Cape Breton Regional Municipality seeks major container port

The Cape Breton Regional Municipality hopes to establish a major container port in order to help break a double-digit cycle of unemployment in the region.
The municipality announced that it has retained New Jersey-based marine consultants Paul F. Richardson Associates Inc. to negotiate on its behalf as the region endeavours to add container business to the Port of Sydney on Cape Breton’s East coast.
Two “global” shipping corporations have expressed interest in the port, according to the municipality, although Edward Zimney, a principal with Paul F. Richardson Associates said, “We have a host of people who are kind of shaking the tree.”
Zimney confirmed that the port is in discussions with two “world-class” clients.
One is believed to be Maersk Line, one of the world’s largest shipper of containers and currently in the process of bringing online new super-sized vessels.
Maersk’s new ships will be capable of carrying 18,000 20-foot equivalent units (TEUs).
Few ports are suitable
However, “there are very few ports in North America that can handle a vessel of that magnitude,” said John Whalley, economic development manager with the municipality. “As the shipping lines move to larger ships, they need to find key ports in North America that can handle these vessels.”
The municipality is basing its container port strategy on the Prince Rupert Port Authority’s. The British Columbia city opened the first phase of its container port in 2007 and today is one of the fastest-growing container ports in North America.
Its water depth is 18.7 metres and the port also features adequate container storage space and good transportation connections – all qualities that make Prince Rupert a strong player in the highly lucrative and competitive container port market.
Sydney completed the dredging of its harbour in February 2012. The harbour's depth was increased from 12.5 to 16.5 metres, a significant undertaking as the East Coast has a limited number of ports that are a minimum of 50 feet (15.24 metres), according to Whalley.
“That tends to be the critical threshold,” he said.

Typical container ship shown in Prince Rupert Harbour
Site also increased by dredging
As well, the dredged material was used to add another 150 acres to the site. The total site is about 500 acres, providing significant container storage space, or lay-down area as it’s known in the industry.
Large lay-down areas add to a port’s competitive advantage since many urban ports don’t have the space available to store quantities of containers and instead use inland locations. That increases the expense of shipping as the containers are handled multiple times.
Sydney also has a double-stacked rail line right to the port. Zimney said the port is a former naval station, so all the infrastructure is already in place.
The port’s other competitive advantage as it looks to attract traffic from Asia and Europe is that it would be the closest port to the Suez Canal, a popular route for ships from those regions. Zimney estimates Sydney would be able to handle upwards of one million TEUs in its first phase.
The two-phase container port would cost an estimated $800 million to construct and Zimney said once the contract is awarded, it would take about 18 months to build.
Currently a request for proposals is being circulated on an invitational basis to parties with experience in port development, Eileen Lannon Oldford, the CEO of the Cape Breton County Economic Development Authority, said in a news release.
“The scope of the work focuses on a checklist of big details that must be completed to advance the commercialization efforts,” she said.
That list for the successful bidder includes: identifying transportation requirements; meeting requirements on land use and environmental standards at all three levels of government; security considerations; and recommending a port governance structure.
In an area where unemployment is currently sitting at 12.5 per cent, many are depending on the port’s success. Whalley said new port developments are generally credited with creating at least 2,000 jobs.
Zimney said the economic impact on Cape Breton, a region with Nova Scotia’s highest levels of unemployment and out-migration, can't be understated.
Impact would be huge
“It would be huge, the single largest regional economic impact,” Zimney said. “In terms of the people of Cape Breton, it is hands-down the No. 1 provider of employment opportunity.”
Sydney isn’t alone in the port development race. Maher Melford is developing a container terminal in the nearby Strait of Canso. Like Sydney, it would be a deep-water berth of 60 feet, close to the Suez Canal route, and with a generous lay-down area and access to rail.
Zimney feels the Melford project isn’t as far along as Sydney's and that the capital expenditure associated with Sydney is lower than Melford’s.
The Port of Halifax says with minimal expansion and efficiency upgrades it could triple its annual container traffic to 2.5 million TEUs. But Zimney said the urban port wouldn’t be able to handle the larger vessels as efficiently and a costly labour agreement means it would be cheaper for ships to use Sydney.
The other two deep-water ports on the Eastern seaboard are Baltimore and Norfolk, Va. The latter handled 1.2 million TEUs in 2012.


A multiple award-winning reporter, writer and editor for more than 25 years, Charles Mandel most recently worked as the National Observer's climate change reporter. He is a former Atlantic correspondent…

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A multiple award-winning reporter, writer and editor for more than 25 years, Charles Mandel most recently worked as the National Observer's climate change reporter. He is a former Atlantic correspondent…

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