CBRM Councilor Questions Port Payments

Information is a valuable commodity in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality (CBRM) — so valuable it’s kept under lock and key and even our elected representatives have trouble accessing it.

Take the way the Port of Sydney Development Corporation (PSDC) has been paying its “partners” in a hoped-for container terminal development, as revealed by a recent freedom of information/protection of privacy (FOIPOP) request by the Spectator.

District 8 Councilor Amanda McDougall says payments like $120,000 to rail operator Genesee & Wyoming and $75,000 to a firm owned by port “developer” Albert Barbusci, which she learned of through the Spectator‘s coverage, seem to contradict assurances council has received that “the CBRM is not footing the bill for the marketing and promotion of the port.”

Such assurances, she told the Spectator by phone on Monday, ring hollow when “you see close to $900,000 being spent specifically for marketing the port.”


In trust

The Port of Sydney has been funding “business development” from a trust established to hold the roughly $2.5 million left over from the 2012 dredge of Sydney harbor, a project funded by the federal government, the provincial government, the CBRM and Nova Scotia Power. As of November 2014, the balance in the fund, held in trust by the Breton Law Group, looked like this:


The total, as you can see above, was $2,433,738.20.

Responsibility for the money rested with the Sydney Ports Corporation (SPC, precursor to the PSDC), according to the terms of the assumption agreement between Enterprise Cape Breton Corporation (ECBC) and SPC, which stipulated the uses to which the money was to be put, chief among them the replacement of navigational aids in the harbor.

The PSDC took over all assets and liabilities of SPC in 2015, including responsibility for the assumption fund. Since then, on the basis of a legal opinion from the Breton Law Group’s Jim Gogan, the port has redirected hundreds of thousands of dollars from the fund into “business development.”


Nav aids

McDougall said she and District 2 Councilor Earlene MacMullin initiated a meeting last week with CBRM CFO Marie Walsh and PSDC CEO Marlene Usher to go over that “business development” spending(Councilor MacMullin responded to an email I sent earlier this week, saying that she shared Councilor McDougall’s concerns.)

McDougall says she is still puzzled about the fate of the navigational aids, which Port of Sydney CEO Marlene Usher says are the responsibility of the Canadian Coast Guard, although a memorandum of understanding between Her Majesty the Queen (as represented by the Canadian Coast Guard, I could not make this stuff up) and ACOA from July 2014 places responsibility for the navigational aids squarely with the SPC.

The new navigational aids, necessary because the channel is now too deep for the old ones, carry an estimated price tag of $3.4 million (far more than originally expected). But as recently as the 1 March 2017 meeting of the PSDC interim board, Usher was commenting on “the negative impact existing due to not having the navigational aids placed in the harbour following the dredge.”

And minutes from the 8 September 2015 (and final) meeting of the Sydney Harbour Oversight Committee, which oversaw the dredge, note that:

Discussion was also raised regarding the only private sector contribution to the dredge from Nova Scotia Power and the disappointment that there [sic] investment has not resulted in a return due to the fact that without the navigational aids the new deeper channel cannot be used.

I contacted Nova Scotia Power Inc spokesperson Tiffany Chase to ask how the corporation currently felt about the lack of navigational aids in Sydney harbor. She replied by email:

We support the completion of the Sydney Harbour dredging project, including the implementation of navigational aids to enable fully laden vessels to access the International Pier. The extra depth achieved through the dredging project will allow vessels to carry an extra 5,000 tonnes of solid fuel should the navigational aids be installed.

Fully laden vessels will reduce delivery costs for our solid fuel shipments, and therefore create savings for our customers.

(“Solid fuel” means “coal” and “pet coke” and the “International Pier” would be the “International Coal Pier.” Sadly, scientists have shown that removing the words “coal” and “pet coke” from a power company’s communications does absolutely nothing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.)


Small enterprises

District 8 Councilor Amanda McDougall, CBRM

District 8 Councilor Amanda McDougall

McDougall says $2.5 million is “a lot of money” in a municipality that almost cut “heavy garbage pickup which is $250,000,” and to see it being spent in support of a supposedly private sector development is concerning.

“We have so many people looking to start small businesses who don’t get assistance from the CBRM,” said McDougall.

The District 8 councilor also questioned the interim Port board’s plan to seek $460,000 in funding from the feds and the province and First Nations to fund a rail study. McDougall felt the matter should have come before council, given that responsibility for all matters related to the container project was recently removed from the board of the PSDC and returned to the CBRM.

But she also wondered if the Port of Sydney’s contribution to that total would come from the assumption fund, in which case, she pointed out, it would be using government money in an attempt to leverage additional government money, an undertaking she found problematic:

“You have to be very careful how you seek money from government agencies,” said McDougall.



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