B.C. town wins national recognition for reclaiming contaminated mill site

After years of legal battles and innovative transformations, Watson Island emerged as Prince Rupert’s winner, being awarded Best Overall Large-Scale Project and the National Brownie on November 14 in Toronto.

The Brownie Awards recognize restoration projects across Canada on once-contaminated, underused and undeveloped sites that have been transformed into productive developments that support the economic vitality of their communities.

“The former mayor and the city council, together with the city staff, turned what was once a major challenge and environmental responsibility in Prince Rupert into a new source of income and opportunity for the community. That was a win!” Berpond said.

The City of Prince Rupert provided some historical background in a press release, saying it was the involuntary recipient of the Watson Island property and inherited it through a tax sale after the pulp mill closed. Legal action followed with the owner, who was at risk of contamination from residual chemicals at the site.

“Due to the disused pulp mill, the site once cost the community significant holding costs, which came with considerable environmental liability,” the city said.

Following the signing of the 2015 settlement agreement, the city, along with its many partners, including McElhanney, Trillium Environmental Ltd., the Department of Environment and Climate Change, and a host of local and non-local contractors, was able to initiate site demolition and proceed with phased Planned eventual brownfield redevelopment.

Implementing what they call a “resourceful and creative approach,” the city was able to repurpose pulping chemicals from the former mill for use in the pulp industry elsewhere in British Columbia. The vast majority of metals are recycled, resulting in a 95% recycling rate of material left on site.

The city says this environmentally friendly approach has reduced restoration costs to a fraction of what was originally expected.

The up-front financial burden of remediation was eased for ratepayers and the city through an “innovative supporter-driven process” in partnership with the provincial Ministry of Environment and Climate Change.

The city said the Pembina propane facility was the first to come online last year. With the propane company project, the property has been returned to the city tax rolls.income from

Revenue from the property’s lease has generated revenue for the city’s Legacy Corporation, and with Pembina’s participation, the property has been returned to the city’s tax bill. That, in turn, pays dividends for New York City to offset major one-time capital costs like Woodworth Dam replacement.

During the past seven years’ metamorphosis from ugly duckling to swan, the city and province have worked together to create an innovative realignment of the agreement in principle. The tool allows for partial overhauls of sites as new business partners are brought on board, with the industry absorbing the upfront cost of the fix.

“Going forward, with more industrial land to be developed, Watson Island is well-positioned to continue attracting new projects – including the potential renewable and green energy sector – which is the current focus of the city’s Office of Economic Development. “

The Watson Island project has now become a case study for the provincial Ministry of Environment and Climate Change on how to successfully manage and rehabilitate a large industrial brownfield. Part of Prince Rupert’s remarkable success is that it is now a point of contact and guidance for municipalities across Canada to find themselves. Also saddled with abandoned industrial land. Prince Rupert staff have also spoken at various town meetings.

With the site now attracting potential interest from a number of industries, including renewable energy – Prince Rupert is seeing new beginnings for the Watson Island site.

“The Watson Island project in Prince Rupert was one of several well-deserved finalists in the brownfield development category, and the city and our partners are honored to receive the award,” said Pond.

The rownie Awards recognize brownfield restoration projects across Canada on once-contaminated, underutilized and undeveloped sites that have been transformed into productive developments that support the economic vitality of their communities.


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