The Halifax Port Authority has propped up its plan to expand its south-end container terminal with the findings of an online survey.
“We wanted to let people know the information we had and part of that was letting them know that this is what it would take to make any of those options work,” said Lane Farguson, communications manager for the port authority.
Farguson referred to an option for a new Dartmouth terminal and three separate Halifax terminal options, the primary one being a permanent northern expansion of the Halterm terminal into Ocean Terminal, with new rail and terminal capacity where containers will be moved, stacked and loaded onto rail.
The authority’s plan will follow a $35-million temporary expansion project announced last year that is expected to be finished next spring. Farguson said the temporary expansion is going forward because the port requires an “800-metre berth face in place by this time next year” to maintain shipping schedules.
The larger berths allow the port to accommodate the bigger ultra-class container ships and the authority has indicated that without first a temporary and then a permanent expansion, shipping lines will bypass Halifax, resulting in lost business and lost jobs.
“We’re getting vessels approaching 400 metres in length that are calling now. We can certainly berth and service one of those but we need to be able to berth and service two (at the same time). The temporary extension will extend that existing Halterm berth space by 135 metres and that will give us an 800-metre continuous length of berth.”
But the temporary project does not extend the overall footprint of the Halterm yard.
The survey, conducted by Hill and Knowlton Strategies from March 21 to April 18, reportedly reached 2,100 Nova Scotians.
The survey found that a majority of respondents agreed that the port plays an important role in the region’s economy, understood the need for expansion, and trusted the authority’s decision-making.
More respondents favoured the Halterm option over the Dartmouth choice. The impact on local neighbourhoods ranked as a more important factor among respondents than did the overall cost and the length of time it would take to complete.
The Halterm north proposal would cost an estimated $416 million and could be complete three years after approval, according to the authority. It will require relocating existing Ocean Terminals users and tenants.
The Dartmouth terminal option would cost $1.415 billion plus land acquisition costs and more than 15 years to complete.
The survey comes on the heels of a June 2 announcement of a $47.6-million federal investment in the port. Part of that funding injection will go to increasing the port’s storage capacity by connecting the Halterm terminal to the Fairview Cove terminal by rail. The upgrades will include adding rail tracks and four new rail-mounted cranes to load and unload containers more efficiently.
“It’s partnering with the municipality and CN to figure out a way to use the rail cut more effectively to move goods to and from the terminals,” Farguson said. “Ideally, what that will mean is upwards of a 75 per cent reduction in the number of port-related container trucks downtown.”
A majority of those surveyed were concerned by the volume of container truck traffic downtown and supported train options to reduce truck traffic.
“The big issue was if we are going to stay and expand here, that’s great, but what are we going to do with the truck traffic,” said Paul MacKinnon, executive director of the Downtown Halifax Business Commission. “It was going to become more and more of an issue but that looks like it’s getting solved now.”
He said trucks will pick up containers of goods at Halterm bound for Nova Scotia destinations, primarily frozen and refrigerated goods that are bound by transporting restrictions. The other containers will be moved by rail to Fairview.
“I think it’s good that they did the consultation,” MacKinnon said. “I don’t think they probably learned anything that they didn’t already know but it does help reinforce the decisions they probably wanted to make anyway. We applaud the fact that they got out from behind their desks at the port and got some feedback from the public.”
Farguson said the authority will have to come up with funding and a final plan for the expansion, which will require federal approval.