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Fortis seeks public input re: $16-mill facility in Castlegar

Kyra Hoggan
By Kyra Hoggan
August 16th, 2012

City officials way they’re “pleased” to hear Fortis BC is holding a public open house to discuss plans to build a $16-million office centre and warehouse on land previously earmarked as a site for developing a regional hospital.

Fortis spokesman Michael Allison told The Source that several pieces of property were considered, but a study revealed this parcel is the best-suited for Fortis’ needs. He said the building would house between 180 and 200 employees (roughly 20 of whom work at Fortis’ current Castlegar operations centre). It would also create jobs over and above that number during construction.

“The proposed site for the Kootenay Operations Center is located at 120 Ootischenia Road in Castlegar,” he said. “It … will be made up of approximately 30,000 square feet of office space, crew muster space and an area emergency response centre. Fleet bays and a district stores warehouse will make up an additional 15,000 square feet of space.”

He said the public consultation, slated for Aug. 29 between 5 and 8 p.m. at the Ootischenia Community Hall, is required by BC Utilities Commission regulations.

Meanwhile, at its regular meeting Monday night, city council issued a press release supporting Fortis’ plans.

“City council is very pleased that Fortis is proposing the new West Kootenay Operations Centre in Castlegar … which will continue to diversify and grow the city’s economic base,” the press release said. “Although the property was originally acquired as a site for the future West Kootenay Regional Hospital, recent city service infrastructure expansion has led to other sites becoming available.”

Not everyone is happy about the deal, though – former mayor Mike O’Connor said he thinks the city should be running a public process, too, to see how residents feel about this use of land traditionally designated as a future hospital site.

“Well, first off, they need a release from IHA (Interior Health Authority),” O’Connor said. “The city sent a letter to IHA when I was mayor, offering that land for a hospital … so now the city needs a release to sell it. They can’t just do whatever they want, whenever they want.”

O’Connor said he agrees that having Fortis centralize in Castlegar is great news for the city, but he thinks council must first find and/or acquire an alternate site for a hospital, and that city representatives should be joining with Fortis in the public consultation process.

“In fact, I think public consultation about the hospital lands should have happened before negotiations with Fortis even began,” he added.

Mayor Lawrence Chernoff begged to differ, however, indicating that while some sites the city has considered for alternate hospital locations are not owned by the city, at least one is – namely, the airport lands the city just connected to municipal services, including water.

“What you try to do with any project is remove all the barriers to it – if there are no barriers left, what’s the reason not to move forward,” he said. “We’re not giving the land away, it will sell at fair market value (at a much higher price than the city paid, years ago), and (the Fortis operations centre) is good for the entire West Kootenay. It entrenches Fortis in Castlegar, but it also promises employment and economic spin off for the entire region.”

He said the operations centre also sets a percent for other corporations looking for the best region in which to locate their home bases.

The public open house will take place Aug. 29 between 5 and 8 p.m. at the Ootischenia Community Hall, at 119 Columbia Rd.

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