By Stephen Harrison

The Greater Victoria Harbour Authority plays a key role in managing marine activities in the Victoria area, but a recent survey shows that many Victorians are unclear about the organization's jurisdiction and responsibilities.

The GVHA has existed as a non-profit society since 2002, and while it maintains its offices on Dallas Road, its responsibilities extend far beyond the deep-sea port at Ogden Point. The Harbour Authority is also in charge of Fisherman's Wharf, Ship Point in the Inner Harbour, the docks along Wharf Street from Broughton to Johnson, and all of the activities that take place in these areas. Festivals, buskers, moorage fees, and property management at these sites all fall under the GVHA's control.

The GVHA's Board of Directors includes representatives from a variety of local stakeholders, including the City of Victoria, Esquimalt, Tourism Victoria, the Capital Regional District, and the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce, along with the chiefs of the Esquimalt and Songhees nations. New CEO Curtis Grad, whose background is in airport management and BC tourism, says he hopes to "preserve the character of Victoria Harbour as a living and dynamic working harbour, marine transportation hub and accessible community asset."

According to the GVHA's website, it is committed to working on behalf of its membership agencies and citizens alike, while striving to maintain a functional harbour that is both environmentally and economically sustainable. As a non-profit organization, revenue beyond the GVHA's operating budget goes towards improving its holdings and Victoria Harbour's services; it has invested over $13 million in its facilities since 2002, including upgrades to Fisherman's Wharf and maintenance at Ogden Point.

One of the GVHA's primary concerns is tourism. 2010 brought 228 ships into the Ogden Point terminal, along with over 570,000 people and millions of tourist dollars. More than half of the GVHA's over six million dollars of revenue from 2009/2010 came from the cruise ship industry, with the rest coming from events and attractions in the harbour, marina operations, and lease revenue from businesses such as the Ogden Point Café and Helijet.

The Inner Harbour is a hub of activity for both tourists and residents alike, and improving and maintaining this space is one of the GVHA's key responsibilities. This includes playing host to Victoria mainstays like the Dragon Boat Festival and the Victoria Symphony Splash. The GVHA provides considerable funding for events and festivals in the harbour. According to Manager of Communications Rebecca Penz, frequent summer events are "part of [the GVHA's] corporate and social responsibility" to keep the area vibrant, sustainable, and open to the public.

One of the spaces the GVHA is interested in developing is the bridge and walkway near the Red Fish Blue Fish restaurant at Broughton Street Pier. Walking along the harbour is currently a "disjointed" experience, according to Penz. Creating a place for a market or other businesses along the bridge could help to encourage foot traffic and give the area its own identity.

Because the GVHA's jurisdiction is so broad, many Victorians make use of its services and are affected by its activities. To that end, the GVHA "tries to be as accessible as possible," says Penz. It maintains a dialogue with the James Bay Neighbourhood Association, for instance, and it looks at issues like reducing bus noise levels or lowering the sulphur content of fuels used by cruise ships visiting the city.

With such a large jurisdiction it would be impossible to please every citizen and stakeholder on every issue, but the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority nevertheless plays an important role in shaping how Victoria is presented. It is committed to responding to a variety of local interests.