Council has decided against bringing back the position of harbour master in Kitimat.
The request that council review the harbour master position came from Sport Fishing Advisory chairman Tracey Hittel.
In a March 14 e-mail Hittel pointed out that with the work going on at the KM LNG site and the number of log barges, pleasure craft and large ships/barges entering and leaving Kitimat there had been an increase in traffic in local waters.
He also pointed out there had been incidents of vessels being grounded and barges upside-down “with no immediate response or call out for clean up or personal responsibility for the user group.”
Hittel attached a photo he had taken of a barge and camper flipped over at MK Bay Marina.
At the time council asked for a staff report on the advisability of reinstating the position, which came to council April 18.
In that report, Rose Klukas of the city’s ec-dev department said Kitimat’s status as a private port dates back to 1995 when Transport Canada proposed a new national marine policy.
“The intent was to modernise all marine structures and move into fully commercialized port operations and marine transport sectors (meaning ports operated as businesses without ongoing federal operation funding),” she explained.
After two-and-a-half years of consultation with shippers, carriers, port terminal operators and governments, the new Canada Marine Act came into effect in July 1998.
As part of that, the Public Harbours and Port Facilities Act was repealed with the result that the public port status of more than 200 harbours – including Kitimat – was terminated.
“Kitimat does not have federal government lands, the seabed lies with the province of BC and there are no federal facilities or services used by Kitimat terminal operators,” Klukas noted.
“Without federal government operations for ship loading, cargo handling facilities, towage, mooring services or dredging services, it was found that Kitimat had never functioned as a public port or harbour,” she added.
Klukas said the city had looked into whether powers could or should be devolved from the federal government to Kitimat in some fashion.
However, it found federal jurisdiction over navigation, security and environmental safety was non-transferable.
Klukas added that Kitimat’s status as a private port gave it a competitive edge compared to federal ports.
Councillor Randy Halyk disagreed.
Calling for the creation of a harbour master position to oversee activities within municipal boundaries, he said, “I thinks it’s clear to most
people in the community that our port is stagnant at this point. We need some way to increase some activity here.”
Saying there was no way at the moment to capitalize on the potential here, he suggested creating the harbour master’s position could be the first step.
“We’ve tried and tried the private port scenario and it really hasn’t taken us anywhere,” Halyk maintained.
However, colleague Mario Feldhoff challenged Halyk’s characterisation of the port as stagnant, pointing to KM LNG, the BC LNG Export Co-operative, RTA’s smelter modernisation, the Sandhill Materials and “more contentious” Northern Gateway projects.
“I don’t think a harbour master will be able to move that position forward,” Feldhoff said, adding that as he understood it a harbour master did not promote port activities, instead he managed them.
Councillor Rob Goffinet pointed out council was being told that a private port meant less red tape for a shipper and any port activity and he feared passing this motion would make Kitimat a federal port.
“I believe you read it wrong councillor Goffinet,” Halyk countered. “We are already under federal jurisdiction as a private port,” even if there was no federal presence here.
Saying that he wasn’t trying to create a federal port, Halyk explained, “We can maintain a private port but what we need is some sort of oversight.”
Referring to overturned barges and derelict boats lying upside down in the harbour, he said, “There’s issues all over the place that haven’t been addressed.”
Maintaining having input into how the port was run was important, Halyk added, “It’s being run now by big businesses, by corporations that really don’t give us any value at all.”
But he quickly took a step back from that statement, adding he had nothing against the corporations and acknowledged they did provide value in the sense of providing jobs.
However, the potential for the port to be an import-export facility where small business could grow “is something that hasn’t happened for 50 plus years.”
But when it came to the vote, Halyk found no allies with mayor Joan Monaghan, Feldhoff, Goffinet and Corless opposed.
Councillors Gerd Gottschling and Corinne Scott were absent.