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Island Marine Construction Services Ltd. is B.C.’s Gulf Island’s premier custom dock builder

By Lisa Gordon

At Island Marine Construction Services Ltd., they like a good challenge. That’s a good thing, because as the premier custom dock builder in the British Columbia Gulf Islands, they’re in the business of solving problems.

From the red tape of a long construction permit process to environmental considerations that come with building docks in the Gulf Islands, Island Marine thrives in an environment where no two jobs are the same and creative solutions are just business as usual.

Founded in 1995 by Ross Walker, Island Marine has grown from three employees to 15. Today, the company specializes in the design and construction of high-end residential docks.

“We have a variety of clients looking for durable, high quality products with low maintenance costs,” said company co-owner Corey Johnson, who became Walker’s business partner in 2012. “We focus on environmentally friendly products and maintenance-free materials.”

Johnson is also the company’s construction manager. He says the majority of business comes from word of mouth, or from someone who has bought waterfront property and is now looking for access to the water.

“Up here, everything is pretty hotly contested on the ocean,” said Johnson. “They must apply for specific permission for moorage. Once we’ve obtained the permit – which is quite a long process, maybe a couple of years – we work within whatever windows we have with Fisheries [and Oceans Canada].”

Island Marine has a full fabrication shop, allowing the company to do its own welding and most of its production in-house. Aluminum and wood floats are built on site, with concrete floats being the only dock component that is contracted out.

When a permit is received, the company designs a dock system that takes the location and the environment into account.

“They apply for permission from the province and from there, we design a system that fits with Fisheries criteria and local by-laws, as well as the B.C. Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources.”

Aluminum construction begins, dock float material is ordered and foundations are installed by pile driving or drilling.

Sometimes, Mother Nature presents some difficulties when it comes to building docks.

“We just finished one up on the Sunshine Coast that was challenging in terms of its location,” said Johnson. “It’s incredibly exposed; all the pilings had to be drilled, which requires an extra level of stability with the barge. [We had] a long run of pilings that had to line up with each other and allow for a structure to be built on them.”

Island Marine must also minimize any disruption to the natural environment. That means designing greener solutions and using products such as fiberglass decking surfaces that transmit light to sensitive eelgrass beds, for example.

“We also make sure all of our equipment is well maintained and that proper spill protocols are in place,” said Johnson. “We use environmentally friendly hydraulic oils and avoid any materials that are creosote-coated, so we emphasize steel pilings.”

Sometimes, challenges come in the form of clients who have elaborate plans or great expectations.

“We did a project up near Thetis Island,” said Johnson. “It was a fairly large structure for a private facility. It incorporated a variety of different foundation types – concrete foundations, drilled pilings, it had a long walkway so there was a lot of aluminum fabrication that had to match and line up with straight lines. It was an exposed location, with a large concrete float. From start to finish, it took quite a while, a lot of back and forth early on. When the permit was completed, it took about a year from there.”

Done right, done safely

Island Marine puts a heavy emphasis on safe operations.

“Safety is a big focus,” said Johnson. “We’ve gone through the COR (Certificate of Recognition) safety certification process and make sure we’re in compliance with our own health and safety policy. We’re always at the cutting edge of safety to find new ways to do things better and safer.”

Examples are daily tailgate meetings that address any concerns and ensure that equipment is well maintained. A safety committee meets every month.

In addition, “Every Friday morning, we will have a weekly toolbox meeting where we talk about a specific piece of equipment or operation we do, and review how to do it safely. Sometimes it’s something simple like proper ear protection or a drilling procedure. It gives everyone the opportunity to talk about what went on and how to make things better.”

From start to finish

From a start-up marine construction and pile driving business operating with a couple of small scows and A-frame equipment, Island Marine now boasts a range of machinery to get the job done well.

“We’ve got an American 4210 crane, 10-inch down-the-hole hammer rock drill, a variety of pile driving leads, an ICE 216 vibro, a 26x90 spud barge, a 36-foot tow boat, small scows and crew boats,” said Johnson.

While Island Marine does do some commercial work, including marinas, its main focus is residential jobs. Geographically, the company covers B.C.’s Gulf Islands, southern Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast.

Johnson said the business is not targeting aggressive expansion. Over the next five years, the goal is to continue to provide high-level service, but also to prepare for a trend that expects dock maintenance to become more of a focus as regulations change and evolve.

To that end, the company is breaking off some of its staff and grooming them to become a specialty maintenance division.

While they are just getting started now, “With the aging infrastructure out there, [maintenance] will need more attention in the future,” said Johnson.

He adds that no matter what the job, all of Island Marine’s projects present their own unique challenges. That’s why the company is staffed by creative thinkers.

“You need to devise solutions for problems you didn’t see ahead of time,” said Johnson. “Everything is logistically challenging, from getting permits to getting materials, and completing the jobs on site with weather and changing conditions. Every location is different, from a rocky beach to building up a cliff.

“It’s an ongoing challenge.” 

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Piling Canada is the premier national voice for the Canadian deep foundation construction industry. Each issue is dedicated to providing readers with current and informative editorial, including project updates, company profiles, technological advancements, safety news, environmental information, HR advice, pertinent legal issues and more.