Port Alberni City Council is signing a 25-year lease with the Port Alberni Port Authority for Lots A and B of the former plywood site despite public opposition and a perceived lack of public consultation.
Council voted 4-2 in favour of the proposal at their June 9 meeting. Mayor John Douglas and councillor Wendy Kerr voted against the move. Coun. Dan Washington declared a conflict of interest because of his employment with Alberni Engineering and left the room. He did not participate in the discussion and he didn’t vote.
Several members of the public spoke on both sides of the issue during a lengthy public input session at the beginning of the meeting. Chris Alemany delivered a petition with 300 names supporting beach expansion on the lots.
“I really like Alberni Engineering and their goals,” Douglas said. “But my concern is with the lack of public consultation.”
The port authority intends to lease the Plywood lots to Alberni Engineering, which plans to build a 12,000-square-foot metal structure that will service ships directly from the inlet’s waters. The company will eventually construct a 30,000-square-foot building.
Terms of the lease include $1,200 per month in rent plus municipal taxes; the company will invest $500,000 in utility infrastructure at the site, which will be located more than 50 metres from Lot C—the public beach.
Nearly a dozen people spoke about the matter during the public input period, most of them against council signing the lease. Three were critical of the lack of public consultation.
“There is a real need for the public to get together,” Neil Anderson said. “We have to involve the public a lot more in the decision making than I have seen in the seven years that I’ve been here.”
Douglas cited the lack of public consultation as among the reasons he was voting no. “In order to succeed it’s important that we have buy-in from people. We need to have more,” he said.
Municipal taxes collected for the land will depend on how much BC Assessment values it, but the city could fetch between $40,000 to $119,000 annually based on a light industry designation, city finance manager Cathy Rothwell said.
The land will allow Alberni Engineering to expand its operations so it can compete for government ship building and refitting contracts, spokesperson Rob English said.
Contracts will begin to be awarded in October and site preparation could begin as early as in December with work starting the following year, he said.
While PAPA has other land at its disposal, Lots A and B are preferred because of a combination of traffic, vessel access and license provisions, he said.
The footprint of the company’s Harbour Road facility is too small to allow for the amount of employees and larger contract work that owners envision, he added. “We can grow there but we’ll stop growing in 16 months,” he said. “It’s unsafe to try and squeeze more people in there.”
There are other municipalities on the Island the company could look at to build the facility if council were to back out.
Councillors Jack McLeman and Kerr expressed a concern about PAPA sub-leasing the property for a log sort. “I do not want to see in that one year window…another log sort,” Coun. Jack McLeman said.
A log sort is within acceptable use that municipal zoning allows, Ken Watson said. But the city controls the lease in several key ways, he added.
The city can opt out of the lease if there is no industrial activity on the site within a year; if there is no investment in municipal infrastructure on the site; and if there is a two-year lull in industrial activity. As well, any sub-leasee would require the approval of council.
PAPA director of public relations and business development Dave McCormick and allayed concerns about the idea of a log sort. “We have no intention of supporting a log sort on its own,” he said. “Our primary purpose is to facilitate shipping.”
Coun. Cindy Solda asked about the length of the lease and about why PAPA was negotiating the lease and not Alberni Engineering.
Watson replied that the lease length would allow Alberni Engineering to recoup their capital investment.
PAPA is already the company’s landlord so using them as a middleman made sense, McLeman added.