By Rita Button

A few years ago, on a flight to Winnipeg, I noticed one passenger’s T-shirt that had the following message emblazoned on its back: Less for me, more for you, enough for everyone. I thought about this T-shirt again while I was talking to John Briant, General Manager, Ogden Point Cruise Terminal and Ian Robertson, CEO, Greater Victoria Harbour Authority. The goal to create a balance between the needs of the Harbour Authority and the people of James Bay is front and centre in their agenda. Both work toward finding and implementing solutions to the challenges that confront the relationship between maintaining a vibrant, vital harbour and a happy, understanding community.

Many harbour towns along the coast of Vancouver Island are struggling because their ports are no longer viable businesses. And it’s this death knell that John takes seriously. He believes that a vibrant, busy port creates vitality for the town or city to which it is connected; thus, he is constantly looking for ways to increase harbour use while maintaining the balance between business needs and a seaside lifestyle.

John loves the water and the land. An environmentalist before the word became common usage, John constantly searches for ways to treat the world kindly and to minimize the impact of current practices. A master mariner, he knows how to load and unload those big freighters we see plying the waters just beyond the harbour, and he was present when the last shipment of pulp was unloaded at the Ogden Point pier in the 1990’s.

But things have changed, as they must, to stay alive. In spite of its being a deep sea harbor, a valuable asset for Victoria, Ogden Point is no longer a place where ships load and unload grain—the railway spur is gone—or where lumber is delivered to the pier for loading or where fish packing occurs in preparation for delivery to far-off ports. Instead, cruise ships, yacht delivery, and hold cleaning are some of industries at the pier. As well, a survey vessel such as the Nautilus Jode Resolution has called Ogden Point home over the winter, while Global Marine, a cable laying company, has a contract to berth a cable vessel at Ogden Point through to 2024. Fibre optic cable storage and equipment owned by Global Marine occupy one third of the warehouse on Pier A.

                                                                                     Photo by Josie Bannerman

The stevedores who work the pier remember the stories of how it used to be, and wish they could return to the time when longshoremen lived in James Bay and walked to work at the pier. When I talked to Brett Hartly, President of the Longshore union ILWU 508, his wish was for a twelve-month job for all who work the pier in the summer months, but he understands the transportation difficulties preventing the fulfillment of this wish.

John, too, is working toward finding long-term employment for the stevedores. He sees this as part of the complex equation of creating a vital balance for all at the pier.

Another worry regarding the cruise ship industry is air pollution. The International Marine Organization is the United Nations specialized agency whose responsibility includes “the safety and security and the prevention of marine pollution by ships.” (http:/www.imc.org/en/MediaCentre/PressBriefings/Pages28-eca.asp#._QcGvkrKJA) This organization has established that the weight of sulphur dioxins must be no more than 0.01% m/m beginning when the ship is 200 miles from land. Scrubbers make the difference for the ships that moor at Ogden Point, and this year, all ships have been well below the requirements for sulphur emissions. Sometimes black smoke can be seen from the ships’ smokestacks, usually when they are maneuvering into the slip or starting a cold generator, but even so, the emissions are well under the required limits.

As well, transportation from ship to points on shore has been a challenge. The GVHA has been asked to work with the City on a traffic plan and is working with the Victoria Police to help calm the traffic that moves between the ships and downtown.

The day I talked to John, September 23, was the day the new all-electric double decker bus was delivered to the parking lot at Pier B. The excitement charged through the office. We all rushed out to take a look at the new bus, and there it sat—a big, shiny white eco-friendly spectre. Dave Roberts, the General Manager of CVS who drove the bus to the pier loved it. He especially enjoyed seeing the surprise on people’s faces when they saw the bus gliding past them, ghost-like in its silence. Having 99 seats and 21 hand holds, this bus can accommodate twice the number of passengers that the current buses that GVHA uses, thereby halving the number of buses on the streets while simultaneously decreasing fossil fuel emissions.

CVS had planned to have the bus in operation for the 2016 cruise season, but things did not go exactly as planned. Being the first all-electric double decker bus in the world, a few challenges presented themselves, but this bus will be stealthing its way through James Bay for the 2017 cruise season.

Dave also told me about Carmanah Tech, a Victoria company that is developing a solar panel to fit onto the roofs of buses with the purpose of eliminating the need to idle; the solar power collected by the panel looks after that! But he also added that new technology is expensive. However, it’s an optimistic sign that transportation offered by the GVHA will gradually become less disruptive to our environment.

“This is the way of the future,” Ian Robertson assured me when I talked to him the following week. More and more, the GVHA is looking for affordable eco-friendly ways to lessen their carbon footprint. To this end, they have changed the bus fleet that transports cruise passengers from the pier to downtown and Butchart Gardens. Preferring the use of a carrot to a stick, Ian has waived bus fees when the company they hire uses buses that were manufactured in the year 2005 and beyond. However, if older buses are used, fees are applied.

To underline their commitment to clean air, the GVHA, about a month ago, converted the van their employees use to visit the varying sites to an electric vehicle.

As well, the GVHA promotes walking from the pier to downtown, and I have seen streams of people, paper maps in hand, walking to the downtown core. According to a survey taken by the GVHA, 70% of those who visited Victoria via cruise ship have a strong desire to return. (GVHA Stakeholder Report, 2015/16)

At GVHA’s September 20 community meeting, a pedicab operator, Ryan, commented on his great pleasure at being offered prominent parking spaces on the pier so that passengers coming off the ship could easily opt for the pedicab choice.

The cruise ship business makes up 56% of the GVHA’s revenue. It’s this money whose function is to maintain and make improvements to the holdings for which the GVHA has stewardship. And therein lies the balance.

So, how is the money used? Ian explained, not only during the interview, but also at the September 20 meeting, that the GVHA is a non-profit organization whose responsibility is to be good stewards of Fisherman’s Wharf, Inner Harbour, Ship’s Point, and Ogden Point. Maintenance is a big part of the budget. Anyone who has owned a boat, or has had water coming into the basement, knows the powerful force of water that requires vigilance and cash to keep the holdings safe. The breakwater at Ogden Point, for example, is on pilings that require regular maintenance. When the railings at the perimeter of the causeway were added, they created a feeling of safety inviting many more people to walk to the lighthouse at its end. This was another budget item paid for by the GVHA. The dolphin, dredging and warehouse maintenance also took a bite out of the budget. The improvements to Ship’s Point will be around $7 million. And here’s another number: $1 million dollars is paid in taxes to the City of Victoria annually by the GVHA.

Both John and Ian are quick to assert that the whole project is still a work in progress—things aren’t perfect, but they’re working on it. John wants to create a balanced pier where stevedores will have work all year long and where the harbour’s practices lessen the carbon footprint. Ian wants to work with the city and its people to solve the transportation problems, the fuel emissions problem while simultaneously creating a space at the pier where people will want to be twelve months of the year.

And so it seems that the idea of sharing, of giving and taking is becoming part of GVHA’s culture. None of the groups is likely to have all of their dreams come true, but by continuing the conversation, and by acting upon suggestions, as well as by keeping the promises made, a time will come when there should be “enough for everyone.”