Sarnia Harbour gamble paying off

Sparks fly inside the Algoma Olympic as welder Vince Peterson cuts through steel plate separating the vast hold from the ship’s ballast water tanks. The 730-foot freighter is berthed for winter repairs in Sarnia Harbour, which has now been under city control for nearly a year. More on Sarnia’s shipping gamble on pages 16-17 Glenn Ogilvie

George Mathewson

City councillors crossed their fingers and took a deep breath and when voting to assume ownership of Sarnia Harbour last year.

After all, operating Great Lakes shipping wharves, warehouses and water lots has been the federal government’s job, beyond the city’s normal scope of road repairs and garbage collection.

But now, 10 months in, the harbour is paying dividends.

Over the first three months it generated $126,000 in revenue from 58 berthing vessels, against $62,000 in expenses.

And the trend has continued. Year-end figures expected in April will show that Sarnia Harbour turned a profit in the six figures, said Peter Hungerford, director of economic development.

“Absolutely. There’s absolutely no doubt that we’ll end the year in the black.”

When Ottawa ‘divested’ the harbour on March 28 it also gave the city $8.56 million to cover dredging, repairs and other unforeseen expenses. Sarnia must spend that money over the next 15 to 20 years, and has decided to use it for all operations and capital improvements.

The revenue the city is now getting for providing shipping companies with berthing and hydro is going into a reserve account, building a nest-egg for when the fed money runs out, Hungerford said.

Sarnia’s newest asset has two parts. The north harbour includes the Government Wharf, Seaway Road warehouses, North Slip and the dock near Paddy Flaherty’s. The south harbour includes intermittent land and water lots on the St. Clair River between George and Devine streets.

Sarnia took the harbour, in part, because it was concerned that if it didn’t another agency, like the Hamilton Port Authority, would, placing large sections of prime waterfront land in uncertain hands.

It was also a jobs strategy. About 150 local companies provide goods and services to visiting ships and their crews, and $15 million in marine repairs each winter create 150 to 300 good-paying jobs.

In the future, with some infrastructure modifications, the harbour could also become a “heavy haul corridor,” giving the local fabricating industry access to world markets and Canada’s oil patch.

Convoys of ships are continuing to follow Coast Guard icebreakers through the St. Clair River, trying to make up lost revenue from a late start last spring.

So far, Sarnia Harbour has six ships berthed for repairs, with two to four more expected as winter’s grip tightens.

“The harbour and ship traffic is one of the reasons Sarnia came into existence,” Hungerford said.

“The city has always had an intimate relationship with the lake and the river.”

More about Sarnia Harbour, including rates and fees, maps and a photo gallery can be found at www.sarniaharbour.com.

A view from the wheelhouse of the 730-foot Algoma Olympic showing the heart of the scattered berths and land lots the comprise Sarnia Harbour, which is now filling up with ships laying over for the winter. Glenn Ogilvie

A view from the wheelhouse of the 730-foot Algoma Olympic showing the heart of the scattered berths and land lots that comprise Sarnia Harbour, which is now filling up with ships laying over for the winter.
Glenn Ogilvie

 

Algoma Central's Don Reashore, left, and Mark Lunn work on an engine piston deep in the bowels of the Algoma Olympic, a Canadian cargo carrier. Glenn Ogilvie

Algoma Central’s Don Reashore, left, and Mark Lunn work on an engine piston deep in the bowels of the Algoma Olympic, a Canadian cargo carrier.
Glenn Ogilvie

 

From top, the St. Clair River, Sarnia's Pointlands and the harbour warehouses, as seen from the wheelhouse of the Algoma Olympic. Glenn Ogilvie

From top, the St. Clair River, Sarnia’s Pointlands and the harbour warehouses, as seen from the wheelhouse of the Algoma Olympic.
Glenn Ogilvie