A freighter anchors near the mouth of Cowichan Bay. (John McKinley file)

City of Duncan adds voice to opposing commercial anchorages in local waters

Authorities particularly concerned about Cowichan Bay where treatment plant’s outflow is planned

The City of Duncan wants commercial vessel anchorages removed from local waters, particularly from Cowichan Bay.

Council made that decision at its meeting on May 16 in response to a request from the Municipality of North Cowichan that the city provide a letter of support for North Cowichan’s efforts to have the Vancouver Port Authority and Transport Canada phase out the anchorages in the Southern Gulf Islands, with a special emphasis on Cowichan Bay.

That’s because the six anchorages in Cowichan Bay take up a significant portion of the bay, and North Cowichan fears having the anchorages in place could impact the $42-million plan to relocate the Joint Utility Board Sewage Treatment Plant’s outflow from the Cowichan River to the mouth of Cowichan Bay.


The treatment plant serves North Cowichan, Duncan, Cowichan Valley Regional District and Cowichan Tribes residents, and is co-owned by Duncan and North Cowichan.

In a letter to Transport Canada sent by North Cowichan Mayor Al Siebring last month, Siebring said one anchorage in particular, located at the end of Seaside Road, prevents the positioning of the outfall at the mouth of the bay.

Siebring said North Cowichan has reached out to Transport Canada and the Pacific Pilotage Authority, and have had discussions in regards to that particular anchorage.

“Cowichan Tribes is very supportive of the outfall relocation, as are the other partners,” he said.

“Effecting this move is important for the health of the Cowichan River. It removes at least one impediment to potentially opening up parts of Cowichan Bay to shellfish harvesting in the future. The [treatment plant] is also a critical piece of infrastructure that supports the provision of housing for all of the partners. For all of these reasons, relocating the outfall to the mouth of Cowichan Bay is a critical project for this region.”


The treatment plant, located on Cowichan Tribes lands, is operated by North Cowichan and discharges highly treated effluent into the Cowichan River.

From there, the effluent flows down the river and through the ecologically sensitive Cowichan estuary into Cowichan Bay.

This project will relocate the outfall from the river to a deep-sea site in Satellite Channel, which has considerably more dilution for the effluent.

The change has been prompted by several years of severe drought that have drastically reduced summer flows in the Cowichan River, leaving some of the diffusers that dilute wastewater coming from the Joint Utilities Board’s sewage lagoons high and dry.

The issue is the latest salvo in the ongoing battle that has seen local governments, organizations and First Nations coming together to urge the Vancouver Port Authority and Transport Canada to eliminate all of the 33 anchorages in local waters, citing environmental, safety and health reasons.

In 2020, Cowichan-Malahat-Langford MP Alistair MacGregor introduced a Private Member’s Bill in Ottawa to amend the Canada Shipping Act to prohibit the anchoring of freighter vessels using coastal waters along the Salish Sea.

But Duncan Coun. Bob Brooke said he thinks the motion to eliminate the anchorages in local waters is well meaning, but misguided.


He said the ships are anchored offshore because they’re waiting their turn to get into Vancouver’s port, so the solution is for the Vancouver Port Authority to rotate the ships in and out faster.

“I do support getting rid of the anchorages in Cowichan Bay because of the new piping that will be put there, but I don’t think people see the fact that these ships are not there because they want to be, but because they have to be and if we can’t find an alternative place for them, they can’t go anywhere.”

Coun. Carol Newington agreed that the Vancouver Port Authority should improve its organization, but pointed out that it’s much more expensive for the ships to anchor in Vancouver’s port than in local waters.

“They are anchoring in local waters to wait for space in Vancouver because it’s cheaper for them,” she said.

Coun. Tom Duncan said the ships are anchoring in environmentally sensitive areas and he’s concerned about an accident occurring.

“There are better places for them to wait then in our backyard,” he said.

The motion passed with Brooke and Coun. Garry Bruce opposed.


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