B.C. floods pile up port fees for small businesses

The rains continue to affect supply chains in British Columbia. Both CN Rail and CP Rail have temporarily halted operations on their main lines from Vancouver to inspect and stabilize the tracks. That's putting pressure on an already strained supply system as things back up at Vancouver's ports, which in turn is putting the squeeze on small business owners.

There was already a backlog due to the pandemic. Containers are stacking up and warehouses are filling up, making it difficult for some companies to get their containers out of the port. A lighting company in Montreal reached out to CTV News Vancouver to complain about the thousands of dollars in port storage fees they are facing due to the current issues. 

"There's no room to put these containers anywhere. There's no warehouses, we have tried, I even tried to go down, even right down to Calgary to have them delivered to Calgary. Nobody has any room," said Jennifer MacKenzie, director of purchasing at Illumination Lighting.

Illumination Lighting says it currently has three containers ready for pickup with GCT Global Container Terminals, which operates in the Vancouver and Delta ports. The containers cleared customs earlier this month. GCT gives a grace period of five days to pick them up. However, MacKenzie says it has not been possible because of supply chain issues. She says they are now facing nearly $7,000 in storage fees.

"We need help. Somebody has to step up and say enough's enough," she said.

MacKenzie sent a letter to the minister responsible for Transport Canada and while she did not get a direct response, on Nov. 24, the government announced it would contribute $4.1 million to the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority to provide land to store the containers. That would take the pressure off the terminals.

A 40-acre parcel is being prepared with the Fraser Richmond Industrial Lands to handle the containers. CTV News has learned some of the land should be available in about six weeks.

In the meantime, MacKenzie would like to see some forgiveness on the storage fees Illumination Lighting is facing.

CTV News asked the terminal operator if they would do that.

"The last place that should become a warehouse is the terminal. Waiving the storage fee would have the opposite effect of clearing the terminal. It would become a giant storage warehouse pretty quickly," said Marko Dekovic, VP of public affairs for GCT.

However, he says GCT has empathy for businesses that are struggling but says the supply chain is only as good as the weakest link and that it has a duty to keep things moving along, emphasizing that despite challenging issues, GCT currently has the most fluid supply flow compared to other places in North America.