Backers of proposed deep-water container terminals at Melford and Sydney, Nova Scotia, are undeterred by the projects’ long gestations.
Separate groups have been working for nearly a decade to develop terminals that could handle the largest container ships afloat. Melford and Sydney are in undeveloped areas on naturally deep water next to the Great Circle Route from the Suez Canal to the East Coast.
The projects are long-term bets on growth in container volume and ship sizes and the need for terminal capacity to handle them. They’ve also attracted skeptics who question the need for new terminals when existing ones at Nova Scotia’s Port of Halifax are operating at half capacity.
“We continue to move forward. It’s taken longer than we’d like, but everything seems to be coming together,” said Richie Mann, vice president of marketing at Melford International Terminal, which includes Maher Terminals as a shareholder.
Melford officials expect soon to complete the transfer of the terminal’s 315-acre site from the Nova Scotia province and from the local government. Meanwhile, the company is drumming up interest among container lines.
Maher hopes to replicate its success at Prince Rupert, British Columbia, a startup port specializing in ship-to-stacktrain transfer of containers moving via intermodal rail to the U.S. Midwest.
“We’re confident we can be the Prince Rupert of the East,” Mann said. “All of the natural elements are in place. It’s a blank canvas.”
Less than 100 miles across Cape Breton Island, backers of the Sydney port project express similar optimism, despite delays that have blown through previous target dates. Sydney officials hope by October to complete a land transfer that will clear the way for drafting a concession pact and selecting a private developer and operator.
Like Melford, Sydney would be a hub for the transshipment of containers between super-size ships and CN Rail. Ed Zimny of Paul F. Richardson & Associates, which is helping develop the project, said Sydney also has potential as a deep-water hub for transfer between huge ships and midsize vessels that would serve East Coast ports unable to accommodate the larger ships.
The Sydney project’s cost is estimated at $400 million to $450 million for an initial phase of a terminal and intermodal rail transfer facility that could handle 1 million to 1.5 million TEUs annually. The cost and design would depend on many variables, including the level of automation and the ratio between intermodal rail cargo and coastwise transshipment via feeder ships.