By Alex Binkley

The Port of Johnstown has quietly built up its presence in Eastern Ontario transportation since becoming a municipally-owned enterprise in 2001 when Transport Canada transferred the facility to the Township of Edwardsburgh/Cardinal on the St. Lawrence River between Kingston and Cornwall.

Formerly known as the Port of Prescott, it was renamed the Port of Johnstown in 2013 and underwent a $35 million expansion, funded by municipal, provincial and federal governments, to expand its wharves and storage areas. A grand opening was held in June 2015.

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Last year it handled 1.21 million tonnes of traffic, its second best result yet. General Manager Robert Dalley said in an interview the traffic during the last decade has increased by about 50 per cent and he is confident the upgrades to the Port’s signature grain terminal and other facilities will bring in more business in the future. Salt for municipalities and highways in Eastern Ontario remain its No. 1 commodity followed by export grains, Dalley said. More than 574,000 tonnes of salt were delivered by ship to the port in 2017, the highest amount in the last decade. The grain terminal no longer stores Western grain but ships soybeans, corn and wheat from Eastern Ontario’s growing cash crop sector.

The 2017 weather-hindered crop meant 60,000 fewer tonnes of grain for the terminal than in 2016, its best year. But the 200,416 tonnes handled in 2017 is on par with the average grain movement during the previous ten years. As well, there is about 37,000 tonnes of soybeans remaining in storage for shipment when the St. Lawrence Seaway reopens.

A potential growth business is handling shipments of non-GMO corn. The Port received 16,871 tonnes of the specialty crop last year, up from 6,231 tonnes in 2016. “The customer was satisfied with the way its corn was handled, and with the level of service provided, to the point where it expressed an interest in an expanded storage agreement to secure additional space at the Port,” the Johnstown year-end review said.

Other bright spots last year were hefty shipments of calcium chloride and breakbulk cargo with steel beams arriving from Europe for the construction industry, utilizing the port’s newly expanded laydown areas, he said. The Port welcomed 53 ships last year, Dalley said. The Port pays an annual dividend to the township and invests the rest of its cash flow to keep the facilities on the 18 acre property up to date.

The Port finished 2017 with the second highest financial surplus since the Township acquired the port. “Although we experienced a 3.5 per cent decrease in revenues compared to 2016, this was more than made up for through a 9 per cent decrease in expenses, resulting in a surplus that was 8.3 per cent over that of 2016. We make quite an economic contribution to the community.”

CN has tracks near the port which is also close to Highway 401 between Montreal and Toronto and Highway 416 to Ottawa. “We’re a multimodal operation. We send and receive by ship, road and rail.”

The transition to cash cropping in Eastern Ontario has been a boon for the port, he said. “We serve a nice big area by truck and it keeps our elevator quite busy.”

Among the upgrades to the Port are two new 5,000 tonne grain bins, which increases the storage space of the elevator, which can hold 170,000 tonnes, and opens new possibilities for receiving grain and specialty products such as non-GMO corn without reducing the storage capacity available for regular corn. It has also purchased of an oil boom for port slips alongside the elevator.

The Port review said its overall performance “continues to receive excellent feedback from our customers on the changes that have been made, and this is further demonstrated by the same customers returning to the port year after year. We owe a lot of our success to our loyal customers who continue to utilize our facility and provide us with feedback so we can become better at what we do.”