They have deep water. They have more than 500 acres with a mile of waterfront and environmental approvals in place. Backers of a proposed container terminal at Sydney, Nova Scotia, now are seeking an owner and operator to turn their idea into reality.
A four-month, $36 million dredging project deepened the port’s channel to 55 feet from 38 feet. Sand and gravel pumped from the harbor was used to create 175 acres next to a 320-acre site owned by Laurentian Energy.
With dredging complete and the waterfront site ready for construction, Sydney officials are renewing efforts to market the port as a potential for a container terminal that would accommodate ships of more than 10,000 20-foot equivalent units.
“We are ready to go now,” said Jim Wooder, chairman of Sydney Marine Group. “Before, it was just a theoretical discussion, but now I think the conversations with the carriers and the terminal operators will be a little more real and a little more focused.”
The harbor deepening has attracted a $75 million investment by Pennsylvania-based XCoal, which plans a nearby terminal at a former steel mill site for the transshipment of coal from St. Lawrence Seaway feeder vessels into bulk carriers with capacities up to 160,000 deadweight tons.
Sydney isn’t alone in trying to develop a greenfield terminal in Nova Scotia. Across Cape Breton Island on the Canso Strait, Maher Terminals is involved in a project seeking to develop a terminal on a deep-water site at Melford.
Maher developed and operates the Port of Prince Rupert, British Columbia, a ship-to-rail link for Asian shipments to the U.S. Midwest. Melford would require about 20 miles of new rail line to a RailAmerica short line that connects to CN Railway’s mainline at Truro, Nova Scotia.
Sydney would need to rebuild a 2.5-mile spur into the port and upgrade a 60-mile short line to Truro. The short line, owned by a RailAmerica subsidiary, now handles more than 10,000 carloads a year. Except for a small unused bridge, the line has unrestricted stacktrain clearance, Wooder said.
Besides intermodal rail service via CN to Toronto, Chicago and other Canadian and U.S. inland points, Sydney is being promoted as a hub for transshipments to East Coast ports that can’t handle 10,000-TEU-plus ships.
Sydney has a marketing agreement with Philadelphia-area ports and is exploring similar pacts with other East Coast ports. “Our sense is that there are a lot of ports now that are not going to see any Nirvana based on the Panama Canal widening and are facing potential loss of market share. They’re going to need a relationship with a port like Sydney,” Wooder said.
Nova Scotia’s location on the great circle route puts it on the route ships must take from the Suez to North America.
“This is a large-ship play,” said Brian Shebib, a seafood company owner and director of Laurentian Energy who has been active in the container terminal project. “These 10,000-TEU-plus ships are entering service but where are they going to go? Once they come out of the Suez, they’re better off bringing them here than going down to Norfolk,” he said.
“Transshipment from here to low-cost-operation ports in the U.S. is what this business model is based on, in addition to intermodal rail service through CN to the Midwest,” Shebib said. “At the end of the day, it’s about cost, and we believe we have a cost model here that will work.”
One knock against Sydney’s location is that the port is susceptible to winter ice. Wooder said that criticism is bogus and apparently stems from a Google Maps satellite photo taken a few years ago on a day there was ice in the harbor. He said Sydney has fewer days of weather delays than southern ports regularly experience with fog.
“The statistical probability of being delayed by ice in this port is up to five days only once every four years,” Wooder said. “It’s a weather event and a very limited, focused event. I’ve been here since 2005, and I don’t think there have been any delays to shipping in that period of time.”