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Chinese port plan far from done deal

Wednesday, 16 December 2015 | 17:00

There should be an asterisk placed next to a proposal to have a Chinese construction company build a $1-billion container terminal in Sydney Harbour.

Harbor-Port Development Partners signed a deal with China Communications Construction Co., well known globally as CCCC, to design and build a container terminal and all related infrastructure around the municipality’s greenfield site.

It’s exciting news for Nova Scotia, especially for that part of the province that needs the investment and the jobs that go with it. But there are some big conditions attached to the proposal before it ever has a chance to get off the ground.

Cape Bretoners have heard many big promises throughout the years about new industry coming, only to have their dreams crushed.

“It’s not a done deal until it’s a done deal, but they’ve already begun the work and they’ve studied the harbour,” Albert Barbusci, CEO of Harbor-Port, admitted to reporters when the agreement with China Communications Construction was announced last week.

Everybody knows the history of attracting new industry to Cape Breton and northern Nova Scotia, so it may be considered cruel and unusual punishment for people in authority to release plans, such as the construction of the container terminal, prematurely.

Officials from China Communications Construction have not even seen the proposed site — a visit is expected sometime in the new year.

There is also need for a detailed feasibility study before it could be determined whether a highly automated container terminal on the Point Edward side of the harbour is a realistic plan.

Harbor-Port Development,

the private company with exclusive right to market the Port of Sydney on behalf of Cape Breton Regional Municipality, reportedly promises to have such a study completed next year.

Without taxpayers helping to pay the bill, the cost of building such a container terminal may ultimately be too expensive. Maybe another dip in the federal infrastructure fund is part of the play for the terminal.

Without government money, however, some estimate it would require the “highly automated” terminal to handle all of the containers now coming to Halifax’s two terminals, and then some, in order to make such a pricey terminal pay for itself.

Would the Chinese company want to bring its own workers from China to build the terminal? The largest amount of job creation would be during the construction phase. A terminal with a high degree of automation would presumably aim to cut down on the number of workers employed to operate it.

And there’s another issue — the Chinese company only designs and builds terminals. An operator would have to be found to manage the facility.

Yet, without knowing who would operate the facility or how many containers would be passing through it, the project backers are confident it would employ as many as 400 workers.

The supporters of this terminal plan acknowledge that infrastructure would be required to support such a terminal, including rail and roads.

However, a recent study of Cape Breton’s existing rail line estimated it would cost about $31 million, not including any necessary bridge reconstruction, to bring it back to operating condition. The price tag could be even greater if there is a need to upgrade the line to accept double-stacked railcars and longer trains.

It is also a fact that the World Bank blacklisted China Communications Construction Co. in 2011, preventing the company from working on bank-funded road and bridge projects until January 2017.

The Cape Breton proposal may be a positive step to some, but so far the information about the plan is too little, too soon.

As the old saying goes, I’ll believe it when I see it.
Source: Chronicle Herald

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