The Port Alberni Port Authority is so busy it’s running out of space. And that’s an enviable position to be in, says Mike Carter, PAPA’s vice-president of operations.
“We are close to maximum capacity,” he said.
Independent Seafood Canada Corporation ties up two frozen-at-sea factory ships and leases property at Shed No. 1, at the far end of the port. “They’ve been here since about 2013. Each of those vessels have a crew on board of about 20 personnel,” Carter said. They offload every eight or nine days and bring in an additional 20-30 people to the dock.
“That’s created a tremendous amount of employment dating back to 2013,” says Carter. The second vessel was added in spring of 2020, doubling the employment and bringing new people relocating to Port Alberni.
Next to them is Canadian Maritime Engineering, which leases Shed 2 and in late 2021 added an outdoor lease with a portion of the dock in front of the shed.
Shed 3 is home to the Uchucklesaht First Nation’s Thunderbird Spirit Water bottling facility, and the Uchucklesaht also leases an outdoor area. “We’re in negotiations right now about building another building to enhance their product,” Carter said.
Shed 3 and an older building adjacent to it were once part of the failed Cantimber Biotech activated carbon facility; for the past three years the older part has housed INEO Employment’s mattress recycling program. Coastal Restoration Society is leasing a small compound from the port as well.
“Things have sure changed here just from our commodities. It’s becoming more green,” he said. “The tide has changed; these are great environmental initiatives. We’re doing things in a better way here.”
Berth 2 is available for tie-ups, but the dock is no longer in good enough shape for offloading product. The port is applying for grants to revitalize Berth 2 for the future, Carter said, and there is potential for a long-term lease.
The Western Canada Marine Response Corporation commissioned a new office and warehouse at the port in May 2021, bringing 17-20 full-time employees to town. The WCMRC also built a pocket marina off the Water Street dock, about 500 metres away, to moor its spill response vessels.
“Other than CME, most of them are new since 2013, and three of those companies are new within the last two and a half to three years,” said Carter. “That’s a tremendous amount of employment in 800 metres of road.”
The port hasn’t seen as much cargo shipping in and out as it would like in the past year, said Carter, although numbers have slowly climbed back to post-COVID-19 levels. There is a hopeful shift taking place. IT International Telecom Inc.’s cable ships will be in and out of Port Alberni throughout the summer. Canadian Maritime Engineering is a leader in the maritime industry, and the work they do brings in different contractors and vendors, sparking a triple economy for the waterfront: bringing in vessels, paying local contractors to work on the vessels and stimulating the local economy with provisions for crew.
San Terminals Inc., an offshoot of San Group Inc., took over operation of Port Alberni Terminals on July 1 2021. SanTerm has a long-term lease of the deepsea berth and terminal area, and has spent the past 11 months working behind the scenes on a business plan. This includes attracting new customers, seeking federal approval from Canada Border Services Agency for the import of cargo and developing short sea shipping via barge between Port Alberni, the Lower Mainland and west coast ports in the United States and Mexico.
“There’s a lot of stuff happening but we haven’t put it across the dock yet,” said Joe Spears, general manager of San Terminals.
San’s main focus in taking over the shipping terminal and investing millions of dollars in upgrades is to be able to ship the lumber products they make in Port Alberni as well as from the recently-purchased Acorn Sawmill in Delta.
“There is a great deal of interest in making use of this federal facility that has been in continuous operation since 1947,” said Spears.
“I’m confident we will see some activity above and beyond the log ships…within the next few months,” says Carter.
While the port has invested time in leasing its property, that’s not the only source of revenue, says Carter. The port operates five marinas, China Creek Campground and the Dock+ food hub, including an ice plant.