By Keith Norbury

Port of Nanaimo and terminal operator DP World signed a 50-year lease agreement in February that marks a major step in an estimated $105 million container terminal expansion. Design work can begin immediately on expanding the port’s Duke Point terminal, a project that will enable container ships to call there, said Ian Marr, the Port’s President and CEO. Those ships would add to an existing barge container service that began operation in 2012.

“The container ships will come later but the dock is designed so that you could get a container ship and barge in there simultaneously,” Mr. Marr said in an interview. Funding for the project includes $46.2 million from the federal government’s National Trade Corridors Fund and $15 million from the B.C. provincial government’s Economic Recovery Plan.

Berth extended to 325 metres

The project will extend the existing berth at Duke Point to 325 metres from the present 182. A new administration and maintenance building will be built as well as a new warehouse and truck gate. A main feature of the terminal will be two new electric-powered gantry cranes each capable of reaching 16 container widths. They will replace an existing diesel-powered gantry crane.

The new cranes will give the terminal an annual operational capacity of 280,000 TEUs. That capacity would be more than ten times the 22,329 TEUs Duke Point handled in 2020, which was a down year because of the pandemic. In 2019, the port handled 29,762 containers. But that was down considerably from 44,891 in 2018 — a drop attributed largely to a slump in forest products. Before that, container volumes had risen steadily since the service started in 2012.

Mr. Marr said the new terminal would likely handle smaller container ships, at least initially. “We have good depth there,” he said. “So it just depends what the service requires, and what the service wants to use.”

Agreement signed online

Donna Hais, who chairs the Board of Nanaimo Port Authority, and Maksim Mihic, DP World (Canada) Inc.’s CEO, signed the agreement during a Feb. 24 virtual press conference that was posted to Vimeo.

“Currently, Vancouver Island has three days of food,” Ms. Hais said during the press conference. “This is going to provide future opportunities for logistics hub that are going to provide sustainability in terms of food. And it’s also going to provide highly paid jobs to our local communities. This project really makes Nanaimo Vancouver Island’s port.”

Mr. Mihic said during the virtual event that the expanded terminal would handle vessels of up to 6,000 TEUs. “So it’s a very good economic generator for the Island,” said Mr. Mihic, who noted earlier that Vancouver Island has 20 per cent of B.C.’s population but only 14 per cent of its economic output. The expanded Nanaimo terminal would also benefit B.C.’s Lower Mainland, “which is already logistically challenged because of the lack of industrial land,” Mr. Mihic said. He also acknowledged the “great support” of the International Longshore Workers Union, who “are very eager and motivated to do those jobs” that the project will enable. “The ILWU on the Island is one of the most cooperative locals on the west coast of America,” Mr. Mihic said.

Short-sea shipping support

The agreement “will provide a long-term port-to-port solution for short-sea shipping between Nanaimo and Vancouver, as well as expand direct access from Nanaimo to global import/export markets via direct calls to Asia,” said a news release outlining the deal. “The project will enhance DP World’s coast-to-coast Canadian footprint which includes terminal operations in Vancouver, Surrey, Prince Rupert, and Saint John.”

The virtual press conference opened with remarks by Chief Michael Wyse of the Snuneymuxw First Nation and Snuneymuxw elder Jerry Brown. “We used to dig clams, hunt ducks, hunt deer, all in this area,” Mr. Brown said. “Especially Duke Point was a sacred area.” Chief Wyse also acknowledged the Snuneymuxw people’s “deep connection” to the land as he noted that the Snuneymuxw recently concluded a relationship protocol agreement with Nanaimo Port Authority via a virtual signing in December 2020. “To have Snuneymuxw at the table is very important to our community, to our people,” Chief Wyse said, noting later that the Snuneymuxw had provided a support letter years ago to move the Duke Point expansion project along. “Implementing the conditions in the support letter is very important to us moving forward,” Chief Wyse added. “Opportunities are significant for shared decision making, creating an economy that is inclusive of the Snuneymuxw people.”

Up to 1,000 jobs

Also praising the project during the Feb. 24 press conference were Rob Fleming, B.C.’s Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure, and Nanaimo Mayor Leonard Krog. Mr. Fleming predicted the project could support up to 1,000 well-paying jobs in the Nanaimo region but also help the entire province. “This is one project that is a great example of how we’re going to do things differently with a lower carbon intensity and reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” Mr. Fleming said.

Mr. Krog noted that Nanaimo recently surpassed 100,000 population. “The kinds of jobs that this project brings are incredibly impressive,” he said. “It means money in people’s pockets. It means prosperity for all sorts of small businesses.”

Construction would probably take two years, once permits are issued, such as from Impact Assessment Agency of Canada, Mr. Marr said later. He doesn’t expect that to be too time-consuming because much of the waterfront has already gone through the assessment process. “It’s an existing facility,” Mr. Marr said. “So really, we’re working from the front berth-face back.” He expects the project will be a design-build endeavour, which he described as “probably the best and most cost-effective” approach.