The Westview Wood Pellet Terminal is one example of the port's diversification plan leading into the future.

STORY AND VIDEO: Pellet terminal proof of port plan

The Port of Prince Rupert's Michael Gurney evaluates the various terminals' performance in 2016 and sheds light on plans for the new year

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As the Port of Prince Rupert continues its New Year’s resolution of diversifying its cargo family, a retrospective look at the year of 2016 doesn’t break too many records, but does include signs of major growth for the West Coast port, and a ship full of soybeans.

The darling of 2016 turned out to be the Westview Wood Pellet Terminal, which moved 896,257 tonnes of cargo, a 22 per cent increase over 2015, and represents the most volumes the young terminal has ever moved in its lifetime.

“[It’s] such a great made-in-B.C. success story, with Pinnacle Renewable Energy Group producing the wood pellets from essentially waste products,” said manager of corporate communications Michael Gurney.

“It’s been so gratifying to see wood pellets as the vanguard of the port’s diversification strategy.”

The year of 2016 also brought the start of expanding the Fairview Container Terminal from a throughput capacity of 850,000 TEUs to 1.3 million TEUs per year. Ongoing construction to make that happen will wrap up in the third quarter of this year, said the communications manager. Fairview workers handled five per cent less cargo to 2015, a decline helped in part by the loss of Hanjin, a shipping line that declared bankruptcy in 2016.

“Despite some potential obstacles, the men and women of Fairview terminal continue to do a great job at moving cargo through Prince Rupert,” said Gurney.

This year, a second berth will be added in the expansion, so workers can load and unload two ships at once. A ‘Phase 2 South’ expansion to bring capacity from 1.3 million to 2 – 2.5 million TEUs is under consideration by way of a feasibility study currently being conducted.

A cargo ship was packed to the brim with soybeans after a bountiful harvest of the bean was not found wanting in the U.S. this past fall, added Gurney.

Prince Rupert Grain handled two per cent less tonnage than 2015, finishing the year moving 6,255,094 tonnes of cargo.

“Soybeans are typically shipped out in containers because they’re so delicate, but they actually filled an entire vessel this last year at Prince Rupert Grain because of the enormous quantity being shipped out,” said Gurney. “2016 was not a record year, but it was a very strong year for that terminal and the forecast looks strong as well.”

Ridley Terminals Inc. (RTI) saw a 10 per cent decline in cargo from last year, continuing the years-long trend of decreasing tonnage. The terminal just fell shy of breaking four million tonnes, with workers moving 3,992,307 tonnes of metallurgical coal, thermal coal and petroleum coke.

“Coal volumes moved through RTI in 2016 exceeded our forecasts … so that is a sign of progress, definitely,” Gurney said. More coal mines have been switched online throughout B.C. since the start of the year, signalling a possible rebound in the world market for demand.

The Alaska Marine Highway dropped its total performance stats by the end of the year by 10 per cent, and CN Rail moved four per cent less cargo than 2015.

Overall, the Port of Prince Rupert handled four per cent less cargo in 2016 than the year prior. 18,923,265 tonnes were moved, compared to 19,695,883 tonnes by the end of 2015.

Cruise ship passengers jumped a 106 per cent over the year before, as 7,011 cruise passengers came to Prince Rupert, a large jump from 2015’s 3,392. The future looks even brighter for bringing marine sightseers to Prince Rupert’s doorstep, as Gurney confirmed that 25 cruise ships will be stopping in Rupert during their voyages, an approximate doubling of the number that came in 2016.

“We, as a port, are very pleased to work collaboratively with the local business community, and with Tourism Prince Rupert, to present a united front to potential visitors to Prince Rupert and also to generate local tourism excursions for those people who are travelling,” he said, adding that port officials continue to reach out to cruise lines for interest in Rupert.

As well, domestic ferry passengers coming and leaving through Prince Rupert grew five per cent, and foreign passenger and vehicle ferry traffic increased two per cent by the end of 2016.

Looking ahead to 2017

Construction is slated to start in preparation of bringing a brand new type of cargo to the port’s jurisdiction.

AltaGas’ propane export facility will bring 200-250 construction jobs and 40 permanent positions to the Ridley Island terminal, that was given its positive final investment decision just after the new year.

“Almost every cargo has been on the radar at some point here in Prince Rupert and propane has been one that has been of particular interest since AltaGas began the conversation with RTI and the Port of Prince Rupert. It feels like a long journey, but AltaGas has been working very hard to make this a very efficient journey to a final investment decision (FID) … We have been thoroughly impressed with their commitment to ensuring everyone that everyone has the facts and everyone understands the benefits as well, when it comes to introducing a new cargo here,” Gurney said.

The looming LNG question will only grow bigger, but the manager explained that while everyone waits for the investors behind the Pacific NorthWest LNG terminal to make an FID, the company has demonstrated an impressive commitment to the community at large.

“The fact that they maintain a presence here in terms of staff and the fact they have worked so hard to ensure the environmental review was conducted with extraordinary rigour, is all a sign that they are committed to this project and making it work,” he explained.

Aurora LNG is the next company on the runway in the region after it has applied for an Environmental Assessment Certificate. An open house is scheduled to be held on Feb. 8 seeking comments related to the Digby Island project. Gurney noted that the port has been in contact with all LNG players in the area as they proceed through their necessary steps to an FID.

The manager said things aren’t slowing down, with 2017 representing the 10th anniversary of the conversion of Fairview to containerization, and with AltaGas and DP World continuing construction on their respective propane and container terminals.

The south Kaien Island break bulk facility also continues its feasibility study, and may see the light of day in the next few years, Gurney noted, and more might just be on the horizon.

“We’ll be seeing other exploratory works within the port’s jurisdiction, so it’s going to be a year of both growth, and the promise of more growth,” he said.

 

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