By Keith Norbury

The northern B.C. communities of Prince Rupert and Kitimat have long been proposed as sites for new breakbulk terminals. While no firm plans have yet to be formulated, those dreams have been revived in recent months.

In September 2011, the B.C. government pledged $90 million to build a road, rail and utility corridor that would support breakbulk and general cargo facilities at Ridley Island in Prince Rupert.

And in October, a delegation from China visited Kitimat to scope out potential sites for a breakbulk terminal, Kitimat Mayor Joanne Monaghan confirmed.

Premier Christy Clark pledged during her run for the leadership of B.C. Liberal Party in early 2011 that she would work with the federal government to expand breakbulk terminals at Kitimat and Prince Rupert, according to news reports. Given that there are no breakbulk terminals to speak of at either port, such an expansion would mean building new facilities.

More recently, in January 2012, Prince Rupert Port Authority President Don Krusel outlined a proposal that included a 150-acre general cargo terminal to handle such items as wood pellets, forest products and project cargo, according to the Prince George Citizen newspaper.

Shovels in the ground, but “still early days”

Michael Gurney, Manager of Corporate Communications for Prince Rupert Port Authority, confirmed that Mr. Krusel had spoken at a natural resources forum in Prince George. However, Mr. Gurney said that the proposal is “still very early days” and there are as yet no firm plans.

Nevertheless, shovels will be in the ground later this year to start work on the corridor project. “And then that provides the necessary infrastructure to move ahead with future bulk terminals … if indeed that’s the direction our Board of Directors decides to go,” Mr. Gurney said.

There are no firm plans for a breakbulk facility at Kitimat either. However, the district municipality has three proponents looking at establishing a breakbulk port at Kitimat, the mayor said.

“But they’re all at the stage where I can’t say anything yet,” she cautioned.

One sticking point has been a reluctance by the province to provide Crown land for such a project, “even though they have 70 miles of channel that they own,” Ms. Monaghan said. Kitimat is at the North end of Douglas Channel, a 100-kilometre fjord that connects with Hecate Strait on the B.C. coast.

Ms. Monaghan said she was planning to take a representative from the province’s land branch down the channel to show her potential sites for a terminal. “It’s not unusual for people in Victoria not to know what’s going on this far North,” Ms. Monaghan said, referring to the B.C. capital, which is about 750 kilometres Southeast of Kitimat by air and 1,500 kilometres by overland route.

A lot of demand by industry, says mayor

Prince Rupert, meanwhile, hasn’t had a breakbulk terminal since 2007 when its Fairview operation was converted into a container terminal, Mr. Gurney said.

About the only breakbulk moving from Prince Rupert now are logs. However, they are loaded directly onto log carriers from floating booms in the harbour, Mr. Gurney said.

Other than that, a company called Quickload Logistics operates a transload facility on Ridley Island, which is also home to the port’s grain and coal terminals. Quickload’s Business Development Officer, Kristina De Araujo, didn’t respond to a request for comment by press time. However, the company’s website says “Quickload’s objective is to provide high quality cargo-handling services for virtually any general cargo.”

At Kitimat, Rio Tinto Alcan has its own deep-sea berth and in 2011 acquired the terminal of the former Eurocan pulp mill from West Fraser Timber. However, those facilities are not for public use, Ms. Monaghan pointed out.

She would like to see a public terminal built at Kitimat “as soon as possible.” Aside from breakbulk, it might also handle coal, potash and other bulk commodities, she said.

“There is a lot of demand by industry to ship from here, and to receive shipments here.”

Or is it a nebulous dream that lasts forever?

From another perspective, Ms. Monaghan has served four years as Mayor and 34 years in total on Kitimat municipal council and has seen hopes for a terminal dashed before. “We’ve been talking about ports forever. And port study after port study after port study. But we’ll see what happens,” she said.

Mr. Gurney said the proposal for Prince Rupert is also “all very nebulous still,” although in its case the parameters of the project, such as location and its footprint, are being explored. “But as to the size of the project both from an acreage or a dollars perspective those are numbers we just don’t have yet,” Mr. Gurney said.

If nothing else, a breakbulk terminal would allow Prince Rupert to handle project cargo, which has been of increasing importance for Western Canada’s growing mining sector, he said. “The last major project cargo that we received were the cranes for Fairview Container Terminal in 2007,” he noted.