Capacity boost: East Coast ports pursue infrastructure projects
March 7, 2016
by Leo Ryan
At various East Coast ports in recent months, infrastructure projects – either ongoing, planned or proposed – have commanded much attention. Some materialized during the run-up before the October 19 federal election as the outgoing Conservative government, through such vehicles as the infrastructure component of the New Building Canada Fund, courted political support in key maritime gateways by offering federal funding.
The Liberal cabinet now at the helm in Ottawa has pledged to spend an additional $5 billion annually to upgrade key infrastructure, but the main initial focus will be on public transit and such ‘social’ areas as cheap housing and child care centres.
Certainly, Transport Canada will continue to encourage infrastructure projects enhancing the competitiveness of Canadian ports.
In the short-term, however, a major project at the Port of Quebec awaits a final go-ahead after receiving what appeared like conditional federal, partial-funding support in July with a number of hurdles to be overcome.
What was qualified as federal “funding consideration” of up to $60.2 million was announced for a huge undertaking to construct a deepwater multi-purpose terminal in the Beauport sector of the Port of Québec. The overall project, known as Beauport 2020 with an estimated total cost of $530 million, has a five-year construction phase once regulatory environmental and other conditions are met.
A press release said the Québec Port Authority was responsible for costs of nearly $130 million. The port is reportedly counting on private sector infrastructure investments of between $250 million and $400 million for transfer and storage operations. This is a not unchallenging assignment at a time when the port has seen its bulk cargo volumes decline sharply (more than 25%) in the past two years due to plunging world commodity prices.
Mario Girard, President and CEO of the Québec Port Authority, described the project as “the most important investment in the Port of Québec since the 1960s.” The investment, he stressed, will be used to “solidify the port’s competitive position on the North American market and address concerns at the wharf over congestion and lack of space.”
Girard also pledged there will be a public consultation process amidst wide concerns expressed by local environmental interests and by opposition political circles in the provincial parliament.
The project proposes to extend the current wharf by 610 metres, with a water depth of 16 metres at low tide, and to expand the land area for storage space. A railway track will be laid and a segment of the Henri Bourassa Boulevard on the port property will be rebuilt. There is a fish habitat compensation project as well.
For the Port of Trois-Rivières, things went smoothly on the regulatory front prior to the announcement by Transport Canada this past summer of $16.2 million financing support for a proposed $50 million multi-purpose terminal. The remaining investments will be shared by the port administration and local industries, including the Somavrac Group.
Slated for completion in 2017, the terminal will boost the annual cargo capacity of the port from four million tonnes to seven million tonnes. In essence, the undertaking involves fully re-building Dock 13 with a new 23,000 square metre terminal as well as erecting two new warehouses.
Last year, Trois-Rivières recorded the biggest cargo increase of any Canadian port. And port chief executive Gaétan Boivin sees the new terminal generating a wide range of traffic from liquid and dry bulk to general and project cargo.
Also moving with the wind in its sails is the Port of Montreal, where several infrastructure projects are in progress on the heels of record throughput of 30.4 million tonnes last year.
In addition to deepening berths and improving truck traffic flow in and around the port, construction was launched earlier this summer to further boost container capacity in the Viau sector. Terminal operator Termont Montreal is investing $42 million in the first phase and will invest an additional $30 million in a second phase.
The Viau project will expand Montreal’s total container capacity to 2.1 million TEUs. The subsequent phase of container expansion will be on land the MPA owns at Contrecoeur, 40 km east of Montreal, where preparatory work has begun for an eventual more than one million TEU facility when market demand arises.
Increased trade across the Atlantic is notably anticipated after the ratification, hopefully by next year, of a free trade agreement between Canada and the European Union.
Regarding the Viau expansion, Madeleine Paquin, chair of Termont Terminal and president and CEO of Logistec Corporation, commented: “The development of this new capacity is not only good for Termont, MSC and the Port, but also for Montreal, Quebec and Canada. With its intermodal networks, Montreal is a key facilitator for international trade.”
In another recent major development, Logistec recently completed the modernization of its Contrecoeur bulk terminal with new equipment. It will further diversify its cargo base to handle more breakbulk, heavy lift and project cargo.
Projects on Great Lakes
On the Great Lakes, there was big news in October for the Port of Hamilton, where Winnipeg-based G3 Canada Limited (successor to the Canadian Wheat Board) announced the start of construction of a $50 million year-round terminal (slated for completion in 2017) that will ship grains and oilseeds grown in Southern Ontario for export to world markets. This portends increased business for Hamilton’s already fast-growing agribusiness sector.
According to G3 chief executive Karl Gerrand, the new terminal forms “part of a vision to create a coast-to-coast grain enterprise.”
The grain products will be loaded from Hamilton on Great Lakes vessels and rail cars destined for G3 facilities at the ports of Trois-Rivières and Quebec, where they will be transferred onto ocean ships heading to Europe and other overseas markets.
Elsewhere on the Great Lakes, the Port of Oshawa last spring acquired what president Donna Taylor called a “truly intermodal” dimension thanks to the opening of a $4 million rail spur that allows the port to move cargo of all sizes year round.
Further east, on the Bay of Fundy, the Port of Saint John last July received a federal contribution of $68.3 million towards a $205 million project to modernize two terminals in order to accommodate larger vessels and increase handling capacity for anticipated growth in container cargo from present relatively low levels compared with Montreal (1.4 million TEUs) and Halifax (400,000 TEUs)
The past two years have seen container traffic at Saint John nearly double to 90,000 TEUs. Besides longtime customer Tropical Shipping, a major new factor has been the advent of regular liner service of Mediterranean Shipping Company, one of the world’s leading container carriers.
A bridge air draft issue at Halifax
Meanwhile, at the Port of Halifax on the Atlantic Coast, George Malec, vice-president of business development and operations, indicates that a current major focus is to develop a stronger distribution network. “This is supported by over $100 million in infrastructure investment since 2011 that is being used to develop trade.”
The completed deepening to 55 feet, in particular, of the berths at the two container terminals has paved the way for larger ships to call at the port. Indeed, ships in the 8700-TEU range began calling for the first time at Halifax this past summer.
However, an air draft issue reportedly emerged in August at the Macdonald Bridge when a containership on its way to the Ceres terminal was sitting too high in the water because of less export cargo heading overseas. Several other vessels were subsequently diverted to the south end Halterm terminal that does not require a bridge passage. A huge deck replacement infrastructure project (coined Big Lift) to raise shipping clearance by about seven feet was launched in March and is due to be finished in 2016.