Port McNeill's concrete loading dock is obscured by fishing boats and totes in this image

McNeill dock a victim of its own success

Town's new concrete loading dock "overwhelmed" by fishing boats.

PORT McNEILL—With a harbour employee having been struck by a moving forklift and user groups in conflict due to overcrowding at the Town’s new concrete loading dock, council agree future changes will need to be put in place to manage peak season at the facility.

“We’re getting inundated with first-time problems,” acting harbour manager Sherry Henderson said.

A varied assemblage of interested parties, including Henderson, attended Council’s regular meeting of Aug. 18.

They were an unscheduled delegation invited by Coun. Chris Sharpe, council’s harbour liaison, but their testimony, suggestions and complaints ended up comprising about 75 per cent of the entire meeting and dropped a litany of issues on council’s plate.

Chief among them is that the 50-by-120-foot drive-on dock, installed last year to provide a commercial loading and unloading platform, has proved too small — and too popular — for the peak of both the commercial fishing and recreational boating seasons.

“It sounds like we’re victims of our own success,” Mayor Gerry Furney noted drily.

Among the concerns was dangerous working conditions on the dock due to the crowding; fishing boats — sometimes lashed three across — failing to notify the harbour office of their arrival and then overstaying their time to perform welding or net repair; and the inability for recreational boaters to access the public boat launch at low tide due to the moored boats blocking the narrow channel between the concrete dock and the adjacent fuel dock.

“The sport guys are complaining because they can’t get out until 10:30 (a.m.),” said Steve Jackman of Port McNeill Marina and Fuel Dock, which has already modified its operation to allow fuelling on the opposite side of its own dock, away from the congestion. “That space has got to be there.”

The meeting came two weeks after council had approved, on a trial basis, a request by Hub City Fisheries to use space on the dock to store totes and other equipment used in a test fishery for Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

Hub City owner Roger Paquette opened the presentation with prepared remarks highlighting his 30 seasons of work in Port McNeill and the value of its harbour facilities, which are in close proximity to the test fishery.

He closed his comments by saying, “We need to spread the word around. Port McNeill is a perfect spot. You can buy fuel, get your food; everything is here.”

But Henderson jumped in, noting the last thing the town needs under the current conditions is more marine traffic.

“We’ve been overwhelmed by 120 seine boats, and not one has called in to say they were coming,” she said. “One of my staff was hit by a forklift. It was just a bump and she wasn’t hurt, thank goodness. But there are so many totes down there you can’t see the fuel dock (from the harbour office). “We’d maintain more control if the gear was moved each day.”

Paquette expressed alarm that one of his crew had struck an employee, and promised the totes would be moved from the front of the dock.

Otherwise, the best anybody could do was make suggestions that might be implemented in future seasons.

Coun. Sharpe tossed out the idea of a separate dock, anchored offshore, that could be used for net repair and other maintenance by the commercial fleet. Coun. Gaby Wickstrom said the needs at the harbour should be forwarded to planning consultant Bert Zethof, who is assembling the draft of a new community economic plan.

And both Furney and Coun. Shirley Ackland noted that dredging of the harbour is overdue and that funding should be sought to dredge to create more usable space.

Despite Henderson’s pleas for an enforceable bylaw or backup for her office when boat owners ignore her requests to move, no other action was taken other than an agreement that Paquette would speak to the fishing fleet about policing their own behaviour at the dock.

“Ten or 12 days from now the fleet will be gone,” he said. “It’s not gonna be a problem after that.”

 

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