KAREN VALIHORA AND CHRIS FANNING
The Honourable Ryan Williams, Member of Parliament (MP) for Bay of Quinte addressed Council last week in a presentation that connected federal funding for County Road 49, Picton Terminals’ application to begin container shipping, and the Federal Liberal government’s Electric Vehicle strategy.
Williams suggested that turning Picton Terminals into a container shipping port would take “hundreds of thousands” of trucks off the highway and decrease reliance on rail. Moving cargo transportation to the Great Lakes, he stressed, would have “one fiftieth the environmental impact of both trucking and rail.”
“Count me in your corner when it comes to Highway 49,” he said, and referred to the bumpy experience driving down into the County. “That is a project you have my full support on.”
When asked how he could make the rehabilitation of the bumpy highway a national priority, Williams cited Liberal government plans for an EV supply chain. “The EV battery plant in Bath is a huge boon for the entire area,” he said.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced last year that Umicore, a global metals refinery, will build a $1.5 billion battery plant in Loyalist Township.
A multinational corporation based in Belgium, Umicore will turn nickel, cobalt and lithium into cathodes at the new site. The metals are critical to producing lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles.
Williams suggested to Council both that ships from Picton Terminals could take the parts to their destinations, and that trucks could take them up Hwy 49, drawing federal attention to the state of the road.
Councillor Bill Roberts noted that MP Williams and other members of the federal Conservative caucus had recently toured the Terminals, and that in the House of Commons MP Williams had cited Picton Terminals as possibly the first Great Lakes shipping container entry.
MP Williams explained that Picton Terminals could be positioned as a part of the Liberal government’s supply chain strategy, which is linked to its net zero emissions initiatives.
“Shipping has about 1/50th the environmental impact of trucking and rail so the Liberal government is pushing shipping a lot more, everything from electric ferries to greater transport on rail,” he noted.
Williams noted the port at the Terminals represents 80 years of shipping history. The port began its operations in 1955, 68 years ago.
“They have ships for ore, sugar, already. All they are looking for is this approval for containers which would bypass rail and the 401, they’d service [St. Thomas] and other areas. This is something the government is looking at,” he said.
“At the end of the day the application, if favourably approved, would support 40-plus positions, good jobs, and good for this area, Picton, as an industrial area.”
Williams said that allowing container shipping into the Great Lakes from Picton Terminals would be a boon to businesses in Quinte West and Belleville, who would be able to ship their products out faster.
Councillor Joyce Maynard was not convinced. “I know that you have been promoting the idea of container shipping from Picton Terminals, but it’s a shallow bay close to source water in a tourist area.”
“There is pretty staunch opposition to that here,” she said. “Container shipping from that port is probably not what the people of this area are looking for.”
The Gazette asked Dr. Warren Mabee, a Canada Research Chair in Renewable Energy and Environmental Policy at Queen’s University in Kingston, to weigh in on the MP’s claims about shipping as a greener form of transport. “The ‘rule of thumb’ is that maritime shipping creates 20x less emissions than truck transport and 4x less than by rail transport,” said Dr. Mabee.
The bigger issue, however, is practical. “There are few ports in the Great Lakes. One of the big questions would be how this plan fits into a regional industrial strategy. There are other spots where it might make a little bit more sense to have a working port. Repairing the highway is great, but really increasing truck traffic at certain times might not be as great.” These are all things to consider when it comes to a net-zero emissions strategy, he explained.
For Picton in particular, “there are some missing links in the transportation infrastructure,” there is no rail hub, for example, “and it would change the character of that community to some extent.”