The Port File: Spin Vs Fact

I was looking over some old files as I was writing the article on the fine line between reporting and enabling and I came across a list I compiled of dubious assertions by proponents of the CBRM container port project in December 2015, seven months after the CBRM signed its “exclusivity contract” with Harbor Port Development Partners (HPDP).

HPDP, headed by Albert Barbusci and his Canadian Irish Catholic Polish Nationalist sidekick Barry Sheehy, became Sydney Harbor Development Partners (SHIP) in 2016 in what was arguably one of the biggest developments in the history of the file.

I’d forgotten some of these quotes and decided it would be fun to offer them up (along with updates, where necessary) for your reading pleasure.

It’s like a walk down memory lane — if everyone on memory lane was running around with their pants on fire.

 

“We have access to…double stack rail.”

Port of Sydney Development Corporation CEO Marlene Usher, Cape Breton Post 24 December 2015

This is true if by “access” Usher means we could unload the containers onto trucks and drive them to the mainland where they can be transferred to double-stack rail cars.

Or if she means we could unpack the containers, repack the contents into smaller containers—I’m thinking, suitcases—and fly them to Halifax, where they could then be placed on double-stack rail cars.

The most likely interpretation of this statement, however, is that it is not true.

UPDATE: It still isn’t true.

Rail bridge at Grand Narrows, NS. (Photo via Cape Breton Railway Victims Association)

Rail bridge at Grand Narrows, NS. (Photo via Cape Breton Railway Victims Association)

 

“That just shows what’s called the ‘Magic Y.’ That’s CN’s rail lines but…you’ll see that they go right out there, to Cape Breton.”

Barry Sheehy, commenting on a slide that clearly shows the CN lines ending in Truro, during a presentation to a CBU business class on 17 November 2015.

There is a rail line from Truro to Sydney but it is not owned or operated by CN. We all know this. The line is owned and operated by the Cape Breton & Central Nova Railway Limited (CBNS) which is in turn owned by the U.S.-based Genesee & Wyoming, Inc (G&W). Moreover, Genesee & Wyoming has received approval from the NS Utilities and Review Board to abandon the line between St. Peter’s Junction and Sydney.

Sheehy knows this because on 19 November 2015, he and his partner Albert Barbusci issued a press release which stated:

Cape Breton & Central Nova Scotia Railway Limited (CBNS) is in discussions with HPDP regarding the possibility of providing future rail service on the line from Truro to Sydney, Nova Scotia, as part of the deep water port development project in Sydney.

UPDATE: The provincial government, which has been providing a subsidy to G&W to keep them from abandoning the rail line, has threatened to cut this in the absence of “significant” progress on the Sydney port project this year. Like clockwork, this triggered an announcement from Albert Barbusci, who said the Chinese are no longer involved in the project, but an American private equity firm — with one, equally imaginary infrastructure project under its belt — is now providing the financing.

 

“Of course, few, if any, readers from this neck of the woods ever heard of CCCC until yesterday.”

Cape Breton Post editorial 10 December 2015.

This was a reference to the China Communications Construction Company (or “Quad C” as Barbusci liked to call it), the state-owned Chinese construction giant Barbusci claimed had signed on to design, build and take an equity stake in the Port of Sydney project.

It was a fair statement — most people from “this neck of the woods” had probably not heard of CCCC before Barbusci began his dealings with it — but Ritchie Mann and the rest of the team promoting the Melford deep-water port project had. In fact, they had not only heard of CCCC prior to December 2015, they’d met with company reps in Cape Breton and Shanghai, entertained the idea of cutting the Chinese company into the Melford deal, then dismissed that idea based on the terms proposed by CCCC.

According to an interview Mann gave the CBC’s Information Morning Cape Breton, the Chinese firm wanted an equity stake in the Melford project in return for a contribution of used equipment and it wanted that equipment to be shipped and assembled by Chinese labor. Mann said those facts, combined with CCCC’s desire to construct an expensive, fully automated terminal and the discovery that CCCC was banned from World Bank projects until 2019, caused the Melford group to decide “this is not the company for us, this is not the deal we want to do…”

 

“Dalian has agreed to work with us [on port development],” he said. “But the real value is for Nova Scotia and Cape Breton to look at the potential trading that they can do with China.”

Albert Barbusci 16 December 2015 CBC

Dalian is our Chinese sister-city (population 6 million). Having a Chinese sister city is kind of neat — but it’s hardly an essential step toward establishing an ULCV terminal in Sydney. Barbusci promised we’d be receiving a delegation from Dalian in May 2016 to “to talk about commercial, cultural and educational opportunities.”

UPDATE: The delegation never arrived. Subsequently, a court in Dalian sentenced a Canadian citizen to death. By this time, though, Barbusci and Clarke were referring to our Chinese sister city about as frequently as Mr. Rochester referred to his first wife.

Cecil Clarke signs “sister city” agreement with Chinese city of Dalian

 

“Mayor Cecil Clarke says HPDP have already identified the more than $1 billion in financing required for the project.”

Cape Breton Post editorial 9 December 2015

“The financing is the simple part. It’s all the other details of where the money goes toward, and the business model in terms of return on all that investment.”

Cecil Clarke, Cape Breton Post 8 December 2015

I honestly don’t know who would win a “Who Knows Less About International Shipping” contest — Cecil Clarke or the editor of the Cape Breton Post. I suspect the result would be too close to call.

UPDATE: Barbusci is now claiming the financing will come from an American private equity firm, as noted above.

 

“If you look at development of a port like building a shopping centre, word that the company marketing the port of Sydney had signed an agreement with the world’s largest port construction and design company is like having the anchor tenants in place.”

Albert Barbusci, Cape Breton Post 8 December 2015.

No, Albert, it’s not. It’s not like that at all. It’s like having a construction and design company ready to design and build your shopping center.

Landing a shipping line would be like having the anchor tenants in place.

Note to self: Don’t ask Barbusci to build you a shopping center.

 

“While Sydney harbour sees surface ice, that will not impede ships of the size that would call at the port, and Sydney is considered an ice-free harbour, [Mayor Cecil] Clarke said. If an irregular weather pattern was to emerge, the coast guard could provide cutting service, he added.”

Cape Breton Post 8 December 2015

UPDATE: Does it not occur to any of these people (Marlene Usher was making equally dismissive remarks about ice in Sydney harbor during the latest Port Days) that ice forming around the entry to the harbor could also be an issue? Did they miss that incident in 2017 when the Newfoundland ferry got trapped in Sydney harbor, “about 300 metres from open water?”

The culprit was “persistent and strong northerly wind” that “pushed the sea ice up against the coast of the Northumberland Strait and filled in” the harbor.

I actually asked a shipping industry analyst about container ships and ice and he said the shipping lines use vessels with reinforced hulls in places like the North Sea where ice is a factor. He did not say, “ice will not impede” ultra-large container vessels.

 

MV Highlanders stuck in ice near Low Point, NS, 4 April 2017. (Source Marine Atlantic/Twitter)

MV Highlanders stuck in ice near Low Point, NS, 4 April 2017. (Source Marine Atlantic/Twitter)

 

“Coupled with an earlier agreement with Bechtel, the world’s largest private-sector construction firm that has been doing preliminary work at the greenfield site near Sydport, it shows confidence in the port project, Cape Breton Regional Municipality Mayor Cecil Clarke said.”

Cape Breton Post 8 December 2015

Except, the Sydney Port Development Corporation paid Bechtel $192,906 for this show of confidence.

 

“The time frame would involve design and simulation work in 2016, followed by two years of construction, with the terminal going into operation in 2019, Barbusci said, adding that he doesn’t see that as being aggressive.”

Cape Breton Post 8 December 2015

Barbusci told the Post that landing a shipping line and a terminal operator and building a container terminal from scratch could be accomplished in three years.

UPDATE: Apparently, it was too aggressive.