At their annual general meeting on Wednesday evening, the Prince Rupert Port Authority said that they have finally accomplished their goal of turning Prince Rupert into a major shipping hub, but with that comes a whole new set of challenges that the group is still coming to terms with.
“I can tell you that 10 years ago this was a really easy situation, it was really easy to get our social license. Because when this community was on its knees financially, the whole focus of what we were doing at the port was on creating economic activity and jobs,” says CEO Don Krusel.
“People did not stop me in the street 10 years ago and ask me if we were doing things safely or doing things from an environmental perspective. They were asking me whether or not we were going to be successful creating the container terminal.”
Now that the port has become as large and enormously successful as it is, says Krusel, the Port Authority is finding itself having to balance the conflicting demands placed on the port.
On one hand, the port must be able keep developing and expanding because it is a critical part of the economy, not just in Prince Rupert but to all communities whose economic futures depend on the gateway for their goods to get to and from markets in Asia.
“It’s the people in Tumbler Ridge that are now planning to commit more coal mines and the many people who want jobs in those mines. It’s the people in Saskatchewan that are looking to be employed in the potash industry. And it’s people in the forestry industry that are looking to capitalize on the marketplace. We as a port authority have a responsibility to facilitate that trade,” says Krusel.
On the other hand, you have the residents of Prince Rupert who have to bear all the annoyances and inconveniences that a rapidly growing port entails. Rupertites have had to put up with train noise that lasts long into the night, they are losing access to parts of the waterfront and Ridley Island, increased truck traffic through town and more.
One Dodge Cove resident told Krusel that living across the water from the port is so noisy it’s like living inside a thunderstorm.
Krusel says that while they are trying to address issues such as the noise, other issues like access to Ridley and the waterfront may not be easily resolved. This will bring conflicts between the needs of the community and the needs of industry. But he says the Port Authority knows it can’t gain the support of the community – their social license – just by producing jobs anymore.
“What I will commit to you is that we will do our best to balance those conflicting demands, as part of our social license, the best we can. We are going to try to support and facilitate trade for northern British Columbia and for all of Canada. To grow and open up this gateway to international markets. But at the same time, we want to ensure that we grow those facilities responsibly, safely and sustainably,” says Krusel.
There is no doubt that the port has been doing well. According to the Port Authority’s financial statements they released at Wednesday’s meeting, the Port Authority ‘s net income was $7,743,698 in 2011. That’s an increase over the year before of 184 per cent.
And while growth at other Canadian ports has effectively flattened out since 2007, Prince Rupert’s continues to climb year- after-year and is now 81 per cent larger than it was then.
The port also continues breaking its own records every year, in 2011 the Port of Prince Rupert saw 19-million tonnes of goods pass through it. Krusel says that he believes that the port can expect more successive record-breaking years to come.
“We’ve said in the past that the Port of Prince Rupert is undergoing a transformation into a global trade gateway. I think based on what has happened in 2011 and where we are today that we can safely say that we finally arrived at being a global gateway,” says Krusel.
With all the funding for the Ridley Island Railway Corridor now lined up, Krusel says that construction on that major improvement could start as early as this fall. Krusel says that once it is complete it will be a “game changer” for operations on Ridley.
Krusel says that the Port Authority wants to make sure that the community continues to share in the port’s success. With that in mind, they have allocated $500,000 to be spent on community investment just in 2012.
Over the past three years, the port has given out $1-million worth of community investment grants which have recently helped pay for the Marine Rescue’s new rescue boat, the Lester Centre’s new stage, Port Edward’s Skate Park and more.
The elephant in the room, though, was the controversial Pinnacle Pellet Terminal being proposed for Westview Terminal along the city’s waterfront. During Krusel’s talk about the port’s social license, the issue was not specifically brought up. But it was when he opened up the floor to questions.
Most people who asked about it wanted it moved to Watson Island, but Krusel said that despite the fact that the project will have seven silos instead of the originally proposed four, the operation is still not large enough to make up for the enormous set-up costs required to have a terminal on Ridley Island.
“The only place where it commercially make sense for the pellet facility to go is at Westview. If it can’t be done there, then it can’t really be done anywhere else in the port. So the window for that commodity and industry would be closed on the North Coast,” says Krusel.
He also encouraged all of the concerned people to get involved in the Environmental Assessment process if they weren’t already. And said that if the assessment finds that the project can’t adequately mitigate expected issues like dust and noise, then it won’t go forward.