August 2020 — Despite a predicted hit of between 20 and 30 per cent of revenues due to COVID-19, CEO Zoran Knezevic remains positive about Port Alberni Port Authority’s future. “Volumes of throughput will be down this year, as will tourism-related revenues from our marinas and campground. We had three cruise ship visits from Holland America in 2019 that added modestly to our bottom line, though none were scheduled for 2020,” he said, adding that the Port has “been working hard over the last few years at diversifying and growing other clusters of maritime activity and these areas continue to be strong.”
Looking at these new hubs, none is more exciting for Knezevic than the potential to develop a container service for the west coast of Vancouver Island. The San Group — who recently opened a new sawmill, purchased a specialty sawmill earlier this year and is building a remanufacturing plant nearby — have been looking at the possibility of shipping 300 to 400 containers per month. Add to that 60 to 70 reefer containers for Port Alberni’s growing seafood processing sector and 30 to 60 containers for Thunderbird Spirit Water and Knezevic estimates a healthy 500 containers per month plus service for returning empty containers back to the Vancouver Mainland. “We’ve started speaking with local terminal operators as well as options for short sea shipping and moving containers by barge,” Knezevic said, noting that discussions were in the early stages.
Port Alberni has been developing a food processing hub with five confirmed anchor tenants — two oyster producers, one seaweed, one mushroom and other land-based “foraged foods” and, an experienced general seafood smoker and processing company. Additionally,- Independent Seafoods Canada Corporation now has two freezer trawlers based in Port Alberni. Knezevic is quick to point out that the growth of one industrial hub often leads to others — case in point: the expansion of Port Alberni’s shipbuilding and repair industry. “There are ongoing efforts to bring a floating dry dock here which would add to our shipbuilding and repair capabilities, especially for larger vessels like BC Ferries and Federal Government vessels. If it comes to fruition, it will mean hundreds of jobs for the area.”
Looking further into the future, Knezevic and his team have been working on the long-term vision of “PATH” — the Port Alberni Trans-shipment Hub. The concept of a two-million-TEU, fully automated container terminal is gaining traction with the South Korean government who are now seriously exploring the viability of the hub. In addition to benefits such as being a green field site, deep-sea access, and other synergies, Vancouver Island’s designation as a Canadian Foreign Trade Zone (FTZ) greatly simplifies importing and exporting as well as duty relief, providing a significant advantage for Port Alberni.