Port of Halifax celebrates pier expansion despite choppy fiscal waters
Container volume expected to be down 10 percent, no cruise ship traffic this year
Standing on newly paved asphalt with a container ship in the background, Port of Halifax officials and invited guests cut a ribbon to celebrate the $38-million expansion of the city's south-end container pier Friday.
"This is about securing our future as Atlantic Canada's ultra-class gateway," Capt. Allan Gray, president and CEO of the Port of Halifax, told reporters after a brief photo opportunity.
By expanding the existing pier to 800 metres long, crane operators can now load and offload the largest container ships in the world, two at a time.
"This is an important milestone in having the full length to be able to handle two ultra-class vessels," said Gray.
There are plans for future expansion, but according to Gray, that work will need to be done 10 to 15 years into the future.
The most recent expansion started in January 2019, well before COVID-19 emerged as a worldwide threat. The pandemic has cost the port container business and eliminated revenues from cruise ship traffic.
Coming off a record of 323,709 cruise ship passengers visiting Halifax in 2019, not a single visitor has stepped off a ship in the port this year.
Hopes for 2021
Gray is hoping some ships will be back next year, albeit "in very controlled conditions."
"Given the work that's going on in Europe, there's going to be a good chance of something in 2021, but I wouldn't say it's a rebound," said Gray.
Meantime, the port's container operations were recently bolstered by a strike at the Port of Montreal, which meant a sudden surge in the number of ships calling on Halifax.
That unexpected business has cushioned the blow of what the port anticipated would be a 20 per cent drop in container volume this year.
"Montreal was, I suppose, in some respects a little bit of a windfall for us, and there's some regrowth going on right now," said Gray. "Overall we were expecting to be about 20 per cent down for the year, but that's improved quite considerably.
"We'll probably look around the eight to 10 per cent, if things hold."
Cruise ships worth millions
According to a May 2019 economic impact study paid for by the Port of Halifax, a total of 1,633 cruise ships docked at the port between 2007 and 2018.
Cruise industry direct spending associated with the Port of Halifax was $74.3 million in 2018.
"Employment (full and part time) associated with these expenditures was 554 jobs with wages of almost $22 million. Taxes generated by this activity was $6.8 million," the report said.
"The direct spending has spinoffs on the Nova Scotia economy. In 2018, the total economic output was approaching $172 million, jobs (full and part time) were 950, wages were $45.5 million and taxes paid were $14 million."
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