BC Inland Port Project Pushed

Written on Monday, September 4th, 2006
BC Inland Port Project Pushed

Andrew Petrozzi - Business In Vancouver - September 4, 2006

The solution to the Lower Mainland's looming container shipping logjam lies inland. That's the pitch coming hard and fast from Ashcroft-area entrepreneurs.

Their proposed inland container terminal (ICT) near the South Central Interior community is being touted as a first step in capturing an increased share of Asian container traffic and, according to the project's proponents, could be up and running in months instead of years if the province and related stakeholders would commit to work with its principals.

Robert Landucci, president and CEO of Vancouver-based CrescentView Investments Ltd., said the 800-acre parcel of land is ideal for an inland container terminal.

The site has the necessary industrial zoning in place, Canadian National Railway Company (TSX:CNR) and Canadian Pacific Railway (TSX:CP) rail lines running through it and the project has the support of the neighbouring Village of Ashcroft. So why, asks Landucci, has the development not been supported by the provincial government, the railways or the Vancouver Port Authority?

"Everybody is waiting for studies, and while studies are interesting, why not get customers? Ashcroft is interested. We're interested.

"It's about the infrastructure. We could store thousands of containers up there. We could take some of the pressure off the dock. But we need the people in the club to come and participate," said Landucci.

The Ashcroft Transit Hub Ltd. proposal, which was originally pitched to land owner Landucci by independent consultant Robert Sharkey, would install at least two rail sidings for assembling full trains as well as facilities for support services on the site.

The portion of the property suitable for the ICT, approximately 400 to 500 acres, could hold roughly 133,000 TEUs (20-foot equivalent units), according to preliminary engineering of the property prepared for Crescent-View Investments.

Landucci said the site already has industrial tenants, transportation infrastructure and small-scale rail operations. The original plan was to develop an industrial park on the site, said Landucci, until he was approached by Sharkey.

"We're small guys and we're in a hurry and we want to get business done. It can be frustrating for people like us to deal with the big players," said Landucci. "This is a big play...and could make a significant impact on the province and on transportation."

Landucci said the development could be completed in phases, with the initial phase costing between $25 million and $30 million.

He said the site's development needs no financial assistance.

"We have lots of investors that are very interested in this...but we need commitments and contracts from somebody that we can provide the service."

Ashcroft Mayor Andy Anderson said the ICT proposal could generate another 300 to 400 jobs in the area, and, with 89 percent of Ashcroft's tax revenue coming from its residential base, the town needs industry.

Ashcroft, he said, is also the only B.C. community between the Pacific coast and the Alberta border where both rail lines run through the same property on the same side of the Thompson River.

The mayor's 30-minute meeting with B.C. Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon in early November at a conference in Prince Rupert revealed that the minister, who had not realized its scope, supported the Ashcroft proposal, according to Anderson.

The conference also included a November 7 IBI Group presentation to the Pacific Gateway strategy industry advisory group of a soon-to-be-released ICT analysis prepared by IBI for the provincial Ministry of Transportation.

Falcon did not return BIV requests for an interview.

Peter Xotta, director of the VPA's business development group, confirmed that the port had met with Anderson and was aware of the Ashcroft proposal, but said that "discussions have been very preliminary in the sense that their concept is one that is still in the emerging stages."

Xotta said the IBI Group's presentation identified key characteristics for developing ICTs in B.C., including road and rail infrastructure, land for expansion and proximity to container goods and markets.

He added that those details need to be carefully considered in the Ashcroft proponents' business proposal.

"Once they get to that point they would be in a much better position to go out to the market to potential users of the facility and get a real good sense of whether the shipping, transportation or warehousing community would embrace their proposal."

The VPA will focus on the use of its existing facilities in the short-term, he said.

"We think that there may be an opportunity for inland terminals to support the Port of Vancouver, but we certainly don't want to tell any community that their project is better than the others, because there are so many dimensions to it."

The IBI Group presentation highlighted a number of ICT recommendations and pointed out that, in order to provide efficient rail operations, an ICT would need a facility that could handle 12,000 foot trains, have a minimum land base of 50 acres and a capacity of 150,000 TEUs.

Distance from the port is also considered a key operating cost variable and operating costs are very sensitive to track access charges.

The presentation examined four business models:

  • an import transload facility
  • an export transload facility
  • a terminal for empty containers; and
  • an integrated logistics park

The integrated logistics park was considered to be the best alternative if expansion of dock-side terminals is not feasible. But it would need a large site, phased development and long-term financing and commitment.

Transportation Ministry spokesman Mike Long said a full report on inland port options would be released by year's end.

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