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Port Update 2018: Port Alberni Port

By BCShippingNews 25 September 2018
Port Alberni Port
Exclusive interview with CEO Zoran Knezevic

Zoran Knezevic, President and CEO, Port Alberni Port Authority (PAPA), has much to be happy about these days. Welcoming a new spill response base, increased fishing activities and even three cruise ship visits scheduled for 2019 are just some of the highlights Knezevic reported for the BC Shipping News Annual B.C. Ports Update.

Starting with welcoming Western Canada Marine Response Corporation late last year, Knezevic already sees the difference they’re making in the community.  “They’ve made improvements to some of the docks and are hiring local employees so it’s a great boost for Port Alberni,” he said, adding that WCMRC have leased part of the Port’s terminal facilities and water lot for their entire operations, adding 20 valuable jobs to community.

Another highlight to the year has been Independent Seafood Corporation of Canada’s record harvests and satisfaction with their location. “They’ve also established themselves well within the community and are in the process of renewing their lease for another five years,” said Knezevic. “And we have another similar organization, which has just signed a five-year agreement to utilize our dock offload and storage facilities so we’re pleased with the increasing level of activity on that front.”

Knezevic has been kept busy with a number of additional projects, including the development of a plan for log dewatering operations; replacement tenants for the old Cantimber site (part is already leased for fishing operations and another part is currently under negotiation to be converted to a water bottling facility); and working with Holland America to host three ships in 2019. If that’s not enough, the Port Authority also initiated and is supporting the Vancouver Island Economic Alliance (VIEA) in the development of a Foreign Trade Zone for Vancouver Island.

With the three cruise ships visiting in 2019, Port Alberni is seeing renewed interest in developing that sector. “We’ve established a cruise committee that includes the City, First Nations and tourism stakeholders to be able to build on the visits,” Knezevic said. “Our goal is to create a unique cruise experience for both the ship passengers and our community. We’d like to see this sector grow and be able to welcome even more ship visits in future years.” To that end, Knezevic pointed to the new promotional video the Port produced to highlight the area’s tourism attractiveness as a great step in the right direction for new investments, businesses and visitors.

Two other major initiatives are in the works for PAPA. The first follows through on the Port’s business plan for the development of a marine services cluster. With the recent funding assistance from the Provincial Government and partnering with Canadian Maritime Engineering and the City of Port Alberni, the Port is commissioning a feasibility study to look at a shipbuilding and repair facility along with a floating dry dock. “We will be pursuing the expansion of our marine service cluster,” Knezevic said.  “Being so close to the West Coast, we’re a great location for shipbuilding and repair of vessels transiting the west side of Vancouver Island but also expanding the cluster along the lines of WCMRC’s spill response base — that is, search and rescue, marine emergency services, including the anticipated expansion of Coast Guard emergency tug bases, and the like.”

The second initiative, the Port Alberni Transshipment Hub (PATH), has been a long-term goal for Knezevic and it looks like the project has been slowly moving forward and gathering support and interest from the industry. “Currently we have strong interest from two investment groups, one from China and the other from South Korea,” Knezevic said. “We recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with a Korean Consortium which includes Port of Busan to undertake an in-depth feasibility study. A Korean delegation is expected to visit in the near future to move the project forward.” Knezevic further noted that he has reached out to both the Provincial and Federal government to invite them to participate. “We believe we’re in the right time and right location and will see this project start moving forward at a faster pace.”

In addressing some of the bigger-picture issues, Knezevic, like other port CEOs, welcomes the Port Modernization Review. “Ports are playing such an important role in the economy of the country,” he said, “and we are in changing times so I think something like this is long overdue. Kudos to Minister Garneau for moving this forward.”

Knezevic, however, has been thinking outside the box when it comes to changes he’d like to see to port governance. “There’s not a lot of collaboration and alignment amongst ports within the regions across Canada,” he said. “For the West Coast, we need an overarching body that addresses regional growth and gateway fluidity — one that considers more of an integrated approach and an overall short and long-term strategy for the entire coast.” Knezevic added that there are many issues and services within the maritime transportation segment that would benefit from greater co-operation amongst the ports. “Most pilotage services around the world fall under the jurisdiction of ports rather than as a stand-alone entity,” he continued. “So pilots, emergency response, pollution response, marine domain awareness, land use management, capital infrastructure investment — it would be more efficient if these types of services and issues were addressed at the regional level, by an overall encompassing authority — i.e., “BC Ports” as outlined in the diagram. ”

Knezevic’s proposed model also takes into consideration greater participation of stakeholders, including First Nations and community groups.

When it comes to community and First Nations relations, Port Alberni stands as an example of the benefits of working together. “We have a great rapport with the City, First Nations and the community at large,” he said. “For example, through our activity and promotion of Port Alberni, we attracted Steelhead LNG and introduced them to the Huu-Ay-Aht First Nation, as they embark on the development of the Kwispaa project. We received quite a positive response from the community when we developed Centennial Pier and Tyee Landing. Both of those facilities provide greater waterfront access for residents and the community.”