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City of Powell River Council plans response to questions about Catalyst Paper Tis'kwat mill

Correspondence outlines concerns about taxes and remediation
PROVIDING RESPONSE: City of Powell River councillors will be responding to correspondence from Wildwood resident John Young, who asked questions about collecting future taxes from Catalyst Paper Tis’kwat mill owner Paper Excellence, and remediation of the site. Councillors expressed that the broader community would be interested in answers to Young’s questions.

City of Powell River councillors will be making a response to correspondence regarding the Catalyst Paper Tis’kwat mill public.

At the March 15 committee of the whole meeting, councillors reviewed an email from John Young, who asked questions about future collection of taxes from the mill, plus questions about remediation of the site.

“On December 9, I wrote a letter to the Peak in which I warned that we should all be vigilant about what has now happened,” stated Young in his email. “It is beyond regrettable that the city did not see Paper Excellence’s crude self-interest for what it was and that we were not all better protected against the predictable corporate hardball that now affects the entire community.”

Young stated now that Paper Excellence has shown itself to be no different than any other corporate entity, where everything’s for sale, nothing and no one matters, just the money, and that citizens of qathet are more concerned than ever about the future of the mill site and the future of the community. 

“It is my understanding that prior to putting the mill site on the market with Colliers, various Paper Excellence officials provided assurance that the city would continue to receive significant taxes for at least the next few years,” stated Young. “Now that Paper Excellence has made the move they have, what assurances, if any, does the city have that Paper Excellence will honour that commitment?”

He asked, in the absence of any meaningful commitments in writing, does the city have the capacity and the right team to pursue legal action aimed at ensuring steady revenue flow from Paper Excellence for the coming years? 

“Further, with the mill site now for sale, what obligations, if any, does Paper Excellence have to fully remediate the site so that it does not continue to pose a toxic threat to marine and shore life and the human community?” asked Young. “If Colliers sells the site, as Paper Excellence desires, does legal responsibility pass to the new owner?”

Councillors discuss comments

At the meeting, councillor Rob Southcott said there were a couple of inferences that convey information that Southcott did not think was exactly true.

Southcott said because the letter is a public document, he wondered if it would be wise to address those “slightly inaccurate inferences” by staff.

Chief administrative officer Russell Brewer said staff would welcome responding to the author.

Councillor Cindy Elliott asked in addition to responding to Young, how would the committee let the public know the answers to those questions?

Brewer said they could be shared with the public if councillors wished them to be shared.

“I think there’s a lot of interest in the answers to those questions,” said Elliott. “We should put it out there publicly.”

Councillor George Doubt said the answers could be published on the city’s website. He added that he did not assume any of the corporations that operate in the city do anything other than operate in their own best interests.

“That’s part of an answer to a statement in the first paragraph,” said Doubt. “The city will do everything it can, in my estimation, to recover the taxes that are owed on the property, and protect the taxpayers of the City of Powell River. The city doesn’t own the property the Catalyst Paper mill is on. It’s private property and it is affected by the provincial government more than the municipal government, but we certainly will be impacted by what happens.”

Councillor Maggie Hathaway asked if Paper Excellence would be treated like anyone else, where if they don’t pay their taxes, they go on the chopping block for auction.

“I don’t think they would be treated any differently than a homeowner,” said Hathaway. “I think we’re protected there.”

Councillor and committee of the whole chair Jim Palm suggested the response be brought back to the committee so the information can go directly to the public.

Brewer suggested the response be brought back to a subsequent agenda.

“It would be public by virtue of it being on an agenda,” said Brewer.

Committee members passed a motion that the March 2 email from Young regarding Catalyst Paper Tis’kwat be received, with staff directed to respond to errors, provide clarity, and include the response letter for the next committee of the whole meeting.