Waking the Giant

Between Cape Breton and mainland Nova Scotia lies a Superport once called a sleeping giant. Over the past 55 years, this man-made ice-free harbour, created as a result of the construction of the Canso Causeway, has evolved into the fastest growing cargo port in Canada and the largest in Nova Scotia. Despite its steady growth, the port is still one of the best kept secrets in the country. The Strait of Canso Superport Corporation plans to change that.

In 1955, the $23-million Canso Causeway was completed. An unexpected result of the causeway construction was the creation of a deep-water, ice-free port that would serve as a catalyst for economic growth in northeastern Nova Scotia. In the relatively short time in which the port has existed, industries such as NuStar Energy, Nova Scotia Power, NewPage Corporation, Georgia Pacific and Martin Marietta Materials have established and expanded in the Strait of Canso. The Mulgrave Marine Terminal and Port Hawkesbury Pier have also modernized and expanded in recent years. The combined throughput of these industries in 2009 was 33.5-million tonnes of product, making the Superport one of the largest tonnage ports in Canada. The economic impact of these port-dependent businesses is significant in the Strait area. These businesses provide 1,400 full-time equivalent jobs, $136-million in annual wages and salaries, and generate $193-million in annual expenditures for goods and services. The ice-free port has transformed the economic fabric of the Strait of Canso and there is plenty of room to grow.

Thousands of acres of prime industrial land are available immediately adjacent to this deep-water, ice-free port. This combination is a unique asset for the global shipping industry and is attracting worldwide attention.

The Maher Melford Terminal planned for the Strait of Canso is an example of the interest that the container industry has for growth opportunities in the port. As older traditional ports become constrained by city growth, greenfield sites such as the industrial land in the Strait of Canso become more and more attractive. Sites with uninhibited growth potential provide the design flexibility to take advantage of optimal layout and the latest technology to create operational efficiencies. The greenfield development opportunities are not confined to container growth.

The Strait of Canso Superport Corporation has recently completed a Port Master Plan for the Strait of Canso. This initiative was a collaborative effort with funding partners, which included the Superport Corporation, Enterprise Cape Breton Corporation, Nova Scotia Department of Economic Development, the Municipality of the District of Guysborough and the Municipality of the County of Richmond. This document, completed by AECOM, examines global shipping trends not only in containers, but also non-containerized commodities, and analysed numerous opportunities that combine the attributes of the Superport with the global trend toward larger and larger vessels. The possible development opportunities are interesting.

Total non-containerized imports through all Canadian ports grew at 3.6 per cent annually from 2000-2005 while non-containerized exports grew at 3.8 per cent over roughly the same period. As with most commodities, global economic trends have caused this growth pattern to decline in recent years; however, a rebound and return to the historical growth patterns is expected. Metallic ores, coal and crude oil shipments have dominated non-containerized imports and exports through Canadian ports. On a regional basis the Strait of Canso has been a dominant player in the import and export of non-containerized products. In 2009 when most ports witnessed a decline in tonnage due to the global recession, the Strait of Canso saw a seven per cent increase, due in large part to the crude oil products that pass through the port.

The uniqueness of our port presents interesting opportunities to expand shipments of crude oil, aggregates, metallic ores, coal and other local minerals. The world is our marketplace and we are well positioned to serve that market.

The heavily populated regions of the north eastern United States has always been a focal market for export. One of the interesting revelations of the Strait of Canso Port Master Plan is the important role that U.S. Great Lakes ports play in Canada’s import and export trade. Canada accounts for about 88 per cent of the Great Lakes export tonnage and nearly 98 per cent of the U.S. Great Lakes ports tonnage originates in Canada.

The Strait of Canso has direct access to these U.S. Great Lakes ports through the St. Lawrence Seaway. This presents a very interesting short sea transhipping opportunity from the Strait of Canso. Potential exists to have lighter draft vessels importing and exporting to U.S. Great Lakes ports, using the Strait of Canso as a transhipment point to transfer cargo to and from larger draft ocean carriers. The deep ice-free waters of the Strait of Canso combined with plentiful industrial land can support new terminal development for this emerging opportunity.

The economic growth in the Strait of Canso over the past 55 years can be attributed to industry recognition of the unique, world-class port created by the construction of the Canso Causeway. While this growth has served us well to this point, a more concerted and focused effort is needed to take the port into the future.

An integral part of the Strait of Canso Port Master Plan is the recommended governance structure to market the port and implement the recommendations of the Port Master Plan. Without such a structure the Strait of Canso Port Master Plan could become just another report on the area’s potential that sits on someone’s shelf. The Strait of Canso Superport Corporation is determined not to let that happen. There are too many interesting development opportunities whose realization cannot be left to chance. It is essential that the Strait of Canso Superport Corporation attain Canada Port Authority status with a budget to market the port to the world and bring to realization some of the opportunities identified in the Port Master Plan.

Canada Port Authorities (CPAs) are deemed essential to Canada’s Marine Transportation Sector. Presently, there are 18 CPAs. Port Metro Vancouver is the largest with a throughput of 101.9-million tonnes in 2009. The ports of Saint John, Montreal, Quebec and Halifax respectively handled 26.9-, 23.8-, 22.9- and 9.65-million tonnes.

In 2009, the total combined tonnage of the eight smallest CPAs was approximately 23-million tonnes. The Strait of Canso handled 33.5-million tonnes in 2009.

There is no question that the Strait of Canso is essential to Canada’s marine transportation sector and is poised to play an even greater role in future growth in this sector. The Strait of Canso Superport Corporation will begin negotiations with Transport Canada to attain CPA status for the port.

There are exciting and challenging times ahead for the Strait of Canso Superport Corporation. The industry base in the Strait of Canso has developed to serve both global and domestic markets. We are not intimidated by the globalization trends in today’s marine transportation sector. This trend attracted industries to the port in the past and the underutilized capacity in this deep water, ice-free port will attract new industries and opportunities in the future. The challenge is to establish a level playing field with other essential ports in Canada and equip the Strait of Canso Superport Corporation with the resources to market this asset to the world. The establishment of a Canada Port Authority in the Strait of Canso would establish this goal.

The future is ours. The challenge is to make it happen.

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