It was standing room only on at the CBRM council chambers on Monday when Membertou Chief Terry Paul addressed the municipality’s elected representatives prior to their 9-4 vote that gave a five-year exclusivity extension to the consulting firm working on Sydney port development. Both Paul and Eskasoni Chief Leroy Denny endorsed the extension on behalf of their First Nations communities.
©DAVID JALA/CAPE BRETON POST
On Monday, the CBRM council voted 9-4 in favour of extending the two-year agreement, reached on June 16, 2015, that gave Harbor Port Development Partners, since rebranded as Sydney Harbour Investment Partners, the exclusive rights to market and develop the Port of Sydney with the main objective of securing a container terminal for Sydport’s Greenfield site, properties the municipality purchased over time at a total cost of $6 million.
After the afternoon council session, which attracted a standing-room only crowd that filled the circular chamber long before the proceedings’ 1:30 p.m. start, CEO Albert Barbusci said he never doubted that council would give his firm the extra time needed to get the job done.
“This is a great day for Cape Breton — the stars have aligned and we’re grateful for council’s vote,” said Barbusci, who is partner in the venture with part-time Gabarus resident Barry Sheehy.
He said a “negative decision” would have sent the wrong message to stakeholders he claims are ready to invest $1 billion in the project.
“The message had to be very clear that we’re all ready, we’re supportive, we’re business friendly, so come on in — that’s why we needed this vote,” said Barbusci.
Last week, it was announced that Sydney Harbour Investment Partners had reached an agreement with the multinational, United States-based Ports America to promoted, develop and manage the proposed Novaporte marine container facility that, if proceeds, could mean as many as 5,000 jobs in an area suffering from chronic unemployment.
Following the vote, CBRM Mayor Cecil Clarke said council’s decision to grant Sydney Harbour Investment Partners a five-year extension clears the way for the next steps of the process to make the port development a reality.
“It’s important that the industry has clarity and the assurance that we are market-ready — now the heavy lifting starts on a different level, project costings, engineering and next-phase work, and if I was on the developers side I would want that assurance,” said Clarke.
“When you consider that we are now in our fifth year of trying to get the cruise terminal expanded, it goes to show that even projects that are cut and dry, and fully understood by the community, don’t always move at the speed we want them to.”
Monday’s council session picked up where’s Thursday’s meeting ended prematurely when newly elected councillor Steve Gillespie had a medical issue that required attention.
But it began with an historic first as the municipality’s two Mi’kmaq chiefs addressed council to give their endorsement to port development in general, and more specifically, the five-year extension of the Sydney Harbour Investment Partners agreement.
“This is our door for the major shipping companies that we want here, that we need here,” said Membertou Chief Terry Paul.
“This is probably the great job opportunity in the history of Cape Breton — this is the time to do it, it has arrived and if we don’t do it, someone else will.”
Eskasoni Chief Leroy Denny also told council that his community is fully supportive of port development and the effort to bring more jobs to the young people of Cape Breton, including those in Eskasoni, which has a high unemployment rate and one of the highest birthrates in the province.
Council then got to the business at hand. But before it could vote on whether or not to grant Sydney Harbour Investment Partners its five-year extension, the chamber first had to debate and vote on a motion to postpone the decision all together until it learned more information as to the implications of the agreement.
During a lively debate, a number of councillors, including newcomers Kendra Coombes and Amanda McDougall, expressed concern that council was rushing the issue given that the initial agreement with Sydney Harbour Investment Partners will not expire until June.
“We should be looking at this with a fine-tooth comb — what’s the rush?” asked McDougall.
However, the motion to postpone was defeated 8-5, allowing council to move on to the second vote. And that meant more debate during which several councillors directed questions to CBRM lawyer Jim Gogan.
“I see no financial risk,” he assured them. “There is no deal until there is a deal — this is just one component piece.”
During his allotted time, Dist. 9 Coun. George MacDonald was very clear as to his view on the issue.
“To me, this is a no-brainer — we got an opportunity here, and I don’t want to be too dramatic, but we could lose it all,” he said.
“They (other possible port sites) are looking at us and saying ‘They’re fighting amongst themselves about 5,000 jobs.’ We must have rocks in our heads — let’s get it done and move on.”
Then they voted. And when the results were revealed, most in the gallery burst into spontaneous applause.
But not everyone was pleased with the vote. While some councillors felt the vote being pushed through prematurely, others like Peter Gill, president of the International Longshoremen’s Association Local 1259, said there was no need to extend the agreement on marketing and development exclusivity.
Membertou Chief Terry Paul, left, and Eskasoni Chief Leroy Denny listen closely as the CBRM council debate whether or not to grant a five-year exclusivity extension to the consulting firm that has the sole rights to market and develop Sydney harbour’s port.
DAVID JALA/CAPE BRETON POST
“From my perspective, the assets of this community were just put on the line — the ability for us to financially move forward and be a sustainable community is slipping away with this process,” he said, adding that the port asset should be kept in public hands if the CBRM is to realize its potential financial benefits.
Under the terms of the extension, the exclusivity is extended to December 2021 and gives Sydney Harbour Investment Partners the option to lease the Greenfield site for a period of 99 years or to purchase the property for $10 million, a figure based on the properties’ purchase price and other costs associated with their acquisition. However, because the CBRM does not authority to lease any of its properties for more than 20 years, it has agreed to continue efforts to make that possible through a proposed municipal charter or similar enabling document.
For its part, Sydney Harbour Investment Partners must continue to provide regular updates to the CBRM in terms of project progress and the firm must also keep the municipality up to date on potential co-developers, operators and shippers.
Port development, one of the hottest issues in the municipality lately, attracted a standing-room only crowd to the CBRM council chambers on Monday when councillors voted 9-4 to give a five-year extension to the company that has sole marketing and developing rights to Sydney harbour port development.
©DAVID JALA/CAPE BRETON POST