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Port Saint John gets $68M from Ottawa to upgrade container terminals

Friday, 10 July 2015 | 07:04
The federal government has committed up to $68.3 million to modernize Port Saint John's container terminals, but the provincial government is still considering a request for funding for the proposed $205-million overhaul.

"This project is a very large ticket item and our next step is to take the appropriate time to conduct our due diligence and review it," Regional Development Corporation Minister Victor Boudreau said in an emailed statement to CBC News.

The proposal would see the Rodney and Navy Island terminals on the city's west side consolidated and upgraded to be able to accommodate larger vessels, as well as an increase in container traffic.

Container traffic at Port Saint John increased by 17 per cent last year and officials expect it to increase again this year.

Saint John Conservative MP Rodney Weston announced the federal contribution to the infrastructure project on Wednesday morning, on behalf of federal Infrastructure Minister Denis Lebel.

"This project has been identified by the federal government as a project of national significance, as a project that has broad public benefits and that contributes to long term economic growth and prosperity," Weston told a large, enthusiastic audience at the Diamond Jubilee Cruise Terminal.

Boudreau said the federal announcement is good news, but added "it is conditional on the project meeting applicable federal eligibility requirements under the fund, and the Port of Saint John securing all funding" to complete the project and cover any cost overruns.
'Meat' for campaign trail

University of New Brunswick political scientist JP Lewis says there is nothing surprising about the Weston announcement, just months before a federal election.

"They're taking place all across the country, you have ministers or members of parliament in tight races announcing major federal funding for projects. All the parties do it, all governments do it."

Lewis says Weston can now use the announcement in his campaign.

"It gives him something he will talk about on the campaign trail, in his speeches, when he's talking to prospective voters, this gives him some meat."
'Where is the province?'

The port overhaul has been a favoured project of Weston, who was the first to make it public in a prepared newspaper commentary in January.

That was followed by another published commentary in March by Saint John Conservative MLA Trevor Holder, who chastised the provincial government for not immediately committing its share.

Holder repeated that criticism at Wednesday's announcement.

"The question here now is — where is the province? Several months ago, I asked the premier on the floor of the legislature whether he would commit to this project, and he clearly wouldn't give me a definite answer," Holder said.

Jim Quinn, the port's chief executive officer, was less critical, however, of the provincial officials he's been dealing with on the matter.

"They've been very receptive and I believe they're in the final stages of their analysis by their departmental staff … I believe we're in a strong position," Quinn said.

"This is a tremendous day for our entire province and the greater port community," he said. "This project will be the largest investment in our port to date and will positively impact all sectors of our business."
More storage, deeper channel

Quinn had outlined plans for the $205-million expansion in January.

The port applied for the federal funding at that time, under the national infrastructure component of the New Building Canada Fund.

It wants to create extra 25-acre area for container storage, turn 10 acres into a multipurpose yard and other approximately 25 acres would be used for terminal access roads, stevedoring operations, trans-loading and cargo-consolidation warehouses, and lay-down areas for break-bulk and project cargoes.

It also hopes to deepen the main channel to 10 metres at low tide, from the current 8.4 metres.

Port Saint John currently handles an average of 28 million tonnes of diverse cargo annually.

Its container volume has seen an 11 per cent increase during the first six months of this year, said Quinn.

That's on top of the previously announced 81 per cent increase between 2012 and 2014, he said.

The Regional Development Corporation has contributed $5,759,500 to the port since 2006-07.

The port's board of directors and members of management were also present at the Wednesday morning event.
Source: CBC News
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