A container terminal megaproject in Nova Scotia has industry players wondering why Ottawa is considering funding it when existing ports are not cramped. Meanwhile, federal money is still waiting to complete the financial package for the Contrecœur project in Quebec.

According to our information, the Trudeau government is finalizing its analysis of the funding request submitted by Melford International Terminal. This promoter dreams of a construction site of at least 350 million to develop a maritime terminal of 315 acres – about 240 football fields – in Nova Scotia to accommodate gigantic container ships. Specifically, it would be located on the shores of the Municipality of Guysborough.

The catch: there is always space available to accommodate metal boxes at the main transshipment points on the east coast, namely Montreal, Halifax (Nova Scotia) and Saint John (New Brunswick). Maritime industry experts also question the rationale for the Melford project.

“It’s a complicated project,” says Jean-Paul Rodrigue, transportation specialist and professor at Hofstra University, New York. “It’s a big site, but it’s in the middle of nowhere. The Port of Halifax is still in a stable phase. There are no indications that another terminal is needed because growth is poor. »

For the first time in its history, the Port of Halifax recorded a volume of more than 600,000 “20 foot equivalent” containers. According to its strategic plan, it is possible to double the current volume over the next five decades without overflowing. In Montreal, the annual capacity of 2.1 million containers will not be reached before 2027. In addition, there is the Contrecœur expansion project (1.15 million containers), in the southern suburbs of Montreal.

In the industry, we wonder why the Trudeau government plans to dip into the National Trade Corridors Fund (NTCF), endowed with an envelope of 4.7 billion, to finance a new construction site rather than investing in facilities. existing. The Legault government is also concerned, according to our information.

“It looks like there’s some arm twisting going on here,” said an industry source familiar with the matter, but who is not authorized to speak publicly.

On Friday, the Montreal Port Authority (MPA) as well as the Port of Halifax did not want to comment on the possible arrival of a rival. In the office of the federal Minister of Transport, Omar Alghabra, the director of communications, Valérie Glazer, confirms that the promoter of the Melford terminal has submitted a request for financing. The latter did not offer further details.

However, according to information compiled by La Presse from three different sources, the evaluation process is drawing to a close. However, it was not possible to get an idea of ​​the extent of the financial support that could be offered and when an announcement could be made.

This comes as the MPA is asking Ottawa to loosen the purse strings to finance the construction of the Contrecœur port terminal, where inflation has caused the bill to jump, which initially fluctuated between 750 and 950 million. Quebec agreed to add another $75 million. A sum of approximately 150 million is at the heart of the negotiations between the PAM and the Trudeau government.

“The Contrecœur project continues to be a priority for our government, and we will find a solution,” said Ms. Glazer.

It was around 2008 that the initial version of the Melford terminal was unveiled. On Friday, it had not been possible to speak with a representative of the company, who had not responded to messages from La Presse. Its website was also down. According to a presentation by the municipality of Guysborough, the operator SSA Marine and the New York investment firm Cyrus Capital Partners are among the promoters.

The project also faces several obstacles. It is impossible to know if customers have already committed to transporting containers there if the terminal comes into being.

“Over time, American ports have dredged to accommodate large ships,” he said. In a sense, Melford’s premise is no longer valid. They also have a big problem: investing heavily to get rail service that can join the Canadian National network. There is a connectivity issue. »

Mr. Slack expressed surprise at the possibility of the Trudeau government financially supporting a new container terminal in the East. In his opinion, the existing ports are capable of meeting the needs for increased capacity. In Montreal, alongside funding from Ottawa, the MPA is still waiting for the green light from the federal government to encroach on the critical habitat of the copper redhorse, a fish threatened with extinction.