Port of Sydney May Buy Rail Corridor Near Second Berth

The Port of Sydney Development Corporation is “discussing” the possible purchase of “rail corridor adjacent to the second berth lands,” with Genesee & Wyoming (G&W), the US-based company that owns the Cape Breton and Central Nova Scotia Railway (CBNS).

Christina Lamey of the Port of Sydney confirmed the discussions for me on Tuesday, but maintained the Port had not yet purchased any property from the rail operator.

Rail corridor, second berth, Sydney, NS, 2019.09.25 (Spectator Photo)

Rail corridor, second berth, Sydney, NS, 2019.09.25 (Spectator Photo)

But a close look at the Genesee & Wyoming (G&W) invoices released by the provincial government in response to an access to information request earlier this month suggest those discussions may be quite advanced.

Here are the invoices in question, you can read them yourself but I’ll explain below what struck me about them:

G_and_W_invoices

 

[Redacted]

The monthly invoices, which cover the period from May 2018 to April 2019, are for services that qualify under the terms of the CBNS Rail Preservation Agreement, which has been in place between G&W and the province since 2017.

The deal sees the government pay G&W  “up to” $60,000 a month to cover “expenses directly attributed to the line such as salaries, insurance, security and building maintenance.” In return, G&W agrees not to apply to abandon the section of the line between St. Peters Junction and Sydney, which has not been in use since 2015.

Most of the expenses itemized are just sad — and redacted — noting unnamed sums paid to:

Mathjam Holdings to “Tear down & remove burnt building Sydney Sand shed.”

CBRM for a “Permit for demolition of locomotive sand shed.”

Wilson’s Home Hardware for “Supplies to board up building — Sydney Shop.”

Mathjam Holdings for “Boarding up shop following break in.”

Since this is Right to Know Week in Nova Scotia, I would like to take a moment to explain those redactions. The Department of Business cited the following exemptions for “confidential information” from the province’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act:

21(1)(a)(ii) 

Information that would reveal “commercial, financial, labour relations, scientific or technical information of a third party.”

21(b)

Information that is “supplied, implicitly or explicitly, in confidence.”

21(c)(i) 

Information, the disclosure of which could “reasonably” be expected to “harm significantly the competitive position or interfere significantly with the negotiating position of the third party.”

21(c)(iii)

Information, the disclosure of which could “result in undue financial loss or gain to any person or organization.”

How any of these exemptions could be applied to money spent on “supplies” to board up an old railway shed (let alone a CBRM demolition permit) beggars the imagination. But the Department of Business knows as well as I do that it would take up to three years to get the chronically understaffed Office of the Privacy and Information Commissioner to review its response, so the chances of it ever being called upon to defend these exemptions are slim to none.

Back to the invoices.

 

Land migration

Every invoice includes at least one payment, and sometimes more, to McInnes Cooper for “land migration” services and the April 2019 invoice includes a payment to the Halifax-based law firm for professional services related to the “Sale of Lands to Port of Sydney Development.” I can’t tell you how much money has been paid for McInnes Cooper’s services because these amounts have also been redacted under the exemptions listed above.

According to the Nova Scotia Land Registry website:

Any parcel of land that is being sold, subdivided (involving 3 or more parcels in total) or mortgaged must be converted into the land registration system.

There is a $100.00 registration fee for converting a property – in addition the government charges the same document filing fee for converted and unconverted properties. Lawyers or surveyors will charge a fee for their professional services related to the added one-time steps required to convert your property, which are determined by each lawyer and surveyor and not by the government.

As noted, McInnes Cooper has been collecting fees for land migration services since at least last May, but I can’t tell from the invoices whether the services pertain to “lands” other than those to be sold to the Port of Sydney.

That said, two things strike me:

First, G&W has not shown itself to be a particularly community-minded company (ask anyone trying to run a utility line across its tracks in Cape Breton), so it seems safe to assume the Port of Sydney will not get a deal on the rail corridor, which will add to the overall costs associated with the second berth. (As could the price eventually set by the UARB for land the CBRM expropriated to build the berth.)

Second, I am wondering how legal fees related to the sale of railway land could be covered under a “rail preservation” agreement? I asked the Department of Business to explain, but as of press time, I had not heard back.