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Residents say Seaspan's Vancouver Drydock expansion will impact vibrant waterfront lifestyle

'We do feel that the planned expansion should not be pushed west at the peril of residents, small businesses, and visitors to this amazing gathering area'

This story has been amended since first posting to provide additional details on the City of North Vancouver’s response.

Some waterfront residents have voiced concerns that the Vancouver Drydock expansion proposed by Seaspan Shipyards will negatively impact their lives and the vibrant area the City of North Vancouver has worked so hard to create.

Seaspan Shipyards is seeking permission from the Port of Vancouver to expand its operation by adding two new dry docks and a work pontoon to current operations next to the city’s Shipyards District.

The company has applied to the port to expand its water lot lease and add two smaller dry docks to the west of its existing dry docks – towards Burrard Pier. The expansion is set to create an extra 100 ship repair jobs.

The proposed project has garnered a lot of interest from residents since a call for public input on June 25, with about 130 comments submitted to Seaspan Shipyards so far, some with questions or concerns and others to indicate support.  

Not all residents are entirely against the expansion, but many are calling on Seaspan to reconsider their plan to extend west and instead expand east, away from residential homes.

“As I see, it would encroach and ruin the vision of North Vancouver City of creating a waterfront that would be enjoyed by all, not only by the residents but also Vancouverites and future tourists,” said Bish Siemiatkowski, a Lower Lonsdale resident.

“Just looking at the waterfront, I cannot comprehend why Seaspan is proposing west expansion, instead of going toward the east. It seems that there is plenty of room to create in that direction.”

Al Parsons, who lives on Victory Ship Way in the Trophy at the Pier complex, echoed Siemiatkowski’s concerns about the location of the new dry docks.

“Please understand that we are not against the addition of more dry dock jobs,” he said. “However, we do feel that the planned expansion should not be pushed west at the peril of residents, small businesses and visitors to this amazing gathering area.

“We ask Seaspan to please consider what will be experienced now and possibly for years to come for many that live, work and visit this area. I don't believe that the CN railyard on the east of the Seaspan Drydock would find this expansion quite so imposing.”

In an earlier interview with North Shore News, Paul Hebson, vice-president and general manager of Seaspan’s Vancouver Drydock, said the main problem was that Seaspan is using its “W” building on shore to manufacture components for its shipbuilding operation and needs to have water access via a barge to offload those twice a month.

Other options would mean siting the dry docks closer to the shore, which would have a greater impact on views, he said.

Hebson said the expansion is needed to consolidate all of the company’s ship repair work at the Vancouver Drydock site, while the Seaspan Shipyards site at the foot of Pemberton Avenue becomes fully dedicated to building large ships like the joint support ships for the Canadian Navy and icebreaker for the Coast Guard.

Kris Neely, senior manager of corporate affairs for Seaspan Shipyards, added the proximity to others in the neighbourhood was one of the reasons why Seaspan was proposing to shift their operations south, away from the shoreline.

The proposal involves pushing the existing careen dry dock 40 metres further away from the shore. A new 100-metre dry dock and 55-metre dry dock would then be added, extending about 55 metres west of the current dry dock. Up to four cranes would be installed on the new mid-sized dry dock.

Waterfront community raises concerns at virtual consultations

So far, two virtual community consultations have been held about the project, with 55 people tuning in to the July 13 meeting and 72 at the July 15 meeting.

Many in attendance questioned the amount of “impartial research” done on the impacts the project will have on the neighborhood including construction, pile driving for months, increased noise, air quality, and environmental impacts.

“We have been told that the additional noise will only be one to three decibels, but it is already at maximum bearable level at times,” Parsons said.

“It also makes sense to assume that with additional drydock facilities right outside the residential community, air and water quality will suffer.”

Mel Monsell, who also lives on Victory Ship Way, said he’d worked all his life “to save enough to buy and enjoy my dream North Shore waterfront condo at the Cascade East," which overlooks Seaspan's Vancouver Drydock. 

He and others now fear Pier residents will have a depreciation of property value from the proposed westerly expansion and lose their views. On top of this, he said he worried that increased operations “will upset the idyllic balance that presently exists” at the waterfront.

“We fear the proposed changes will harm our community, environment, and marine life drastically changing the quality of life for all,” Monsell said.

Neely said questions raised about the location of the new drydocks, noise from operations and lighting, were “not unexpected given our proximity to our neighbours,” and several assessments were completed as part of the application, including reports on lighting, environmental noise, views and shading, and marine habitat among others.

Hebson said according to the noise study done by Seaspan, the extra noise from an expanded operation is expected to be between one and three decibels, “which is something that most folks can’t actually discern.”

The company also proposes to install “dark sky lighting,” he said, involving a combination of shades and directional lighting to minimize impact.

While Seaspan is working to mitigate disturbances to nearby residents, Monsell said “any increase is too much.”

“I do not want to experience any of these disturbances, not even if presented as minimal by the Seaspan team,” he said.

City to call on Seaspan Shipyards to expand east instead of west

While the City of North Vancouver has no decision-making power over the project, in a closed session at the July 19 council meeting, councillors voted in favour of sending written recommendations to Seaspan Shipyards, including expanding their proposed project to the east, instead of the west in line with residents’ views.

Having only recently received and reviewed detailed information on the water lot expansion project, city staff are now in the process of preparing their response to send to Seaspan, according to David Owens, deputy fire chief for prevention and public safety with the city.

In line with the recommendations supported by council, the city will request that Seaspan extends the public submission period to ensure a fulsome public engagement process so that local residents and businesses can provide their comments and concerns.

The city will also call on Seaspan to take into consideration all comments received from residents and businesses on the expansion process and make a recommendation to shift the new dry docks eastward to minimize noise, lights and view impacts on neighbouring residential lands and the Shipyards public space.

Further to this, the city will also recommend that Seaspan enter into a good neighbour agreement, working with local businesses and residents to minimize the impacts of late nights and holiday observances.

On top of this, Owens said city staff will prepare a technical evaluation on the project for submission to Seaspan, including safety, construction, transportation, noise, light and view impacts.

Mayor Linda Buchanan also said she’d continue to liaise with Seaspan to ensure an end result that maintains the city’s vision for a vibrant waterfront.

“I understand the concerns, and share many of them,” she said. “The city has long been committed to revitalizing our waterfront so that it works for all people. I will continue to liaise with Seaspan on this issue so that they can achieve an outcome that ensures that goal.”

She said while the project will bring more family-supporting jobs to the community, the quality of life of residents needs to be a priority as well.

The port authority will determine whether the proposed water lot expansion is likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects, as part of its review process, and is also calling for feedback

Seaspan's Neely said they were working to address the public’s questions as they come in and once the comment period ends, feedback will be reviewed in its entirety to determine what further mitigations they may propose as a result of the comments. A report will then be sent to the port authority to be considered as part of their review of the application.

“We recognize that we have a responsibility to minimize the impact of our operations on our neighbours and the environment and this has been an important consideration for our project and operations teams,” Neely said.

"Many in the community have commented on how much they enjoy the comings and goings at Vancouver Drydock. We’re proud to be the industrial part of the community – something that we have been for over 100 years."

Seaspan and the city both encouraged the community to continue providing feedback, directly through Seaspan’s online feedback form or by email, or to the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority. The deadline to send feedback is July 30.

-- with files from Jane Seyd

Elisia Seeber is the North Shore News’ Indigenous and civic affairs reporter. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.