by Mark Cardwell

A critical lifeline for mining operations and communities in northeastern Quebec and the North Shore region is set to reopen at the Port of Sept-Îles.

“All the work is finished, we’ve got just a few details to take care of,” Paul Leblanc, a civil engineer and project manager at the port, said about the $20-million Pointe-aux-Basques terminal restoration project. “The wharf will be open before the end of the year.”

Built by the federal government in 1950 to support new iron ore mining operations in the Labrador Trough, the 180-metre-long wharf has evolved into a vital regional hub for inbound bulk, general and specialized cargo of all size and stripes.

Closed in 2018, the terminal has undergone several modifications and upgrades since 2019 to increase its size and capacity to handle the heavier types and bigger volumes of cargo needed by mining companies and communities, and to meet the requirements and realities of modern intermodal shipping.

The biggest change is a 25-metre extension of the port-owned wharf. That is 15 metres shorter, however, than was initially planned.

According to Leblanc, the change was made after work began in May 2020 when problems were encountered while backfilling the space between the existing jetty and the retaining wall using vibratory hammer-driven pilings.

“The challenges that were encountered forced the extension concept to be re-examined said the young engineer, who joined the port a year ago. ‘We now have a larger terminal area to be used for our operations.’

The revision pushed back the reopening of the restored terminal, which had been planned for June of this year.

Sheet piles were also added to the front of the existing wharf, and upper tie rods, fenders and the mooring system were replaced and/or upgraded.

In addition to being lengthened, the Pointe-aux-Basques terminal’s pressure capacity was more than tripled from 15 to 50 kilopascals.

The final steps of asphalt overlay and paving are now complete in the restoration project, which is being financed equally by the Port of Sept-Îles, the federal government (through the National Trade Corridors Fund) and the Quebec government (through its maritime transportation infrastructure program).

Once the terminal reopens, containerized cargo and passenger services to North Shore communities on the Bella Desgagnés will return to the Pointe-aux-Basques terminal. Those services were moved to the Port of Sept-Îles’s cruise ship terminal in 2018.

According to Leblanc, the restored terminal is also now better equipped to handle larger vessels carrying dry bulk and general and oversized cargo ranging from steel rails and industrial machines to road salt and generators.

‘The terminal can handle much bigger cargo ships than it used to,’ said Leblanc. ‘We’re already getting requests from different ships to dock there.’

Having previously worked in road construction, Leblanc said it was an eye-opening experience to work on the restoration of a water-bound wharf that requires materials and techniques to withstand wind, tides and ice, plus the corrosive power of salt.

‘The environmental laws are very different too,’ he added. ‘We had big whales come to within 20 metres of the wharf, which would force us to stop work for up to an hour. That was something you don’t see every day.’