Regional District of Kitimat-Stikine requests meeting with CN about rail safety

·3 min read

The Regional District of Kitimat-Stikine (RDKS) board is seeking an in-person presentation by Canadian National Railway (CN) concerning rail safety and emergency preparedness in the area.

During the Oct. 23, 2020 regular meeting of the board, area directors saw a presentation by Greig Houlden of the Chicago Creek Society. Houlden called for the RDKS to write a letter to the federal Minister of Transportation requesting a risk assessment under the Railway Safety Act.

Houlden said that the federal government has distanced itself from rail operations and has tasked CN and Canadian Pacific Railway (CP) with self-monitoring and self-reporting.

He pointed to heightened risks of a potential increase in the shipment of hazardous petroleum products, should export facilities by Vopak Development Canada and Traverse Energy on Ridley Island and Kitimat be built.

“We don’t believe it’s acceptable for the federal government not to be aware of the risks involved when it authorizes or entitles a rail company to increase its shipment of dangerous goods through your communities,” he said.

After the presentation, there was immediate concern from some board members that sending a letter would be taken as a barrier to economic development in the region.

“I am a little concerned that it would not be well received by many in the development projects here, I don’t know that it should be part of the environmental review process,” said Bruce Bidgood, area director for rural Terrace and south coast.

Director Dean Paranich, Hazeltons rural areas, supported sending the letter. He argued that the letter was about emergency response and raised questions about communities’ ability to handle a potential rail disaster.

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Vice Chair James Cordeiro opposed the letter and questioned whether or not the Ministry of Transportation would take any action and urged the regional district to gather more information before sending it.

Sean Bujtas, director, agreed. “If rail safety is the issue, then make it about rail safety,” he said.

“We don’t need to name projects and I struggle with, you know is this an attack on the projects or is it an attack on rail safety, so I think for starters if we choose to write a letter we should make sure that no project is mentioned, it’s just about rail safety it’s not anything else because I don’t think that’s where we should go.”

The board voted to defeat the motion on the floor and then passed a follow-up motion compelling staff to submit a freedom of information request to find out more about what dangerous goods are being transported through the regional district.

Bruce Bidgood introduced a motion to to write the original letter, which was defeated. Then Cordeiro brought forward another motion to request a meeting on the issue with CN.

“I do think that we have questions that should be posed to them and I think it’s valuable for the board to get a response in person,” he said.

“After that meeting depending on our level of satisfaction we could entertain writing a letter specifically on that subject to the ministry of transportation.”

That motion was passed.

Several other northwest municipal governments received similar requests from citizens in recent weeks. The District of Houston opted to send a letter to Garneau requesting an inquiry. The City of Terrace was asked to send a similar letter by the environmental group North West Watch Society but rebuffed that request. City council voted to receive the request without acting on it.

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Ben Bogstie, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Interior News