The promoter of a proposed container terminal consortium in Cape Breton says a working rail line is the last piece of the puzzle needed to ensure a deal.
Albert Barbusci, CEO of Sydney Harbour Investment Partners, said an international shipping company is ready to sign on to the container terminal project that his firm calls Novaporte, but the shipper needs a guarantee the island's deteriorating rail line will be restored.
"We've managed to navigate our ship through unprecedented, turbulent times, with all the odds against us to succeed, so we're here today to simply state that Novaporte is ready for rail," Barbusci said.
Sydney Harbour Investment Partners, also known as SHIP, has launched an online campaign aimed at getting provincial and federal officials to do more to rehabilitate the Cape Breton and Central Nova Scotia Railway between Sydney and Port Hawkesbury.
The rail line has been unused for five years and can no longer support trains without at least $100 million in repairs.
Its owner, Genesee & Wyoming, had planned to abandon the line and rip up the tracks, but the provincial government has been paying the owner to keep the line in place, in case a container terminal is ever built.
Barbusci said between the government-funded dredge of Sydney harbour in 2012, Cape Breton Regional Municipality's purchase of the container disposal facility leftover from the dredge, and SHIP's investment in building a consortium, a lot of money has been spent getting the project close to the finish line.
"More than $75 million to date has now been invested and Novaporte is the most shovel-ready major infrastructure project in Atlantic Canada," he said.
"If you want the centre of gravity for the Atlantic gateway to shift permanently to the St. Lawrence seaway, well then let's just ignore the rail and that will happen, but if we rally our community and we come together and rehabilitate the rail and add it to the project, then we will be that centre of gravity and no one will be able to touch us."
Barbusci said the online campaign is mostly about raising public awareness, but it is also aimed at pushing government to fund the rail line's restoration.
Cape Breton-Canso MP Mike Kelloway said the island's rail line might qualify for a federal fund for transportation corridors, but no one has submitted a proposal seeking funding.
He has been in touch with Barbusci, but said the railway is a provincial matter.
"We'll have to wait and see in terms of what comes from Novaporte's discussions with the province on that," Kelloway said.
The proposed container terminal at Melfort is also in Kelloway's riding and the MP said both projects would have to have a strong business case to qualify for federal funding.
"The business case will dictate ... from a federal standpoint what is in the art of the possible and what can't be done," he said.
"If that is there and that is communicated to the province and the province makes that a priority ... then the federal government will look at all business plans and see where it can play a role."
Glace Bay MLA Geoff MacLellan is also the province's business minister and he backs the container terminal project, but said it's not up to government to fund a private railway.
"The government doesn't own it, the Sydney harbour investment partnership doesn't own it, so there's discussions that have to take place that are purely private sector," MacLellan said.
He said he is aware of the public advocacy campaign.
"For me it's not so much a financing play as it is around advocacy and letting people know straight up that rail is the last piece, and that's a good thing," MacLellan said.
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