SHIPPING NEWS: Fillmore ignores port expansion

Published: Oct 12 at 4:45 p.m.

Updated: Oct 12 at 5:30 p.m.

Halterm Container Terminal Limited, located in Halifax. According to CBC, the federal cabinet recently rejected the port’s request to fund the expansion of the Halterm container terminals. – Contributed by Peter Pziobrowski

Halifax MP Andy Fillmore appears more interested in upholding his professional planning dogma then he is in supporting the Port of Halifax and good jobs for Haligonians.

The federal cabinet recently rejected the port’s request to fund the expansion of the Halterm container terminals by extending pier 41/42 seaward, according to CBC.

The ask was for $30 million, and the federal government has so far handed out over $300 million for port improvement projects in Vancouver, Montreal and Quebec City.

In August, the Port of Halifax released a plan that would see the existing container pier at Halterm widened to 65 metres and lengthened by 135 metres seaward. The expansion would allow two container ships each capable of holding more than 10,000 twenty-foot equivalent units to tie up at once. The port presented the plan as an affordable short-term solution, and construction was scheduled to begin in the first quarter of 2019.

Scott Brison, president of the Treasury Board, told the national broadcaster that cabinet rejected the bid because of issues with truck traffic downtown and concerns that it might not be the best use of federal land. Both of these issues fall squarely in the realm of planning conversations in Halifax.

Brison also said the feds are “studying the best way for Nova Scotia to capitalize on larger container ships.”

To be clear, truck traffic downtown is an issue that needs to be dealt with, but kneecapping the port is the not the way to do it.

Truck traffic is a percentage of overall containers handled by the port, and in recent years that has been creeping up. But expanding the pier isn’t about increasing the number of containers; the port already has unused capacity.

The expansion is required to handle larger ships carriers are using. The expansion is needed to preserve existing traffic into the future. As container lines consolidate and work to find efficiencies, ports will be dropped. The Alliance, consisting of shipping lines Hapag-Lloyd, ONE and Yang Ming, already dropped Halifax from its AL6 Mediterranean service, likely, in part, due to a move to larger vessels.

The highest and best use argument for port lands also comes out of planning circles. Many people in Halifax salivate at the thought of the development potential for the port lands. Halifax doesn’t currently need the land. There are already several undeveloped lots downtown, and the Cogswell redevelopment will open up significant new land in the area.

Canada Lands, the Crown corporation responsible for divesting federal lands, already has Shannon Park and the Ralston building downtown in the pipeline. Those holdings sit fenced off and unused.

The comment about studying the best way for Nova Scotia to capitalize on larger ships suggests the federal government is supportive of the proposals for container terminals in Sydney or Melford. These greenfield sites would need all infrastructure to be developed at considerable cost, and then service providers and shipping lines would have to be incentivized to move operations.

Halifax’s primary advantage is the speed at which the port can move containers. That advantage would be lost in Sydney or Melford, so there would be little reason for shippers to utilize one of those facilities.

Given significant federal funds for other ports and over $90 million for road building in Nova Scotia, that the Port of Halifax expansion be rejected on grounds of land use and traffic suggests Fillmore had an influence on a decision that works against the interests of his constituency.