'There are a lot of people who are interested in this project'

Chris Shannon
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Progress slow on negotiations of possible container terminal development, divestiture of

SYDNEY — It’s all about timing, says John Whalley, the Cape Breton Regional Municipality’s economic development manager.

A recent view of Sydney harbour from the shoreline along the Esplanade is shown in the above photo. John Whalley, the Cape Breton Regional Municipality’s economic development manager, says companies remain interested in establishing a container terminal in Sydney harbour, but says several things have to happen first in the complicated process before a deal is realized.

He said “there’s a few” companies that remain interested in establishing a container terminal in Sydney harbour, but noted several things have to happen first in the complicated process before a deal is realized.

“We have to have control of that property before we can negotiate a concession agreement,” Whalley said in an interview on Thursday.

“The companies involved need to develop a partnership agreement. If they’re interested in this property, there has to be a concession agreement.

“That’s really the big agreement, which is either a sale agreement or a lease agreement for the property.”

The CBRM favours a lease agreement so the municipality stays in control of the site, a valuable parcel of land on the harbour front near Sydport Industrial Park.

Whalley said leasing the land to a container terminal operator has tended to be the standard procedure taken by many ports in North America.

The municipality bought the so-called greenfield property in 2012 for $6 million. It was reshaped using dredged material from the harbour dredge to deepen the channel leading into the port.

The 500-acre parcel of land remains an empty, muddy lot.

It's been a year since the much-anticipated CBRM port summit, which was first proposed by then-mayoral candidate Cecil Clarke during the 2012 municipal election campaign. Clarke held the summit four months after assuming office, but there's been little information released publicly on port development plans since then.

In order to move negotiations forward with potential terminal operators, finance companies and shipping lines, the ownership of Sydney harbour itself must first be resolved, Whalley said.

“We can’t sign an agreement with any company until that issue is successfully resolved for us.”

Clarke was in Ottawa last week to work on a deal that would see Transport Canada divest its ownership in the harbour to the municipality.

It’s a process Clarke would like to see finalized within the next six weeks, he said.

“(Negotiations) are going very well. We’re in the final part of the process,” he said in an interview on Tuesday.

“Our objective is to come to a conclusion prior to March 31, and have an agreement in place between the federal government and ourselves, or with the province as part of it … but there’s a couple of avenues that have to be looked at and are being looked at, and once we get that detail, we’ll be able to go forward from there.”

In an interview with the Post on Jan. 17, Transport Minister Lisa Raitt said it was her goal to get the harbour in local hands as quickly as possible.

“The municipality, ECBC, everybody who is interested is involved, the province of Nova Scotia as well,” she said.

“There are a lot of people who are interested in this project. We know we want to get it into local hands. It’s about how we get it done, and how we get it done as quickly as possible. That’s my goal.”

The CBRM needs ownership of the federally controlled water lots if a developer is to construct wharfs for a deep-sea container terminal, Whalley said.

Whatever entity takes over control of the harbour bottom from the federal government, it will no longer be able to charge harbour dues. Transport Canada currently collects dues from customers of the port, and that money is funnelled back to the federal government.

Under the Canada Marine Act, Transport Canada and Canada Port Authorities are the only agencies authorized to collect harbour dues.

As for the negotiations with the prospective terminal operators and finance companies, Whalley said a New Jersey-based marine consultant that has worked with the CBRM on the file for nearly two years is handling much of the work.

Ed Zimny of Paul F. Richardson Associates Inc. was under contract with the municipality for $10,000 a month, with a total budget of $150,000.

That contract wasn’t renewed after it expired last year, however Zimny is still working with the CBRM to find an operator and financing for a container terminal at the greenfield site.

If Zimny is successful in negotiating a contract for the CBRM, the companies involved will pay him, Whalley said.

“It’s not unusual in the negotiation of a concession agreement to have this type of an approach with a port consultant or a firm.”

Zimny could not be immediately reached for comment Thursday.

A website set up to market the port of Sydney – www.sydportgateway.com – hasn’t been updated since January 2013.

The public relations firm responsible for the website, BSY Associates, is no longer involved in the port development file, Whalley said.

He said with limited dollars to spend, the CBRM has “moved beyond” the website into “very specific negotiations now with companies.”

He wouldn’t say what companies are involved citing confidentiality as the reason.

“I think we’re into more specific business discussions and negotiations. It’s just a different phase,” he said.

“We’re doing what we can do within the financial constraints that we have. I think there might be more things that we could be doing if we had more significant amount of money available.”

Whalley said the mayor and council understand that more money will have to be budgeted in the area of port development at some point because of the need to not only promote opportunities in the container market, but also in bulk and break-bulk shipping.

cshannon@cbpost.com

Organizations: Transport Canada, Paul F Richardson Associates, BSY Associates

Geographic location: Sydney, North America.The, Ottawa Nova Scotia Canada Canada Port Authorities

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Comments

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Recent comments

  • The Drake
    February 17, 2014 - 19:22

    Wow, the next mayor has a mess on his(her) hands. Good luck with this train-wreck.

  • Nearly A Senior
    February 17, 2014 - 19:08

    This would be great both in terms of the economic revival it would bring but even more important an actual industrial project that really happens. After 60 years of failed dreams a successful venture would allow us to actually think positively for once in our lives. Unfortunately for me it won't have much impact as I will be retired and will only live here in the summer and my kids are already leaving the area as there is no job security here and I wouldn't want them to live as we did our whole lives with the never ending stress of getting laid off at any time for either economical or political reasons. Its not a healthy way to live your life.

  • duke
    February 17, 2014 - 15:05

    Folks wake up this is another political football. Remember the Donkin Mine project. They got us on the hook believing that was going open since I believe 1980 or so.

  • bill
    February 17, 2014 - 14:53

    People don't be so negative. I waiting for the land to be used for the space launch program that was going to be at Pt. Aconi. CBRM can start selling tickets for the trips. Seems like everything else they do is somewhere out in space and not in reality.

  • Willy Loman
    February 17, 2014 - 13:09

    The CBRM purchased the site for 6 million from a local group who refused to pay property taxes. The ownership of the harbour bottom, which should have been previously secured, is on the CBRM wish list and could be a substantial cost. Meanwhile the “Greenfield” is a deteriorated eroding plain. The Eastern seaboard is seeing great difficulties in maintaining current ports with zero hope for expansion into new markets for 10 to 20 years. In light of this CBRM is spending resources on debating over keeping the property through a Lease arrangement rather than reclaiming tax money through a sale. The same managers could not even keep the annual Winterfest this year, a relatively inexpensive yet important part of community life in our mundane winter. We need a lot more help than a new CAO. Administration should no longer be allowed to spend public money on the Harbour development. If interest exists investors will come to the table with their own finances, otherwise this resembles a shell game of public funds moving around without any possible community benefit.

  • Phileas P O'Shea
    February 17, 2014 - 10:57

    I don't want to sound like a pessimist but I have to. Too many snake oil salesmen making empty promises regarding this project. How long has it been dragging, 3 years or more? And still nothing to show for it. You'll see a Super Marina over there before you'll ever see one container crane erected. Don't get me wrong, as a former Caper, I would love to be proven wrong on this matter and see something come to this region. God knows the industrial area deserves it instead of crumbs from Halifax and Ottawa.

  • Boredinscotchtown
    February 17, 2014 - 10:16

    The shipping container terminal near port hawksbury is progressing at a fast rate they already appropriated land so I hope Sydney can do something quickly before time runs out

  • fred
    February 17, 2014 - 06:13

    This will never happen in our life time or untill we stop playing around .This field is nothing to look at sell it to the people that wants it and get the taxes.Some one in city hall must be looking for a job

  • MXG
    February 17, 2014 - 05:44

    Wish it were otherwise, but can't see a container port coming to Sydney. Creaky old rail line, narrow twisty highway and an ice filled harbour are just a few reasons why not. Too bad the CBRM flushed that $6 mil away.

  • Disgruntled Caper
    February 16, 2014 - 20:30

    So many things to say, but I think I'll just say this whole experience is slow, filled with delayed dreams and is lurching towards and weaker ending than envisioned. I can tell from the words here we're looking at years of footwork and frustration. I don't think this will keep people from fleeing CB or entice people from Alberta to work "at home. Let's see what Mayor Clarke does on this file before he leaves office in two years. What a depressing place.

  • HORSEFACE
    February 16, 2014 - 20:26

    It is time to call this project dead. I supported the effort because it was the last hope for us but as things turned out there obviously isn't going to be a container terminal in Sydney Harbour. The only economic argument for locating a container terminal in Sydney Harbour was that these new giant super max container ships couldn't get into New York because they couldn't get under the Bayonne Bridge connecting New Jersey and New York, so Sydney would be the Plan B way to get the containers into the US. BUT the Bayonne Bridge is being rebuilt right now to fix the problem thanks to $1.3 billion from Obama; project will be complete in the Fall of 2015 - Poof Sydney container dream is dead!! As is the one for the Strait of Canso. Please stop the evasions and disinformation. Sadly but honestly, it is over and everyone involved knows it.

  • Jethro
    February 16, 2014 - 20:11

    Hopefully the giant container companies don't notice the ice in the harbour the last few months. I understand they like to put these facilities in ice free harbours like Halifax and the Strait of Canso.

  • Get Real
    February 16, 2014 - 18:16

    Here's hoping that a workable deal can be negotiated soon between CBRM and the Feds for ownership and control of the harbour by us. As a first principle, our future economic prospects can only be enhanced by having local ownership. As far as the container terminal is concerned, as with the dredge spoils on the Greenfield site -- throw dirt on it, it's done. What a lesson in snake oil salesmanship on several levels!