Anchorage Protocol on Trial

Islanders set to assess actions of Transport Canada & port authority

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Second of two parts.

Barb Galloway was shocked to look out her living room at the end of Beddis Road on Salt Spring Island on March 4 and see a giant cargo ship anchored offshore.

“It’s so close I could swim to it,” she said about the Andros Island vessel last week. 

“There is a constant hum from the generator and at night it is just lit up like an airfield.”

Galloway’s home borders nature-rich shoreline and Beddis Beach, one of Salt Spring’s main tourist beaches.

Galloway had no idea she lived so close to an approved Transport Canada vessel anchorage, one of two in Captain’s Passage on the east side of Salt Spring Island.

“It’s just a very intrusive and horrible thing,” she said of the 197-metre (650-foot) vessel scheduled to remain there until March 19. 

Another ship, First Sky, was in the anchorage closer to Ganges from Feb. 14 to March 12.

Peter Luckham, the chair of Islands Trust Council, has sympathy for people like Galloway, who are getting their first taste of life amid vessel anchorages.

As described in last week’s story about this issue, residents of Plumper Sound on Pender Island have been living with impacts of huge vessels and industrial activities for years.

But with Transport Canada introducing the Interim Protocol for the Use of Southern B.C. Anchorages about a month ago, Galloway and other Salt Spring residents could be seeing many more such vessels that are waiting to access the Port of Vancouver.

Luckham explains that prior to the new protocol, ships’ masters, their agents and the Pacific Pilotage Authority had more flexibility to anchor vessels in the most desirable spots.

“That has provided extremely high volume in very few anchorages and no anchorages in some of the others,” he said.

The protocol, to be evaluated after a six-month trial period, stipulates that anchorage use will be rotated among the 30 available spots in the Gulf Islands, Ladysmith and Cowichan Bay area.

At the same time, more cargo ships are in area waters right now waiting to pick up grain shipments delayed due to supply-chain problems with Canadian railways. According to Chamber of Shipping of B.C. president Robert Lewis-Manning, factors include mudslides in the Rockies, cold winter weather and a dearth of hopper cars, among others.

“It’s unfortunate that the number of vessels waiting increased almost simultaneously with the issuance of the protocol,” he told the Driftwood on March 2. “Right now there are 35 ships waiting to load grain.”

He said vessels have been waiting for an average of 14 days. One has been in the queue since Dec. 31.

Once the backlog is dealt with, a more accurate picture of year-round Gulf Islands anchorage use might emerge. 

Giving responsibility for the anchorages to the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority (VFPA) and rotating their use is a big change from what occurred in the past.

“I think it’s going to provide some structure to improve the situation,” Lewis-Manning said. “Previously there was no structure. From a [Gulf Islands] resident’s perspective it was a free-for-all.”

Under the protocol, the VFPA and Transport Canada will collect data about ship numbers and complaints received about lighting, noise or pollution. Monthly data summaries will be shared.

Lewis-Manning acknowledged that getting ships’ masters to dim their lights is a challenge.

“We’re asking them to do something that is counter-intuitive,” he said, explaining they are accustomed to using lights to prevent becoming a navigational hazard.

“I have seen some improvement . . . It’s an educational piece and we will have to keep working on that one.”

Six days after making her first complaint to the VFPA, Galloway reported the blazing lights of Andros Island were turned off on March 10. The Plumper Sound Protection Association reported mixed results from lighting-related requests made between Feb. 26 and March 7.

PORT DEMAND

Lewis-Manning said grain shipments from Vancouver have been increasing at a rate of about five or six per cent per year for the last six years, which will explain why Plumper Sound residents have seen steadily rising use of those most-desirable anchorage spots.

While the VFPA has been criticized for its role in the backlog, the authority says it has not been idle.

“We have taken many steps to improve efficiency and fluidity in the Vancouver gateway,” said VFPA spokesperson Danielle Jang. “This includes increasing the number of anchorages in English Bay from 15 to 18 and opening up previously seasonal West Vancouver anchorages to be used all year round.”

However, a Container Traffic Forecast Study for the Port of Vancouver completed by Ocean Shipping Consultants in 2016 indicates more work will need to be done.

“It should be noted that there is already a pressing need for further investment in capacity at container terminals in Vancouver if potential demand is not to be lost,” the report states. “By 2025, the port’s terminals are projected to be handling over 4.8 million TEU [twenty-foot equivalent units] per annum in total compared to the 2015 confirmed total of just over 3.0 million TEU.”

PRICE TO PAY

Ross King can also see the Andros Island in Captain’s Passage, but thinks the occasional freighter in his front yard poses “absolutely minimal” inconvenience and is a reasonable price to pay for a healthy Canadian economy we all benefit from.

“I think if there is a problem then it is only fair that the problem gets shared around. Salt Spring is a beautiful place, but the whole coast is full of beautiful places. I think the grief, if it is grief, should be shared around,” said King.

Luckham believes most islanders understand that shipping is a cornerstone of the Canadian economy and impacts are inevitable.

“That was acceptable at a certain level, but now it’s crossed that threshold, and unfortunately, or fortunately, there is a much higher level of scrutiny being applied now that our eyes are open, and we are asking questions about why, and whether the environment is being considered, and what about the lights and what about the noise and what about pollutants?”

Transport Canada has obviously heard concerns expressed by the Islands Trust and residents in the past few years.

“Holding detailed discussions to assess the environmental and social impacts of anchoring” is part of the federal government’s Anchorages Initiative and the $1.5-billion Oceans Protection Plan, said Annie Joannette, a Transport Canada senior communications advisor. Transport Canada will also be undertaking legislative analyses and evaluating how to select and use anchorages across Canada in the future, she said.

Then on Monday, Transport Minister Marc Garneau announced from Delta, B.C. that a public review of Canada’s port authorities “to optimize their role in the transportation system” will take place. Findings should be released in 2019.

Luckham gives the federal government credit for initiating the Anchorages Initiative and interim protocol.

“We may or may not agree with the outcomes, but I am prepared at this time to wait and see what they come up with. Then if we are not satisfied . . . it will be up to us to push our points further and advocate even stronger to ensure they understand whatever aspects of it we feel they didn’t figure out.”

But as he stressed in a meeting with Garneau in Ottawa last month, reaching agreement about anchorage use in the Southern Gulf Islands requires sincere effort by all parties.

“I believe completely that we need to develop trust and I told this to Marc Garneau: what is really important here is that we build trust; that we develop confidence in the process you have in place and that it is demonstrably collaborative,” Luckham said.

“I’m hopeful that we are going to have a close look at this and are going to find some solutions to resolve it for both the residents and the wildlife and the marine life and the environment.”

LEARN MORE

From Transport Canada:

• Email vija.poruks@tc.gc.ca for details about the National Anchorages Initiative or to receive a copy of the Interim Protocol for the Use of Southern British Columbia Anchorages;

• Read about the Oceans Protection Plan at www.canada.ca/protecting-our-coasts

• Have your say about the National Anchorages Initiative at
www.letstalktransportation.ca/opp.

From the Islands Trust:

• Search for Anchorage Concerns on the www.islandstrust.bc.ca website.

Report Anchorage Concerns To:

• Vancouver Fraser Port Authority Operations Centre at 604-665-9086 or by email at harbor_master@portvancouver.com.

 

This article was published in the March 14, 2018 issue of the Gulf Islands Driftwood newspaper. The first part of the series was published on March 7. 

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