The Cowichan Valley Regional District will invite a delegation from the Vancouver Port Authority to speak to the board, Island Trust and local First Nations about issues regarding the anchoring of freighters in the southern Gulf Islands.
The motion for the initiative was made at the CVRD’s board meeting on Feb. 23 after a letter to the district was received from the Vancouver Port Authority stating that it was developing a new vessel-traffic management system to manage traffic flow at the Port of Vancouver and in southern British Columbia waters.
Naomi Horsford, manager of municipal and stakeholder relations at the Vancouver Port Authority, said in the letter that the VPA is seeking input from Indigenous groups, various levels of government, and community stakeholders in the new management system.
“We are writing to advise the CVRD of this process as it will affect anchorage management in the southern Gulf Islands area, and to offer you an opportunity to meet with members of the port authority team in the coming months to learn more about the scope and opportunities for municipal participation,” she said.
Ladysmith Mayor Aaron Stone made the motion to invite the delegation from the VPA at the meeting, stating that the anchoring of large freighters in the southern Gulf Islands area waiting their turn to tie up in Vancouver’s busy port has been a long-standing issue for many residents of the Cowichan Valley and the Gulf Islands for years.
He said that for a lot of residents in coastal communities in the Cowichan Valley, this is an ever-present concern, especially over the last few years as there have been more vessels parking in sensitive environmental areas of the Salish Sea in the southern Gulf Islands area.
“We should invite a delegation from the VPA to come to a meeting where we can gather and express the concerns of the residents,” Stone said.
“It would provide us with an opportunity to solve these issues without hurting our environmental ecosystems. I’m not against transportation and the necessity to be able to facilitate trade, but I think coastal communities around Vancouver Island have a real opportunity to provide meaningful input that could really change [the VPA’s] decision-making processes.”
There are 33 commercial vessel anchorages located throughout the southern Gulf Islands, including six in operation in Cowichan Bay and six near Ladysmith and Saltair harbours.
Repeated calls have been made by community groups and First Nations about protecting clam beds, prawns, oysters and endangered species, such as the southern resident killer whales, from the environmental impact of the anchored shipping vessels.
As well as concerns about the impacts to the marine environment of parking these large ships in the area, there are also concerns about the noise and light pollution they create.
After a presentation by Peter Holmes, president of the Cowichan Bay Ship Watch Society, in July, 2019, the CVRD decided to send a letter to the federal Transportation Minister urging the federal government to take a close look at the use of commercial vessel anchorages that are located in waters near the district.
North Cowichan Mayor Al Siebring also said he was glad the VPA is looking for input from stakeholders in the development of its new traffic-management plan.
“The last face-to-face meeting we’ve had on this issue was at the Federation of Canadian Municipalities meeting in Quebec City in 2019 when I managed to button-hole the president of the VPA and we had an extensive discussion about the parked freighters issue then,” Siebring said.
“I was promised there was action and consultations coming and it’s frustrating that it took three years, but here we are. There has been a lot of work already put in on this file, and I want to acknowledge (Cowichan-Malahat-Langford MP) Alistair MacGregor who did a lot of work to bring federal attention to this.”