MULGRAVE: The 20-year lobby by the Strait of Canso Superport Corporation Limited (SCSCL) to collect fees from some vessels using the Strait of Canso continues.
In February 2000, the federal government’s port divestiture program transferred the Port Hawkesbury Pier and Mulgrave Marine Terminal to the SCSCL but Transport Canada retained control over shipping and harbour dues.
“It’s still classified as a public port and they still exercise regular management and regulatory control over shipping,” SCSCL CEO Tim Gilfoy told The Reporter.
Since the creation of an ice-free port following the construction of the Canso Causeway in 1955, the port has developed into a mixture of privately owned terminals for industry and public common user terminals owned and operated by the SCSCL.
The SCSCL said it was formed to own and operate the public marine terminals in Port Hawkesbury and Mulgrave, plus play a management and development role in the overall port, but Gilfoy said this arrangement has cost the region projects.
“Over the years, there have been marine programs out there that we’ve not been plug to tap into for a couple of reasons,” Gilfoy stated. “One being that some of these programs were directed just to Canada Port Authorities across the country. But even to participate in some of these funding programs, you have to have a funding source to come up with your share. And we see the harbour dues revenues that are collected in this port as a source of dollars to be able to come up with our share for infrastructure projects in the area.”
The Superport Corporation has long advocated that harbour dues collected in the port, which they estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars annually, should be retained by them and reinvested.
Although the Strait of Canso has one of the deepest, ice-free harbors in the world, the SCSCL said it has been under the radar of the international marine community.
“I think, to a certain extent, it’s holding the port back,” Gilfoy noted. “The harbour dues, for example, that are collected by Transport Canada, go directly into the General Revenue Fund in Ottawa. We feel that fees collected here in the port should be reinvested here. I think that’s a good source of revenue, not just to market, but also to develop more infrastructure in the port so we can handle some of these projects on a regular basis.”
This is despite the Strait of Canso’s many assets, including its close proximity to the Great Circle Route to Europe and Asia through the Suez Canal, as well as intermodal connections to Central Canada and the United States via rail and a major highway link. The nearby Allan J. MacEachen Port Hawkesbury Airport offers full aviation services and a 1,524-metre runway.
During divestiture, the Superport Corporation said it took over Transport Canada assets that were worth $2.6 million, and through strategic investment, they upgraded those assets to more than $14 million.
“That’s investments that were made in both Port Hawkesbury and the Mulgrave Marine Terminal,” Gilfoy explained. “That’s infrastructure that we put in place to have greater flexibility to handle some of the activity that was going on here in the area.”
According to the SCSCL, industries and projects that have taken advantage of their facilities include: EnCana/SBM, who utilized the Mulgrave Marine Terminal during the development of the Deep Panuke gas field; Clearwater, which operates two of its offshore clam vessels from the Mulgrave Marine Terminal; and an array of vessels that utilize the Port Hawkesbury Pier. The SCSCL said each of these projects have resulted in significant economic spin-off for the area.
Another project is the Heerema decommissioning project, which brought the massive semi-submersible crane vessel, Thialf to the Strait of Canso. Owned by Heerema Marine Contractors in The Netherlands, the vessel, the second largest of its type in the world, is a vital component in the decommissioning of the Sable Offshore Energy Project off the coast of Nova Scotia.
Large vessels are not an uncommon sight in the Strait of Canso which has had its share of deep draft oil tankers, bulk carriers and other major marine craft over the years. In 2017 alone, 17 million metric tonnes of cargo were handled in the port, making it one of the busiest cargo ports in the country.
“That’s the overall port, when we talk about the overall port, a lot of that would be tonnage that went through some of the private terminals in the port,” Gilfoy noted. “But all of the ships that contributed to that 17,000,000 tonnes, whether it stopped at our terminals or private terminals, they were all subjected to harbour dues.”
These are examples of the potential for the port to be a vibrant, highly sustainable Atlantic Gateway for general, bulk and breakbulk cargo but a coordinated and cooperative effort is required to develop additional common user facilities, the SCSCL says.
In the port’s Master Plan, undertaken by the Superport Corporation a number of years ago, opportunities were identified for a deep-water, bulk trans-shipment terminal. These trans-shipments could link to Great Lakes’ ports through the St. Lawrence Seaway. In addition, the plan exposed export opportunities from the Strait of Canso for products such as gypsum and armor stone. Another key feature in developing the harbour is the fact it is unencumbered by urban development with plenty of room to grow.
“There’s certainly a project or two in that port master plan that are worthy of trying to move forward but you really need a guaranteed source of income to be able to implement that sort of thing,” Gilfoy said.
About a year-and-a-half ago, Transport Canada initiated a Port Modernization Review, which is complete, but the results have not been made public. Gilfoy added that it is a broad view of the major ports across the country, to which the SCSCL made a submission.
“But there is some review on the part of the federal government on what sort of structure should be in place to carry the major ports in the country forward in the future,” added Gilfoy. “We feel that a port such as the Strait of Canso should be considered a port of the future. It’s got everything. We’ve got lots of room to grow here.”