Terrace ponders environmental impacts

🕔Nov 19, 2007

To Terrace resident Kerri DuPont, it is basic logic.
“The city has to initiate bylaws that reward positive actions and tax things that are detrimental to the environment.”
DuPont argues that Terrace needs to educate and get businesses as well as residents on board about the issue of climate change. She wants to see the city set some achievable goals as well as take an inventory of local green initiatives, which would lead to filling the gaps where action is missing.
It would make a difference, she believes, “if you could convince people in Terrace to do even one thing to decrease their carbon footprint.”
Similar to its regional neighbours, Terrace has suffered a tough decade economically due to a decline in the forest industry. But prospects are starting to look bright again. The real estate market is on the up, with old homes selling and new ones getting built for the first time in years. Airport numbers are rising, and various big-money projects have begun or are on the verge of beginning in the region, promising spin-offs for Terrace businesses.
Those projects include the Prince Rupert port expansion, Alcan’s aluminum smelter modernization in Kitimat, the $2-billion Galore Creek Mine, and the planned development of a 355-kilometre power line stretching from the Skeena Valley north to Bob Quinn Lake.
Terrace’s city council supports all of these. The city has been on the hunt for employment and economic opportunity since the logging industry started its downfall at the start of the decade, and especially since the town’s one-time biggest employer, the Terrace Lumber Company sawmill, shut down in June, 2006.
Earlier this year, DuPont created an educational blog that challenges average residents to reduce their carbon footprint (http://planetterrace.blogspot.com). She is also a part of ASK Terrace, a community group that strives to see future city projects based equally on the four pillars of sustainability: environmental, economical, social, and cultural.
“This is something I can do,” DuPont said.
But when it comes to development and making it greener, DuPont wants the city councillors to take action. “It would be nice to see this particular topic a political partisan issue—to see it on everyone’s agenda regardless of what political party. It feels like [climate change] is still a concept that council is scared to utter.
“It is not so farfetched that Terrace could become a model,” she says, citing small towns as bubbles of opportunity.

A matter of scale
Terracite Bruce Hill has had many jobs in his lifetime, including being a commercial fisher and logger. His last few years have been devoted to the environment, however. His current project, the Headwaters Initiative, is an organization he and a friend started that works with northern communities on issues of development, sustainability and conservation.
When it comes to the future of Terrace and the Northwest, Hill is also calling on city councillors to follow a safer, greener path. “If they want to be a leader for development, they need to be a leader of sustainability,” Hill says.
Even if it’s as simple as adding the word “responsibly” to the “Terrace is going mining” signs posted around town, he adds. The signs are one way the city is trying to attract the mining industry.
Hill warns of the dangers associated with believing all development is positive. “Bad decisions about development are plaguing the world right now in the form of pollution, toxic waste and climate change. People have a tendency to be in denial about potential impacts.”
Having done it himself, Hill recognizes that Terrace and its residents, like other resource towns, are used to making money off the earth. “Nobody’s opposed to all development,” he says. “We cut things down, dig holes in the ground, build things, ship them off to other places so people can use them. That’s what we do.
“But what is important is the way these things are done.”
An example is the power line the BC government announced in late September, designated to bring electricity to communities and mines north of Terrace.
Hill says he is not necessarily opposed to the project, but adds, “The question is: what kind of power line should be built?
“The voltage will determine if there will be two or three mines at one time, or six or seven. Six or seven is just too much. It will just destabilize the North.
“Mines don’t last forever. It’s not an industry that you can base a community on in the long term. Most ghost towns in North America are old mining towns.”
Hill points out that conservationists do not protest all development. Businesses that make sound decisions, take a positive and proactive approach, consult extensively with local communities, and establish long-term employment and benefits in the area are welcome.
“The ones that don’t—we are going to stop them.”

Flawed process
Recognizing that local councillors are generally not the decision-makers when it comes to major regional projects, Hill spends much of his time looking at the bigger picture. And according to him, it isn’t pretty: it is generally accepted, he says, even by government workers themselves, that Canada’s environmental review process is deeply flawed.
First, cumulative impacts are not taken into account, and this only gives the appearance of being concerned about sustainability; and secondly, the review process is really only there to ensure that projects are not making glaring mistakes, Hill says. “But even that has really failed.”
“It shouldn’t be that hard for the public’s interest to be protected.”
Until recently the City of Terrace had taken baby steps towards sustainability, such as trying to enhance park and recreational trail networks and promoting alternate forms of commuting.
But on Oct. 9, after attending the major annual conference for BC’s municipal leaders, the Union of British Columbia Municipalities, Terrace’s city council took two steps closer to the environment. Along with the BC government and various other communities, it signed onto the British Columbia Climate Action Charter which, although not legally binding, is a statement of climate change action goals. More important locally, it resolved to conduct a study of the city’s energy use and environmental efficiency.
City planner David Block says that two provincial grants worth a total of $12,500 will likely pay for an environmental consultant to establish a baseline of current energy use and greenhouse gas emissions levels, and provide recommendations to move toward sustainability.
City councillor Brad Pollard says, “It’s a start, and I’m very pleased that we have a start.”
Pollard is a biologist and environmental consultant by profession, and he is conscious of the city’s carbon footprint. He sees major untapped opportunities for energy savings in Terrace, having learned of various alternative methods at conferences and workshops he’s attended as part of his political duties.
For instance, the city could reduce energy waste by trapping heat from its septic fields and using it to heat buildings, he says. He realizes that kind of initiative would take a major overhaul of infrastructure, but thinks that over the long term it would be worth it and could significantly reduce heating costs for the town.
Pollard also sees the local Northwest Community College potentially playing a key role.
Many general contractors in Terrace only know how to do things the old way, Pollard said, such as installing natural gas heaters. He envisions the college trades programs teaching students about energy-saving alternatives, giving them an advantage in the work world while simultaneously benefiting the local community and environment.
Pollard also agrees with DuPont and Hill. “We have to be the cheerleaders,” he says, noting that, individually, every councillor does consider the environment when making a decision.

Changing ways
Terrace economic development officer Sam Harling believes that, although the city may not have been green-friendly in the past, it is definitely conscious of environmental and sustainability issues now.
Terrace Economic Development Authority is an organization partly funded by the city that aims to increase business in the area. Having only started his position in September, 2007, Harling says the board of directors made it clear during his interview process they are interested in responsible development that preserves or improves residents’ quality of life.
When deciding about whether to take the job or not, he says, “That’s one of the basic things that nailed me.”
Harling agrees the city is open for business. He speaks of residents being employed by major mining projects in the region as well as during the expected modernization of Alcan’s smelter. He also talks of the city potentially becoming a manufacturing or retail supply hub, or tourist destination. “Environment hasn’t always been at the forefront of development thinking in the area,” he says, but adds, “We are working to find responsible solutions to make all of this sustainable.”