June 9: I’ve added more info and a letter to the bottom of this post… Scroll down to check it all out.  The June 9 Agenda includes the full contract to be signed with PAPA.

In a week’s time Council for the City of Port Alberni will make one of many long term decisions that all councillors must make in their time on council. They will have before them a 25 year lease with the Port Alberni Port Authority that would lock half of the former Plywood Site into continued industrial use leaving the southern half as the public beach we now know as Canal Beach.

Mayor and Council are being asked to take the City in a direction. The question is, which direction is the right one? As today’s AVTimes highlights on its front page and editorial, Port Alberni is the only major City on southern Vancouver Island that has had declining or stagnant population over the past 40 years. All other cities have grown. We need new ideas.

The plywood site is a perfect symbol of everything that has happened to Port Alberni over the past 40 years. A once thriving, job-rich patch of land churning out money and products that has since sat fallow and contaminated for 20 years without a plan or direction as it was hoped industry would come back again. It hasn’t.

Mayor and Council have a sworn duty to do what they feel is best for the community not only in the short term, but also in the long term. They must inform themselves with studies like this one from the Port Authority in 2010 showing poor prospects for large shipbuilding and repair. They must commit to listening to the public, including through petitions like the one being filled advocating for the beach or through delegations and letters to Council, on all issues as they are there to represent all residents and ratepayers not only their own interests and views. And above all, they must have the courage to take the city in a new direction when one is desperately needed.

If I were on Council, I would vote against this 25 year lease because we have seen time and again over the past 40 years that reliance on industries of old have brought us stagnation, while other communities have thrived from diversity. I would vote against it because voting for it would also be voting for leaving the Bunker C oil contamination under the soil to sit there for another 25 years. These are not a viable option.

I would vote For a motion to start a rezoning process to re zone the Plywood site from Industrial to City Parkland.. If the covenant restricts zoning to industry only then I would vote instead to start a separate public hearing process with council directing staff to outline a modest park plan for the site and the costs involved with it brought to the public and a decision to be completed by the end of July.

20140602-075454-28494749.jpgMuch of the contamination seems to be under provincial, not city, land. We must lean on he provincial government to help clean up the contamination and also to find grants for building a park. This is not about jobs versus play. This is about growth versus stagnation. Thousands of jobs have been created in other industries and sectors in other communities as they have redeveloped their waterfronts for livability and recreation.

Even with Canal Beach, the Port Alberni waterfront remains 95% owned by industrial interests and that will not change anytime soon.

The City of Port Alberni must take whatever chance it can get to diversify its waterfront and this Plywood site is the first time since the Harbour Quay was created 30 years ago that the City can take another step in that direction.

Below are some key points from various reports. Check back to see more as I post them online.


The PAPA 2010 Report proposed a full redevelopment of the entire plywood site (including the “canal beach” portion) into an industrial marine repair centre.  Their conclusion:

“There are approximately 20 jobs supported by boat repair and boat-building now. Research on economic impacts suggests that the marine services sector yields a multiplier of up to 1.5, meaning that 20 direct jobs produce a total of 30 local jobs (direct plus indirect)… One way to quantify the potential is to assume that the new facility results in an increase of about 50% in total marine services activity. If this goal is met, total direct employment would rise to 30 jobs and total direct plus indirect employment would rise to 45 jobs.”

This puts the promise from Canadian Alberni Engineering of 100 jobs (from Federal Government Contracts) into some perspective.   The PAPA report indicates that barring federal government work, there are only 7 ships in the major BC Ferries, Navy and Coast Guard fleets that would be serviceable with this more extensive plan.


More information I gathered today.   I’ve confirmed with the City that the entire site, including Lot C “Canal Beach” is still zoned as “M3 Industrial”.   The City says rezoning of Canal Beach would be undertaken “prior to any significant public facility construction.”

Since Canal Beach is zoned industrial it need not go to a public hearing in order for the industrial use of the site by PAPA/CAE to be approved.  It does raise the question why the City has not moved forward with rezoning of the Canal Beach site to a Park use if indeed their intention is to have it be permanently a public access park.


Yet more information:
If you check out Page 52 of the Uptown Waterfront study linked earlier in this post, you will find this picture.

Backup Plan Plywood SiteThey describe this as a “backup plan” and Recommendation #12.





“If, after a suitable period e.g. 5-10 years [it has been 7 years], prospects for appropriate heavy industrial development are not acceptable, the City and Port may consider a ‘backup’ plan that includes:

  • Splitting the plywood site into three uses – a ‘transition’ industrial/commercial use at the north side, a housing/resort use at the south side, and integrated public waterfront access and boat launch site.
  • The industrial commercial use should be configured to provide a noise attenuation barrier between existing and new noise sources and the proposed resort development. The noise attenuation may include a combination of building siting, berming and noise wall. Buildings may need to extend into the harbour to provide effective noise attenuation.
  • Industrial commercial uses might include shipyard for both pleasure and commercial boats, as well as related boat storage building, machine shops, boat sales and related businesses. Ideally the shipyard uses should complement the proposed adjacent residential / resort housing.
  • The residential portion could take the form of stacked townhomes, with about 200 units depending on the unit size.
  • At seaside, the lower floor(s) would be restricted to storage and parking, to reduce the risk of tsunami loss of life. The height of the seaside units should be restricted by the need for noise attenuation from the existing sawmill (likely restricting the residential portion to two storeys above parking).
  • On the upper level, near Plywood Drive, the townhomes site could be extended in co- operation with WFP to include the entire upper terrace. Noise attenuation would be provided by a berm along the east side of the development site, combined with a lowering of the grade of the site by about 3m. This would result in a development site that has views of the harbour, but that is below Plywood Drive. To avoid noise impacts, the development would be restricted to 2-3 storeys in height.
  • Units in this development should be required to have central air conditioning. This avoids the need to have open windows during hot summer nights, and thus reduces potential noise conflict with adjacent industry, which may have active night shifts.
  • All residential units should have a covenant on title that restricts the right of owners to act against adjacent industrial users as long as noise decibel levels are within stated limits. The covenant would recognize that industry may operate 24/7.
  • It could be an option that some residential units might be resort use, either by fractional ownership or ‘lock-off’ plans that allow owners to market rooms to short term guests. The City would need to carefully consider whether such units are taxed as residential or commercial hotel.
  • The public portion of the site could include road access, a public boat launch and associated vehicle and trailer parking. The existing pier would be repaired to support safe public access, and may include a limited amount of commercial development with housing/resort units over. Small floats for convenience tie up would be associated with the pier and public boat launch. A waterfront boardwalk would front the residential/resort development. Architectural controls and landscape area would soften the interface with the adjacent commercial /industrial building, and add to noise attenuation at the ‘bend’ in the access road.
  • The site is neighbours with the Tseshaht First Nation to the south. Consultation with the Tseshaht should be a part of detailed planning if this option is chosen. It is possible that the Tseshaht plans for their I.R. might be complementary, and /or that a partnership might evolve.Rationale:
  • If industrial re-investment in this valuable piece of waterfront property is not forthcoming over a reasonable period, or if at the end of that period there appears to be a very low chance or such reinvestment, it may be necessary to look at alternate uses that will meet public objectives and be economically viable.
  • Owners of the APD sawmill (now Western Forest Products) hold a covenant, which prohibits the use of the Plywood lands for overnight accommodation. This is to protect the industrial use at the APD from complaints about noise. This covenant would need to be lifted or replaced with alternate wording for the type of mixed residential commercial development envisioned to proceed.
  • If this option were to proceed, both WFP and the adjacent Tseshaht First Nation may have an interest in bringing in some of their lands and collaborating as partners on the project.
  • To provide a buffer between the residential and existing industrial uses, there should be an effective noise barrier. This could be in the form of landscape berms or noise walls, but also could include commercial building masses that are not as sensitive to overnight noise disturbance. A Boat Storage and Small Craft Service Centre is one option that may, in time, be viable and compatible as such a buffering use. Precedents for such a use are described below.”


Are we following that recommendation?  Does this 25 year lease and rental with PAPA and Canadian Alberni Engineering actually qualify as “industrial reinvestment”?  Have we gotten to the point where we need to look at alternatives?


As a final note,  I’ve sent this letter to Council and the AV Times.  I think all of the information above supports the need for a public hearing on this land use decision.

Dear Mayor, Council and Editor,

What is not often said about the Plywood Site, perhaps because it is not known, is that the 2007 Uptown Waterfront Study contemplated ways the covenant could be removed in case industrial users didn’t re-invest in 5-10 years (it has been 7 years). Recommendation #12, the “Backup Plan”, included residential, public, and boat storage developments with their own covenants restricting the right of residents to complain about noise from APD. It was even suggested cooperation between the City, APD and First Nations could enhance re-development opportunities. You can see it in full along with lots of other information on this issue at my website www.chrisalemany.ca

I would encourage everyone to contact City Hall or come to the council meeting on Monday to voice your opinion no matter what it is. Yes, it’s just one of many issues facing the City, but it is indicative of the wider issues of re-development, growth, prosperity and general direction of our community and the decision on Monday could last until 2039.

Are we encouraging jobs by leasing it to the Port Authority for a work shed and log dump, or is that just placating industrial interests at the expense of real job growth, health of residents, and the environment? Are Councillors fully informed? The City is obligated to hold public hearings when land is rezoned due to changes of use. This is not a rezoning issue (yet?), but is certainly a major land use issue. Given the interest generated in the community, and the very long term implications of the decision, I think a public hearing is warranted and as councillor that’s what I would advocate.


Chris Alemany

Candidate for Councillor in the City of Port Alberni

10 replies on “Updated: Beach is symbolic of Port Alberni’s potential and needed direction”

  1. Your discussion is sound, and if you run for council with this you have my vote this coming round, and I will speak to that effect at the Spirit Square Market and elsewhere.

    A thought about your stance with the coal and rail subject. Rail will probably be further in the future than coal shipping, if there is coal moving. I look toward candidates with clear position against coal, unconditionally. At this time placing condition on opposing coal gives the argument the appearance of being a political “red herring”, not favouring the candidates numbers when it comes to the vote.

    All candidates say something about backing local small business; it is a political tradition, never mind what the candidates’ feeling or intentions are. In truth a substantial number of small businesses are hanging by their fingernails to survive, so a 2% or 4% upping of their business might help them realize their usual goal: “To be there next year.” A bus connection with the Intercity Route [Nanaimo-Parksville-Qualicum] would do that, give small businesses a sufficient edge. It is a worthwhile topic for discussion.

    On bus service, the Greyhound rep, Lorimer, has presented to City Hall a number of times. I noted he got the “rubber stamp” type of approval a number of times, Hira Chopra speaking for the City if memory serves. Chopra is wrong, Alberni has not been well served by Greyhound, the service is, and has been marginal. Now it is also very expensive. Crappy and cheap back in the 80’s has now become infrequent and overpriced. Thought you might be interested as transportation is on your agenda.


  2. Thank you very much Timo for your support and your comments about coal and transportation.

    On coal, as we will all hear on the news this morning, the US is finally bringing in strict limits on coal fired power plants with the goal of reducing CO2 emissions by 30% from power plants by 2020. China has also been moving in that direction, especially with its recent deal to buy Natural Gas from Russia. I see coal, and most fossil fuel industries like asbestos or whale oil industries of old. These are sectors that were once critical to the world, and have been and will be supplanted out of environmental, social, and economic necessity. Coal on Vancouver Island is without exception best used for thermal power generation. It cannot be allowed to expand. However, because of the way zoning and environmental assessments work, municipal government often only has a symbolic ‘yea or nay’ potential. The real potential for change and acknowledgement of community values is in the Environmental Review process. So if I were on Council not only would I oppose the coal shipments because I think there is strong community opposition to it and strong objective reasons to oppose but I would also work within the framework the government gives us to ensure that the project proponent is not only fully aware of concerns like climate change, transportation, and environmental effects, but is compelled to address them or fail.

    Getting back to the beach, I believe small business would have a better chance if more people who lived and worked in Port Alberni felt compelled to spend more time here. There are a number of good initiatives that are happening that I think will help small business. But this beach issue is another one… a new pool is another one. We need to identify reasons people are not spending more time here and truly address them in concrete ways. Hopefully that can keep those businesses hanging on, and even thrive.



    1. Chris
      There is often confusion about what more bus transportation means to business in Port Alberni, this is voiced in statements such as, “…better if the people of Port spent more time here…” These statements are inherently wrong because they fail to take numbers into account, per se: there are more people on the other side. For businesses here, this translates to positive flow our direction. Isolating and trapping Port Albernians to be the clients entails a flawed logic to improving business. It is little short of stupid to think so. Qualicum and Parksville are loaded with retirees who do not want to navigate our winding road, but would like to see a little of our wild side for a change from their genteel settings. Pretty Qualicum gets boring they tell me. The way to improve business is to improve transportation, and it is bus which is needed at the moment

  3. I completely agree! I’ve run into people a number of times that have been in Walmart or other places around town who have come to Port Alberni from “Oceanside” because they don’t want to go to the Nanaimo gong-show and find much of what they need here.

    It would be an excellent addition to our transportation system to have regular bus service between our communities.

    Consider this: You can take a bus from Qualicum Beach all the way to South Nanaimo, more than 50km away for $2.25! Yet you can’t do the same to Port Alberni, which is “only” 40km away, and much more compact, accessible and direct.

    This wouldn’t be a City of Port Alberni only initiative, it would have to be Regional District led, but certainly we should start talking to our neighbours about improving transportation links.

    You might like this presentation and plan I put together looking a little further toward the future…

    1. North American models for bus and rail combinations can be found, notably in Florida [one of the uproarious homes for automobile insanity]. The Tri Rail System connects perfectly with busses north and south of Miami, so that Florida City, near Homestead at the southern swamps, is available as is Palm Beach quite a bit north of Miami. This is a large scale operation compared to a Vancouver Island project, but illustrative. Note Greyhound has a presence, a weak one, without a proper terminal in Miami. On the other hand there are big bus loops or small ones at the Tri Rail System stops.

  4. This past weekend, I took my little 2 year old friend to Parksville Beach. The beach was loaded with sea shells, sand dollars, crabs, and other little sea creatures. She loved it. We enjoyed the children’s water park close by as well. Maybe Port Alberni should stop trying to recreate things that other closeby communities do well? Parksville, Qualicum, Tofino, and Ucluelet all have beautiful beaches and are all easily accessed by people living in this area.

    1. Susan, I am lost in your usage of “easily accessed”. To me easy access is 5 minutes away by car, 10 minutes by bicycle, or half an hour walking. Driving the road by the Cameron Lake route is not routine for me, nor do I feel it should be.
      As to “recreating” the beaches between Tofino and Ucluelet, or elsewhere, the dressing up of the small Canal Beach, who could possibly see this as a form of imitation?
      I am glad you have good days at Parksville, I hope to enjoy–as our place allows–a more convenient, much closer small pleasure.

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