Brought to You by the Campaign to Re-Elect Cecil Clarke?

Did anyone else search Page 3 of the Saturday 27 August edition of the Cape Breton Post for the notice, “This message has been approved by the campaign to re-elect Cecil Clarke?”

I searched in vain, assuming there could be no other explanation for the non-story that occupied most of that page under the headline: “Four years later PEV set for $75-million expansion.”

In it, the Post explains that Provincial Energy Ventures (PEV), a Sydney-based bulk material transshipment company, “plans to move ahead with expansion plans it initially outlined more than four years ago.”Cecil Clarke for Mayor sign

PEV president Ernie Thrasher tells the paper that low commodity prices derailed the firm’s original plans, but he feels prices have finally “bottomed out,” allowing them to begin a dredging and expansion project that will result in an on-site maximum storage capacity of 700,000 tonnes of bulk aggregate. PEV will then be able to do its part in the battle against climate change by shipping “about 3 million tonnes” of Pennsylvania and West Virginia coal per year.”

Really? Because those of us who have been following the U.S. presidential election are none too certain about the future of coal in that country. Hillary Clinton caused a stir in March when she told an audience a Clinton administration would “put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.” CNN countered with a story headlined: “Hillary Clinton can’t kill coal: It’s already dying,” pointing out that employment in coal mining is at an all-time low in the United States.

Which may help explain why PEV’s expansion plans are perhaps less solid than the enthusiastic Post coverage would suggest. In fact, what it boils down to is: “PEV is prepared to begin a dredging project—likely in 2017.”

Yes, it will “likely” begin a year from now. Unless it doesn’t. Like it didn’t last time.

 

Photo Op

That’s the hook on which this story hangs—a company that didn’t expand four years ago might do so next year. Of course, there’s also this:

There is talk of a “co-ordinated” dredging project with other port users such as McKeil Marine, Logistec’s international coal pier, and the potential build of a second cruise ship berth at the Sydney Marine Terminal that would reduce the costs associated with the dredge.

I count two removes from reality in that paragraph: “There is talk of a co-ordinated dredging project” rather than “there is a co-ordinated dredging project” and “the potential build of a second cruise ship berth” rather than “the build of the second cruise ship berth.”

And having established that PEV may dredge the harbor in 2017, possibly in conjunction with other dredging projects, the Post brings incumbent Mayor Cecil Clarke in to add a few more layers to the speculation cake:

With dredging activity in Sydney harbour likely to happen next year or in 2018, Cape Breton Regional Municipality Mayor Cecil Clarke believes it could open the door in assisting other players on the harbour into taking on smaller dredging projects.

The Northern Yacht Club in North Sydney, the Canadian Coast Guard College in Westmount and a nearby property owned by Membertou First Nation are a few examples Clarke highlighted that could benefit economically from deeper water.

So, is this PEV’s dredging activity that is now “likely” to happen “next year or in 2018?” It got pushed back a year in the space of a couple of paragraphs? And what about the dredging in connection with our mega-port? Weren’t the engineers of the Chinese Communications Construction Company (CCCC) to return this summer to update us on that project? That project so close to becoming a reality it’s number 64 on Clarke’s list of “100 more positive changes for the CBRM?”

Clarke goes on to say that deepening the harbor bed at the Northern Yacht Club by “an extra metre” could open up that side of the harbor to “small cruise ships” if other vessels are tied up at the Sydney Marine Terminal.

Is this instead of or in addition to the second cruise ship berth? If it’s in addition to, does that mean the mayor foresees a day when there will be so much traffic in Sydney harbor we’ll need three berths to handle it all?

Having allowed the mayor’s imagination to soar, unfettered, for several paragraphs, the Post at least had the sense to try and nail down the price tag for these dredge dreams:

None of the costs associated with these potential projects have been worked out. Negotiations would have to determine who pays what, although Clarke referred to the dredge at the yacht club as a civic project where it wouldn’t be required to cost-share the dredge.

The only figure Clarke provided certainty on was the dredging required for a second cruise ship berth. He estimated the cost to the CBRM at “under $1 million.”

Do you get the feeling that “none of the costs associated with these potential projects” has been worked out because the projects were occurring to Clarke as he stood on the dock looking around the harbor?

Have we really reached the point in the CBRM where “under $1 million” qualifies as a costing “certainty?” And doesn’t that figure sound suspiciously low, given that Thrasher estimates the cost of PEV’s dredge—of “an estimated 360,000 cubic metres of harbour bed material around the company’s dock to increase the water depth at the pier to 17.5 metres”—at “$7 million to $9 million?”

 

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

I found the entire article to be rather amazing but the most amazing thing was this quote from Thrasher:

IMG_20160308_wharves

Sign on Sydport wharves, March 2016.

“All the parties that want to get the benefit of the increased depth of the harbour is to (undertake) that dredging in a co-ordinated effort because most of the cost is mobilization and demobilization of the dredging equipment, [emphasis mine]” Thrasher said.

If “most of the cost” of dredging is setting up and tearing down the equipment, why didn’t we dredge everything short of the Kiwanis’ Pool in 2012? We spent $38 million on a dredge that now appears to have been a dress rehearsal for the actual dredge.

The piece ends, as every article about a business expansion in the CBRM must, with the happy prediction that PEV’s planned expansion could result in the creation of jobs, “20 to 25,” in Thrasher’s estimation.

In the world of future expansions and imaginary jobs, this is well behind Canadian Maritime Engineering (CME), whose as-yet-unrealized expansion is to create 50 to 100 jobs in North Sydney; or McKeil Marine which, as part of the Point Edward Marine consortium, is to create 100 jobs over five years on land purchased by the CBRM at Sydport; or East Coast Metal Fabrication, which is to build a new paint shop and create jobs with the money it received from selling that land to the CBRM. Still, in an election year, even 20-25 maybe-one-day jobs are worth attaching your name to.

And while all of this hoopla is happening on Page A3, quietly on Page A2, the Post prints a press release from Clarke’s opponent, Rankin MacSween, on the subject of child poverty. No interview, no photo op (although, admittedly, the PEV story was a poor photo op for Clarke, who appears in profile, mostly obscured behind Ernie Thrasher), no additional detail regarding the CBRM’s shameful child poverty stats.

The same edition of the Post features an editorial page “rave” for a contender having stepped up to challenge Clarke, which it quickly qualifies with this:

“That shouldn’t be perceived as a slight against incumbent mayor Cecil Clarke who, we feel, has done a pretty good job during his first term.”

Really? You feel that? I never would have guessed.

The Cape Breton Spectator is entirely reader supported, consider subscribing today!