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REPORTING · 1st December 2011
Walter McFarlane
The Cafeteria at the KMP Construction Village for Rio Tinto Alcan was dressed up for the occasion and packed with dignitaries. At Quarter after twelve, a tribute naming all of Rio Tinto Alcan’s Kitimat employees, as well as a slideshow of historical photos, began to play. Then the Spirit of the Kitlope drummed an opening for the announcement. The time had come.

Paul Henning, Vice President of British Columbia Operations and Strategic Projects welcomed everyone to the announcement and MC’d the event. A brief video was played showing Alcan’s origins in Kitimat.

Jean Simon, President of Primary Metal, Rio Tinto Alcan stepped up.

“I’m sure many of you suspect why you were invited here this morning and we don’t want to keep you in suspense any longer. Ladies and Gentlemen, this is formally a go,” said Simon. He paused to receive a standing ovation. “The boards of Rio Tinto has formally approved an additional 2.7 billion capital investment to complete the modernization of our aluminium smelter here in Kitimat. This amount is in addition to the expenditures that have already been approved and will help us put Kitimat and Canada, at the very forefront of the 21st century Global aluminium industry.”

Simon explained Kitimat has two strategic advantages which makes it a low cost operation. Clean self generated hydro power and leading edge technology.

“The modernization will increase Kitimat production capacity by more then 48% or approximately 420 thousand tonnes a year and it is expected to begin coming on stream in the first half of 2014. The smelter will be powered by our exclusively, fully owned Kemano Hydro Power Facilities and we will use our proprietary, AP40 Smelting Technology to reduce emission density by 50% per year,” said Simon.

He added it would provide a safe and green work place for the employees and the community. He hoped the smelter would provide a boost to the growing region and explained it will guaranty 1000 quality jobs while creating spin off jobs and tax revenues to the province and to the municipality.

“We will be making every effort to make sure that local suppliers and businesses continue to benefit as much as possible from much of these activities now and in the future. We will also honour the landmark Haisla Nation, Rio Tinto Alcan Legacy Agreement and are proud of this partnership to provide opportunities and training and that is resulting in increasing numbers of Haisla Nation members working on the project,” said Simon.

He thanked all the employees and all the people who were working on the project, and paving the way.

Not everyone was able to be at the announcement. Chief Executive of Rio Tinto Alcan, Jacynthe Cote’s plane was redirected to Rupert and Premier Christy Clark was turned around at the Airport. Ellis Ross, Chief Councillor for Kitimat Village was traveling up with the Premier.

Councillor’s Henry Amos, Alex Grant and Keith Nyce represented the Haisla Nation. Nyce did a majority of the speaking. “On behalf of the Haisla Nation, we offer you a warm welcome to our Traditional Territory. The Haisla Nation has worked very closely with RTA and supported the reality of this important and exciting decision. Together with RTA, our Nation is very proud of the legacy agreement we have reached,” said Nyce.

He expressed the Legacy Agreement benefits both the Haisla Nation and Rio Tinto Alcan. Nyce congratulated Rio Tinto Alcan for the announcement.

The next speaker was Mayor of Kitimat, Joanne Monaghan. “We’ve waited so long for this day, it’s wonderful. I just feel like yelling and I know my Council does to. We’re very, very happy and thank you for making the announcement. It’s music to my ears. This is an announcement our community has been waiting a very, very long time for and we are really happy to be here to celebrate,” said Monaghan.

She reflected on the hard times the community has fallen under, expressing Kitimat now has the certainty that the aluminium business will remain. She said the community has lost Methanex and Eurocan and she felt like the Mayor of Doom. However, with all these new announcements she feels like the Mayor of Boom.

“When it comes to economic development, we know that the importance of getting that first initial investment to demonstrate to the world that Kitimat is a strategic place to invest. When RTA started their expansion and their camp and we can see what was happening, all of a sudden, the LNG camps came on stream. We have a Biomass ready to come in and it was absolutely wonderful. Thank you Alcan, for starting that whole trend for people coming into our community. We hope that today’s announcement will be the anchor for more environmentally sound investment in Kitimat. It sends a message that industry is here to stay in Kitimat and our community is willing and able to meet the needs of future investment. We have waited many years for this important announcement,” said Monaghan.

Michel Lamarre, Project Director was the next speaker. “This is great news for the project. All those people who have been working on this are here, on the ground, and especially the community of Kitimat. I have the great privilege of hosting an incredible team and a lot of them are here today,” said Lamarre. “Today is a day to celebrate.”

“We are building a state of the art faculty that will become a global jewel. This is something, we can all be proud,” said Lamarre.

He expressed the project has the permission from the board, to proceed. They are making progress on clearing lines 7 and 8, building the underground corridor and successfully completed phase one of the KMP Construction Village.

“The next two years will be very busy and very exciting. I am looking forward to the day that we will officially cut the ribbon on the new modernized smelter,” said Lamarre. “Lets build the future together.”

The announcement concluded with a ground breaking ceremony. Invited to break the ground were Henning, Simon, Brent Haggard, Lamarre, Amos, Monaghan and Ron Leibach. Due to the weather, the ground was brought into the presentation for them to break.

“It’s the end of the ceremony but it’s the beginning of a new adventure,” said Henning. “It’s been challenged from every corner as a project. It’s been challenged by the global financial crisis, it’s been challenged by leadership change, political change, design change and scope. It continues to come through and it continues to come through stronger then it was in 2006. It’s the same concept but it’s a much, much different and a much, much stronger project,” concluded Henning.

He thanked all the people who were working on the project around the world, who will never receive the gratitude from the people of Kitimat because the two may never meet. He thanked those who have come before and those who will come after.

Leaving the presentation, the grey, rainy skies which hung over the town all morning were starting to clear up and blue sky was starting to peak through.