By Tom Peters

Ports America’s decision to partner with Sydney Harbour Investment Partners (SHIP) in a major marine container terminal project in the port of Sydney, Nova Scotia, is a significant step in moving the project forward, said Peter Gillis, President, ILA Local 1259, Sydney.

The terminal, called Novaporte, has been proposed for a 500-acre, greenfield site. A 1,200- acre logistics park called Novazone, will be built next to the terminal. Montreal-based Canderel Group will build the park. The estimated total completion price for both the terminal and park is $1.6 billion. Start of construction is contingent on the developers finding carriers to commit to moving sustainable amounts of cargo over the facility.

Gillis is confident Ports America, which operates 80 terminals in 40 ports, will get the carriers. Ports America, he said, deals exclusively with the ILA for labour and “they already have significant contracts with all of the major carriers through the U.S. I believe that even before this announcement was made, they had dialogue with the carriers. They knew this was coming.” Gillis said “Ports America is committed to coming here to do this in Sydney. They believe in Sydney and they want this to be the gateway (to North America).”

The ILA spokesman alluded to the Melford proposal to build a mega terminal in the Strait of Canso which is also looking for carriers. “I think this is a race to the wire with these two entities,” he said.

There have been concerns expressed within the marine industry that a Sydney terminal would impact other ports in the region such as Halifax and Saint John. But Albert Barbusci, a founding partner of SHIP, (formerly Harbour Port Development Partners) has said in past interviews that the Sydney facility will not impact the port of Halifax. Sydney is going after the very large container ships, 14,000 TEUs and up that will be too large to get into several East Coast ports. He said he wants Novaporte to be a transhipment terminal where large vessels can unload boxes and have those containers reloaded onto smaller ships for delivery down the East Coast. “Halifax is talking about a possible merger between Ceres and Halterm but we still don’t see the opportunity for them to turn it into a super hub. We don’t see it because where are they going to get the land?”, he said. “I know there are rumours about moving across to Dartmouth, but when is that going to happen? Are you talking in about a decade? They haven’t put together a master plan and no time lines,” he said.

“Regardless, Halifax will survive somehow. They have traffic today and they will have traffic tomorrow, whether they go across the harbour or not. So it comes down to the Melford or Sydney site,” he said. But regardless of what happens in Melford or Halifax, Barbusci said, “We are focused on our own game plan. Halifax doesn’t interfere with, or impact our plans.”

Halifax and Port of Saint John, which has launched its own terminal expansion project, had little to say about development in Sydney.

Saint John’s Paula Copeland said the port is not concerned about a Sydney terminal. “Our plan is well underway for modernization and the detailed engineering and design work is about to start.” DP World Saint John will take over terminal operations in January.

Lane Farguson of the Halifax Port Authority, said, “It would be inappropriate for us to comment on another port or proposed development. We will continue to focus on maintaining and growing business through Halifax.”

A major factor in the development of Novaporte will be rail access. The Cape Breton and Central Nova Scotia Railway, owned by U.S. rail company Genesee and Wyoming (G&W), connects Sydney to CN’s main line in Truro. However, G&W closed the section of line in Cape Breton from St. Peter’s Junction to Sydney a few years ago because of lack of business. Their plans were to abandon that section of rail line. To revive that section to carry doublestack rail cars and also build a required spur from the CBNS to a new terminal, would require a multi-million dollar investment. There have also been reports that the line from St. Peter’s Junction to Truro would also need upgrading.

G&W, however, appears ready to invest if new cargo volumes are forthcoming. G&W spokesman Michael Williams said in an email, “Our freight railroads are always prepared to invest in infrastructure to support sufficient committed volumes and have a long history of doing so.”

Cape Breton Regional Municipality Mayor Cecil Clarke, said “We are seeing the positive progress of a Cape Breton-led development effort through the municipality and First Nations partners, the development team in Montreal and our global associates. With our new terminal operators, Ports America, the port of Sydney is in a strong position to realize this transformative opportunity.”

First Nations communities are also part of the development equation. They own 250 of the 1,200 acres set aside for the logistics park, Novazone. This land will be among the first sites developed. The focus of Novazone, situated within a foreign trade zone, will be to manage both imports and exports including those with value-added components.