By Mark Cardwell

Work on a new multi-user wharf that will more than double the already world-class iron ore-shipping capacity of Port of Sept-Îles is now past the halfway point, and Manon D’Auteuil couldn’t be happier. “It will be a huge asset to our facility when it’s finished,” said D’Auteuil, the port’s engineer for the past 17 years. She and the Port’s Vice-President of Operations, Raynald Ouellet, have devoted much of the past several years working with the project manager – Axor – on the conception, development and now the construction of the new world class terminal. “It is designed to be highly functional and environmentally friendly (and) is being built with the best materials and equipment available on the market,” said D’Auteuil. Work on the $220-million project is scheduled to end in March, 2014.

It is the largest marine construction project currently underway in Canada. When functional, the new wharf will have a shipping capacity of 50 million tonnes of iron ore, more than doubling the port’s current capacity of 40 to 45 tonnes. Port of Sept-Îles is already North America’s leading iron ore port, with an annual volume of nearly 30 tonnes.

Funding for the new wharf is being supplied in equal amounts by the public and private sectors. The federal government and Sept-Îles Port Authority are each contributing $55 million. The remaining $110 million is being provided by five iron ore mining companies that have agreed to jointly use the facility – Alderon Iron Ore, Champion Iron Mines, Labrador Iron Mines, New Millennium Iron and Tata Steel Minerals Canada.

The new terminal will notably feature a 560-metre-long concrete trestle on steel pilings, with a 425-metre-long berthing site able to accommodate two ships at a time. It will be equipped with two Chinese-built shiploaders that will be the biggest in operation in North America when they enter service. The new wharf will also feature conveyors that will be powered by energy-efficient soft-start engines and housed in closed galleries that are designed to reduce noise and dust. Loaders and conveyors will also be configured so that material can be loaded onto ships on both sides of the wharf. “We will be able to put two products in a single ship, or a single product in two ships, or whatever the situation requires,” explained D’Auteuil.

In addition to the new wharf, which will be the 12th owned and operated by Port of Sept-Îles, a large kelp forest will be created to enhance the marine habitat in the 45-square-kilometre natural harbour of Sept-Îles, which is named for the seven-island archipelago that fronts it on the North Shore of the St. Lawrence River, 500 kilometres east of Québec City. “This project is an excellent example of sustainable development,” said D’Auteuil. For the Port’s President and CEO, the increased shipping capacity from the new wharf will also help the port, its partners, and Canada to compete internationally with iron-ore giants like Brazil and Australia. “It will help us to expand volume in the world market,” said Pierre Gagnon. According to Gagnon, Canada produces about 40 million tonnes of iron ore annually. Nearly all of that material – “99 per cent of it” – is mined from the iron ore-rich Labrador Trough and shipped south by rail to the ports of Sept-Îles and Port-Cartier. Gagnon says Canada’s output pales in comparison to the 1.5 billion tonnes of iron ore produced globally with roughly half going to China.

But he agrees with industry stakeholders and financial analysts who think Canada could and should aim at quintupling production in the coming years to 200 million tonnes. “Yes, there’s been some volatility in iron ore prices of late,” said Gagnon. “But iron ore is profitable at $100 a tonne (and) prices have already gone up to as much as $200 a tonne. We likely won’t see those prices again for a while,” he added. “But the long term outlook is great, and that’s what this new wharf project is all about – looking ahead and preparing for the future.”

The Chairman and CEO of Labrador Iron Mines agrees. “The new [multi-user] dock is a fantastic opportunity for the Canadian iron ore industry and will facilitate export of iron ore from LIM’s Schefferville area projects,” John Kearney is quoted as saying in the port’s 2012 annual report, which was released in April. “We applaud Port of Sept-Îles for its initiative and cooperative effort in building this new infrastructure, which will enable Labrador Iron Mines and other emerging iron ore companies to compete in the seaborne iron ore market.”