By Brian Dunn

Judging from all the planned activity in the works, you would think the port of Saguenay was a major player in Canada’s marine industry. Far from it. But that’s not stopping Saguenay Port Authority from forging ahead with some ambitious projects with its industrial partners that could make your head spin. For example, Black Rock Metals is developing an iron-vanadium mine in Chibougamau and constructing a metals processing plant in Saguenay’s IP (investissements portuaire)  sector valued at over $1 billion. The company will convert the concentrate into pig iron that will be shipped to the Great Lakes and Europe, according to Carl Laberge, General Manager, CEO, Port of Saguenay.

The port’s 12.5 km rail spur linking it to CN’s main line was inaugurated in May 2015 at a cost of $37 million and will allow Saguenay to play a key role in Quebec’s Maritime Strategy and Plan Nord, he added. The port’s rail facilities feature a loading ramp with access to indoor storage of more than 70,000 sq. ft. and access to more than 2,500,000 sq. ft. of high capacity outdoor storage, including a paved area of over 70,000 sq. ft.

In August, 2018, the Quebec government announced $63 million in loans and loan guarantees to Développements Port Saguenay, a subsidiary of the Port, to create the required infrastructure to develop the port’s IP zone and to support the Black Rock Metals project.

GNL Québec has completed environmental assessment studies for a liquefied natural gas plant it plans to build at Saguenay’s Grande-Anse marine terminal. The $10 billion project includes construction of a 750-kilometre pipeline to transport natural gas from the Saguenay plant to Ontario by Gazoduq Inc.

Since 2014, the Port has been working on developing a new marine terminal on the North Shore that will enable Arianne Phosphate of Saguenay to construct an apatite mine for about $1.2 billion. But construction on the new terminal will not proceed until the Port gets assurances the project will move ahead. The mine expects to produce three million tonnes of apatite concentrate (used to make fertilizer) annually. The project got the go ahead last October from Canada’s environment minister Catherine McKenna. And in June, the company signed a Memorandum of Understanding with SINOCONST, a large Chinese state owned company which includes financing and would give SINOCONST access to high-quality phosphate concentrate.

Last December, Barrette-Chapais began work at the Grande-Anse terminal for a storage and shipping site for wood pellets destined for Europe. The pellets will be made at a new plant that is part of the company’s sawmill in Chapais near Chibougamau. Once completed, the $17 million Grande-Anse facilities will produce approximately 200,000 tonnes of industrial grade pellets, which will replace coal in electricity production in the United Kingdom.

All of these projects will boost the region’s profile which enjoyed record activity last year. The port saw its traffic grow to 369,020 tonnes in 2018, up 13.2 per cent from 326,000 tonnes the previous year. The increase is largely due to the rise in volume of aluminum and road salt since other cargo volumes remained fairly stable. The port is one of the few deep water ports on the St. Lawrence, and its year-round Grande-Anse marine terminal can accommodate vessels of more than 100,000 DWT at a depth of 13.8 metres at low tide, Mr. Laberge pointed out.

Dry bulk accounts for almost 64 per cent of volume, followed by general goods at over 22 per cent and liquid bulk at over 13 per cent. The main products handled include aluminum, anodes, liquid pitch, bricks, coal, kaolin, de-icing salt and fluorspar.

Operating revenue grew by 20 per cent to $3.82 million, while net profit was up 37 per cent to $1.16 million. The results were attributed to cooperation between the Port of Saguenay, City of Saguenay, Promotion Saguenay, federal and provincial governments, community organizations and different port initiatives.

“We’ll do about the same this year as we did last year. But our volumes will grow in 2020 when the wood pellets production ramps up,” said Mr. Laberge. “And it will continue to grow in 2021 and beyond with all the other projects coming on stream.

In addition to Black Rock, there are other mining projects in the planning stages.”

With over three million acres of land, the port is currently working with the government of Quebec on developing its industrial zone by improving its infrastructure with the installation of natural gas facilities and high voltage electric power lines to accommodate more heavy industry.

The cruise ship terminal at La Baie also enjoyed a busy year, with a record 57,000 passengers on 56 vessels visiting the region, making it the third most import port of call on the St. Lawrence, behind Quebec City and Montreal. One of the highlights of last year’s cruise season was the arrival of MV Disney Magic and its 1,752 passengers during its first call at a Quebec port on Sept. 24, which attracted several hundred onlookers. This year’s cruise season which runs from May 1 to Nov. 2, will welcome among others, 3,000-passenger Caribbean Princess on Aug.11, Sept. 16 and Oct. 6, 2,500-passenger Queen Mary 2 on Sept. 10 and Oct. 13 and for the first time, 2,700-passenger Mein Schiff on Sept. 28. “We expect a similar cruise season this year which is impressive, considering that we’ve only been in the business for ten years,” noted Mr. Laberge. The City of Saguenay contributed more than $6 million to add floating docks and a floating breakwater to improve visitor experiences and to increase cruise passenger capacity. The icebreaker system that protects the Port’s infrastructure during the winter was also updated.

The Port continues to show a commitment to its community by being heavily involved in several non-profit organizations, supporting more than 42 organizations in the region in 2018.