By V. Adams

The CEO of the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority, Ian Robertson, and Stantec’s Senior Community Planning & Design Associate, Mark Crisp, are busy putting the final touches on GVHA’s 30-Year Master Plan for the Redevelopment of Ogden Point. This project has focused primarily on developing a Functional & Facilities Plan as part of the GVHA’s Rezoning Application for the City of Victoria.

The drawings of the proposed site changes include: construction of a new cruise ship terminal, commercial, institutional, and retail space and a First Nations cultural exhibition space (in the form of a Long House), upgrading of the existing heliport, and landscaping around the public areas adjacent to the Breakwater. These colorful illustrations are designed to sell the merits of the “Master Plan” to local residents, the business community, and all levels of government.

The project is being promoted as a triple-bottom line venture that incorporates social and environmental responsibility as well as financial sustainability.

What this “visionary” project fails to address, however, are the true costs and benefits of such an investment for public and private stakeholders. 

Let’s evaluate the assumptions upon which the plan is based. This is where the “Master Plan” appears to fall short of its primary objective: to increase revenue for the GVHA and its partners. Why this project? A way to offset the high cost of operating and maintaining this port facility and GVHA’s other marine-based properties.

The Master Plan is based upon the following dubious assumptions:

  • That an ever-increasing volume of luxury liner passengers will continue to appear over the next three decades (in spite of their market demand study that indicates the cruise ship travel industry is a mature market and likely to decline over this period).
  • That existing yet undetermined environmental health and safety risks are not considered a significant threat to commercial development (even though previous Department of Transport preliminary environmental assessments identified the potentially hazardous toxic contaminants on the site, yet no recent testing has been undertaken to determine remediation steps that may be required).
  • That there will be little to no impact from climate change (even though the CRD estimates that there will be significant alterations to shoreline properties due to wave and wind impacts, rise in sea level, erosion, tidal surges, and possible damage to critical infrastructure: sewer, water, utility lines, and roads).
  • That there’s little to no risk from a significant earthquake (even though CRD and Victoria maps indicate the Ogden Point site is primarily landfill, subject to liquefaction and seismic instability just as a large portion of James Bay is).
  • That ratepayers will carry the majority of the servicing costs such as water, sewer, storm drainage, utility lines and shore power/sub-stations as well as security and ground transportation reconfiguration and maintenance (even though local taxpayers are already burdened with growing debts for major infrastructure projects such as a secondary sewage treatment plant and Johnson Street Bridge).
  • That financing for such a major redevelopment project is not an issue (in the absence of any feasibility study including projected capital costs required to implement this plan, likely based on a public and private sector partnership).

Stantec’s view is that “business growth and opportunities” outweigh “constraints” such as contaminated land as well as noise, light, and emission pollution, sea rise and wind impacts, geotechnical and seismic factors, high traffic volumes that exceed the carrying capacity of roads, all of which might legitimately preclude the commercial development of this property.

Note that at this point, not one of the beneficiaries of the maritime travel industry (primarily the cruise lines, transport companies, tour operators, and industrial partners) has indicated their contribution to the realization of the GVHA’s Ogden Point Master Plan.

Apparently the cruise ship industry deposits $100 million annually into the coffers of Victoria businesses. Is that true?  Precious few have committed any substantial financial investment to the GVHA’s grand scheme. While the City and Federal Government collect two million dollars annually from the port and other GVHA facilities, it is unlikely that taxpayers will benefit substantially from the Ogden Point redevelopment. The question is whether taxpayers will be willing to carry an even heavier debt burden in order to sustain the profits of a select segment of the tourism industry.

What would entice Victoria residents and taxpayers to invest in this venture? How much are you willing to shell out for minimal access to a high-security port property, (more than half of which will lie dormant for six months a year)? What are you willing to pay to visit some commercial offices, take the odd helicopter flight, walk along the Breakwater, eat from mobile food trucks, or pop into an indigenous cultural exhibit when the spirit moves you?

Is this truly a “steal of a deal”? If you’re not sure, wait until your tax dollars have been spent on realizing this dream which may be short-lived. Who’s to say GVHA (and its partners) won’t turn around and put the assets up for sale to the highest bidder three decades from now? Are you ready to make a down payment on the GVHA’s plan or would you rather buy a lottery ticket?