James Bay residents start petition for cruise ships to use shore power

It’s a smell that Luke Wilson finds difficult to describe.

It’s a smell that Luke Wilson finds difficult to describe.

In certain areas of James Bay, there is an odour that smells like a combination of fumes from nearby float planes and buses with hints of gas, smog, diesel and soot.

That is how Wilson describes the “unpleasant” smell of the fumes that are being emitted from the cruise ships coming in and out of Ogden Point on a daily basis.

Wilson, who lives on the perimeter of James Bay, said the strength of the fumes depends on the direction and speed of the wind. On several occasions, he has been forced to close his windows to prevent the smell from getting into his home and affecting his young children.

“The cruise ship fumes are interesting because they are distinctive. You’ll talk to people and say ‘did you smell that?’ They’ll say they do, ‘what’s that from?’ They don’t necessarily link it back to the cruise ships,” Wilson said. “As there’s more awareness in the community, more people are identifying ‘hey, that’s from the cruise ship’ . . . it really does permeate the area.”

Wilson, along with a grassroots organization called Save James Bay, has started an online petition calling on the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority to reduce the amount of fumes emitted by the ships by implementing shore power — the provision of shoreside electrical power to a ship at berth while its main and auxiliary engines are shut down.

The past few months have been particularly smelly for the neighbourhood, due to the increase in the number of cruise ships visiting the area, Wilson added.

This year’s cruise ship season kicked off April 1, with a planned 227 visits by ships carrying 533,000 passengers. On Saturday, Victoria welcomed five ships — the most ships on one day this season.

Ships that are docked in Odgen Point are there anywhere from five to nine hours a day, during which times engines are always running to power hotel aspects such as air conditioning.

“The people that live in James Bay really feel the brunt of the immediate effects of the fumes and the smell of the fumes. Beyond that, it’s the right thing to do from a pollution perspective. These cruise ships are one of the leading causes of pollution in the area,” Wilson said. “Not everyone smells them everyday like we do in James Bay, but it’s still a big environmental factor for Victoria.”

Ian Robertson, CEO of the harbour authority, said it’s looking at the feasibility and options for implementing shore power as part of its master plan, which is expected to be complete by the end of the year.

He noted there are a number of other technologies, such as those that take advantage of wave action, that could potentially reduce the emissions from cruise ships as well.

“We’re looking at the feasibility of all options for shore power,” Robertson said, adding they have installed an air monitoring system in James Bay. The air quality has never exceeded the allowable limits set by Island Health.

“What’s driven this is our goal to become a home port. As we look at that, we have to look at all of the alternative options for powering the ships.”

But Wilson said that’s not enough. The group hopes the harbour authority will set a date to implement shore power.

“If we want to continue to expand, be the busiest destination in Canada, become a home port, and have a record number of vessels then the infrastructure needs to develop with that,” Wilson said. “The message that people are saying is now is the time.”