Victoria city council has approved a controversial motion seeking to limit the number of cruise ships coming into the city over environmental concerns.
The motion debated at Thursday’s committee of the whole meeting directs the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority (GVHA) to keep cruise ship levels at current levels and not sign any new long-term contracts until the city’s concerns are met.
It also asks staff to study the city’s “jurisdiction on regulations for the cruise ship industry with respect to waste and emissions.”
“It’s a call for a sustainable business case for cruise expansion in the city,” Mayor Lisa Helps, who put forward the motion with Coun. Marianne Alto and Coun. Ben Isitt, said at Thursday’s meeting.
The B.C. capital saw a record high of 243 cruise ships enter the city’s harbour last year, according to the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority (GVHA), carrying 640,000 passengers. That marks a growth from 2010, when 212 ships carried 440,000 passengers.
That activity has been a huge economic contributor to the city, generating upwards of $130 million annually.
Catherine Holt, CEO of the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce, says council’s motion could send the wrong message to the industry and see that revenue dwindle.
“A ban just sends the wrong signal to everybody that we’re not supportive or encouraging of the cruise ship industry. That’s a very bad message to send,” she said. “We would like to send the message that we want to work with them to deal with emissions issues.”
According to the Capital Regional District, 150 tonnes of waste ended up at Hartland Landfill every month during the cruise ship season, accounting for one per cent of the landfill’s yearly intake. Visible emissions from the ships have also been criticized and mentioned in the motion.
A solution recommended in the motion is for the GVHA to aggressively install on-shore electrical power sources at the Victoria Cruise Terminal to help lower and eventually eliminate emissions.
On-shore power allows ships to turn off their diesel engines while plugged into a land-based electrical grid.
The GVHA says previous studies, including one in 2012, found just one on-shore power connection could cost close to $13 million to install. The authority notes its annual revenues in 2018 were $14.5 million.
But GVHA CEO Ian Robertson says they plan to take council’s request seriously and take another look.
“We’re going to be beginning a very strong feasibility study to see what can be done,” he said.
According to a study commissioned by the GVHA this spring that looked at emissions at the city’s cruise ship terminal, the industry has already made moves to reduce pollutants.
Since 2010, sulphur oxide emissions have been reduced by 95 per cent and critical air contaminants — including carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide — are down 45 per cent, according to the report. Particulate matter has also decreased by 79 per cent.
The study also found that while cruise passenger counts have gone up by 45 per cent since 2010, greenhouse gas emissions have only increased by just over 19 per cent.
A lot of that work has been done by cruise ship companies themselves, some of which have voiced support for the council motion.
In a letter to Helps, Cruise Lines International Association identified shore power as a “top priority” and offered to assist the city in finding solutions.
Robertson said cooperation is key to reaching council’s goals.
“It’s not just on industry,” he said. “All levels of government and industry need to work together to find solutions.”
The motion still needs to be ratified at the next council meeting on Oct. 24 before staff can act on the recommendations.