Fast & Curious: Port Days Edition

Shout out

Let’s start this out on a positive note: the staff at the Port of Sydney are really great.

CEO Marlene Usher referred to them as her “small but mighty” team during her opening remarks at Port Days on Thursday and it’s true, the entire operation — including cruise, and the craft market and maintenance — is handled by 10 people. I especially appreciate them because they always make sure I have a seat at the press table (and on Thursday, they also made sure the press table had a light).

I have questions about many Port-related things, but I don’t question the professionalism of the people who work there. In fact, I would argue their dedication is yet another reason why the people making the decisions about the Port should be held accountable.


Where’s Cecil?

There were a few glaring absences from Port Days 2018 but CBRM Mayor Cecil Clarke’s wasn’t one of them. He was there delivering opening remarks at 8:45 AM and he was there outside the door of Pittman Hall talking to a reporter as I left at noonish. (Yes, I left Port Days before the mayor did.)

And yet, he still made it to Middleton in time for the first PC leadership debate:

NSPC leadership debate, Middleton, 24 May 2018. (l-r) John Lohr, Cecil Clarke, Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin, Julie Chaisson, Tim Houston.

I wonder where he’ll be today?



I also need to point out that while the Cape Breton Post spent the days leading up to Port Days running port-related stories — like this one about Membertou’s intriguing plans to build fishing boats on the harbor — the actual event didn’t generate a front-page story.

In fact, it ceded the front page to a man who managed to eat a six-pound donair in one hour.

Make of that what you will.


Regrets, they had a few

I mentioned a couple of glaring absences from Port Days 2018 and the first has got to be the representatives of Ports America, the company supposedly on board to operate any container terminal built here.

The version of the Ports Day Agenda I posted Wednesday was clear: at 9:45AM, Ports America VP Mike Journeycake and Director of Engineering Kevin Dickman would provide an update on “Novaporte,” the name our port promoters have given the project. (Click the image to enlarge.)


I was actually quite interested to hear what they had to say, although my first question was, “Are they being paid to attend?” In fact, I actually asked Port of Sydney CEO Marlene Usher if she could tell me which speakers were being paid fees or having their travel covered by the Port for the event. She responded in an email:

Mary, I think the subject matter for these speakers would make for a more interesting story. Just my thoughts.

In any case none of the speakers are paid. However we are paying for travel expenses for the Stantec speaker and the speaker from the Charlottetown Development Society.

(In passing, most of what the speakers at Port Days had to say — for example, a 25-minute presentation on “commissioning and startups” — was not “interesting.”)

I thought Usher’s reply meant the Ports America reps were coming on their own dime and I was really impressed — until I arrived at Port Days, opened the official agenda and found that while a “Novaporte Update” was still scheduled for 9:45AM, there were no longer any names attached to it. And then the MC attached a name to it and it was Barry Sheehy’s.

Sheehy said that he was replacing his partner, Sydney Harbour Investment Partners (SHIP) CEO Albert Barbusci, who, like the Ports America reps, also sent his Port Days regrets. (He was unable to attend because BUSINESS.)

Sir Thomas More (l) and Barry Sheehy.

Sir Thomas More (l) and Barry Sheehy.

Sheehy then began — I swear — with the same remark he opened with the last time I heard him speak at Port Days, in 2016: he said climbing the stairs to the stage in Pittman Hall always made him feel like he was going to the scaffold. He expounded further this time, saying the sensation put him in mind of the famous last words of one of his personal heroes, Sir Thomas More, who also felt like he was going to the scaffold when he climbed the stairs to the podium to report on the status of his Ultra-Large Container Vessel (ULCV) terminal project. Just kidding! He felt like he was going to the scaffold when he was going to the scaffold — and reportedly told the soldier accompanying him, “Pray Sir, see me safe up; and as to my coming down, let me shift for myself.” I’m not sure where the parallel is, given that Sheehy’s head was not chopped off and he actually did “shift for himself” when it came time to get off the stage, so I’m just going to put it down to “historian humor.”

Sadly, Sheehy said he was not familiar enough with the file to fill us in on all the detailed (and “very expensive”) engineering work they are currently undertaking in preparation for the terminal, but he told us that they (presumably he and  Barbusci) had made a series of “successful” trips to Beijing, Shanghai and Tokyo. Some of the outcomes of these trips were “exciting.” Others were “very exciting.”  As he did not tell us what any of these outcomes were, we will simply have to take his word on the excitement factor.

Sheehy says they are working to consolidate the “powerful consortium” they’ve assembled to build and operate the port. They are also working to guarantee shippers 100,000 loaded export containers (annually, presumably), a project they’ve dubbed “Novations.” (By way of comparison, in 2016, the Port of Prince Rupert, BC, shipped out 166,291 loaded export containers.)

He then expounded on the financial crisis and the shipping industry and the need for greater foreign direct investment in Canada before ending with “an incredible video” made for them by AECOM.* Not to be confused (although I confused them) with Aecon, the Canadian construction company that China’s state-owned China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) was going to buy until the federal government put the kibosh on the deal Wednesday. CCCC is, of course, the company that has supposedly signed on to build Novaporte.

The video, I’m sorry to say, was not “incredible.” It was a silent, animated depiction of our state-of-the-art container port in action. It looked like the Lego Movie if the Lego Movie had been made by a gifted elementary school student.

I didn’t feel particularly updated and neither, it seems, did the Cape Breton Post‘s Nancy King, who has also been keeping a close eye on the container terminal project.

I kind of felt like we were all being led to the scaffold.


Second berth

Engineer Richard Morykot of CBCL updated the assembly on the progress of the second cruise ship berth in Sydney Harbour and fortunately for the assembly, he was familiar enough with the file to offer something other than Thomas More anecdotes and musings on the 2007 financial crisis.

Artist's rendition second cruise berth Sydney, NS

There was lots of good stuff about bedrock elevations and fendering systems and rock-socketed piles, but the item that caused my ears to perk up was the environmental testing they’d done on what Morykot called “the Nickerson property,” the waterfront land the CBRM is in the process of expropriating from local businessman Jerry Nickerson for the construction of the second berth.

The consulting firm CPCS, in its due diligence report on the second berth, said “the cost of environmental remediation” of the property was “at issue.” Cape Breton Post reporter Nancy King tried to get a copy of an environmental assessment of the property from the CBRM but was turned down.

But Morykot assured the Port Days audience that all was well on this front. CBCL had “reviewed existing data” (so, presumably, the CBRM shared the environmental assessment with them) and conducted their own tests:

We had some exceedances but nothing that I would be very concerned about on the site.

Call me a pain, but I would like to know what those “exceedances” were. I’d also like to know what will be involved in remediating the property. But Morykot moved on to other subjects (pipe piles, ice forces, breasting dolphins, dredging) and in the time for questions that followed, no one asked about it.



The best presentation I heard on Thursday was that of Sharon Haley-Mancini of the Halifax Central Library (although that might just be my bias talking — I love libraries, I’m less fond of cruise ship piers and commissioning and startup processes.)

Haley-Mancini was on the “Sydney Waterfront Panel” which was not really a panel in the sense that there was no give and take between panelists and the moderator, Jim Wooder, didn’t have anything to moderate — the “panelists” just took turns making presentations.

Atrium, Halifax Central Library.

Atrium, Halifax Central Library.

(I would also note that not only was Haley-Mancini the only woman on the “panel,” she was one of only three women presenters on Thursday — the other 13 were all men and the Port Days audience also skewed male. Because it’s 2018.)

Anyway, Haley-Mancini had the best subject to present on — how can you lose talking about Halifax’s beautiful, $57 million central library? She drew a funny comparison between the new Halifax library — with its meeting rooms and auditoriums and cafes and study carrels and recording studios — and the Glace Bay library of her youth, where she remembers being intimidated by a librarian who went to patrons’ homes in search of overdue books!

She made the case for the value of a library in revitalizing a downtown with the aid of a couple of startling statistics: in 2014, before the new library opened, a foot traffic count on Spring Garden Road near the library’s current location totaled 1.7 million.

A count in the same area in 2017 totaled 7 million.

The gate count at the new library has averaged about 1.6 million per year compared to 390,000 for the old Spring Garden Road library and the new library has been ranked by readers of The Coast as the “best student hang” in Halifax for the last two years in a row, beating out all the city’s pubs and coffee shops and restaurants.


Musical buildings

Richard Paul, chief operating officer (COO) of Membertou Corporate Division, was also on the Sydney Waterfront Panel — replacing another prominent Port Days no-show, Membertou Chief Terry Paul.

Artist's rendering of CBRM Central Library.

Artist’s rendering of CBRM Central Library.

Membertou Corporate has apparently joined forces with developer Marty Chernin’s Harbour Royale Group to promote a waterfront development plan that includes a proposed new central CBRM library. (Except Harbour Royale is not going to fund the library, it’s just going to advise the library committee on accessing federal money, if I understood correctly. Honestly, I still don’t understand how the library came to be lumped in with Chernin’s project.)

Richard Paul noted that when Chief Terry Paul saw the architectural rendering (by Spiro Trifos) of the library on the waterfront he said, “That’s a Mi’kmaq drum.” And that drum, said Richard Paul, could take its place on the waterfront next to the Big Celtic Fiddle.

I was struck by this because I think the new library looks like the lid of an ice bucket. But once I had the drum idea in my head, I could easily imagine what would follow — demands that Chernin’s office tower be built in the shape of a traditional Acadian accordion while the new casino reference some Eastern European stringed instrument.

Our library committee has clearly decided that hitching its wagon to Chernin’s star is the best way to get a new central library for the CBRM, even though Chernin has been trying, unsuccessfully, to develop something on the Sydney waterfront for years and his latest plan comes with a lot of uncertainties, like, will the casino move to the waterfront? Will the Holiday Inn expand? Can you provide sufficient parking for a casino and a library and an expanded hotel on land underpinned by “fractured bedrock?” And should we be developing anything that close to the harbor given the realities of climate change?

So many questions. I may have to go to the library.


*NOTE: This article has been updated to clarify that AECOM produced the container port video not, as I had originally suggested, Aecon.