by Mark Cardwell

After five months of intensive work, the first phase of the major expansion of Verreault Navigation’s drydock is now complete. “The work went very fast,” company President Denise Verreault said from Les Méchins, the small town on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River in eastern Quebec where the company’s operations are located. “All the blasting is done and we’ve already begun to bring in more and bigger ships.”

Work began in December on the first phase of the project, which doubled the width of the shipyard’s 244-metre-long drydock to 56 metres, and deepened it by 11 metres. Doing that required two controlled blasts of dynamite daily, Mon-Fri, over a four-month period.

“We’re on rock, not sand,” noted Verreault. “That’s a good thing, because it helps us to take in big ships.  But it’s not easy to remove.” She said the 2.52 million cubic feet of rock that was blasted out and removed by backhoes and trucks was dumped on a small parcel of land on the edge of the shipyard, which will be used to make a scenic lookout point on the river for passers-by.

Verreault said some minor yet essential work remains to be done, such as finishing the dry dock wall and sides, and moving the pumping station. She also noted that her company paid for most of the $12 million project “out of our pockets.” The remainder came in the form of a loan from Development Bank of Canada.

Verreault said she continues to lobby both Quebec and Ottawa for funding assistance for the next expansion phase of the project – a widening of the dry dock gate from its current 90 feet to 170 feet. That phase will cost an estimated $25 million. She also plans a third phase: to lengthen the dry dock to 900 feet from its current 800 feet.

Both future expansions would give the shipyard the largest dry dock for commercial ships on the East Coast of North America. According to Verreault, that would enable her yard to accommodate ships of almost any size, including the New Panamax vessels. It would also allow it to take Canadian-flagged vessels that now go to Europe to go into drydock. “Ships are getting wider and our market is shrinking,” Verreault told Canadian Sailings. “We need to move forward or we risk getting left behind.  That’s why this project is vitally important not only for our company, but for this region, for Quebec, and for Canada.”