Logs are loaded onto a ship at the Port Alberni Port Authority’s terminal in early 2017. ELENA RARDON PHOTO

Logs are loaded onto a ship at the Port Alberni Port Authority’s terminal in early 2017. ELENA RARDON PHOTO

Port Alberni Port Authority sees decline in lumber, increase in raw log exports

PAPA still optimistic about marine ‘diversification’

The Port Alberni Port Authority (PAPA) anticipates a “challenging” year with a lack of lumber leaving their ports.

At PAPA’s annual general meeting on Wednesday, June 27, operations manager Ron Kyle confirmed that the total tonnage of lumber exported between 2016 and 2017 decreased by 16 percent. In 2018, the decrease is down by 100 percent so far, with zero metric tons of lumber leaving the port and more lumber travelling by truck.

The number of vessel calls is also down so far this year, but the export of raw logs has increased by 18 percent.

“This has been a hard one to swallow,” said Kyle.

Zoran Knezevic, president and CEO, said he does not think the declining revenues will be a trend. With the lack of lumber, PAPA’s revenues and operations have been shifting towards other sources.

Although PAPA was forced to close down Cantimber Biotech earlier this year after the company was unable to meet the requirements to operate, Knezevic said that he has been talking to tenants and operators to take Cantimber’s former location for a “totally different operation.”

Additionally, PAPA is working on expanding and attracting the cruise industry into Port Alberni. The city will be hosting three cruise ships next year, and PAPA has put together a cruise committee to try and bring stakeholders together and create an experience for visiting cruise ships.

“They could be a great business addition for the community,” said Knezevic.

Fisherman’s Harbour became the home of the commercial fishing vessel Raw Spirit in 2013, and the 44-metre trawler has seen success, with 13 offloads so far this year. Knezevic said the company is planning to increase their fleet and “create a bit of a fishing hub” in Port Alberni.

PAPA is also hoping to get into the “marine industry support cluster,” as Knezevic referred to it, in the service of supporting marine industry. One example of this is Western Marine Response Corporation’s spill response base, which will bring a marina to the Water Street Wharf that will host six vessels. This work, however, is contigent upon the Kinder Morgan pipeline being finished.

In addition, PAPA has been soliciting and working with the Coast Guard to attract an emergency tug to use Port Alberni as a home.

“Since we’re fairly thin on emergency response vessels for the west coast, the federal government will introduce two new large tugs,” Knezevic explained. “We are hoping to get one of them to be homed here in Port Alberni.”

The third segment of this “cluster” is PAPA’s work with Canadian Maritime Engineering (CME), a company that is currently developing a ship repair and building facility at the former Plywood Mill site, as well as a floating dock.

READ: Shipbuilding a growth industry for Alberni Valley

“We have a great location, but we also have industry and people who have worked in marine shipbuilding and repair, and think we can capitalize on that,” said Knezevic.

PAPA is also continuing with work on the Port Alberni Transshipment Hub (PATH), searching for investors and funding.

As for lumber in Port Alberni, Knezevic said they don’t expect an increase until at least September, depending on the hours of operation at Alberni Pacific Division sawmill, the yield of the summer harvest and the effect of forest fires.

“We find that diversity is the key…so we don’t necessarily rely on one source for growth and revenue duration,” said Knezevic.

Ron Crema, chair of the board of directors, commended PAPA staff for their work in a challenging situation. “The fact that we’re still positive cash flow and have a very strong balance sheet speaks volumes about the dedication of our staff,” he said.

This year, Crema said, is anticipated to be challenging, given the lumber situation.

“That’s not the direction we like,” he said. “We want to build that industry up again. It’s going to be a challenging 2018, but we are optimistic due to the diversification and some of the connections that we’ve made over the past.”

elena.rardon@albernivalleynews.com