Port promises for Kitimat raised questions

Many had questions following an announcement that Kitimat would convert to a public port.

An announcement released March 18 from Transport Canada notes steps being taken towards improved tanker safety off B.C.’s coast.

But the one item that has everyone talking is a line-item that reads; “Public port designations: More ports will be designated for traffic control measures, starting with Kitimat.”

The idea of turning Kitimat from a private port — as it advertises itself — to a public one has raised eyebrows among the District of Kitimat.

Little is known about the process of turning the port public, and Kitimat Mayor Joanne Monaghan said that she only has questions so far, no answers.

“We don’t know the ramifications of taxation, we don’t know any of those things,” said Monaghan.

She said that if it does work out to improved safety on the water it could be a plus for the community, but she is concerned with the lack of consultation with the District on this proposed change.

A backgrounder to Transport Canada’s release states, “The Government of Canada will designate Kitimat as a public port under the Canada Marine Act. This designation will allow the port to put in place better traffic control measures to facilitate the safe movement of vessels. A national risk assessment will help to identify other ports for this designation as well.”

“As a trading nation, Canada depends on marine shipping for economic growth, jobs and long-term prosperity,” said Canada’s Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver in the release last week. “There will be no pipeline development without rigorous environmental protection measures and the tanker safety initiatives we are announcing today are an important aspect of our plan for Responsible Resource Development.”

Through e-mail, Transport Canada media relations advisor Kelly James explained a bit more about what this change means.

“By designating Kitimat as a public port, it brings it under a regulatory regime to put in place better traffic control measures to facilitate the safe movement of vessels,” she wrote.

In a later e-mail, she explained that the difference between a private and a public is that a private is “privately owned land, terminals and wharves,” which contrasts to a public as “a body of water and/or associated federal land that, for regulatory purposes, has been specifically designated as a public port…”

Private ports are subject to environmental regulations that apply to land, and ships are subject to regular navigational rules in the harbour. A public port, though, is subject to port traffic control as they are under the administration of the Minister of Transport.

Designating a port as public would entail consultation with stakeholders like the District and users, she added.

Rio Tinto Alcan’s Communication and External Relations Manager Colleen Nyce said that they too are seeking clarification on how, or if, they may be affected by this change.