By R. Bruce Striegler
A fast-growing port capitalizing on its geographic advantages
“Currently the port of Prince Rupert has five modern and well-equipped terminals,” says Shaun Stevenson, Vice-President, Trade Development and Public Affairs for Prince Rupert Port Authority. Encompassing intermodal container handling, cruise ships, grain, coal and forest products, the port has the distinct advantage of being up to three days closer to Asia than any other North American port. It is 36 hours closer to Shanghai than Vancouver and more 68 hours closer than Los Angeles. In addition to the terminals, the port has more than 400 hectares of undeveloped industrially-zoned land under its jurisdiction. On a year-to-date basis, the port handled 403,448 TEUs as of September 30, including export, import and empties.
“We have a number of things happening now, as it relates to construction and expansion including the building of a new wood pellet terminal, the Ridley Island Road/Rail Corridor as well as expansion at Ridley and Fairview Terminals.” Stevenson outlines the first phase of the Ridley Island Road/Rail Corridor estimated at $90 million, saying it includes construction of five parallel rail tracks, a two-lane roadway, and a port-owned power distribution system along an eight kilometre corridor. Funding for the project came in the form of $30 million each from Prince Rupert Port Authority and CN Rail and $15 million from each of the provincial and federal governments. “That project is underway and due to be complete next year. It essentially anchors our build-out at the Port.” The project opens up about 1,000 acres of industrial land, and provides shared infrastructure for new Ridley Island projects which include at least one proposed LNG terminal and a potash export terminal being advanced by Saskatchewan’s Canpotex with a throughput capacity of 13 million tonnes.
Ridley Terminals, a federal Crown corporation currently up for sale, is also implementing upgrades, including $200 million worth of improvements to the export terminal including rail infrastructure upgrades, a new thaw shed for coal, new transfer tower, new substations and new stacker/reclaimers, equipment designed to handle bulk materials. This more than doubles the terminal’s annual capacity to 25 million tonnes. Ridley Terminals handles metallurgical coal, thermal coal and petroleum coke, a byproduct of oil refining.
“On the central waterfront, and due to be complete and operational later this year, the wood pellet terminal will provide a strategic outlet for bio-fuel industries being developed sourcing B.C. forest products.” Pinnacle Renewable Energy Group is constructing the $42 million terminal providing export capacity of two million tonnes of wood pellets annually while creating up to 24 direct jobs in terminal operations. Pinnacle operates six pellet manufacturing facilities in the B.C. communities of Houston, Burns Lake, Meadowbank, Quesnel, Williams Lake and Armstrong, supporting 350 jobs in those operations. Stevenson adds that the new terminal will be run by Metro Ports Canada, a U.S. stevedoring company, saying it will be the first Canadian venture for the company whose headquarters are in Wilmington, California. “This will secure the expansion of the B.C. bio-fuel industry, as additional plants are being planned across the north.”
Stevenson says, “What we’re seeing with the growth of the port is a lot of new jobs. Jobs at the terminals, jobs in harbour operations, truck driving and so on. I believe that 900 new jobs have been created in the last several years directly related to the transportation and logistics system. The port has become the primary source of economic opportunity in Prince Rupert, a city where previously we’ve seen profound declines in industries such as commercial fishing, fish processing and forestry.” He notes that training and employment opportunities are being realized within First Nations communities saying, “Forty per cent of our workforce at the Fairview Container Terminal is First Nations. Even the Ridley Island Road/Rail Corridor is being constructed by a joint venture with First Nations.”
Managing growth to ensure all the community is included
Prince Rupert’s mayor Jack Mussallem tends to agree. “Some of the benefits of having a port as one of your principal stakeholders is steady and consistent employment at the terminals and now due to port infrastructure construction.” He also notes that unlike Port Metro Vancouver, much of the proposed new development will be taking place away from residential areas, “The geography of Prince Rupert, made-up of three islands, means terminal developments at Ridley or Watson Islands will have minimal impact on the community at large, the wood pellet terminal being an exception.” Mussallem, a member of a pioneer Prince Rupert family has served as mayor in two previous terms and has spent a lifetime in the area, working in fishing, forestry, and the marine towing industries. Although mayor, he also works as a marine cargo surveyor.
With a large number of LNG-related applications being discussed or proposed for Prince Rupert, including two natural gas pipelines and two or more LNG terminals, mayor Mussallem says that it’s time to start to talk to Prince Rupert Port Authority as well as some of the project proponents about what their plans really are, short-term and longer. “We want to get as much information as we can about pending port developments. We need figure out the size of the projects, construction workforce, the project value and number of employees, both construction and post-construction so we can do some planning.”
He lists a few issues that concern him. “We need to understand some basic project facts, things which can affect our fire and rescue department, policing, schools, local healthcare and even potential demands on recreational facilities. We realize this is complicated by the fact that many of these proposals are operating under their own timelines, but there’s a gold rush mentality here on the coast.” He notes that companies are scrambling trying to find sites on which they can build export facilities, and says, “In some cases, they’re doing this whether or not they have customers, gas at the well-head or even an honest-to-goodness project. We need to stay the course in terms of economic development and community growth. We have a responsibility to our citizens and I don’t take that responsibility lightly.”
Shaun Stevenson says, “With all the industrial development contemplated, we’re also mindful of our responsibility to contribute to the liveability of the community. We do a lot of work trying to mitigate the conflicts between the city and industrial development.” He continued saying that with industrial expansion, the Port needs to invest in community assets that contribute to the liveability and vitality of Prince Rupert. As one means to that end, the Port Authority established a Community Investment Fund in 2010 to provide financial support for projects or initiatives that enhance quality of life or contribute to a lasting legacy. The Fund’s latest investment in the community was a $5,000 contribution to a local theatre company upgrading its stage lighting, bringing total contributions to over $1 million.
Environmental stewardship and pro-active planning for a future that is now
Despite good intentions, the wood pellet terminal approval caused considerable uproar, with anger directed at the large industrial landowners of Prince Rupert’s waterfront, with many citizens expressing resentment at the lack of access and planned use of portions of the waterfront. The next large waterside redevelopment fronts the city centre on an area known as Cow Bay. Fifty years ago, it was the site of fish canneries, boatyards, net lofts and fishing vessels. The Port is working with the city to “re-imagine” the former industrial waterfront as a vibrant pedestrian-friendly public setting with renovated historical buildings and new structures designed to compliment the remarkable past. “The central waterfront, location of our cruise terminals, is really the focus of community and tourist access,” says Stevenson.
He turns to environmental stewardship, saying, “Our program focuses on harbour operations, we were the first port on the west coast to join the Green Marine program. We recently completed our shore-power project giving us the ability to provide utility-generated electrical power to ships at our container terminal,” adding that Prince Rupert is the first container terminal in Canada to supply shore power. The program should reduce greenhouse gases by 4,000 tonnes annually, eliminating up to 160 tonnes of other air contaminants.
Stevenson explains the comprehensive supply chain route analysis the Port commissioned. “The study assessed the energy consumption and emissions of the transportation chain, including marine transit, dockside cargo handling and rail transit from Yokohama (Japan), Shanghai (China) and Hong Kong to final destinations in Chicago, Toronto and Memphis. Port of Prince Rupert was compared against Vancouver, Seattle, Long Beach and Savannah on the Atlantic. Cargo shipped from Asia through Port of Prince Rupert along the northern transportation corridor, by way of the Yellowhead Pass to Chicago, Toronto and Memphis was consistently found to have the lowest carbon footprint of the five gateways.” The seamless integration of the Port’s terminals with the CN rail line also means fewer drayage trucks and fewer emissions. “We don’t take our environmental responsibilities for granted, as more people become economically secure, their attention turns to other quality-of-life issues.”
With so much potential development in the area of liquefied natural gas (LNG) and the accompanying tanker traffic, Prince Rupert Port Authority has been pro-actively examining and planning for future marine traffic. “We recently completed a navigational risk assessment and are reviewing our practices and procedures since our projections indicate growth in deep-sea vessel traffic from 500 to 1,500 a year.” Stevenson adds, “We’re also looking at accommodating new types of vessels including LNG carriers.” He continues saying that with the growth in cargo volumes and vessel traffic, the Port needs to ensure it has the capacity to handle increased volumes. A recent anchorage pilot project tested potential anchorages outside Prince Rupert’s inner protected waters. “The trial also gave us the opportunity to engage with stakeholders, whether commercial fisheries or others, to understand their thoughts and concerns with the proposed anchorages.”
Stevenson asserts, “From an operations standpoint we’re taking the opportunity to plan for the future to make sure we have adequate operational oversight and to make sure all our development can be done as safely as possible. In many ways we have a blank canvas, we’re not redeveloping or repurposing assets, we’re building a modern port complex that’s based upon today and the future. We’re also building with a mind to avoid the conflicts with the community, avoiding creating bottlenecks and difficulty with road/rail grade separation as the industrial development is happening away from the community.” Mayor Jack Mussallem says, “We’re not forgetting about forestry and fishing, and we realize that we’re going to go through some growing pains but we recognize that a lot of our future is in the expansion and enhancement of the port and port-related facilities.”
The terminals of port of Prince Rupert
Fairview Container Terminal
The 24-hectare (59 acre) facility is the first dedicated intermodal (ship to rail) container terminal in North America with the operational capacity to move 750,000 TEUs per year. The 22-metre (72-foot) wharf extension provides a berth depth of 18.7 metres (61.4 feet), enabling the terminal to easily accommodate container ships in excess of 12,500 TEUs. Container ship cargo is offloaded by Maher Terminals using three 1,800-tonne super post-Panamax cranes with a reach of 22 containers. The container yard can hold 9,000 TEUs and has outlets for refrigerated containers. Upon completion of Phase 2, the container terminal will have a two-million-TEU capacity, making it the second-largest handling facility on the west coast.
Northland Cruise Terminal
The Northland Cruise Terminal, with a berth of 330 metres, was constructed in 2004. The terminal has a unique self-adjusting ramp that maintains a gentle incline, regardless of tide levels, for ease of use by all cruise passengers. The terminal has seen a steady growth since it began operations, from 60,000 passengers in 2004 to 100,000 passengers and 60 large cruise ship calls in 2007. The Northland Terminal is located in scenic Cow Bay, close to the downtown core and in close proximity to all amenities for the convenience of passengers. The terminal plaza also serves as the gathering point for passengers participating in the many shore excursions offered through the cruise program, ranging from bus, boat and seaplane sightseeing tours to saltwater fishing, kayaking and native cultural experiences.
Ridley Terminals Inc. (RTI)
Ridley Terminals Inc., a federal Crown corporation, owns and operates the most advanced coal unload and loading terminal, making it a world leader in the efficient and reliable movement of coal from unit trains onto ships. It loads metallurgical and thermal coal, petroleum coke and wood pellets, and has the potential to ship other products such as sulfur. As a fully automated facility, the 55-hectare terminal loads at a rate of 9,000 tonnes per hour. Favoured for its low-cost operations, RTI’s coal port has an annual shipping capacity of 12 million tonnes –currently growing to 24 million tonnes – and storage capacity of 1.2 million tonnes. This highly efficient facility features technology that protects the environment, making it the most advanced of its kind.
Atlin Cruise Terminal
The Atlin Cruise Terminal, in the heart of the Cow Bay tourist district, provides the berthing facilities for the many explorer-class cruise ships and large yachts that call on Prince Rupert each year. The terminal also houses the Port Interpretive Centre, a souvenir shop and one of Prince Rupert’s premier art galleries.
Prince Rupert Grain
With capacity to ship in excess of seven million tonnes a year, Prince Rupert Grain’s modern terminal has the highest capacity of any grain-cleaning elevator in Canada. Its eight shipping bins and three tower-mounted loading spouts can load up to 4,000 tonnes of wheat or barley an hour. Using state-of-the-art technology, grain can be cleaned as fast as it is unloaded from rail cars.