MLA Scott Fraser announced provincial funding for a feasability study into a ship building and repair dock facility on the Alberni Inlet. Behind him are the partners from the City of Port Alberni, Port Alberni Port Authority and Canadian Maritime Engineering. (Denise Titian photos)
The dream of building a major floating dry dock facility has inched a step closer to reality now that the provincial government has committed funds to explore the proposed facility’s potential for the region.
The City of Port Alberni has partnered with the Port Alberni Port Authority and Canadian Maritime Engineering to develop the idea, which they say would cost $48 million to construct. Canadian Maritime Engineering has committed $12 million to the project.
“This is an amazing project that council has been working on for three years,” said Port Alberni Mayor Mike Ruttan. “There is $2 billion a year worth of unmet maritime business on the West Coast; there are more than 1,200 large ships on the coast that are required to be taken out of the water every two years to have their hulls inspected and it’s not getting done – there’s a backlog,” said Ruttan.
If it goes ahead, the dry dock facility will be built at the old plywood mill site, adjacent to Canal Beach in Port Alberni. That is where MLA Scott Fraser was on July 26, to deliver the news that the province is investing $50,000 to assess current dry-dock capacity in the region, and whether additional B.C. ship-repair capacity through the construction of a floating dry dock would be supported by anticipated market demand.
"This operation could provide good, long-term jobs for people in Port Alberni, bringing sustained economic prosperity into the community," said Scott Fraser, Mid Island-Pacific Rim MLA. "I expect this study to show how building a floating dry dock in Port Alberni has the potential to make a positive difference to the economic well-being of people here, and I am happy this important study is being undertaken."
Ruttan says there are very few large dry dock facilities on the coast – the only other non-private facility on Vancouver Island is in Esquimalt.
Floating dry docks lift large ships out of the ocean so that they can be inspected, repaired and maintained. A dry dock facility in Port Alberni would be accessible to all ships traveling the coast and would help alleviate the demands on the facilities in Esquimalt, Vancouver and Seattle.
“We have the greatest average depth of water of any port in Canada,” said Ruttan.
“This is part of our economic development strategy to diversify the economy,” said Ruttan.
He said if the project goes ahead it will provide more than 100 jobs in the construction phase and about 100 jobs to operate the facility with an estimated $37 million per year in revenues. The estimate is based on work packages for the Canadian Navy and Coast Guard, working yard construction and modular works, vessel decommissioning, commercial marine fleets and BC Ferries.
“These are highly paid, good jobs – even BC Ferries has written a letter of endorsement,” said Ruttan. “There are new ferries to be built but there’s no dry docks available in the province to build them.”
"We recognize the importance of creating jobs and improving the quality of life for people in Port Alberni," said Bruce Ralston, Minister of Jobs, Trade and Technology. "This study will help determine the market opportunity and feasibility for the construction of this facility, which could renew economic opportunities for this coastal community.
The Province is investing $50,000 to assess current dry-dock capacity, with additional funding of $75,000 from the Port Alberni Port Authority, the City of Port Alberni and Canadian Maritime Engineering to complete the study, for a total of $125,000.
Mayor Ruttan said both Hupacasath and Tseshaht First Nation have and will continue to be consulted on the project.
A report on the results of the study is expected to be delivered to City of Port Alberni, the Port Alberni Port Authority and Canadian Maritime Engineering in fall 2018.