By Keith Norbury

Any chance that Canadian ports would pick up extra project cargo business diverted from a flooded Houston this summer were soon dashed when the Texas port reopened quickly after Hurricane Harvey hit. Not that Canadian port operators — being the nice Canucks that they are — wished to benefit from the disaster.

Tim Heney, CEO of Thunder Bay Port Authority, said his port competes with Houston “for a lot of cargo for western Canada.” But he was hesitant to play up the Thunder Bay alternative in the wake of Houston’s flooding “because it’s bad form to prey on their misfortune.” In any case, Thunder Bay didn’t see any spike in project business diverted from Houston during the brief time its port was shut down.

Full operations resumed Sept. 6

The U.S. Coast Guard closed the port of Houston on Aug. 25 at noon, according to news reports. But its Barbours Cut and Bayport container terminals reopened Sept. 1, as did its Turning Basin terminal for truck operations, the port’s website noted. Less than a week later, on Sept. 6, Janiece Longoria, who chairs the Port Authority, said in a statement that “Port Houston facilities are fully operational and working normal business hours.”

A Sept. 15 blog post from Gilda Ramirez, Senior Director of Small Business and education outreach at Port Houston, said, “The port did not have much of any damage from the flooding, and we will continue moving forward helping other companies and organizations who were not so fortunate.” The hurricane resulted in the deaths of at least 88 Texans, the Texas Tribune reported in mid October. It is estimated that repairing the damage to homes, buildings, and infrastructure will require $60 billion in federal assistance, the paper also reported.

No impact on Vancouver

B.C.’s Port of Vancouver didn’t see any diversions of cargo from Houston either, said Doug Mills, Senior Account representative for bulk and breakbulk, noting that the flooding had little impact on the Port of Houston itself. “Project cargoes have been down anyway so we wouldn’t have seen a large impact I don’t think,” Mr. Mills said.

Year to date, through the end of May 2017, Vancouver handled 6.51 million tonnes of breakbulk, a drop of 1.1 per cent compared with 6.58 million tonnes handled through the first five months of 2016, according to Port of Vancouver statistics. For 2016, overall breakbulk volumes at the port were down one per cent to 16.2 million tonnes compared with 2015’s total of 16.5 million tonnes, down from nearly 17 million tonnes in 2014.

Outbound breakbulk, which accounted for about two-thirds of the port’s breakbulk volume, actually increased one per cent in 2016 compared with the year before, to 10.3 million tonnes. The lion’s share of that — 6.6 million tonnes in 2016 — represented log exports.

Vancouver’s inbound breakbulk volumes, however, dropped five per cent in 2016 to 5.95 million tonnes from 6.27 million tonnes in 2015. Most notably, inbound construction materials were down to 498,392 tonnes in 2016 from 699,123 in 2015, and 789,569 in 2014.

Totran’s operations affected minimally

Calgary-based Totran Transportation Services Ltd., which has U.S. operations out of the Houston suburb of Conroy, was backhauling breakbulk out of Houston after only about a week of limbo, said Scott Trousdale, Totran’s Vice-President and Director of Business Development. “It was almost like who was going to open first,” Mr. Trousdale said, also referring to other south Texas ports, such as Brownsville and Corpus Christie. “And it ended up pretty much mostly all the ports were open.”