Kitimat: A marvel of nature and industry

6-1Nestled at the head of Douglas Channel in Northwestern British Columbia, the District of Kitimat enjoys both natural beauty and a strong industrial heritage.

Kitimat is located in one of the few wide, flat, coastal valleys in British Columbia, with a stunning backdrop of the rugged Coast Mountains and glacier-fed Kitimat River. Carved out of the wilderness in the 1950s, it has become a vibrant community of approximately 10,000 residents. Kitimat is a tourist attraction offering world-renowned salt- and fresh-water fishing, and sailing and power boating on the Douglas Channel. Skiing and hiking options abound, and the challenging 18-hole Hirsch Creek golf course offers an unparalleled golfing experience in a pristine wilderness setting. Safe neighbourhoods and ample recreational opportunities make Kitimat a welcoming community.

Throughout its history, Kitimat has had a diverse and varied economy primarily based on value-added manufacturing and natural resource processing. The town was initially built in the early 1950s to house the employees of Alcan, an aluminum smelter, which is set to be replaced by a new facility following completion of the $3.3 billion (US) Kitimat Modernization Project near the end of 2014. Now owned by Rio Tinto Alcan, this smelter has been shipping goods globally through the Douglas Channel since 1954. The Eurocan Pulp and Paper mill opened in 1969, producing linerboard and kraft paper for more than 30 years until closing in 2010. Ocelot Industries/Methanex operated from 1982 to 2005, producing 500,000 tonnes of methane and ammonia annually. The same features that attracted Alcan, Eurocan, and Methanex to locate their operations in Kitimat are today drawing interest from numerous and varied proponents.

After nearly 60 years of heavy industry, the essential infrastructure, an experienced labour force and a comprehensive supply and service sector are in place. Northwest Community College and Kitimat Valley Institute offer industry training programs and employment skills geared to the needs of local industry. Location, harbour, growth potential, and industrial heritage make Kitimat one of the most promising trade and manufacturing locations in North America.

6-2Thanks to the significant strategic advantages to attract businesses to locate here – including the ice-free, wide, deep-sea harbour, and a seamlessly integrated international transportation network – Kitimat is bursting with new activity. Billions of dollars in direct inward investments have been announced and work has begun on several major projects. Kitimat LNG, a 50/50 partnership between Chevron Canada and Apache Canada, is the most advanced of the liquefied natural gas proposals. Preparatory activities are ongoing and the Engineering, Procurement and Construction (EPC) contract for the terminal, to be built on Haisla Nation reserve land at Bish Cove, was recently awarded to a joint venture involving JGC Corp. and Fluor Corp.

Among the other projects announced is LNG Canada, a joint venture involving Shell (40 per cent), KOGAS, Mitsubishi and PetroChina Company (each 20 per cent) to develop a four-train (at full build out) LNG export facility on the former Methanex site. Three natural gas pipeline projects have also been announced. As a result of this industrial activity, Kitimat’s economic development office is busy fielding inquiries from various sectors. New businesses and residents are coming to Kitimat, recognizing the unique opportunity and potential in the region.

Kitimat is an emerging energy hub and transportation link for Asia-North America trade. With access to Western Canada’s natural resources and proximity to key Asian markets, Kitimat is an increasingly popular location for manufacturing, processing and transportation operations. Kitimat’s port is the third-largest on the west coast of Canada, with all existing port facilities built, owned, and operated by private enterprise. There is no federal port authority and no harbour dues – just steady, productive levels of shipping. The port has vehicle clearance to 320,000 Dead Weight Tonnes (DWT).

The provincial and federal governments are dedicated to working with industry to make British Columbia’s ports the preferred gateway for Asia-Pacific trade, the most competitive port system and supply chain on the West Coast of the Americas. This commitment builds on Canada’s longstanding and strong cultural and economic ties with Asia. In the new global economy, Canada’s Pacific Gateway is the path to the future.

Previously published in B.C. Tugboat magazine.

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