OUT ON A LIMB: Campbell River gets a charge out of electrifying news

I have to confess that when I heard electric car assembly, I had to temper my enthusiasm

Wow, talk about a surprise.

Just before the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal presentation was about to get underway Thursday, I was informed by Coun. Claire Moglove that the Elk Falls Mill site had been sold and that the new owner wanted to build lithium batteries and assemble electric cars there. Other councillors also approached me and you could sense their excitement.

It was blockbuster news and I had to run home to find out more about it and put it up on our website (and twitter and facebook).

I have to confess that when I heard electric car assembly, I had to temper my enthusiasm. Oldtimers like I now count myself (been here 23 years now), remember the EXAR-1 electric car plant proposal for the industrial park in north Campbell River. How far did that go?

I remember then-premier Bill Vander Zalm asked then-mayor Robert Ostler “Why Campbell River?” It was out of the blue and it ended up just being blue sky thinking. Nothing came of it.

This proposal by Alberta businessman Harold Jahn is more concrete as evidenced by mill site owner Catalyst Paper announcing that there was an agreement for sale. Even if the site is not used for all of the ventures proposed, it will still be owned by a developer looking to get a return on his investment.

What’s most positive about the proposal to me is that it’s going to be used as an industrial park housing a number of businesses. That in itself may be more sustainable than it being used for one make or break industry. That Jahn is conglomerating a number of related businesess that he operates under separate companies is interesting and it would almost instantly stamp Campbell River as a centre for alternate energy production. Throw in Cogen and BC Hydro’s billion-dollar John Hart Dam upgrade and we may have to change our name from the Salmon Capital of the Word to the Energy Capital of Canada.

It’s all pretty heady stuff but the old cynics are circling their wagons and saying “Let’s wait and see.” There’s a long way to go yet but it’s certainly a positive development. I frankly didn’t think we would see heavy industry return to the site, figuring it’s value may have been higher as residential development – although decades of heavy industrial pollution probably would have nullified the chances of that.

And there may still be a long road of environmental assessments to go down with industrial plants, particularly battery production. But it was Catalyst’s intention to get something back from their site and now it looks like it’s going to give Campbell River a electrifying future.