Credit to Author: Jennifer Saltman| Date: Tue, 25 Feb 2020 01:19:51 +0000
Rail blockades in support of pipeline opponents who are preventing access to a project in northern B.C. have exacerbated a cargo backlog that has built up at the province’s ports over the past couple of months due to a strike, winter weather, rockslides and washouts.
The disruptions seem unlikely to end any time soon, because although a weeks-long rail blockade on Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory in central Ontario was broken up on Monday, protesters planned to continue to stage blockades of the entrance to the Port of Vancouver, and members of the Gitxsan First Nation renewed their blockade of a rail line outside of New Hazelton.
“It’s kind of a 1-2-3 punch. These things have all combined to make for a very difficult transportation system in Canada and the kind of backlog that we’re seeing today,” said Robert Lewis-Manning, president of B.C.’s Chamber of Shipping.
The backup has resulted in cargo moving on and off trains and ships more slowly than usual, and there are more ships sitting in port and at anchorages.
On Monday, the Port of Vancouver, which deals with more than $500 million in imports and exports each day, had about 57 ships at anchor throughout English Bay and the southern Gulf Islands.
Lewis-Manning said the ships are largely waiting for bulk exports such as grain, coal, potash and wood products. He said he has seen busy anchorages in the port before, but “this is to a new level, for sure.”
“One of the challenges we have right now is all of the anchorages are full, there’s very little flexibility, and you can imagine for new ships that are arriving there may or may not be any place to put them in a couple of days,” he said.
Some ships could be diverted, and others are slowing down to delay their arrival in B.C.
With containers of goods sitting on the docks, there is limited space to move around and coordinating loads can be an issue, Lewis-Manning said.
The blockades’ effects have been unevenly felt, because it depends on where a blockade is located, what railways are hit, and what lines are blocked. For instance, Prince Rupert was hard hit when the only rail line to the port was cut off for days by a protest.
The backups are also felt differently in the various parts of port operations.
“It’s a complicated industry,” said Bob Wilds, executive director of the B.C. Marine Terminal Operators Association. “The blockade is having some impact, but as long as we can continue to get cargo, we are moving cargo in and out.”
Both Lewis-Manning and Wilds said there is a significant economic impact on the ports as a result of the backlog, but neither was prepared to assign a dollar value.
“This isn’t going to go away quickly. It will take weeks if not months to recover,” said Lewis-Manning. “This has really taught us the importance of having a predictable supply chain, whether it’s on the water or the land.”
The situation at GCT Global Container Terminals, which runs Deltaport and the container terminal Vanterm, is “fluid” but normalizing, according to spokesperson Jennifer Perih. Since last week, dwell time has decreased from a high of five-plus days to closer to the normal of three days.
The Port of Vancouver was unable to make anyone available for an interview on Monday. Fraser Surrey Docks and Port of Prince Rupert did not respond to requests for interviews.
Peter McGraw, spokesperson for the Northwest Seaport Alliance, the combined container business of the ports of Seattle and Tacoma, said they have not seen any additional cargo because of the rail blockades in Canada. However, the arrival of cargo from Canadian ports has been delayed.
He said it has caused scheduling issues, but they have not been significant.
Demonstrations have blocked tracks across B.C. and the rest of the country intermittently in recent weeks.
The barricades were set up in response to the RCMP’s attempts to remove protesters blocking access to the Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline worksite on Wet’suwet’en territory in northern B.C.
Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs oppose the work on their traditional territory, although there is support from elected band councils along the pipeline route.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was to meet with the cabinet incident response group Monday morning to discuss the situation.
Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chief Na’moks, also known as John Ridsdale, said Sunday that all five hereditary chiefs were expected to meet in northern B.C. on Monday to plan their next steps, and talks with the RCMP could resume on Thursday at the earliest.
— with file from Canadian Press