Thunder Bay

Thunder Bay port improvements get multi-million dollar boost from Ottawa

Federal officials have announced over $7 million in funding for the Thunder Bay Port Authority that Ottawa says will help improve the country's transportation network during a period of trade uncertainty with the United States.

$7.5M committed by federal government, which is about half the total project cost

The Thunder Bay port has received federal funding to help expand storage and rail capacity. Officials say it will help increase the amount of goods that pass through Keefer Terminal. (Port of Thunder Bay)

Federal officials have announced over $7 million in funding for the Thunder Bay Port Authority that Ottawa says will help improve the country's transportation network during a period of trade uncertainty with the United States.

The money comes from the federal National Trade Corridors Fund, a $2 billion initiative that the government said is designed to help improve the national transportation network and better Canada's ability to trade internationally.

The improvements are designed to help reduce "bottlenecks" and congestion in the system, according to a written release issued on Tuesday in conjunction with the funding announcement. Transport Minister Marc Garneau told reporters in Thunder Bay that improving the ease with which goods are transported helps Canada stay competitive in the global market.

"The movement of goods across the country ... how effectively we do that is literally counted almost down to the hour," he said.

"There are ships waiting, and when ships don't get the goods that need to arrive and to be transported very efficiently, they lose money, their customers get annoyed, and we potentially lose business."

In Thunder Bay, the money is earmarked for a pair of projects: the construction of a 50,000 square foot heated storage facility to house a variety of cargo while en route through the port, and an expanded rail yard that will increase the port's capacity to load and unload rail cars.

The total cost of the project is about $15 million, port CEO Tim Heney said. Ottawa is covering $7.5 million. The province in 2016 committed $1 million, and the port will pay for the rest.

Federal transport minister Marc Garneau (centre) was in Thunder Bay Tuesday to announce $7.5 million in funding for the Thunder Bay Port Authority. (Michael Dick / CBC)

The improved rail capacity will help the port make further inroads in handling steel, Heney said.

"More car spots, it means you can load more cars in one day more efficiently," he said. "It takes a lot of room, a lot of rail lay-down area, so that's what we're shooting for in the future."

With steel coming from the United States now subject to tariffs of 25 per cent, Heney said diversifying where Canada gets the material from will be beneficial.

"Our [steel] imports are directly from Luxembourg and Europe," he said. "Interesting the way trade's going right now, Canada gets most of its structural steel from the U.S., so this could actually increase our shipments through Thunder Bay to Western Canada.

Garneau added that type of thinking is part of the reason the government is committing to improving the country's transportation system, with more focus being put on European and Asian markets.

"Our whole objective — because we're a trading nation — is to do it as efficiently as possible," he said. "We continue to diversify our markets and there is a great demand for Canadian products."

"That's good for our economy, good for Canadians, good for jobs."

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