Proposed Sydney container terminal still moving forward

SYDNEY, NS — The mayor of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality and candidate for the Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative leadership, Cecil Clarke, says the next major stage in the effort to create a container terminal at the port of Sydney will be the establishment of an international working group. In a recent interview, Clarke said that will take place in “the coming weeks and months.”

“A lot of planning, a lot of investment is happening behind the scenes,” Clarke said. “That really is a positive sign and really a culmination of all of the working efforts to date, and it really gets into the detail of what a terminal and associated development would mean.”

The people involved with the working group can’t be identified at this time, the mayor said, but he said those involved with the effort to market the port have made “great strides.” Detailed engineering work is also taking place, he added. “When they do come to town, that triggers that things are moving forward,” Clarke said.


Doubters, facilitators and opportunity

The proposed container development is not without its critics, who doubt that it will ever see the light of day. There is also a parallel private process underway to develop a port at Melford, on the mainland side of the Strait of Canso, which recently issued a request for qualifications for firms to complete the detailed professional engineering work for that project.

Clarke has recently been under fire for his travel associated with the port file, including a recent trip to China that also included several municipal staff members, among them, his assistant. “Nova Scotia is very much seen as important and part of the global shipping industry’s future and, as a result of that, it is looking at what, with that future, what infrastructure is necessary,” Clarke said.

“Even though there’s competition, which is very healthy, in the province, there’s competition because there will be investment made in Nova Scotia. We have set the table, so to speak, to facilitate an opportunity for the port of Sydney.” He called the work being done to develop Sydney and Melford, as well as Halifax, as competition that could result in the whole province benefiting.

The other ports are promoting their own business cases but Clarke said he believes Sydney has its own strengths. Those developments will only occur if the projects are accepted by the private sector, he said. “We’ve been focusing on what our business case requires for the community,” he said. Clarke said he’s been encouraged by the response he has received in his meetings with players in the industry on the port.


Progress so far

China Communications Construction Co. Ltd. has signed on to design and build the proposed container terminal, if it goes ahead. Last year, Ports America terminal came aboard as operator for the proposed port development and would work with the other project partners on its design and marketing and then the running of the port.

The public and members of CBRM council have raised concerns about Clarke’s lack of transparency — in-camera meetings and keeping details away from members of council. The same criticism has been levelled at other players involved with the port file, including Sydney Harbour Investment Partners, which has the exclusive marketing rights for the port. Clarke has said they are working under non-disclosure agreements and have to follow the rules of the business world.

The municipality is directly involved with the effort to develop the port of Sydney because of the decision made by council under former mayor John Morgan to purchase the greenfield site proposed to become Novaporte logistics park, associated with the terminal development. Prior to the CBRM purchasing the land in 2012, former owner aurentian Energy Group spent $1 million to market the 162 hectares of prime harbour real estate as a site for a container terminal, however no developers came forward.

Clarke, who was elected on a platform that included seeking a municipal charter for the CBRM and with it additional powers, said without having powers that are enjoyed by the Crown provincially and federally around cabinet confidentiality, the CBRM is at a disadvantage in comparison with private developers at Melford and a federal agency involved at the port of Halifax. However, there are provisions under the Municipal Government Act requiring members of council to respect the confidentiality of in-camera meetings. “It’s really about the nature of a municipality being involved with a commercial project, competing with two other entities—that have the ability to hold the information they have confidential and have to abide by the rules of industry,” Clarke said, adding he understands the frustration.

When asked whether that could be considered a sign that a municipal government has no rightful place in the business of developing a port, Clarke said the intention has always been to get the project underway and then step away and let the private sector take over. Clarke agreed it is an extraordinary situation to have a municipality directly involved in such a development, but it is important for the CBRM to look after the $6-million investment it made in the greenfield site, which it financed and will have to repay, with carrying costs. The priority of the municipality when the decision to purchase the land was made was to facilitate economic development, he said.

“With the commercial agreement in place, once it’s triggered, it is all privately led,” he said. “We will not play any role once the agreements have been triggered officially by the private sector.” Clarke described the Cape Breton Regional Municipality as being “almost there.” The CBRM’s role would then be supportive, in terms of such items as road infrastructure, utilities, policing, security, and fire services.

Major upgrades are going to be required to the short-line railway from Sydney to the mainland, owned by Genesee and Wyoming, in order to accommodate any Sydney port development. That rail line is not currently in operation because it was losing money. A consultant’s report has been commissioned to outline more precisely how much the needed rail improvements could cost.

Officials expect busy 2018 for cruise ships

The Amadea makes its way into Halifax Harbour in 2017.
The 2018 cruise season in Halifax will begin April 22 with the arrival of Fram, a Hurtigruten vessel.

From April 22 to Nov. 6, the Port of Halifax is expecting 200 vessels to call on Halifax carrying a total of about 300,000 passengers.

The Halifax Port Authority put out a news release on Wednesday about the expected strong performance from the cruise sector, including 10 scheduled inaugural calls starting with the arrival of Norwegian Bliss, a Norwegian Cruise Line vessel, on April 30.

According to the port authority there will be three visits by Disney Magic, Sept. 17, 22 and Oct. 2. There will be one visit by Queen Mary 2 on Oct. 5.

Oct. 9 is expected to be the busiest passenger day in Halifax, with more than 11,000 cruise guests on five vessels.

A complete list of vessels scheduled to arrive in Halifax is available on the Cruise Halifax website

Port of Halifax sets new cargo record

A new record has been set in containerized cargo volume through the Port of Halifax.

Containerized cargo volume through the Port of Halifax has set a new port record, according to the Halifax Port Authority in a news release Thursday.

In 2017 containerized cargo volume was 559,242 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs), which was an increase of 16 per cent when compared to 2016 data. It is the highest volume of containerized cargo handled in a single year in Port of Halifax — the previous record was 550,462 TEUs, set in 2005.

The cruise industry in Halifax also experienced record numbers in 2017, with 173 vessel calls, up 27 per cent year-over-year, and 292,722 passengers, a year-over-year increase of 23 per cent.

“This past year also saw the arrival of Ultra container vessels over 10,000 TEUs to our port,” said port authority president and CEO Karen Oldfield in the release.

“All of this combined provides a very strong foundation on which to build, and we are looking forward to our continued work together in the year ahead.”

Non-containerized cargo in 2017 was 371,913 tonnes and total cargo tonnage through Halifax port facilities in 2017 was 5,010,735 tonnes, an increase of 12 per cent.

Commissionaires Nova Scotia win Halifax Port Authority contract

Halifax Port Authority has selected Commissionaires Nova Scotia to provide security-related services.

Commissionaires Nova Scotia has been selected by the Halifax Port Authority to provide security-related services, including surveillance monitoring, patrolling, and cruise ship access control at the Port of Halifax.

The Commissionaires had been Halifax Port Authority’s security service for 16 years, and after a competitive hiring process, have been awarded a new one-year contract effective Jan 1, with an option to renew for two additional years.

The contract means that about 30 full-time staff will be employed by the Commissionaires to fulfill the port authority contract and an additional 50 seasonal staff will be hired during six month cruise ship season.

More than half of the positions will be staffed by veterans. Commissionaires is Canada’s largest employer of veterans and the only national not-for-profit security provider.

Strait of Canso container terminal project reaches milestone

The proponents behind a proposed container terminal along the Strait of Canso have issued a request for qualifications for firms to complete the detailed professional engineering work for the project.

Richie Mann, vice-president of marketing for the Melford Atlantic Gateway container terminal project, said in an interview Wednesday the move means the project has reached the point where it has to bring in outside engineering expertise in order to move ahead.

“Over the years we’ve done a lot of engineering services, the design work, the permitting, the planning, the whole thing, but we’re getting to a point now where if we’re going to issue a tender document to construct the terminal then that’s going to require support and expertise that we don’t have in-house,” he said.

“This is another significant milestone for us and one that we’ve been waiting for, for a long time.”

Mann said Melford Atlantic Gateway issued the request to about a dozen international engineering firms, some of whom have offices in Nova Scotia.

The request for qualifications was issued Dec. 15. It closes Feb. 13, with interviews to take place Feb. 28-March 1. The contract is to be awarded by March 15, with a deadline to negotiate and execute the contract by April 5.

“We’ll look at the types of work they’ve done, we’ll look at the references they have, we’ll look at all of those things and make a decision as to which one of them best serves the needs we have,” Mann said.

The process will be led by Ari Steinberg, vice-president of project engineering and implementation with SSA Marine.

Mann described the 40-page request for qualifications as “a pretty thorough document.” If all goes according to plan, design work would begin in 2018 and construction documents would be issued immediately afterward, he said.

“The one thing you have trouble in pinpointing a specific date is when you use the word negotiation or evaluation, sometimes those things can go perhaps a little quicker than you think they can, and probably more often they take a little longer,” Mann said.

In the meantime, discussions will continue with potential customers and carriers, he added.

The first shovels could potentially be in the ground sometime in 2018, Mann said, and it would involve two construction seasons. The project will require construction of a rail spur and Mann said those costs have been factored in to the overall capital budget. The company has already obtained the land, crossing agreements and environmental permits required.

“That will probably be the driver of the timeline, it’s probably the longest single segment of the construction period,” Mann said.

Work on the proposed terminal began a decade ago. The project cost has been estimated in the range of $450 million.

SSA Marine, Melford International Terminal and Cyrus Capital Partners announced their collaboration and joint investment in the Melford International Terminal in July 2016 and said they would proceed to the next stage of attempting to lure shipping lines.

“I don’t think anyone can get a customer, get a carrier to sign a contract until you can tell the carrier what’s the cost, here’s the deal,” Mann said. “In order to do that you have to have certainty about your construction costs, you have to certainty about your rail costs, you have to have certainty about your labour costs.”

All of which, factor in to the final cost of shipping a container, Mann noted.

The Melford site is privately owned, totalling 267 hectares on the southeast mainland shore of the Strait of Canso with a deep-water ice-free harbour.

The request for qualifications notes that it is envisioned that the terminal will include about 69 hectares with a 1,095-metre wharf, on-dock intermodal rail yard, container handling equipment, customs and cargo screening equipment, site security, utilities, truck gate, maintenance facility and an administration building.

Terminal development will also include construction of a new 32-kilometre rail spur to the existing Genesee & Wyoming rail line, an electrical service corridor and Route 344 bypass road. There would also be an adjacent logistics park.

The terminal is designed to accommodate ultra-large container vessels for transshipment throughout the east coast of North America and an intermodal service to Eastern Canada and U.S. markets through a connection to the CN rail system.