Seeking Environmental and Economic Leadership on Port Alberni City Council

This is a letter I wrote to Port Alberni Mayor Ken McRae on November 2, 2007.

Dear Mr. Mayor and Members of Council

Over the past few months I’ve had the chance to engage in some good discussion on City matters through the public meetings on the Budget and Recycling. Thank you for that opportunity. I’ve also touched bases with Mr. Pat Deakin on a number of occasions and found him to be very open minded on issues that I find most important. I ask that you please take the time to read my thoughts. I would also like to extend an offer to present a short presentation to you and council on these matters.

In all my discussions, one thing that continues to pop up is leadership, and that is why I’m writing today.

I believe the Mayor and Council have done a good job in keeping the Good Ship Alberni afloat in very tough times. However, I also believe there is a great opportunity to lead Port Alberni into a whole new era that you are missing. What I am about to suggest would require major changes, but in 40 or 50 years it would make all the difference… can the Council of 2007 approve a vision for 2057? As we celebrate Amalgamation and Echo ’67, remember the vision and leadership that it took to build that center and join this City in the face of stiff opposition and the benefits we still now enjoy. I don’t mean to do this figuratively. I mean we need someone who will really stand at a microphone and announce both the Hard Truths that we all are facing, and the Hard Ways in which we are going to come out ahead.

Like the debate on Climate Change, there is now mounting evidence and studies are piling up that predict a coming final “plateau” or “peak” in the rate of world oil production. In fact, a German group last week indicated that by its’ calculations, the worlds production peaked (even with Oil Sands) in 2006 and will decline by as much as 3% a year starting around 2010. A former Saudi ARAMCO executive speaking at a conference in Houston last week also indicated that official published estimates of reserves by Middle East countries are grossly overestimated (by nearly 40%).

The effect of this peak? Ever rising oil, fuel, and natural gas prices and an ever rising Canadian $… if the price of crude hits $150 in the next 10 years… where will the Loonie be? $1.25? $1.50?? These issues can be frightening to people… but they are also incredible opportunities to lead. Port Alberni is currently at the bottom of an economic cycle that has taken 50 years to get us here. In 50 years, where will we be, how can we use something like Peak Oil, to our advantage?

Would Port Alberni announce itself as the first Peak Oil Aware city in Canada? Will we commit to reducing our reliance on fossil fuels to near 0 in all facets we control in our City by 2057?

Here are some opportunities that I see, or that I think we’re missing….

#1: Heritage: An excellent focus for our tourism… but it hasn’t caught on yet in town,or with any tourists, local or otherwise. As we do our Uptown Revitalization… take a page from Chemainus’ book and make it a town theme. Turn back the clock to the early 20th. Create a bylaw to restore the older buildings to what they looked like in 1905 or earlier and to provide access to old blueprints to assist renovations. Fact is, in the early 20th Century we knew very well how to work with very little fossil fuels… in other words, Old Ike should be able to solve all our problems. During your renovation of Argyle, install an electric, or cable, rail-trolley car like there used to be… (this is the peak oil angle) and have it run a loop uptown… even in small cities like Port Alberni, public transport will be incredibly important in the future. In Future aim to replace the BC Transit buses in the City with electric rail or bus trolley cars loops by 2030.

#2: Redevelopment of City:

Roads: Our City is City Works intensive! It has the widest streets around. Instead of fretting about repaving those streets… create simple boulevards. They will reduce maintenance costs, beautify the City, and reduce the heat of the summer. Create a Bylaw that Neighbourhoods/residents must maintain, not only their sidewalk, but their boulevard as well. Allow neighbourhoods to cooperate and plant their own trees or shrubbery… grass is labour, and water, intensive.. encourage natural, local, shrubs, trees and bushes. Ban tractor trailers from using the Redford Corridor!! How? Narrow it with a beautiful boulevard so it’s no good to them… They should be using Stamp/Gertrude and Johnson… or RAIL! The most damage to roadways happens on the HILLS… make them use the Provincial Highway!

Business Corridors: We must pursue a strategy to create a “walkable” or “ridable” City. Keep the current “pockets” in place. Please resist the temptation to expand the Johnson bigboxes throughout the corridor. Allowing them to “creep” would simply create a transportation mess like what happened in Nanaimo and Duncan. Create and expand the pockets, but never allow them to merge. We need to encourage more “anchors” to locate in lower Johnson and the Argyle area to provide those areas with new retail blood.

#3: Alternative Energy: Distributed, localized, energy will be the only way to add more electricity to the grid now that huge hydro projects and natural gas plants are either not existent, or will be too expensive to buy power from.

Community Forest: We have an incredible source of fiber around the Valley. Catalyst burns it for fuel… when they are gone, we should burn it for electricity. Get started NOW on putting the plans together to create a major BioMass facility. I watched, on the 30th, on the Beauforts, as smoke lifted up from the slash burning and thought… “that should be powering my microwave!!”. Our Community Forest should have a directive that forbids any piling of waste and directs it and any other waste including chips to a local BioMass facility. All TFLs and Private Lands should have the same provincial/Federal law, but I know that will never happen with current governments so we’ll have to do it on the local level.

Heating: In Norway, there is a City that uses a CoGen BioMass plant to produce heat to heat 80% of residential homes through plumbing… this is a City the size of Nanaimo. Port Alberni could do the same… imagine, if in 50 years, 80% of City residents didn’t pay for heating oil, natural gas, or electricity to heat their homes?? This decision requires leadership, vision, and tenacity…

SmallHydro: Alberni must continue to support, and participate in, Small Hydro projects in and around the Valley

Solar and Rain: Did you know that Solar Water heaters can actually work in Port Alberni… so can solar electricity panels!! Thanks to our hot dry summers, we can actually save money by installing solar water heaters. Make a bylaw encouraging developers, and residents to install these devices! Any new City building must have one… as well as tanks to store rainwater for groundskeeping and solar panels to generate electricity.

#4: Commuters:

Car: Create designated “Park and Ride” spots around town (all it takes is a sign and an OK from local businesses)… the Tourist Bureau, Walmart, 10th Ave Plaza, all good places for one… these small steps would really send a major message to people that we are thinking about it!

Rail: Please continue to vigorously support the ICF and APR! THe key to our economic re-awakening, especially in a Peak Oil world, is efficient, Rail Transport. Encourage business to use Rail… setup partnerships between SVI, ICF and businesses to make railfreight happen again on the Island! Take the Tough track and start to lobby to the Province and Feds to Electrify the rail lines. Only electric rail corridors can, eventually, be high speed and thus able to offset car commutes. We must start small now or the cost later will be to the moon.

If you have made it this far, I hope that means that you will seriously consider my proposal. My biggest concern of all, aside from all the suggestions, is simply that our elected leaders not chicken out on the issue of Peak Oil. Peak Oil and Climate Change are one and the same… it’s time someone in power actually said it. People want to know why their energy costs are rising so quickly. It’s time the people who we elect to lead us through good and bad, tell us the truth and give us a direction. That, above all, is what people really want.

Thank you very much for your time and service to this community


Chris Alemany