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.