By Tom Peters

Continuous investment in critical infrastructure has put Port of Halifax in a position to handle diverse types of cargo and any size vessel, including the world’s largest super-post-Pamanax ships.

“The focus of Halifax Port Authority (HPA), together with the ­private sector and the federal government, has been to invest heavily in recent years in the port’s diverse infrastructure to ensure we are really a highly competitive port in all forms of cargo,” said Michele Peveril, spokesperson for the Port.

HPA has spent $125 million on infrastructure in the past five years, while the private sector, in that same period, has invested approximately $250 million on infrastructure-related projects. Presently, HPA and the federal government are cost-sharing $108 million in two major projects that will further raise Halifax’s ­profile in both container and breakbulk cargoes. The two major projects now underway are the $35-million extension of the South End Container Terminal, operated by Halterm Container Terminal Ltd., and the $73-million project at Richmond Terminals, which will create a modern breakbulk facility.

The South End terminal has been extended by 80 metres and its berth dredged to 16.5 metres so the terminal can now handle two super-post-Panamax ships simultaneously. There is on-dock rail transfer and the terminal’s truck gate and marshalling yard will be enhanced. The total project will be completed this year.

“Basically what that second berth does [at Halterm], in effect, puts us in position. It puts us in the game,” said HPA President and CEO Karen Oldfield. “It allows us to go to the market and tell the market that when you look up and down the East Coast of North America, Halifax is perfectly positioned to take these super-post-Panamax vessels today and tomorrow. At Halterm you are looking at open ocean and the next stop is Europe,” she said.

A major part of the South End infrastructure is on-dock rail connectivity to the port’s primary service provider, CN. “CN has ample capacity on its main line with only 30 per cent of the line’s capacity being used. You rail to Quebec, Ontario or into the U.S. Midwest and we can put dwell times and transit times up against any port in Canada or on the Seaboard,” Ms. Oldfield said “A very important part of the equation is that we have the best dwell times in North America. We are talking hours, not days and that is part of the equation other ports would love to emulate.” So the good transit times, the short dwell times and the inland transit times, “put us in a very powerful position but you have to have the ­infrastructure in order to capitalize on that. If you don’t have the infrastructure, you can’t even talk this talk,” she said.

What further strengthens Halifax’s competitive position at its South End terminal is the addition of two super-post-Panamax cranes, which will be operational in the third quarter of 2013. ­Macquarie Infrastructure Partners, owner of Halterm Container Terminal Ltd., has ordered the cranes at a cost of approximately $20 million. The cranes are being manufactured by ZPMC of Shanghai and will have an outreach of 63 metres. The new cranes will add to Halterm’s complement of two post-Panamax cranes, also manufactured by ZPMC, and four ship gantry cranes.

The $73-million Richmond Terminals project will boost the port’s profile in the area of breakbulk. The project, which will be completed in 2014, will expand and strengthen the piers, upgrade warehouse and storage space plus add a large laydown area. The terminal, located at the port’s Northend near the ­Harbour Narrows, is also served by on-dock rail and has excellent road access.

“This is one of the last undeveloped pieces of land that we have at the HPA,” Ms. Oldfield said. “The fact we have backed that project and the fact it will come on stream with the Irving ­shipbuilding project, I think puts Port of Halifax in a very envious position in terms of service providers for that contract and all of the different aspects of that contract. We will be able to utilize the new laydown area and shed space and everything that Richmond will have to offer. I think it is absolutely critical that (project) took place and it is going to be an important factor in the overall benefits of that contract,” Ms. Oldfield said.

Irving Shipbuilding, which won a $25-billion federal contract to build new ships for the Navy, expects to start cutting steel in late 2014 or early 2015 for up to nine Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships, the first to be built under the National Ship Procurement ­Strategy. Other smaller projects around the port such as the new lighting system being installed at the Cerescorp-operated Fairview Cove Terminal and recent product-handling upgrades at the Halifax Grain Elevator, all put infrastructure in place, which makes Halifax a modern, efficient port capable of handling and dispersing all cargoes.