Port Alberni Port Authority Strategic Plan: Imagining the Future of the Port

In 2022 Operations Economics Inc. facilitated a unique strategic planning process with the Port Alberni Port Authority (PAPA) that involved all members of the Board and senior management. The development of the modified Strategic Plan will guide the port authority in building and enhancing working relationships with customers and partners, and in developing a new approach to its region and the economy. This followed up on the economic impact OEI completed for the port in 2016.

The Challenges

The challenges that necessitated a renewal of the strategic plan include

  • changing economic and social drivers in the community, region and province; changing internal and external expectations of the Port Authority;
  • A shifting regulatory environment;
  • Diminishing importance of the Port within the maritime freight transportation space on the Westcoast, due to aging infrastructure and the restructuring of global commodity shipping; and
  • Financial constraints within the port’s customer base.

The Port Authority sought a pragmatic refinement and an evolution of strategy—not a re-invention—to both address the port’s new realities and the demands required of it, while preserving its historic and current strengths.

Work OEI Performed

OEI worked with the leadership of the Port Authority to develop a customized planning process that emphasized the joint participation of key Board members and managers. OEI led a series of three Board management joint meetings, presenting economic, financial, social and political analysis supported by research and surveys. OEI discussed the options available, worked with PAPA’s Board to choose its preferred path, and helped it polish the chosen road map.


The renewed strategy is intended to inform business planning, consultation activities, operations, and operational planning. OEI delivered a Strategic Plan that spelled out top priorities to respond to the emerging post- COVID economy. OEI delivered a concise five-year strategy and vision that clearly defines the Port’s role in regional economic, social, and environmental terms as well as its growth and development as part of the national ports context. The new strategic plan also serves as a starting place for discussions on operations, development, and planning within PAPA; improved relations with municipalities; and new agreements with the region’s First Nations.

The Port

Port Alberni Harbour is one of the most navigable deep-sea inland harbours in North America and is the continent’s closest deep-sea port to the Pacific Rim markets of Asia. Large ships up to and including panamax size can easily navigate Alberni Inlet. Port Alberni Terminals can operate 24/7, seven days a week given sufficient volume. The terminals comprise three deep-sea berths and a storage assembly area of 17 acres. Historically, the terminal has handled timber, pulp, newsprint, and plywood.

The port operates four pleasure craft marinas totalling 540 berths, and one small craft harbour / fisherman’s harbour for commercial customers that consists of 500 berths. PAPA manages more than 100 leases and land exchange agreements. It is also responsible for property development, addressing property issues, and administering leases, permits, and licences of tenants along the Crown portion of Alberni Harbour.

The Port’s Role in the Community

OEI conducted an economic impact study of the Port Authority in 2016 that found PAPA had contributed:

  • 1,100 full-time-equivalent jobs, including more than 350 directly related to marine operations,
  • $90 million in income, and
  • $135 million in GDP.

PAPA promotes Port Alberni as a destination for tourism, new residents, and businesses. Together with its funding partners, PAPA has invested $11 million in the developments that enhanced the public’s access to the waterfront and attracted new businesses like seaplane services, an inn, and a marine fuel operator.

The Port Authority

The port was opened in 1947; PAPA was proclaimed in 1999. As an agent of the Federal Crown, it is mandated by legislation to be financially solvent. While operating at arm’s length from the federal government, PAPA must provide it a revenue stream equal to 2% of all gross revenues. PAPA also has agreements with the Province of BC, and the City of Port Alberni. Under the provincial agreement, PAPA manages foreshore of certain waters in Alberni Inlet and is required to provide the Province 50% of all gross revenues earned within these managed waters. PAPA pays $100,000 annually in PILT to the City of Port Alberni.