Seaspan plan to expand North Van dry dock ruffles its waterfront neighbours

NORTH VANCOUVER — Seaspan Shipbuilding is outgrowing its operations on the North Shore, but the company’s plans to expand its companion Vancouver Drydock is colliding with concerns of the residential neighbourhood that has grown up around the century-old industrial waterfront.

Building new ships for the Canadian Coast Guard and Royal Canadian Navy was absorbing Seaspan’s capacity to repair ships at its main shipyard at the end of Pemberton Avenue, said company spokeswoman Kris Neely.

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Neely said the company has been thinking about expanding for awhile, as part of a vision to create a “multi generational business.”

“As part of that, we’re consolidating our repair and maintenance services out of Vancouver Drydock and then being able to focus on shipbuilding efforts at our Vancouver Shipyard.”

Their plan is to push ­Seaspan’s existing dry dock facilities on the Lower Lonsdale waterfront 40 metres further into Burrard Inlet, then ask the Port of Vancouver to extend its water lot lease 40 metres to the west in order to add three smaller dry docks.

Seaspan submitted an application for a review of the plan to the port in April. That federal authority deemed the application complete on June 21, opening up a public comment period. That included virtual public meetings July 13 and 15, and ends July 30.

Many of the comments from residents of condo towers that face the proposed expansion have expressed opposition to allowing Seaspan’s migration west when it has space to the east of its existing docks that is already within its lease.

It isn’t just a matter of views being blocked by new facilities jutting out in front of condos, said resident Al Parsons. Residents are concerned about the impact of additional noise and pollution, including tug boats operating in the waters in front of Shipyard Commons, the bustling commercial district and public space with its waterfront trail and a playground.

“We knew Seaspan was our neighbour when we moved in,” Parsons said. “What we didn’t know was that they were going to continue to move westward and, I think, impose themselves on the [waterfront] Spirit Trail.

“It has walkers, joggers, cyclists, there’s a playground that was built for kids, which is going to be right beside this expansion.”

Parsons said residents aren’t opposed to the idea of expansion and support an initiative that Seaspan says would create 100 jobs, but don’t like that there wasn’t any consultation before the company submitted its application.

And they are pushing back against a possible westward expansion, unless Seaspan proves it cannot expand east within their existing lease.

The City of North ­Vancouver is working on a response to Seaspan’s proposal, but would like to see the public comment period extended and all resident and business concerns taken into consideration.

“I understand the concerns and share many of them,” Mayor Linda Buchanan said in a statement. “This project will bring more family-supporting jobs to the community, but the quality of life of residents needs to be a priority as well.”

Neely said Seaspan did look at other options for this expansion, but siting the new dry docks on the east side of its operations would block water access to a fabrication shop on the site that builds components for new ­vessels at Vancouver Shipyards.

However, Parsons argued that the east side is perhaps more inconvenient for Seaspan, which would be free to use the east side of its property for other purposes if it were granted a westward expansion.

“I know the water lot is deemed industrial but, frankly, Seaspan is pushing too hard on this neighbourhood that a lot of people contribute tax dollars to support annually.”

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