Port Report: What Happened to Our Mega-Terminal?

Port of Sydney CEO Marlene Usher will speak on Monday, September 26, at a Sydney and Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon (tickets $35). Her subject? What else, the Port of Sydney Project. Here’s the description from the chamber’s web site:

The newly dredged harbour for the Port of Sydney is pivoted to play a strategic role in the future advancement of CBRM’s economy. Considerable activity is currently ongoing within this economic engine with many players at work. The harbor is currently host to Marine Atlantic Ferry, CME ship repair, Logistec Stevedoring, PEV bulk materials handling, McKeil Marine and tug service, Esso petroleum terminal, Canadian Coast Guard College, MV Osprey trawler operations, East Coast Metal Fabricators, Sydport docking facilities, Louisbourg Seafoods, Dobson and Northern Yacht Clubs, and the Joan Harriss Cruise Pavilion.

Much work is also underway evaluating the nearby Greenfield site for potential uses. Talks of waterfront development including constructing a second cruise dock at the Joan Harriss Cruise Terminal, a new 8 storey mixed use commercial/residential complex, and relocation of the NSCC campus to the Sydney waterfront are a buzz in our community as well.

Sign at Sydport dock

Sign at Sydport “docking facilities.”

First of all, I want to know who “pivoted” our harbor and why wasn’t I notified? Surely a harbor pivoting project is something that should have come before council? What if all the water had drained out? What if a cruise ship had tipped over? I want to go on record right now as saying that if any further harbor pivoting is planned, I would like to be warned.

As for the “activity” going on in Sydney harbor, all of it, with the exception of the McKeil Marine tug service (which cost the CBRM a cool $1.2 million to “secure”) was happening in the harbor BEFORE the dredge. (CME arrived in 2014, but it bought an existing business, so no net gain in “activity.” Throw in the controversial Archibald’s Wharf purchase, and many on the Northside would tell you we’re in loss territory.)

All this “activity” was happening before the CBRM created a port corporation, stacked its board with elected municipal officials, seconded an ACOA executive with no experience in port development as a CEO (at a whopping $200,000 a year salary) and hired a pair of port “developers” who would not be out of place in a musical comedy about the subject. (“Oh we got trouble! With a capital “T,” and that rhymes with “P” and that stands for PORT!”)

This laundry list of companies “active” on the harbor is intended to impress but instead drives home just how little has been accomplished in harbor development since completion of the $37 million dredge in 2012.  (The inclusion of “Sydport docking facilities” sounds an especially desperate note for anyone who has read the various evaluations out there on the state of those docks. The failure to mention Nova Scotia Power, which helped pay for the dredge and owns the international coal pier, is curious.) It serves only to remind us how little result we’ve seen from the hundreds of thousands of dollars Usher’s Port of Sydney Development Corporation has spent on studies and marketing and jaunts around the world for herself and our peripatetic mayor.

That Usher is choosing to stress the few businesses that actually exist in the harbor over the $1.2 billion mega-terminal she has been cheerleading for the past year tells you all you need to know about that project, which she now describes this way:

Much work is also underway evaluating the nearby Greenfield site for potential uses

Hello? I thought we were not only going to have a container terminal equipped to handle the new generation of monster ships, we were going to “fast-track construction” and be “opening for business in 2019?” I thought we were going to have a massive logistics park alongside our container terminal creating more jobs than you could shake a mainmast at? I thought we were going to “make transportation history?” Now you’re walking it back to “evaluating the nearby Greenfield site for potential uses?” And hoping no one notices?

In fact, the project is now lumped in with Marty Chernin’s imaginary eight-storey, mixed-use commercial/residential complex (which used to be an imaginary 11-storey, mixed-use commercial/residential complex,  construction on which was supposed to have begun last April ); the second cruise ship berth, for which neither federal nor provincial funding has been secured; and the new waterfront campus of the Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC), a project so close to reality, there hasn’t even been a feasibility study yet.

Readers, I’m going to do you a solid. I’m going to save you $35 and go to that luncheon for you. I have asked to attend as media and have been warmly welcomed:

Press is always welcome and can attend for free with one small caveat… without a paid ticket – there may not be a seat available and I can’t serve you lunch. Sorry about that, but again – if you want to come and listen we’d love to have you.

Oh my god, like the press need food and chairs! Please, we’re barely human.

In the meantime, if you want to know what’s going on in Sydney Harbor, go to this website. It not only shows you in real time what marine traffic is in the harbor, it also gives you recent arrivals and departures.  It will take up far less of your time than attending a Chamber of Commerce luncheon and require the consumption of much less  rubber chicken.

You’re welcome.