Membertou becomes partner in Sydney container terminal project

The Membertou First Nation has signed on as a major partner in the effort to develop a container terminal in Sydney, N.S.

Membertou Chief Terry Paul said the Membertou Development Corporation, which is the economic development arm of Membertou, has made an investment that gives it a 22.5 per cent stake in Sydney Harbour Investment Partners (SHIP), the company that has an exclusive contract from the Cape Breton Regional Municipality to market the proposed container terminal project.

"We see great potential for the future of Sydney harbour," he said.

SHIP has been working for years to attract investors and customers.

"We hope it helps the government make up its mind on the railway," said Paul.

Proponents say a rail line in Cape Breton is an essential component for the container terminal.

In 2012, the provincial government agreed to pay the Cape Breton and Central Nova Scotia Railway up to $60,000 a month to keep the line in place after the company applied to abandon the line. The deal is renewable every 12 months and it's expected the province will announce soon whether it plans to continue the subsidy.

Warren Gordon photo

"The port cannot function without rail. Period," said SHIP CEO Albert Barbusci.

Barbusci wouldn't say the partnership announcement was intentionally timed to influence the province's decision.

"I think what we're saying is, 'Look, we're doing everything we can do privately and we now have strong Indigenous partners with us and it's time to move forward in 2020,'" said Barbusci.

He said he expects to sign a deal with a shipping company within the year.