The Province of British Columbia will contribute $50,000 to a market study for a floating dry dock project in Port Alberni. Mid Island-Pacific Rim MLA Scott Fraser made the announcement July 26 at Canal Waterfront Park, adjacent to the site where Canadian Maritime Engineering is constructing a new ship-building facility.
The study will assess current dry-dock capacity in the region and whether the market could bear additional B.C. ship repair capacity through the construction of a floating dry dock.
“This is a big floating dry dock facility, able to handle large ships,” Fraser said. “It’s supported by BC Ferries, they see the need there too. The military also sees the need, it’s just not being met right now. Port Alberni has the opportunity to be the lead on this right now,” he said.
Bruce Ralston, B.C. Minister of Jobs, Trade and Technology, said the dry dock project would create jobs for Port Alberni. “This study will help determine the market opportunity and feasibility for the construction of this facility…Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns and I are excited for this step toward creating good jobs and building a strong marine economy in the Alberni Valley,” Ralston wrote in a statement.
The feasibility study will cost a total of $125,000. The remaining $75,000 for the feasibility study will be split equally between the Port Alberni Port Authority, City of Port Alberni and Canadian Maritime Engineering.
A request for proposal has already gone out for the feasibility study, and once a contractor is chosen it would take about three months for the study to be completed, said Dave McCormick, port authority director of community relations and business development. “We expect to start within the next couple of weeks.”
The project’s partners are hoping to find private equity to pay for the dock should the feasibility study be successful, McCormick added.
The timing of the study is important, Fraser said, because federal shipbuilding funds may be available in the fall. He expects the study to be completed by then.
Canadian Maritime Engineering (CME) has committed $12 million to the floating dry dock project, should it move forward. The entire project is expected to cost $48 million if approved. Preliminary estimates suggest the facility could create 100 jobs in Port Alberni and generate revenues of $37 million per year, Fraser said.
“This is a stepping stone,” said Daniel Russell, president of Russell Industries Corp., parent company to CME. “We started working with a smaller company with small vessels, this puts us in the next league.”
CME has plans to bring in larger vessels to its Port Alberni facility, and a floating dry dock would be another big step, he said. “To put this into perspective we are ramping up for one of the most ambitious marine working yard developments on the West Coast and the gateway to northern Canada from this site,” he added.
A floating dry dock would also be a preventative for coastal marine spill response, as the dock could be moved to a vessel in distress and take it out of the water. “It’s another tool in the toolbox to protect the marine ecosystem,” Russell said.
Russell credited the work Port Alberni Mayor Mike Ruttan has done to bring this project to fruition. “He’s been the driving force behind it. Without his support we wouldn’t have been able to have this announcement.”
City economic development manager Pat Deakin said it would be possible for the project to be completed by the end of 2019, if approved.
The floating dry dock would likely be situated in the Alberni Inlet off the old plywood mill site south of the city, where Canadian Maritime Engineering is building its new waterfront facility—between APD Sawmill and Canal Waterfront Park.
One person who is not happy about the funding announcement is Keith Hunter, a member of the Tseshaht First Nation community.
Hunter said the announcement was missing a crucial part, that of who will provide First Nations capacity funding to cover their consultation costs related to the floating dry dock proposal. He is concerned that a First Nations perspective on fisheries and other environmental impacts will be left out.
“This has never been brought to the community level,” Hunter said. “This is the first I’ve heard of it. It defeats the purpose…of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action, which Scott Fraser endorsed, the NDP endorsed, and the city endorsed. Part of that includes consultation with First Nations on economic development,” he said.
Hunter has experience dealing with other economic proposals for the Port Alberni waterfront, including the failed Raven Coal and Cantimber projects. He said governments have a duty to consult First Nations “at the very earliest planning stages, because that’s when impacts on First Nations begin.”
He wondered whether other stakeholders, such a recreational fishers or even proponents of Canal Waterfront Park, will have a say in the feasibility of the floating dry dock proposal.
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