By Mark Cardwell

To hear Alain SansCartier tell it, land and long-term thinking are the two key elements that shape the future development of major ports. So, as Vice-President of Port of Quebec, he’s understandably excited by the facility’s announced plan to purchase the vast site where the now-scuttled Rabaska LNG export terminal project was to be built on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River, just east of the Davie shipyard.

“It would be a huge development that would help to ensure the future of our facility,” SansCartier told Canadian Sailings in a phone interview following the Quebec Port Authority’s announcement on April 13 that it has acquired an option to buy the 700-acre site from Rabaska for an undisclosed price. If concluded, the deal would instantly double the size of Quebec City’s now-cramped port lands.

“We are full and we have no land reserve,” said SansCartier. The greenfield Rabaska site, he added, is a prime property for future developments. “It’s huge, it’s next to the shipping lane in the St. Lawrence River, and it’s close to both the CN railway line and Highway 20 (which is part of the Trans-Canada Highway system),” said SansCartier. “When you look at what’s available along the river, it’s an exceptional site with tremendous strategic assets.”

Under the agreement between the Port and the Rabaska partners, which include natural gas heavyweights Gaz Métro, Enbridge and Engie (formerly GDF Suez), the port has up to five years to purchase the property. Until then, the Port Authority promises to work with various stakeholders, which include the city of Lévis where the site is located.

“This is an important agreement for Port of Quebec as we work on setting up the Quebec–Lévis industrial port area,” Chief Executive Officer Mario Girard is quoted as saying in the press release. “The agreement will help us to plan the port’s development over the next few decades (and) opens up new development opportunities for Lévis, the port and the region.”

For his part, Rabaska President André L’Ecuyer said the LNG terminal project partners welcome a potential new vocation for the site. “Given the state of the North American natural gas market and the unlikely prospect of going forward in the near future with the Rabaska project, we are happy to give the region an opportunity to properly assess the possibility to valuate that industrial port area,” said L’Ecuyer.

Not everyone shares those sentiments however. Quebec’s powerful farmers’ union – l’Union des producteurs agricoles – vows to fight to have the Rabaska site rezoned farmland like it was before the 2007 agreement with the LNG consortium and the Quebec government.

Quebec Environment Minister David Heurtel also weighed in, saying any future port installations or docks on the south shore would have to pass environmental muster.

The port is currently going through similar proceedings for its Beauport 2020 project, which aims to develop 42 acres and add a 610-metre wharf on its eastern-most sector.

SansCartier says that project is the crucial final phase in the development of the Beauport sector, which began in the 1960s. “Most of our growth in recent years has been in that sector,” he said.  “But after that we’ve got no place left to grow.”

SansCartier also downplayed the fact that the Rabaska purchase comes at a time when ports in Eastern Canada are experiencing marginal growth and even declines in shipping volumes.

“This is all about the long term,” he said. “Like I said earlier, the nature of a port is to have land reserve for future growth. The Rabaska site would fill that need perfectly.”