North Vancouver residents raise concerns, ask for clarity over dry dock expansion proposal

·4 min read
Seaspan has applied for a permit to expand its work lot to accommodate two smaller dry docks, citing a growing demand for its services.  (Seaspan Information Guide - image credit)
Seaspan has applied for a permit to expand its work lot to accommodate two smaller dry docks, citing a growing demand for its services. (Seaspan Information Guide - image credit)

More than a year after a controversial proposal to expand the Vancouver Drydock, many North Vancouver residents say they're frustrated over a lack of communication, and worried about the expansion's potential impact on their community.

Vessels, from tug boats to large freighters, are serviced and repaired at the Vancouver Drydock, one of three sites in North Vancouver operated by the marine services and shipbuilding company Seaspan.

Last June, Seaspan submitted a permit application to the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority to extend its water lot by 40 metres to the west, to add two smaller dry docks and a work pontoon, noting the expansion is needed to meet increased demand for its services and will create 100 new jobs.

But the proposal has left residents worried about noise and light pollution, and obstructed views, especially in the Shipyards District.

Seaspan Information Guide
Seaspan Information Guide

Some city officials are calling on Seaspan to seriously consider the concerns and push its plans east, away from areas treasured for their local shops and markets.

"This is a residential recreational area, and we just won't accept them moving into it," said Al Parsons, who has lived in the Shipyards area for 38 years.

According to the company's public engagement summary report from November last year, 72 people were supportive of the proposed project, 28 were neutral and 185 were opposed.

Noise, light pollution among main concerns

While Parsons supports more jobs, one of his prominent concerns, he says, is the noise from ultra-high pressure washing, which is done to remove debris and paint from vessels.

"That will be happening right beside the area with the kids play park, where this picnic area [is], where the Spirit trail runs, and we just don't think it's fair," said Parsons.

North Vancouver Mayor Linda Buchanan has similar concerns.

"The City believes a westward expansion will have serious impacts on people's health, pose significant public safety challenges, and result in economic loss for businesses in the area," she said in a statement.

According to Seaspan, the new dry docks are designed for smaller vessels, and there will be less pressure washing on the new docks, resulting in only a small increase in noise levels.

The company also explains in its information guide that the expansion includes lighting that minimizes glare in the marine environment and towards the shoreline.

Seaspan Information Guide
Seaspan Information Guide

However, the mayor said she is disappointed the council received "so little" follow-up on the concerns raised.

"I am deeply disappointed that this process has not been a collaborative or constructive one but I remain hopeful a solution that works for everyone can be found," said Buchanan in her statement to CBC News.

As the port is federally regulated, the city has no decision-making power in the permit process, and is considered a stakeholder.

Eastward expansion preferred

Some city officials also say the expansion should be made eastward instead to minimize residential concerns.

"I want to make sure that the health impacts are addressed. And I think there's really a realistic option to minimize the impacts by moving to the east," said councillor Tony Valente.

Seaspan Information Guide
Seaspan Information Guide

In an emailed statement, Seaspan says while the eastside has been carefully considered, "it does not meet our operational requirements."

The water lot to the east of Vancouver Drydock's operations, commonly known as Pier 94, is already being used for vessel maintenance and minor vessel repairs, according to Seaspan.

The company adds that Pier 94 does not have load-bearing capacity for heavy forklifts and mobile cranes.

A bridge would also need to be constructed for staff and equipment to travel efficiently between the Vancouver Drydock and the eastward sites.

"The amount of capital investment required for this construction is not economically feasible for this project," the company explains in its information guide.

An expansion to the east would also restrict berth space needed to steer and dock ships, according to the company.

The Vancouver Port Authority says the expansion is still under review and a decision has not been made. They have asked Seaspan to do more public engagement, which is underway until Sept. 14.

"We recognize that not everyone supports our proposed project, but we remain committed to addressing community concerns, where possible," said Seaspan.