By Tom Peters

Sydney Harbour Investment Partners (SHIP) is continuing the process it hopes will lead to the development of Novaporte, a modern, mega marine container terminal capable of handing the world’s ultra large container ships. SHIP recently received a five-year extension to an agreement with Cape Breton Regional Municipality (CBRM) to exclusively market and develop the port. CBRM’s council voted 9 to 4 in favour of extending the agreement. SHIP, formerly Harbour Port Development Partners, has proposed the marine project calling for construction of a terminal on a 500-acre greenfield site, owned by the municipality, with an adjacent 1,200-acre logistics park called Novazone. The Canderel Group of Montreal is to build the park. New Jersey-based Ports America, the largest terminal operator and stevedoring company in the U.S., recently signed an agreement with SHIP to be the terminal operator.

SHIP’s plans call for a semi-automated, deep-water terminal with capabilities to handle vessels with capacities of 13,000 TEUs (20-foot equivalent units) and greater. SHIP wants Novaporte and Novazone to become a transportation hub for the region with transshipment and transload facilities. Private financing is in place to build the terminal and Chinese Communication Construction Company (CCCC) says it will build Novaporte.

At a public session in December, it was announced that the estimated cost to construct Novaporte is $970 million including an estimated $50 million to upgrade the railway and $2 billion to completely build Novazone.

SHIP founding partner Albert Barbusci said in an email that Ports America will “assist us in securing the minimum volume (container) commitments required to start our development.” He said Ports America will decide what the minimum requirement is “but my best guess is 200,000 TEUs. (annually). “SHIP is one giant step closer to realizing its strategic goals and objectives in order to launch the development,” Barbusci said.

Peter Ford, Chief Strategy Officer at Ports America, said, “Novaporte is a uniquely located deep water port able to handle the largest of the next generation of ultra-large container vessels.” The site has abundant power, road and rail, as well as a skilled workforce and Ford said it could be “an East Coast gateway for the next generation of super ships.” Novaporte will employ the latest technology to become the greenest, most cost efficient port on the continent, he said.

Marlene Usher, CEO of the Port of Sydney Development Corp., said having Ports America onboard is significant because, “they have key and deep relationships with all the major shipping lines and they handle over 14 million TEUs annually.”

Barbusci said a feasibility study on the proposed terminal was carried out by CCCC and “is now being validated by our new partners. I personally feel very confident that we will drop the last anchor in 2017 which will lead us to a ground breaking event.”

A major requirement in becoming a transportation cargo hub is rail connection. The Cape Breton and Central Nova Scotia Railway, which connects Sydney to the CN main line in Truro, NS, is owned by Genesee and Wyoming (G&W) which presently does not operate the section of the line from St. Peter’s Junction to Sydney (Sydney Subdivision).

The railway stopped operating that Cape Breton line a few years ago because of a lack of business. G&W actually has plans to abandon that section. Various reports have stated it would cost in excess of $30 million to upgrade the Sydney Subdivision to handle doublestack rail cars – in addition, a spur line to a new terminal would be required. G&W is keeping a watch on the Sydney proposal and has indicated that if the cargo volumes were there, they would be prepared to invest in the line.“Our freight railroads are always prepared to invest in infrastructure to support sufficient committed volumes, and have a long history of doing so,” G&W’s Michael Williams said in an email.

In addition to the proposed container terminal, funding has been announced for the construction of a second berth for the port’s cruise industry. The $20-million project will be funded equally by the three levels of government. Design and engineering for the 287-metre berth is expected to get under way immediately. The project could be complete by the fall of 2018 depending on weather.

In 2016 cruise ships brought over 82,000 passengers to Sydney and generated significant economic impacts to Sydney and surrounding region. In 2017, Sydney is projecting 90 cruise calls, and 137,500 passengers.

“The second berth is an investment in the future prosperity of our island,” said Cecil Clarke, Mayor, Cape Breton Regional Municipality. “A growing, working port is crucial to our economy.  We are moving forward by sustaining and creating jobs while welcoming hundreds of thousands of visitors to Cape Breton Island,” he said.

Bernadette MacNeil, the port’s Manager of Marketing and Development said, “As cruise ships are being built larger in size, the second berth will enable the port of Sydney to not only grow the industry but more importantly, will provide the ability to sustain it.”