Not Just Any Old Port….This one needs a Storm! – updated

Jan.23, 2013

We have received permission from the Snuneymuxh Band to provide a copy of the letter which they have sent to the Nanaimo Port Authority regarding the NPA’s proposal to give a 30 year lease on the Nanaimo downtown harbour to an American private corporation.  It deserves our attention.

2013-01-18 SFN to NPA re Marina Lease


Jan. 20, 2013

The following document came to me by email with the admonishment to “feel free to pass it on…”  I do so herewith.  The issues that it raises and the plaint that it makes have become far too common in the last few years. Here in Nanaimo citizens have been, if not outright overlooked, then actively ignored, by those who are supposed to represent them.  Forgetting the Conference Centre affair which overstepped its referendum bounds by $20+ million dollars and the disappearance of the hotel, we have recently seen the untendered new annex which cost $10+ million more than would have been spent in renovation, the Pioneer Park Affair, the Estuary Argument, the Linley Valley Question, the Pre-decided Decision on the Colliery Dams and here: the Boat Basin.  The problem is not these individual acts by themselves, but what they represent by way of a dismissive attitude toward citizens by those masters who are supposed to be our public servants.  If we do not act to take back our rights –and our responsibilities- as citizens, should we wonder when we are ignored? – Ron Bolin


Privatization of the Port of Nanaimo: Issues and Impacts

[Memorandum: January 18th 2013]

A Nanaimo Port Authority (NPA) proposal to privatize the only remaining public marina in the downtown of the city will have deleterious social consequences and negative economic impact on the city of Nanaimo. This is not an overstatement.

The NPA has not acknowledged the role that this marina has played in the social, cultural and economic lives of many of Nanaimo residents, nor the economic industry that is currently in place.

If the NPA’s present proposal for a thirty year lease to a private marina company were to proceed it would adversely affect the lives of several thousand people, including immediate and direct effects on hundreds of Protection Island residents, hundreds of commercial fishers and a large proportion of the 1700 Snuneymuxw First Nation (SFN) residents, many of whom live on a reserve within a kilometer of the marina. The announcement of the proposal has generated an immediate outcry from many segments of the community.

The problem is not the actual leasing of the design and management of the marina to a private company. There is no disagreement with the need to maintain or even upgrade the existing facilities.

Rather the problem is the proposed restructuring of the marina in a way that will lead to a loss of water access to a multi-use public harbour currently utilized by the existing user groups that completely rely on this facility.

Downtown Nanaimo has had an accessible public marina for over 70 years and, of course, is known as “The Harbour City” because of this. Severe economic and social consequences could result from any threat of loss of habour access.

The ‘University of Michigan’ economic analysis research papers that were used by Pacific Northwest Marina Group, the private marina company chosen, are inaccurately produced and if interpreted accurately would instead suggest negative impacts on Nanaimo’s downtown.  The poorly performed economic analysis alone would be sufficient reason to reconsider any hastily cobbled thirty year lease proposal but there are much more troubling implications.

As it has been presented, the NPA lease proposal has ignored the constructional rights of the SFN – as spelled out in Part 3 of the Canada Marine Act that applies to Port Authorities: “For greater certainty, nothing in this Act shall be construed so as to abrogate or derogate from the application of section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982 to existing aboriginal or treaty rights of the aboriginal peoples of Canada.”

Section 35(1) of the Canadian Constitution protects right of fishing and access to those fisheries for FSC purposes. The downtown marina serves as the only unloading facility available to the SFN that can used for access to many marine fish and shellfish species – so the loss of access to this, without a satisfactory alternative could represent an ‘abrogation’ of constitutional rights for the SFN. Without a fair, public and affordable place to moor their fishing vessels and offload their catches, SFN fishers are further disadvantaged and alienated from a fishing cultural that is not only key to their personal well being but also the well being of their community.

This fundamental First Nations requirement has not been addressed in the Nanaimo Port Authority’s lease proposal. It must be addressed and the proposal must include thorough consultation. This issue is keenly felt in the SFN community. If the marina redevelopment proceeds as planned it could unravel decades of progress, cooperation and goodwill that has been established between the SFN and the others in Nanaimo. Clearly this would be a tragedy.

Not only has the NPA neglected consultation with First Nations but they also seem to willfully disregard the 2004 Charter, to Guide the Relationship between the City of Nanaimo and the Nanaimo Port Authority, signed with the City of Nanaimo.  Specifically #2 of the Charter states, “The Port Authority and the City commit to continuing open and effective communications on matters of mutual interest. The parties are committed to notifying and consulting with one another on physical developments and management policies that may affect both parties.”  To date that consultation has not been done.

Another unresolved issue concerns impacts on Nanaimo citizens who live on Protection Island (PI). This is a Nanaimo city neighborhood of about 350 to 450 people.

Many PI residents commute to their workplace or business by small commuter boats that they moor in the downtown marina. Others use the boat basin for only short downtown errands of a few hours, while they buy groceries, pick up family members, got to work, or use other basic services. Based on the information provided to date, PI residents are astounded that the NPA has not adequately addressed their legal concerns about “right of access by water”.

Alarmingly, even since the proposed lease was announced, Protection Island residents who’ve arrived for short visits to the downtown boat basin are being actively discouraged from accessing the downtown marina by managers with clip-boards, asking them to record every visit! The NPA does not seem to acknowledge this issue and has not issued any logistical plan for those who need to commute by boat.

Members of the Nanaimo City Council {do not} appear to understand simple commuting needs as they have been brought to City Council several times (see slideshow by David Carter):                                             11 minute narrated slideshow

The NPA responses have not only blatantly unfair to these people, it has been designed to give insufficient information to these citizens.

And of course, it is foolish to ignore the direct economic input from the PI community to the downtown area. There are 359 assessed lots on Protection Island. Based on a survey in June 2012, the average downtown Nanaimo spending per home is over $13,500 per year. The cumulative total is over $2.7 million annually, and much of this sum goes directly into businesses in the downtown.  The loss of this financial input into the corner stone downtown businesses would not only be felt during the initiation of any harbour privatization, it would be felt for a full thirty years!

The most severe economic outcomes will come from the impacts on commercial fishers: most will no longer be able to moor or off-load their vessels in the marina. This will lead to a significant loss of business in the downtown area, especially to establishments that support the commercial fishing industry. There will be a further loss of revenue from mobile fishing fleets – that visit Nanaimo for provisions and off-loading.

This aspect must be understood: A 2008 study on small craft Harbours, prepared for DFO in 2008 (by Gislason & Associates Ltd. Associates in Vancouver) estimates that “For every dollar that flows directly through harbour operations, another $48 flows through the provincial economy from expenditures/sales by the commercial fishery, aquaculturalists, recreational boaters and other harbour users”.

Many non-Nanaimo fishers and first nation fishers require temporary or transient moorage to support longer distance trips, for rest breaks and to offload perishable catches for their communities. The availability of affordable and ‘commercial vessel friendly’ public marinas is critical to ensure the safety of fishers and to the integral needs of both the aboriginal fishing fleet and commercial fishing fleet that support our coastal communities. Certainly the proposed marina restructuring will hurt Nanaimo fishers and their families, and will have a substantial negative impact on the local economy. Not to mention a direct impact on the vendors and services that exist in Nanaimo’s downtown.

The negative economic impact could be substantial. Nanaimo fish boats provide salmon, herring, halibut,  tuna, crabs, prawns, shrimp, groundfish and geoducks. About 600 Nanaimo area residents, or 150-200 families, make their living from commercial fishing or fish processing. ( See:

In recent years about 40 commercial fishing boats used the Nanaimo harbour and perhaps another 30 that moor elsewhere. About 360 Nanaimo residents work full-time as commercial fishers, which is 18% of the total BC labour force of 2000 employed in ‘capture fisheries’. Another 240 Nanaimo residents work in various processing and value-added industries such as smoking and canning. The BC Seafood Alliance estimates that their members land products worth about $750 million annually or about 90% of the total value of ‘capture fisheries’ in BC. Assuming Nanaimo fishers landed 18% of the capture fisheries, their economic contribution to the Province would be over $112 million dollars.

The total provincial employment income from the 2000 commercial fishers in BC is about $90 million per year ( With 18% of the ‘capture fisheries’ workforce of 360 living in the Nanaimo area, this would represent employment income of over $16 million – and a significant part of this income relies on the downtown marina. This does not include income from the other 240 Nanaimo residents working in the processing industries or other revenue generated from the transient fleets. Social considerations aside, it seems probable that the economic benefits to Nanaimo from existing users would eclipse the presumed benefits from the proposed marina that would cater to upscale yachts.

The Nanaimo marina is more than a parking place for boats. It is a busy, colourful, family and community meeting place that reflects much of the character of this historic ‘Harbour City’: Nanaimo Harbour scenes are iconic. Photos of small fishing vessels dominate on the websites of the NPA, the Nanaimo Economic Development Corporation (NEDC) and tourist brochures. (Note: Not needed unless shown: One photograph on the NPA website shows 25 fishing vessels, and the pictures only show part of marina.) A loss of the marina, as a multi-purpose boating facility should not proceed without first carefully measuring the economic and social consequences.

There is a simple solution to this problem: the NPA could suspend the marina redevelopment proposal pending further review, engage in consultation with City Hall, and a thorough, realistic economic analysis. It may be best to scrap the current proposal altogether, as it does not suit Nanaimo’s actual requirements.  It is necessary to properly and fully re-evaluate the contribution of a multi-use public port to the city and its citizens.

If the downtown marina is to be leased to an outside operator, it should follow from consultation with all users, precise economic analysis, preservation of a working and iconic harbour, and, of course, an open tendering process. Further, the NPA must adhere to both the letter of the law (as presented in the Canada Marine Act and Letters Patent) but also the ‘spirit’ of the law or the legislation that governs the NPA.

The NPA will not have to look far beyond their own mission statement. From the NPA website (, under the ‘Corporate window, you will find five vision statements. Note that the majority are not consistent with the recent NPA announcement to privatize the marina.

The 5 Vision Statements are as follows:

1. Satisfies the needs of users;

2. Offers, in a commercially viable manner, the best terminal handling operations and services;

3. Encourages responsible and sustainable property development;

4. Provides for a high level of safety and environmental protection;

5. Supports the achievement of local, regional and national socioeconomic objectives.

Clearly this agreement to revitalize the downtown marina, as presented to date, does not meet the needs of present users (Mission Statement 1).

A 30-year lease is not a ‘responsible’ allocation of resources (Mission Statement 3).

The greatest inconsistency occurs with respect to Mission Statement 5.

The proposed redevelopment of the marina has not taken adequate account of the present users, or the social and economic impacts of replacing current users with a plan for housing long-term storage yachts.

Recent communication from the NPA has become stilted. The NPA, as reported through the local media, has insinuated that the operation of the present marina loses money and that “the private sector” is their only recourse. Yet no one was consulted. The NPA also states that the present users object to any change because they are unwilling to pay more for their very necessary boat moorage. This is an insulting and an unfair characterization of the people who use the marina. The commercial fishers who use the marina are mainly hard-working business people who contribute substantially to their community.

Likewise, Protection Island commuters also are employees who work in Nanaimo, or small business owners themselves. They are not people looking to gain at the expense of the public purse. No one who is opposed to the proposed re-development is asking for a handout.

Rather people are only asking that the NPA act with the integrity – and honesty and fairness, and to perform the necessary planning before making hastily-signed thirty year deals with private companies. If the NPA is not capable of running the marina successfully (as it has been run up until 2009) then perhaps they need to re-examine their management prowess.

CEO Bernie Dumas, who appears to be handling this project single handedly, only began his term of office in 2008. All the other NPA Board Members have not made any public statements about the project nor, I  may add, have the NPA Board been able to communicate their opinions on the project.

But obviously any long term leasing of a public project of this size should be done through a transparent process, with open bidding, and should be seen to follow adequate planning time lines with full and equitable consultation with the present marina users.

After all the Nanaimo Port Authority works for the citizens of Nanaimo through their Federal taxation.

In addition to reconsidering their thirty year marina lease proposal, the NPA, as constituted by the chair and the Board of Directors, should re-evaluate recent NPA activities. Specifically they need to ensure that the NPA adheres to the correct interpretation of the existing legislation (Canada Marine Act, Letters Patent and the 2004 Charter with the City of Nanaimo). Failure to do this will only exacerbate the ill will felt by many towards the NPA, and perhaps lead to the necessity of Legal judgments for citizens and working groups who have been impacted.

To date the citizen responses have been entirely based on research and logic. The harbour is the life blood of the city and as such needs to be treated, respected and preserved as such. No deal is better than this deal.

Those people that use the downtown Marina have been disallowed to communicate with the NPA about their expertise in harbour operations.  If the NPA does not step back and listen, however, the ongoing conflict will adversely affect citizen’s trust in the Port Authority to adequately manage the Harbour.