By Tom Peters

As container ships and cruise ships continue to get bigger, there is an urgency in several ports in Eastern Canada to accommodate these large vessels to remain competitive and to grow the business in these marine sectors.

The $205 million West Side modernization project in the Port of Saint John has been moving forward at a steady pace. The project will see the lengthening and strengthening of the pier structure at the West Side container terminal as well as the deepening of the main channel. The project is expected to be complete in 2023. Presently, radiation portals are being installed which will allow Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) a seamless transition with no impact to operations during the major wharf construction, says Paula Copeland, the Port’s Director of Communications and Corporate Social Responsibility. At the same time, a new bridge is being constructed to allow container wharf access as a portion of the existing wharf will be demolished to build the new berth. Additionally, a number of electrical upgrades are being completed for power supply to future crane and reefer facilities. A summary of other work to date includes the removal and demolition of outdated infrastructure; dredging and disposal of silt; placing and leveling of rock fill for caisson and mattress; construction and installation of caissons and piles; and connecting of existing wharf to new piles.

When complete, Saint John will have increased its container handling capability from 125,000 TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units) annually to 320,000; increased its TEU rail capability from 75,000 to 333,000; plus increase truck movements; nearly double the container terminal area to 10 hectares and increased the area for breakbulk and project cargoes.

With plans still in play to build a $400 million container terminal as part of the Beauport 2020 expansion project, Port of Quebec will invest a record $70 million this year in infrastructure and combined with planned investments by port users in their own facilities, total expenditure at the port in 2019 will exceed $169 million.

Quebec Port Authority (QPA) says that most of its planned projects are part of the first phase of a port infrastructure upgrade. The work involves repairing several wharves and restoring the drawbridge. Quebec will also start work on improvements to the international cruise terminal. A second cruise terminal will be built at Wharf 30 allowing for simultaneous embarkation and disembarkation operations for large ships (4,000 to 5,000 passengers). In addition to its own initiatives, other major projects expected to get underway this year include La COOP Fédérée’s grain export terminal. With the help of the Quebec government and Fonds de solidarité, La COOP Fédérée will invest some $90 million for the terminal in the Anse au Foulon sector. The port will invest an additional $16 million in the same sector.

Quebec has hired ex-Prince Rupert Port Authority President Don Krusel as Managing Director to build a Beauport terminal. The port’s expansion plans in the Beauport sector would see 17 hectares of graded land added to adjacent available lands for an additional 610-metre wharf line with a depth of 16 metres. The new terminal will be fully intermodal with direct access to major rail and highway networks.

Krusel said in an email that work to date on the project has included the launch of a commercial process to attract and select a terminal operating partner with the announcement of the successful partner by mid-2019. The environmental review process is expected to be completed by the end of 2019 and terminal construction to commence mid-2020 with terminal operations to start mid-2023.

Port of Halifax has also launched a major project aimed at container ships. The Port has begun work on extending its South End container terminal, operated by Halterm Ltd., by 135 metres and with a width of 33 metres. The goal of the project is to be able to work two, ultra large container ships simultaneously. “There is a need to upgrade our infrastructure to berth two of these vessels simultaneously in order to remain competitive,” said Karen Oldfield, President, Halifax Port Authority (HPA). “By expanding our infrastructure, we can ensure Halifax continues to be a vital link in the Canadian supply chain, facilitating global economic ties and providing access to international markets for importers and exporters.” Oldfield anticipates that container ships with capacities of 10,000 TEUs and greater will become regular callers to the port by 2021. Halifax hopes to have the extension, termed a ‘temporary fix’, operational by the first quarter of 2020. The port has already hosted a ship of over 11,000 TEUs. Dredging for the project has already begun and the construction of caissons will begin shortly.

A more permanent terminal, north of Halterm, has been identified as being the most efficient plan for construction and use of financial resources. This infrastructure option will be constructed at a later date when there is greater demand and when the HPA can attract financing partners. The Port has recently completed a long process that identified a number of infrastructure options, including Halterm expansion in a number of directions; raising harbour bridges to expand the Fairview Cove terminal; moving the terminal to the Dartmouth side of the harbour at an estimated cost of $1.4 billion (not including rail and additional land purchase), plus other options.

As a side note, Halterm Ltd. is up for sale. Australia-based Macquarie Infrastructure Partners purchased the Halterm Income Fund in 2006 for $173 million. CN Rail has confirmed it has made a bid for Halterm. Sources indicate there are other bids as well.

While there has been no new movement publicly on plans by Sydney Harbour Investments Partners to build a multi-million dollar, state of the art container terminal in the Cape Breton port, Port of Sydney Development Corporation is moving forward with a second berth for its cruise industry. The $19-million project will be able to handle the Oasis class ships, 362 metres long and over 5,000 passengers. The port had a record year in 2018 with 90 vessel calls and over 131,000 passengers. The second terminal will be especially beneficial during days with multi-ship visits. Corporation CEO Marlene Usher said the contract to construct the second berth was awarded to Mabou, Cape Breton-based firm, Van Zutphen Contractors. Construction activity began the first week of October. Usher said, “Dredging on the existing north side of our existing dock and on the second dock has commenced. Two new landside bollards, one on both the north and south of the existing dock are substantially completed. This will extend the existing dock by 50 metres and allow for the 300-metre plus vessels to dock here.” Road construction and other on land activity is continuing and pile driving will commence early this year. Project completion is tentatively scheduled for Fall of this year.

With an ever-increasing cruise business to the Port of Charlottetown, PEI, work began last year on a second cruise berth. McNally Construction was awarded the contract for the $14.1 million project. Mike Cochrane, the Port’s CEO, said work progressed into the Fall with the drilling of mooring buoy pile socket locations then pile driving of the mooring buoys and installation of rebar cages into pile casings. Once the concrete was poured, the pile casings were cut and buoys attached. Cochrane said work has also begun on one of four breasting dolphins. Construction has now slowed due to ice up in the harbour and will continue as soon as the ice moves out in the spring.

The berth expansion project, expected to be complete later this Fall, will extend the existing berth space by 270 metres, which will allow for two vessels up to 330 metres to berth simultaneously. Along with the berth expansion, there will also be land redevelopment, bus lanes, improved taxi area, revitalization of the cruise terminal and pedestrian plaza. Charlottetown had a record 2018 for its cruise sector with nearly 98,000 passengers and 44,000 crew.

Port of St. John’s, NL, known more for its support of the offshore energy industry, officially opened Pier 17 finger pier in November, said Bob McCarthy, the port’s Vice-President, Development. The pier provides two new operational berths in support a wide variety of offshore energy-related vessels. The berths are equipped with all the mooring hardware required for safe and secure berthing and each has shore power allowing vessels to plug in and turn off their generators, thus reducing emissions.

The $12.8 million, concrete wharf is 135 metres long and is 15 metres wide. The expansion project also improved landside capacity, allowing the adjacent Pier 17 laydown yard to better marshal equipment and supplies while accommodating larger cranes and heavy equipment, all within a safe and secure area.

One project that has been on the books for several years is the Melford container terminal located on the mainland side of the Strait of Canso, Nova Scotia. Melford Atlantic Gateway says it has signed BergerABAM of Colorado to carry out design engineering work for the terminal. BergerABAM works with engineering firms in Nova Scotia. Melford had also planned to start clear cutting the proposed 700 acres site for the terminal and adjacent logistics. The terminal, which is planned to be a pure rail terminal, has a price tag of $450 million and when complete would be able to handle 1.5 million TEUs annually. The project still has to sign a major carrier to a long-term contract.