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Alberni's $7 million Fishermen's Harbour project a reality

A new $7 million project to enhance Port Alberni
A new $7 million project to enhance Port Alberni's Fishermen's Harbour is now a reality.
— image credit: WAWMEESH G. HAMILTON/Alberni Valley News

The long awaited redevelopment of Port Alberni’s Fishermen’s Harbour is now a reality.

The Island Coastal Economic Trust announced on Wednesday that they approved $3.5 million in funding for the Port Alberni Fishermen’s Harbour project.

The $7.5 million project is also being underwritten with $250,000 from the federal West Coast Community Adjustment Initiative, and the Port Alberni Port Authority is kicking in $3.7 million of its own.

“The trust’s contribution will help the port of Port Alberni to redevelop its basic public physical facilities in the harbour,” mayor Ken McRae said in an ICE-T statement.

The project will see the installation of a new floating breakwater, new wharfinger’s office, new service float, additional vessel moorage, a combined float plane terminal and Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) facility, as well as improved access to the waterfront.

The additions will improve the protection of moored boats from the elements, increase marine tourism and strengthen one of Port Alberni’s major economic assets, McRae said.

Port authority chair Don Ferster said in a statement that the objectives of the expansion are to ensure Port Alberni remains a major west coast base for commercial fishing and increase the city’s role as a tourism destination and gateway to the Pacific Rim.

Several pieces for the project have to be marshalled so a construction start and finish date is hard to pin down, said port authority official Gary Brett.

An anchoring system has to be brought in and there are logistics around the ramp. “It will take quite awhile to finish, likely six months or more,” Brett said. “It will depend on the winter too.”

First announced in 2010, the project has undergone some revision but the core elements remain the same.

Negotiating the $3.5 million from ICE-T was as tough as anything McRae has ever bargained for, said the ICE-T director.

“It took a lot of persuasion over a year to make it go through,” he said.

Officials had to ensure that no part of the project competed with private enterprises such as fuel or ice provision, McRae said.

The project almost never went through on one occasion when McRae had to leave the room for an hour during negotiations. “They weren’t sure about the project’s economic viability,” he said.

A component to the deal involving the port authority acquiring land by Fishermen’s Harbour wasn’t part of the announcement.

“As far as I know the talks are almost finished,” McRae said. “That’s really going to enhance the area.”

The project will provide a significant economic boost to the city in both the short and longer term, city economic development manager Pat Deakin said.

“Someone called this a game changer for the community and that’s an apt description,” Deakin said.

In the short term, the project will create 58 direct local jobs and 10 indirect jobs, he said.

The new facilities will be able to  accommodate cruise ships, float planes as well as mega yachts. “There have already been discussions with some businesses but they’ve been cursory in nature only until the project moved forward,” Deakin said. “We hope to re-open those discussions now that the project is happening.”

According to Deakin, the breakwater is also good for fish habitat. It provides a shaded cooling area for migrating salmon during the summer months, something that Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) liked, he said.

A big selling point is the protection the breakwater gives. Several fishing vessels moored on outside fingers were lost during the big storm of 2006 and the remaining boats were moved to another facility in Steveston.

The new infrastructure will prevent a similar scenario from happening, and companies may be more amenable to mooring in Alberni once more.

“It makes sense for them to moor here if they’re involved in the fishery here on the West Coast,” Deakin said.

He played down the city’s involvement with the project. Regular meetings were held between Deakin and senior port authority staff, and city staff was brought in as needed. “But it was those guys (port authority) who invested the most time and energy to make this happen,” Deakin said.

reporter@albernivalleynews.com

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