Cape Breton Regional Council has moved another step closer to attracting a container terminal to Sydney, N.S.

Council has approved an agreement to lease or sell a large parcel of harbour land to a private consortium.

The option and development agreement with Sydney Harbour Investment Partners, or SHIP, was approved following a day and a half of in-camera meetings.

In an open session Monday to approve the final motion, several councillors called the deal a "game-changer."

Bigger than steel?

"This is the day that I have totally waited for, for a long long time," said Coun. Jim MacLeod. "It has the possibility of being larger than steel when it comes to employment."

Mayor Cecil Clarke says the land deal with SHIP allows the consortium to move ahead with securing international customers for a container terminal.

There's no firm deal yet for such a development, but Clarke says an announcement could come very soon.

"This was very timely to bring forward because we need to move," said Clarke. "Decision makers need to make their decisions and they're prepared to do that right now. I look forward to, maybe, an early Christmas present, or a great way to ring off the new year."

Cape Breton Regional Council

Cape Breton Regional Council met for hours behind closed doors before announcing the land deal. (Wendy Martin/CBC)

Confidential details

Under the agreement with SHIP, CBRM agrees to grant the consortium the option to lease about 174 hectares of land on Sydney Harbour for the container terminal. 

There's also an option to purchase another 400 hectares a couple of kilometres away, which would act as a logistics, or storage and transhipment, site.

Financial details of the deal are not being released, with officials saying that could compromise the project.

But CBRM retained an outside firm, PricewaterhouseCoopers, to review the deal.   

It advised council that the transaction is a "low-risk" approach for encouraging economic development.

Just one 'no'

Just one councillor voted against the deal.

Ray Paruch said he was suffering from "information overload" following the in-camera sessions, and was uncomfortable with the confidential nature of the discussions.

Paruch said he wasn't confident the deal was a good one for taxpayers.

"Once signed, this group can sell, trade, or do anything they want with this now taxpayer-owned asset," said Paruch.

Other councillors, though, said they felt reassured by the endorsement from PricewaterhouseCoopers.

"Almost 90 per cent of my friends who I graduated high school with no longer live on the island, and those who stay here struggle every single day," said Amanda McDougall.

"If there is a way that we, as a council, can support economic development, but first and foremost, do so in a way that we are protecting the assets and investment of taxpayers over the years, that is what I will support."