Weren’t We Expecting Big Port News This Year?

Our port “developers” — Sydney Harbor Investment Partners (SHIP) formerly Harbour Port Development Partners (HPDP) — have been engaged in promoting the Port of Sydney as a “deep water, transshipment and intermodal mega hub” capable of handling Ultra-Large Container Vessels (ULCV) since 2014 (although we only made it official in June 2015).

Until February 2018, when he announced he was running for the leadership of the provincial Tory party, the port file was spearheaded by CBRM Mayor Cecil Clarke. In February, however, he announced his work there was done and it was time to leave the project in the capable hands of the private sector (in the form of Albert Barbusci and Barry Sheehy i.e. Sydney Harbour Investment Partners).

It probably seemed like a good time to walk away — Clarke had announced as early as November 2017 that big news was coming on the port front, possibly in time for Christmas, definitely early in the New Year.

But 12 months have passed and we’ve had no big news. We’ve had no small news, either. In fact, we saw so little of our port developers in 2018, I’ve all but forgotten what they look like.

All of which got me to thinking about how many false alarms we’ve had about the port project’s “momentum” over the past few years and so, in the spirit of year-end stock-taking, I thought I’d recap some of the highlights.

Anything written in orange represents a particular egregious stretching of the truth.



January 2014

Canadian Marine Engineering (CME) takes over a shipyard on the North Sydney waterfront.

7 January 2014

CBRM Council meets in what will be the first of 31 in camera sessions between now and 20 October 2015, many of which are not announced publicly in contravention of the Municipal Government Act (MGA).

In Camera Council Meetings January 2014 - October 2015


February 2014

Archibald's Wharf concept drawing from the Downtown North Sydney Revitalization Plan

Archibald’s Wharf concept drawing from the Downtown North Sydney Revitalization Plan

As best I can figure, it is around this time that Barry Sheehy, a summer resident of Cape Breton Island, and his business partner Albert Barbusci begin exploring the possibility of establishing a ULVC terminal in Sydney harbor. (An idea which, at this point, has been under discussion in the municipality for over a decade and has precipitated the $6 million purchase of the so-called Greenfield site on Sydney harbor where the terminal is to be located).

Barbusci and Sheehy will later claim to have spent $1.2 million of their own money during what will be a 16-month period of unofficial port promotion.

At some point during this period, Sheehy approaches Blair McKeil of McKeil Marine, a supplier of tugs, barges and marine equipment, asking him to consider establishing a base in Sydney.

18 November 2014

CBRM Mayor Cecil Clarke confirms for the Cape Breton Post the existence of an “expansion plan” that will involve the sale of “the bulk” of Archibald’s Wharf, a waterfront recreation area in North Sydney, to CME, telling the paper:

There are ongoing discussions but no final outcomes as of yet.

We’ll learn, when former CBRM economic development manager John Whalley’s constructive dismissal suit against the CBRM goes to court in 2018, that the negotiations are led for the CBRM by an outside consultant, Mike Moore, who was hired through Business Cape Breton (BCB) and reports directly to Mayor Clarke (also in contravention of the MGA).

2 December 2014

Mayor Clarke calls a Special Meeting of CBRM council during which he makes public an offer of intent from CME president Tony Kennedy to buy Archibald’s Wharf.

Council approves the sale but the deal requires an amendment to the municipal planning strategy and opposition to the plan begins to mobilize. The municipality conducts public consultations which the province’s Ombudsman will later rule were inadequate.



3 February 2015

CBRM Council meets in camera to discuss the creation of a new “Port of Sydney Board” with an “expanded mandate” and to second Marlene Usher from ACOA to head the new entity. Council moves into open session to vote on the matters. The motions are carried.

1 April 2015

The Port of Sydney Development Corporation is incorporated. It will be overseen for the next two years by an “interim” board made up of people who, according to the PSDC’s Articles of Association, shouldn’t be on it, namely: Mayor Cecil Clarke, Deputy Mayor George MacDonald and Councilors Clarence Prince, Kevin Saccary and Jim MacLeod. CAO Michael Merritt, an ex officio board member, will serve as chair.

15 May 2015

CBRM Council approves the sale of Archibald’s Wharf to CME.

26 May 2015

Harbor Port Development Partners (HPDP) is incorporated.

28 May 2015

John Whalley resigns as economic development manager for the CBRM.

2 June 2015

Marlene Usher (LinkedIn)

Marlene Usher (LinkedIn)

During an in camera council meeting, CBRM council is asked to transfer the “mandate, authority and responsibility for the overall port development, operations and governance” from the CBRM to the Port of Sydney Development Corporation and to award HPDP an exclusivity agreement “to pursue the development of the Port of Sydney.”

During the same in camera meeting, Council is asked to purchase Sydport properties from East Coast Metal Fabrications and Sydport Operations Incorporated and lease them to Point Edward Marine (a newly formed subsidiary of McKeil Marine).

4 June 2015

CBRM Mayor Cecil Clarke mentions McKeil as a company that might come to Sydney, and both the Cape Breton Post and the CBC speak to Blair McKeil, who tells the CBC:

“What I need is a base where I can call home, and I can slowly build out so that I’ve got a place where I can do ship repair, I’ve got a place where I can do minor maintenance and repair, and to house our fleet.”

“When we come off that Hebron project, for instance, we’ll have 15 or 20 barges that need a place to call home,” McKeil said. “We’re hopeful we can bring those into Sydney.”

McKeil says he was approached by consultant Barry Sheehy who encouraged him to consider the Sydport Marine Industrial Park:

“I had a look at the facility. The wharves certainly need work, but it has potential,” he said. “What I’ve told them is that if we can work out something that makes sense financially for both parties, that McKeil would start a presence there.”

16 June 2015

CBRM Council approves all the matters discussed during the June 2 in camera session: a two-year “exclusivity” agreement with HPDP and the purchase of Sydport land to be leased to McKeil Marine. (This deal will become central to Whalley’s constructive dismissal suit against the CBRM. Whalley, in 2015, argues the deal violates the MGA.)

19 November 2015

An excerpt from an HPDP press release on the Novaporte website under this headline — “China Communications Construction Company tours Port of Sydney, study in the works” — states:

Sydney port officials are hoping to have a shipper, business plan and feasibility study for a Sydney Container hub within six months. 

The link provided is to a Chronicle Herald article dated 16 March 2016 which no longer exists.

26 November 2015

CBRM Mayor Cecil Clarke travels to China with HPDP’s Albert Barbusci. The trip is paid for by the “Centre for International Co-operation, the Port of Sydney and Harbor Port Development Partners.”

“[Mayor Cecil Clarke] left for China (Thursday) morning, I can tell you that,” [Deputy Mayor George] MacDonald said. “I don’t know the details of the trip — as you know it’s always a puzzle, but we’re hoping that maybe we’re going to close the last piece of the puzzle … they’re meeting with some representatives in China in regard to some shipping lines, I guess.

“It’s a very important trip. … We’re hoping to get some real positive results from the trip.” (Cape Breton Post)

8 December 2015

HPDP announces it has:

…come to an agreement with China Communications Construction Company Limited (CCCC), the world’s largest port construction and design company, to discuss arrangements related to the design, construction and ownership of the marine container terminal, as part of the deep water port development project in Sydney. (HPDP press release)

16 December 2015

CBRM and SHIP announce they have signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Chinese city of Dalian “laying the ground work for an official sister city relationship between the two regions and port cities.”

“We have worked for months laying the groundwork for this exciting sister city relationship. Our job is to assemble the right partnerships to develop Sydney’s deep water harbour and this new relationship with Dalian and Liaoning Province is an important building block in this larger effort”, said Albert Barbusci, Chief Executive Officer of HPDP following the announcement. (HPDP press release)



2 January 2016

“In partnership with CBRM and our developer, Harbor-Port [sic] Development Partners, we are very engaged in the development of a container terminal and transshipment opportunity at Port of Sydney. We are confident in Sydney’s competitive advantage and continue to work with all stakeholders to achieve our goal. The year 2016 is a pivotal year and we are positioned for success. –– Port of Sydney CEO Marlene Usher (Port of Sydney Update)

10 February 2016

HPDP announces Sydney’s container terminal has a name — it’s Novaporte. And the adjacent logistics park will be called Novazone.

“The name reflects the international nature of our project”, said Albert Barbusci, Chief Executive Officer of HPDP. “NOVA is Latin for new and port is spelled with an E to recognize that this will be both a gateway and transshipment hub.” (HPDP press release)

29 February 2016

Port of Sydney CEO Marlene Usher and HPDP’s Albert Barbusci attend the Suez Canal Global Conference, hosted by the Suez Canal Authority.

Usher and Barbusci met with the head of the Suez Canada Authority, Admiral Mohab Mamish. Barbusci described the meeting as an “important connection as we bring together the global interests to build Novaporte.”

Barbusci said he hopes to further discussions with Suez officials over the coming months. Several global firms are partners and supporters of the Novaporte project including China Communications and Construction Company, US engineering firm Bechtel, railway partners Genesee & Wyoming via their subsidiary Cape Breton and Central Nova Scotia Railway and Canadian real estate development company Canderel. (HPDP press release)

Barbusci takes the opportunity to tell the Cape Breton Post that:

…since it was brought on board to market the port, Harborport [sic] Development Partners — his partnership with Barry Sheehy — have spent an amount approaching $3 million on the effort. The marketing agreement with the CBRM doesn’t require formal itemized reporting of that spending.

Usher, on the other hand, takes the opportunity to tell the Cape Breton Post that she hasn’t actually done the math:

[HPDP] has spent a considerable amount of money on the project, including travel, consulting and legal fees, and as well as what value they attach to their consulting time dedicated to the project.

“I don’t know what it would calculate to, we probably should do that exercise because then people would understand where the number comes from … because it adds value to the project, it’s not our money, it’s their’s and it is an actual contribution to the project,” Usher said.

7 April 2016

In an interview with the American Journal of Transportation (AJOT), Marlene Usher recounts the arrival of representatives from CCCC in Sydney and makes a bold prediction:

[Usher] indicated that CCCC officials were in Sydney for a week in March. “They met local engineering firms and toured the site. They also met waterfront labor.”

“Hopefully, the study will be completed by July and we will be able to fast-track construction for opening for business in 2019,” she said, adding that the process has been facilitated by regulatory approvals and constructive dialogue with local aboriginal communities.

18 April 2016

Barbusci and former Canadian PM Jean Chrétien (HPDP’s “international adviser”) meet with President Chen Fenjian of China Communication Construction Company (CCCC) and much of Chen Fenjian’s senior management team in Beijing.

Albert Barbusci (fourth from left) and Jean Chrétien (fifth from left) visit China Communications Construction Company. (Source: Novaporte website)

Albert Barbusci (fourth from left) and Jean Chrétien (fifth from left) visit China Communications Construction Company. (Source: Novaporte website)

CCCC and SHIP “agree to fund” a “technical feasibility study” for Novaporte. (HPDP press release)

1 June 2016

The Egyptian ambassador to Canada, Motaz Zahran, while visiting Cape Breton, tells reporters that:

…a memorandum of understanding has been negotiated between Egypt and the Cape Breton Regional Municipality for potential shipping business.

“It’s a matter of formalities” before it’s signed, he said.

Zahran said the memorandum of understanding sets the groundwork for “a much more integrated approach” between Sydney’s port and Egypt’s Suez Canal. (CBC)

CBRM Mayor Cecil Clarke tells the CBC:

“The people that will be spending the money from the Suez Authority itself will be coming next, we anticipate in July,” he said.

31 August 2016

Jack Wall, president, Cape Breton Building and Trades Council and Alberta Barbusci.

Jack Wall, president, Cape Breton Building and Trades Council and Alberta Barbusci.

HPDP signs an MOU with the Cape Breton Island Building and Construction Trades Councils purporting to guarantee “labor stability” during construction of the mega-port.

15 October 2016

Municipal elections are held in the CBRM. Cecil Clarke is re-elected as mayor.

19 October 2016

HPDP changes its corporate name to Sydney Harbour Investment Partners (SHIP).

12 December 2016

SHIP announces it has signed an agreement with Ports America, the largest terminal operator in the United States:

Ports America’s highly experienced management team will apply its proven business development and growth strategies while marketing the Novaporte terminal as a Ports America-managed facility to attract new customer and investor relationships. It also will advise on the operational configuration of the terminal to maximize efficiency. Ports America will manage and operate the terminal for 40 years, providing services such as full stevedore and terminal labor management, terminal operating systems, and maintenance and repair. (SHIP press release)

19 December 2016

CBRM council votes 9-4 to extend SHIP’s exclusivity two-year exclusivity contract (which has yet to expire) by an additional five years. The decision is controversial, and comes after some councilors claim to have been “bullied” by “local businessmen” pushing the extension.

As part of the deal, SHIP agrees to provide regular updates to council.

Albert Barbusci says his contract has to be extended because the project has “momentum.”



20 January 2017

Albert Barbusci tells Truck News that construction on Novaporte is estimated to take two years, but won’t likely begin until 2018, as they must secure a minimum volume commitment before construction can officially begin:

“If all goes well, we’ll be putting a shovel into the ground in 2018 and we’ll be up and running in 2021,” he estimated. 

24 January 2017

Council approves a motion, presented by solicitor Jim Gogan, to modify the Articles of Association of the Port of Sydney Development Corporation. The changes include allowing the board to elect its own chair (rather than having the CAO serve as chair) and reducing the scope of the board’s responsibilities, chiefly by removing responsibility for the container terminal project.

1 April 2017

The “interim” Port of Sydney Development Corporation board is replaced by a permanent port board made up of citizens. Among the permanent board’s first actions is a decision not to publish the minutes of its meetings.

13 September 2017

Novaporte announces that “design and site work for civic infrastructure is commencing” for the section of the Novazone logistics park to be controlled by the Mi’kmaq.

20 November 2017

After an in camera meeting, CBRM Council comes into open session to approve a motion allowing the CBRM to “enter into an Option and Development Agreement with Sydney Harbour Investment Partners Inc..” Mayor Clarke will tell the CBC the land:

…allows the consortium to move ahead with securing international customers for a container terminal.

There’s no firm deal yet for such a development, but Clarke says an announcement could come very soon.

“This was very timely to bring forward because we need to move,” said Clarke. “Decision makers need to make their decisions and they’re prepared to do that right now. I look forward to, maybe, an early Christmas present, or a great way to ring off the new year.”



3 February 2018

Mayor Cecil Clarke declares his candidacy for the leadership of the provincial Progressive Conservatives.

8 March 2018

Derek Mombourquette

Nova Scotia Municipal Affairs Minister (and Sydney-Whitney Pier MLA) Derek Mombourquette introduces Bill No. 85, which amends the Municipal Government Act (MGA) to facilitate the development of a container terminal in Sydney.

CBRM economic development manager John Phalen tells the Cape Breton Post there are three purposes to the legislation, all critical to a deal going forward between CBRM and SHIP:

• Allow for the sale and/or lease of land below market value

• Allow for a tax abatement on the land

• Allow for a 99-year lease.

The revised legislation states that if the CBRM chooses to sell or lease “eligible municipal property” valued at more than $10,000 dollars at less than market value, council must first hold a public hearing on the matter. Proceeding with the sale or lease would then require a two-thirds majority vote by council.

14 March 2018

Albert Barbusci, who promised in December 2016 to report regularly to CBRM council on his progress promoting the port, shows up in Sydney for a secret meeting with CBRM Council at the Holiday Inn. (Rick Grant ruins the surprise in the Spectator.)

18 April 2018

Bill No. 85 receives Royal Assent in the provincial legislature and becomes law.

10 July 2018

Marlene Usher presents the Port of Sydney Development Corporation’s Strategic Plan to Council, making a play to once again expand the powers of the PSDC board:

Adoption of the strategic plan goes hand in hand with the request to amend the Memorandum of Association (MOA) and Articles of Incorporation. The current definition of the “Port of Sydney”…is an impediment to the delivery and implementation of the Board’s new strategic plan. In the current articles the Port of Sydney is defined to include activities that relate to the Joan Harriss Cruise Pavilion. This definition has dramatically diminished the mandate compared to the definition of the “Port of Sydney” in the original articles dated 2015.

Under questioning from Council, Usher says this does not mean the PSDC would take over management of the Greenfield site but would “advocate” on behalf of harbor development. Council calls for a staff Issue Paper on the matter.

4 September 2018

District 2 Councilor Earlene MacMullin moves, during a general committee meeting, that council be given an “all-inclusive” briefing on the port file, given the mayor’s candidacy for the PC leadership and the uncertainty around his future.  The meeting is scheduled but does not take place due to unforeseen circumstances.

5 December 2018

A laundry list of subjects is presented to Council for discussion in future Council meetings. The list includes consideration of the Port of Sydney Development Corporation’s strategic plan. Clarke suggests they include MacMullin’s earlier requested port update in the meeting and council agrees. The mayor — who has been quite forthcoming on other items on the list — offers no comment on the current status of the container terminal project.


Automatic for the people?

I’m dedicating a special section of this article to the question of just how automated this proposed “deep water, transshipment and intermodal mega hub” will be:

8 December 2015:

“We are proud to have [China Communications Construction Company Limited] as a partner in this project. They share our vision regarding the unique opportunity to design and build a next generation highly automated facility which will serve the ultra large container vessels for decades to come. We welcome a Chinese consortium joining our Canadian team and look forward to working with CCCC in building out our super-hub in Sydney”, said Albert Barbusci, Chief Executive Officer, Harbor-Port Development Partners. (HPDP press release)

2015 Harbour Port Development Partners (HPDP) Power Point Presentation:


12 December 2016

SHIP has exclusive development rights to approximately 500 acres in the Port of Sydney and, with the support of Ports America and a specially formed development group, will build a dedicated, semi-automated, [emphasis mine] deep-water marine container facility capable of handling 18,000+ TEU vessels. (SHIP press release)

19 December 2016

Last week, it was announced that Sydney Harbour Investment Partners had reached an agreement with the multinational, United States-based Ports America to promoted, develop and manage the proposed Novaporte marine container facility that, if [it] proceeds, could mean as many as 5,000 jobs in an area suffering from chronic unemployment. (Cape Breton Post)





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