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City of North Van chides Seaspan for silence on dry dock plans

'I do find it extremely disrespectful and disappointing,' North Van's mayor said
Seaspan's Vancouver Drydock July 5, 2021. The company is seeking an expansion of its water lease to add additional dry docks | Photo: Paul McGrath / North Shore News

More than a year after City of North Vancouver council wrote to Seaspan, demanding answers about a controversial plan to expand the Vancouver Drydock to the west, the city is still largely getting the silent treatment.

Council unanimously passed a motion from Couns. Tony Valente and Don Bell Monday (July 18) evening, calling on Seaspan to “give serious consideration to the concerns” raised by the city and respond in writing.

In April 2021, Seaspan applied to the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority to extend the company’s water lease and build a 100-metre dry dock and a 55-metre dry dock to the west of its existing facility at the foot of St. Georges Avenue. This prompted immediate concerns from council and city staff as well as nearby residents that increased noise, light, air pollutants, construction and marine traffic and impacts to views would spoil the area after a decade of revitalization, including the city’s prized Shipyards Commons.

In June 2021, Mayor Linda Buchanan raised those concerns in a letter to Seaspan, ultimately recommending the company redesign its project to put the new dry docks on the east side of the current one. The city’s fire chief also wrote to the company with six specific concerns related to fire safety and response capabilities.

But as of this week, the only response has been from the port authority to extend the consultation period.

Council members had strong words for Seaspan at Monday’s meeting.

“I can, I guess with tongue in cheek, say maybe they misplaced our previous correspondence,” Bell said. “I think that’s very disrespectful of the role, of the relationship. It’s too bad because Seaspan is a major employer.… I’m very proud of that we’ve got Seaspan here. They are a good company from that point of view. They’re not being a good corporate neighbour right now, in my opinion, with the way that they’ve treated this issue, not just with the residents but with the council’s concerns.”

The company is pursuing the expansion because its Pemberton Avenue shipyard and current dry dock are at full capacity and the company now has to turn down repair projects. If approved by the port, the project would add 100 new jobs to the dry docks, the company says.

The city doesn’t have any jurisdiction over what happens on federally owned port property, so Coun. Holly Back reiterated the city’s previous request that Seaspan move the expansion project to the east side of the dry dock.

“The city has put a huge investment into the Shipyards and we’re getting all kinds of accolades for it,” she said. “The ask is not huge to move east, and they are completely ignoring everyone who’s put the ask forward.”

Seaspan representatives have previously said an eastward expansion would impede necessary barge access to the new dry docks.

Buchanan said she maintained hope it will be possible to find a solution that will work for both Seaspan and the city but “at the end of the day, it has to start with good communication.”

“I do find it extremely disrespectful and disappointing,” she said. “I’m disappointed that we haven’t actually seen that materialize and I can’t really, for the life of me, understand why it is actually taking so long in which to get through a process.”

In a statement released Tuesday, Seaspan director of communications Ali Hounsel said council will have its answers through the approval process set up by the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority.

“Late last year, the port authority requested that Seaspan undertake additional public engagement, specifically on our proposed project mitigations. We will soon be reaching out to North Vancouver residents to request community input on the mitigations. The comment period is anticipated to extend through to mid-September,” she said in an email. “We understand the city submitted comments and questions about our application. Seaspan has provided the port authority the technical information to enable them to respond to the city, as per the port’s project and environmental review process.”

In hopes it might spur greater action, the mayor’s next letter will also be sent to North Vancouver Liberal MP Jonathan Wilkinson.

Meanwhile, the existing dry dock is having a very busy summer. Three cruise ships are booked for major maintenance and inspection projects in July and August, which will require upwards of 1,700 workers to be brought in. In each case, workers will be living and eating aboard the vessels, according to Seaspan, although they are free to get off and explore during their downtime. Dry dock activities to get the cruise ships back in service will run 24/7.

“There will be an increase in activity in the area during these projects. We will be working closely with the City of North Vancouver to maintain tidiness in the Shipyards District, including providing additional garbage containers and conducting extra cleanup when required,” a notice from Seaspan issued to neighbours last week states. “We apologize for any inconvenience these projects may cause to you and the community, and we thank you in advance for your understanding. We strive to always be a good neighbour and demonstrate respect to the residents and businesses that call the Shipyards District home.”

North Shore News