Two major acquisitions in early 2016 involving Port of Sept-Îles herald the beginning of a new era for the facility, says Port President Pierre Gagnon. “There have been a lot of dark clouds for us and our iron ore producer partners here in recent years,” says Gagnon. “But these deals have brightened the sky and cleared the path ahead for us.”
In late January, the Port announced that it had reached an agreement to buy a strategic piece of land on the Pointe-Noire peninsula where Aluminerie Alouette’s smelter and other large industrial complexes are located. Known as Block Z, the 5-kilometre-long property hugs the south side of the access road to the smelter and contains a rail line that connects three of the port’s most important shipping infrastructures: the Pointe-Noire dock, La Relance dock, and the new multi-user dock.
Formerly owned by Cleveland-based Cliffs Natural Resources, Block Z had been a bone of contention between the Port and the mining company for the past several years, with Cliffs refusing to recognize its obligations as a common carrier and to allow competitors to use its rail line, blocking access to the Pointe-Noire shipping facilities.
That led to years of strained relations and a ministerial inquiry launched by federal Transport Minister Raitt to finally call Cliffs to order and fulfill its obligations as a common carrier in January 2015. Things changed, however, after Cliffs filed for bankruptcy protection of all of its Canadian mining subsidiaries in early 2015. As part of this process, its assets were put up for sale, including its Bloom Lake and Wabush mining companies, the Arnaud and Wabush Lake railway companies as well as all its mining and storage facilities in the Pointe-Noire sector, including a 6 MT/year pellet plant.
The Port successfully bid to acquire Block Z from Wabush Lake railway company, which transaction was approved by Quebec Superior Court on February 2. That same day the government of Québec announced it too had purchased some of Cliffs’ assets, notably its rail, storage and pelletizing facilities in the Pointe-Noire sector.
“Assuring accessibility and potential capacity growth at Port of Sept-Îles responds to the needs of businesses in the area and is a priority action in Plan Nord for 2015-20,” Pierre Arcand, Quebec’s minister of economy, science and innovation, said in a press release announcing the deal. “Thanks to this acquisition, companies engaged in the mining of iron ore on the North Shore can benefit from the access they will now have to the multi-user dock at the port of Sept-Îles.”
Gagnon agrees. “These deals mean that after years of impediments to local economic growth, the Pointe-Noire strategic area is finally open for business in accordance with the vision we had in 2012, when we announced the construction of the multi-user dock as a tool to help level the playing field between iron ore producers here and Australia and Brazil.”
In addition to increased access to the new multi-user wharf at Pointe-Noire, Gagnon says the Port’s iron ore partners can now use the storage facilities there under a multi-user approach since the government of Québec, their new owner, wants to open these facilities to all market participants. “There are few other ports in the world that can make available to their users such an immense multi-user storage offering over 40 MT/year of capacity,” says Gagnon. “It would cost several hundred million dollars to build and maintain a facility like the one we now have at our disposal.”