By Keith Norbury

Two more breakbulk terminals are in the works for Prince Rupert, B.C., which has been without a dedicated breakbulk facility ever since 2007 when the port’s container terminal began operation. Tidal Transport & Trading Ltd. and Amix Heavy Lift are each poised to build breakbulk barge terminals adjacent to each other on Butze Bay. Tidal, which is based in Port Moody, B.C., plans to roll out the design concept for its terminal at its booth at the Breakbulk Americas 2013 conference in New Orleans, Sept. 23-26. “We’ve been going for 15 years but it’ll be our first year actually hosting a booth,” said Tidal President Ron Brinkhurst.

The two barge terminals aren’t related to the Rupert terminal floating dock proposal being developed by Quickload Logistics and Capt. Peter Jaskiewicz, a former CEO of Fraser Surrey Docks that Canadian Sailings reported on this spring. Amix, based in New Westminister, B.C., is currently loading wood chips at its Prince Rupert property for shipment to the Harmac pulp mill on Vancouver Island. However, Amix President Clarke Longmuir said the company plans a seven-figure permanent facility aimed at handling project cargoes. “We’re going to build it and they’re going to come is what we’re thinking,” Mr. Longmuir said.

Tidal hasn’t signed any project business yet either. However, it is already doing breakbulk at its facility, loading logs an average of two ships each month with logs directly from the water. But its hope is also to handle project cargo, for such destinations at the Alberta oil patch, mines in northern B.C., and energy pipelines in the region, if they come to fruition. “It’s a just a matter of finalizing our budget and design, then the regulatory approvals, including our dredging dispersal permit from MOE (Ministry of Environment). And then we’re going to develop a site. Our intention is to have a first class facility,” Mr. Brinkhurst said.

Tidal has already secured a deal with a Singapore company to handle the final shipment of equipment for the stacker-reclaimer expansion at Prince Rupert’s Ridley Island coal terminal, he said. Stevedoring of that 7,000 tonnes of product is scheduled to take place in early October. “We’ll take that over to our site and load it to truck and distribute it,” Mr. Brinkhurst said. “So that’s our first little inbound breakbulk tester.”

Tidal was one of seven owners of the 54-acre former sawmill site, and in 2008 its Tidal Coastal Terminals Ltd. subsidiary leased the property for its log-exporting business. On April 26, Tidal became the property’s sole owner and immediately spent about $500,000 to fence the perimeter and pave the entranceway, Mr. Brinkhurst said. Tidal has also been working with Fraser River Pile & Dredge (GP) Inc. to undertake a full charting of Tidal’s 38-acre water lease at Prince Rupert. The finishing touches were being put on a dredging plan in late August. The objective is to have a sheet pile wall and two barge ramps with 12 feet of water at mean low tide. “We’ll have the capacity to actually have four barges alongside at one time,” Mr. Brinkhurst said. “We have significant plans. We’ve talked to some significant project guys, and they’ve come away quite excited, which has given us a little more enthusiasm that maybe my idea isn’t as wacky as some people had originally thought.”

Mr. Brinkhurst said that it’s not clear at this point whether Tidal and Amix are “going to be competitive or cooperative, or perhaps over time a bit of both.” Mr. Longmuir wasn’t sure either, although he noted the two companies are on friendly terms. “It makes sense for us most likely to collaborate on things,” Mr. Longmuir said. “We just haven’t come up with anything yet.”

At present Amix has a conveyor belt on the site for loading wood chips onto barges. However, that is just a temporary set up. The permanent system will entail installing a mooring system to secure a large barge to act as a dock, Mr. Longmuir said. A 240-tonne crawler crane will walk back and forth along that dock to move pick and move cargo.

“With all the development up there, we’re going to be able to provide a nice facility for whatever kind of service somebody needs,” Mr. Longmuir said. “We’re not waiting for the opportunities to come along to fund it. We’re building it ourselves with our own money. And we’re going to hope that we can make it busy.”

Tidal is taking a similar approach. “In five and half years we’ve never gone out and sought any business,” Mr. Brinkhurst said. “We’ve preferred to be slow and methodical, and professional, and make sure we can handle what we bite.”

Also involved with the Tidal project is Western Stevedoring. Dave Lucas, who took over as Western’s Vice-President of Operations in September, said his company would undertake the vessel-to-barge stevedoring, while Tidal employees would handle the barge-to-terminal work. Mr. Lucas and his predecessor, Keith Moger, flew to Prince Rupert, Kitimat, and Stewart in mid-August, just a couple of weeks before Mr. Moger’s retirement. They were were impressed with what they saw. “There’s huge potential up there. We’re just looking to provide a viable solution because up until now there hasn’t been in any in the north,” Mr. Lucas said.

He will also be attending the New Orleans breakbulk conference – in various capacities. Aside from promoting Prince Rupert breakbulk at Tidal’s booth, Mr. Lucas will do duty at the booth of SSA Marine (Western’s parent company), and the booth that Western is sharing with Port Metro Vancouver and Fraser Surrey Docks.

Jan Beringer, President and CEO of Calgary-based Rohde & Liesenfeld Canada, is enthusiastic about the potential for breakbulk terminals at Prince Rupert. His company has already been doing freight forwarding for new equipment being installed at the Ridley Island coal terminal. That equipment, which includes large bucket wheels and ship loaders, is arriving from Mawan, China on Austral Asia Line (AAL) vessels that are also calling at Kitimat, he said. “We have a lot of expectations that there’ll be increasing breakbulk activities into both those ports,” Mr. Beringer said.

At Prince Rupert, breakbulk vessels are discharging at anchor onto trailers pre-positioned on barges. Then the cargoes are either beach landed or off-loaded at barge ramps, he said. For the Ridley Island job, the equipment while massive is light enough that no matting is required. “As long as we have compacted ground that we can put the ramp down onto we can just drive the equipment off,” Mr. Beringer said. He recently flew in a helicopter over Prince Rupert as the Zheng Hua 11 delivered a new gantry crane to Prince Rupert’s Fairview Container Terminal. The crane, made by Shanghai Zhenhua Heavy Industry Co. Ltd., a.k.a. ZPMC, is one of the few pieces of project cargo to arrive at Prince Rupert in recent memory. However, Mr. Beringer sees it as a harbinger of things to come. “There is a lot of project personnel from different stakeholders flying into Prince Rupert,” he said. “It’s a pretty busy place.”

Ed Scherbinski, Vice-President of Calgary-based Mullen Trucking LP, is also impressed by Prince Rupert’s potential for handling project cargo. “I think it’s a better idea than through Vancouver,” Mr. Scherbinski said. “The congestion and the infrastructure, and for shipping in general, it’s a lot easier for the ships to call Prince Rupert and quicker than it is to come all the way down to Vancouver.”

With a population of fewer than 15,000 — compared with 2.3 million for Greater Vancouver — Prince Rupert lacks the traffic congestion of the lower mainland. The biggest centre along highway 16, which connects Prince Rupert with Alberta, is Prince George. And highway infrastructure there is very good, Mr. Scherbinski said.

A disadvantage with Prince Rupert, however, is that most heavy haul trucking companies in B.C. have their terminals in and around Vancouver, said Louise Yako, President of the B.C. Trucking Association. “They are not located in northern B.C.,” Ms. Yako said. “The breakbulk terminals may locate there, but there’d have to be also some changes in terms of where heavy haul companies develop their terminals.”

(A search of the association’s website for heavy hauling services returned 36 results; most of those companies were based in B.C.’s lower mainland, one each in Smithers and Prince George, and none based in Prince Rupert.)

With three breakbulk terminals now proposed for Prince Rupert, the bigger question is “Will there be enough business for all of them”? “If they don’t approve the pipeline and do certain things, I don’t believe there will be enough business for three terminals,” Mr. Scherbinski said. “Some of these massive projects need to get going to be able to support three.”

The prospects for Enbridge Inc. building the Northern Gateway Pipeline to transport bitumen from Alberta to the B.C. coast are far from certain. Opposition to that pipeline remains fierce in B.C., from many slices of the political spectrum, because of fears that B.C. is taking all the risk of an environmental catastrophe while reaping few of the economic benefits. However, proposals to build liquified natural gas terminals in northern B.C., while encountering some resistance from First Nations and environmentalists, are expected to forge ahead. And those pipelines, combined with mining ventures and wind and hydro power projects in northern B.C. as well as new projects in the Alberta oil sands will create lots of potential project cargo for Prince Rupert. “What we’ve been told is that 1.5 million tonnes of pipe will be required for the four LNG plants,” Mr. Lucas said. “We’re very keen to capitalize on that opportunity. It’s a huge volume of potential cargo.”