The Port Alberni Port Authority’s plan for a trans-shipment hub in the Alberni inlet got a big boost from the Huu-ay-aht First Nation.
On Thursday before city, PAPA and ACRD officials, PAPA and the Huu-ay-aht announced the signing of a protocol agreement that set out terms of collaboratively researching the hub concept further.
“We spent 20 years negotiating the Maanulth treaty. It was an economic development treaty,” Huu-ay-aht executive councillor Tom Happynook said. “We want to be part of the local, regional, national and international markets, and be woven into the economic fabric of the province.”
The hub would see a $1-billion 300-acre container handling terminal built along the Alberni inlet. There, large container ships that normally sail past the Alberni Inlet would stop and offload all their, which would be placed on barges that would be transported to the Lower Mainland and Puget Sound. Such a trip would cut three to four days of the sailing time it would normally take.
PAPA officials have identified 750 acres of Crown land in the Inlet that would be an ideal location for hub infrastructure. The plan also includes an LNG facility with a gas freezing infrastructure, PAPA CEO Zoran Knezevic said.
That land is ensconced within the traditional territory of the Huu-ay-aht. The location gives the tribe a powerful trump card because of the obligation to consult with them about initiatives that impact their territory.
“We wanted to get in on this during the idea and planning stages,” Huu-ay-aht chief councillor Jeff Cook said. “We want people to know that we are open for business.”
According to a news release, local benefits of the project include hundreds of direct and indirect jobs within the region. The project would also fast track long awaited improvements to the Bamfield Road. “We know this has been on the books for some time,” Knezevic said.
As an example of how industrious the facility could get when up and running, Knezevic said that a standard in the industry is to move 6,000 containers in 24 hours. That requires eight cranes and 10 people over four to five shifts, and this doesn’t include operational staff, he said.
The plan is in its infancy stage, Knezevic said. There is a feasibility study underway that, when complete, will be used to make a business case to investors, he added. The Huu-ay-aht are ready to contribute to the studies as the idea fleshes out, Cook added.
The facilities would be cheaper to build and service in the Inlet than similar ones on the Lower Mainland, he added.
PAPA approached the Huu-ay-aht more than two years ago to discuss other potential projects then discussed the hub concept more substantively, Knezevic said. “It was important to have them on board from the beginning,” he said.
The Huu-ay-aht appreciated the gesture but were clear that talks wouldn’t have been amendable otherwise. “It’s frustrating when other groups think of consultation as an after thought, like ‘Oh yeah, that consultation thing with them’,” Cook said. “We wouldn’t have been as cooperative if that was the case with this.”
Huu-ay-aht officials haven’t conducted any internal or external consultations about the project, but that will come, Cook said. “We’ve agreed to discuss the concept with the port authority and to see what it could look like,” he said. “If it looks like it can advance beyond the idea stage and is good for us then we’ll start consultations of our own.”
The whole project could take 10-15 years to come to fruition, Knezevic said. “But Prince Rupert took 20 years before it became a port,” he said.