By Keith Norbury

Three, count ’em, three breakbulk terminals are being proposed for B.C.’s northern coast to serve resource industries in B.C., the Yukon, and Alberta. Stewart, B.C., on the border of the Alaska panhandle, is the northernmost of the three. It also has the firmest projected completion date: 2015. Prince Rupert, Canada’s westernmost port, has a proposal for a breakbulk facility in the offing. While a brochure for the facility says it is to be operational by 2013, a spokesperson for the company developing the project said recently that it is not yet in the final decision-making stage. Meanwhile, a proposal for a breakbulk terminal at Kitimat – at the head of Douglas Channel, a fjord 180 kilometres southeast of Prince Rupert – is no closer to reality than it was a year ago, said Kitimat’s mayor.

Next to Alaska, a gateway to the north

Stewart World Port Inc. plans to open its breakbulk terminal, capable of handling handymax vessels, by the end of 2015, said Ted Pickell, the Port’s CEO. “And it will accommodate vessels in and out, cargo in and out,” Mr. Pickell said, pointing out that the most northerly B.C. port for roll-on, roll-off cargo is currently in Vancouver. The breakbulk terminal will be the second phase of the Stewart port. The first phase, a gravel causeway for loading and unloading barges, was 90 per cent complete in March. Mr. Pickell said the barge ramp will not likely handle a lot of traffic but will be suitable for oversize cargo bound for northern B.C. on highway 37, a.k.a. the Stewart-Cassiar Highway. At present, a narrow bridge across the Nass River on the highway south of Stewart prevents wide loads from going any further north. “So when there’s cargo coming into our port that is wide, it will unload there and then go up highway 37 northbound for northern B.C. and the Yukon,” Mr. Pickell said.

Longshore workers “stoked” about Stewart

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union Canada is “stoked” about the prospect of work for its members at Stewart, said Rob Ashton, the Union’s First Vice-President. The ILWU has been pushing for a new facility at Stewart even since the collapse of the Arrow dock that used to handle asbestos from a long-closed mine at Cassiar near the Yukon border, he said. “We’re really excited,” Mr. Ashton said. “I talked to Ted a few times over the phone. He seems like a straightforward guy.” The ILWU has a local, number 519, in Stewart, which currently has two members and about forty casual workers, Mr. Ashton said. “Loading ships is our business,” Mr. Ashton said. “And that’s our site because we were the last people to work there.”

An ice-free port at the end of a long fjord

The port is at the head of the Portland Canal, a narrow, deep 114-kilometre long fjord that separates coastal B.C. from the Alaska panhandle. Stewart is regarded as Canada’s most northern ice-free port. Unlike the gravel barge ramp, the breakbulk terminal will consist of steel pilings and a concrete-capped dock complete with a travelling shiploader. Mr. Pickell expects the facility to handle logs, steel pipe, machinery, and other ro-ro cargo, as well as wood chips and mining concentrate, for example. “We’ll have facilities to handle pipe. There’s a tremendous amount of pipe that will go into that area in the next few years,” Mr. Pickell said, in reference to controversial pipeline projects proposed for northern B.C. The dock itself will be several hundred feet long with 40 metres of water at the deep end. “It’s very deep,” Mr. Pickell said. “We can handle any kind of vessel, but we’re going to build it for a handymax.”

A separate facility, Stewart Bulk Terminals, already receives handymax vessels of up to 50,000 DWT, according to a posting on the District of Stewart website.

Possibility of a short-rail link

“There’s nothing Mickey Mouse about this dock,” Mr. Pickell said, noting that is being designed by All-Span Engineering & Construction Ltd. of Delta, B.C. His own construction company, Arctic Construction Inc. of Fort St. John, is building the terminal.

“Arctic Construction is a 60-year-old company,” Mr. Pickell said. “So it’s a good fit for us to do it. We’ve got the expertise, the equipment, etc.” Mr. Pickell declined to specify how much the project will cost other than to say “it’s kind of a large number.”

In announcing a lease deal between the District of Stewart and Stewart World Port, Mayor Galina Durant said that the expected investment in the port is $50 million, and that the municipality “will benefit from the lease, taxes, and through-put fees.” Construction will begin once the permits are issued. “And we’d be guessing here at that,” Mr. Pickell said, while holding firm to the 2015 completion date.“It’s a very expensive, up-to-date, environmentally designed facility,” he explained. “It’s important that all these new facilities are designed that way, and the mining companies want it as well.” That said, the terminal isn’t on the B.C. government Environmental Assessment Office’s list of current projects or completed projects. Nor is it on the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency’s list of B.C. projects. Greg Leake, Director of Communications with the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office, said the project might not be posted yet if it is still in the pre-approval stage. However, he wasn’t aware of any such application for a port in Stewart.

At present, Stewart has no rail access. However, Mr. Pickell said he is working with Australian-based Atrum Coal to handle product from its Groundhog mine about 250 kilometres northeast of Stewart. “It’ll either be trucked, or there will be a short-rail line built,” Mr. Pickell said. Looking further ahead, he would like to see a spur line connecting Stewart with the CN mainline about 200 kilometres to the south.

Terminal plan floated for Prince Rupert

The Prince Rupert breakbulk terminal proposal calls for a floating dock north of the grain terminal on Ridley Island. “The floating terminal will be permanently moored to two sets of pilings and connected to the shore by means of an articulating vehicle ramp and vehicle bridge,” says a brochure for the project, which is being led by transportation expert Capt. Peter Jaskiewicz, whose 45-year career includes service as the CEO of Fraser Surrey Docks LP near Vancouver. The 3,700-square-metre Rupert terminal will have mobile cranes, the size of which will be determined by Seabulk Systems Inc., which will engineer and build the facility. It will handle vessels “up to 50,000 DWT with a draft of 10.5 metres and underkeel clearance of 1.0 metre,” the brochure said. Prince Rupert-based Quickload Logistics would be the developer and operator of the terminal, said Kristina De Araujo, Quickload’s director of corporate affairs. The project has moved forward since a year ago, she said. However, it still does not have a firm timetable. “Now, I’d love to be able to report at this stage that it’s moving forward on X date and it’ll be ready by X date, but we’re not there yet,” Ms. De Araujo said.

Proposal still awaiting final decision

The project hasn’t reached the final decision stage yet, she said. Proponents are working with Prince Rupert Port Authority and environmental assessment consultants. “And we still have to go through our commercial decision process once we get all the environmental comments back,” she said. At present, Quickload is unable to handle project cargo. Prince Rupert hasn’t had a breakbulk terminal since the Fairview Container Terminal began operation in 2007. A dock that Quickload had leased previously is no longer available, she said. “So we can’t actually receive vessels,” she said. The company currently has a logistics facility for trans-loading on Prince Rupert’s Watson Island and also operates a container examination facility on Ridley Island. While she could not quantify what a breakbulk terminal would mean to her business, Ms. Araujo said, “I can definitely say at this stage that it would be significant.” She said she has received “quite a few inquiries” in recent years for breakbulk and project cargo service. “The brokers in town, or in the area, have definitely been banging on the door for someone to start this service,” she said.

Union also endorses Prince Rupert proposal

The makeup of that cargo depends largely on its destination because of rail constraints, such as tunnels on the Canadian National Railway mainline west of Prince Rupert. “We have to make the stars align a little bit more for it to go forward but the concept is definitely embraced by all,” Ms. De Araujo said.

Jan Beringer, President and CEO of Calgary-based Rohde & Liesenfeld Canada Inc., said a Prince Rupert breakbulk terminal “would be a very good thing for British Columbia and for the west” because of nearby mining projects and pulp mills. “We’re currently involved in some project movements into Prince Rupert where it would be very beneficial to have a breakbulk terminal,” he said.

ILWU’s Mr. Ashton called the Prince Rupert project “a helluva an idea.” He expects the terminal will take advantage of an underused highway 16 to truck project cargo straight to northern Alberta. Nevertheless, Mr. Ashton said road and rail infrastructure capable of carrying big loads is sorely lacking in B.C. and Alberta. He called on the provincial governments to get their act together and figure out how to improve the highway and rail systems. “If our railways don’t want to build them, somebody’s got to build them,” Mr. Ashton said. “Because we’ve got product that we’re bringing in; we’ve got product that we’re shipping out. And if it’s not leaving the country, there will be a lot of Canadian workers suffering.”

Lack of progress on Kitimat proposal miffs mayor

As for a breakbulk terminal in Kitimat, “Nothing much is happening around that,” said Mayor Joanne Monaghan. “It’s disappointing, actually.” A year ago, she revealed that, in October 2011, a delegation even came from China to scope out potential sites. “We have two ports that want to come here, both are Chinese, and both have proposed that they want to get land to create a port,” Ms. Mongahan said in early April. “However, even though it’s within our boundaries, it is owned by the Crown (province), and they have not designated where these people could be yet.”