The Howe Sound facility is a crucial link in BC’s chain of resource commodity value, and the recent fire is undoubtedly causing ripples near and far
Safety is the first question
For local residents, personal safety was rightly the first issue.
What toxins might be in the dense smoke that created a health risk? Are officials doing enough to ensure that those who reside close to the terminal, or the homeless who are sheltered in the downtown district, receive proper attention? How can such an incident, with its potential health impacts, be prevented in future?
While the proper authorities focus on those important questions, some are also asking what kind of things Squamish Terminals does and what the consequences could be if its operations are hampered for a significant period of time because of fire damage.
For the 60 workers who were at the Howe Sound terminal at the time of the blaze, it is, first of all, a relief to all that safety procedures in place worked effectively and all are safe. As anyone who has visited Squamish Terminals is aware, safety protocols are forcefully emphasized from the moment you approach and enter the site.
Why one small port makes a big impact
The reason Squamish Terminals is a busy place is that shipping is a brisk business in B.C. If shipments cannot proceed through Squamish because of a disruption, finding another terminal is no simple matter because they are already fully subscribed.
Every day that goods are not moving to market means lost revenue for companies, governments, workers and entire communities. So when a problem like the fire happens, it affects everyone.
With today’s high awareness of environmental risks and impacts, terminal management and government agencies can expect, quite rightly, to face intense scrutiny over how they handle the fire aftermath, and how they keep the public informed.
10 facts about Squamish Terminals
Solid information is the starting point for any fact-based examination. Resource Works has identified 10 key facts about Squamish Terminals, based on publicly available sources:
- The terminals’ total staffing complement is 110, consisting 40 full-time employees and over 70 dispatch workers depending on work available. When two ships are in port up to 230 workers can be on the job in a 24-hour span.
- Four out of five terminal employees live in the Squamish area, so with an annual payroll of $8 million at stake, any significant erosion of activity would have a noticeable impact on the Squamish district.
- Locally, a number of other businesses depend directly and indirectly on Squamish Terminals, which is currently the district’s largest taxpayer. Many are in the trucking and transportation fields but many other goods and services are consumed from restaurant meals to taxi rides.
- Squamish is a specialty port in that it handles break-bulk cargo – things that must be loaded individually unlike containers or bulk.
- A lot of shipments out of Squamish today are forest products that arrive by rail from three provinces. The furthest afield may be Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan. At least six Alberta communities could be disrupted by the fire.
- In B.C., the terminal lists nine communities that get goods to market through Squamish, for example Prince George and Quesnel.
- 10,000 rail cars, between 3,000 to 8,000 trucks, and 60 to 80 ships a year carry freight to and from Squamish Terminals.
- Squamish Terminals handles between 700,000 and a 1,000,000 tonnes of cargo annually, valued at up to $1 billion.
- Wood pulp and lumber are shipped via Squamish to Japan, Korea and Europe.
- Squamish is also a major importer and it is quite common to see large quantities of pipe being unloaded and shipped off to industrial projects on Canadian soil.
What does fire mean for herring project?
The fire raises an important question about the future of the Squamish Streamkeepers project to encourage herring spawning by wrapping creosote-treated pilings at the terminals: Since the majority of the wrapped pilings were under the fire-damaged dock and are now being removed, will this affect the project's success?
The initiative is shown to have contributed to a return of the fish to Howe Sound in greater numbers. It’s a worthwhile effort because herring are a draw card for larger marine species that feed on them. As many as 30 orcas have been sighted in Howe Sound as a result, according to a recent report by Dr. Jonn Matsen, co-chair of Squamish Streamkeepers Society. Squamish Terminals has said since the fire that it will continue to work with the Streamkeepers to rebuild and protect herring habitat in the Howe Sound.