and well used public space that gives hope to the idea that we can stop providing viewscapes for empty cars and give more of our waterfront back to our citizens.

Back on the other side, the Point Hope lands have always been a liability more than an asset for the city.  They cannot be used for housing – too contaminated from near a century and a half of industrial activity that would make reclamation uneconomic.  For health reasons, you simply cannot build housing on toxic sites.  Why would we ask those who need affordable housing to absorb the costs or the risks associated with who knows what buried in the fill?

As a park, it doesn’t have a lot to offer – it would be isolated and less appealing than the new and better park space the city has already planned into the local neighbourhood south of the new bridge and taking advantage of land reclaimed from the soon to be redundant “S” curve (a sticky issue for those that insist traffic calming is so well served by preserving accident generators).

For the shipyard, the lands will be an asset.  They can consolidate their property, cap the site, contain the contamination and keep on doing what they do best - serving dozens of vessels from near and far who check in now again for minor repairs or major work.  Those who might believe it’s but a pittance to fix might cast their eyes towards the BC Hydro lands where tens of millions of dollars have been, and continue to be spent, on one of Canada’s most toxic pieces of land.  That’s not something the city needs to take on.

Point Hope can take this to the bank – as an owner better than a leaseholder, to secure the financing they need to build their business and create jobs you can count.  Both the shipyard and the city also escape the conundrum of the landlord also being the regulator of the lands and eliminate any conflict over the watchdog role.

Not to be undersold also is the planning that went into the bridge project – some elements of design were added late to the plan to allow Point Hope to pull in bigger, wider vessels.

I’m sure the deal will be the “focus” of some critics but this is a good deal for the city and for the sustainability of our community.  We need to be a working city too and this is a big boost for our marine industrial economy.  Our marine highways, despite the efforts of some, aren’t going to disappear anytime soon, and the vessels that ply our coastal waters need their marine garage.  It’s here at Point Hope and it’s about to tool up.

Kudos to Mayor Fortin and the city for making this work.

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