City hopes study will spur action on port.Sault Ste. Marie is trying to make, headway with another study for a potential Great Lakes port. A report is expected back from KPMG consultants "by late April outlining the feasibility of an expanded facility on the St. Mary's River.
The Sault is located on one of the busiest commercial shipping lanes in the world.
For decades, community leaders talked about ways to tap into the marine trade, but haven't advanced beyondthe investigation stage.
But the port idea is back again and it's considered a 'highpriority' infrastruc-, ture project this time.
Trevor Woods, who chairs the city's transportation infrastructure committee, said despite years of study, there is a new business case to be had.
Woods, a former Ministry of Natural Resources district manager, said there's a "sense of renewal" in the city given the economic stability of Essar Steel and Tenaris Tubes.
"It is has been on and off, but it was always there, and it has never been discarded."
Among KPMG's marching orders are to. find out if regional shippers would make use of a public port
Essar, formerly Algoma Steel, operates a Seaway-draft dock on the St. Mary's River, but it's considered a private harbour.
Woods hopes that when KPMG presents its findings at committee this spring, the port concept will finally gain some traction.
"This report is going to be pivotal to the direction that we should be moving in."
KPMG will investigate Essar's and Tenaris' growth potential as well as scan the landscape on a "strategic level" for economic growth in the area.
Woods said a key question is does a major investment in the port make economic sense?
An expanded port will likely be located on Essar property, given the company's extensive waterfront acreage and its current use as a working harbour.
The existing port setup has structural defiencies, draft issues, and a pier length that limits its current use. Part of the consultant's report will outline the infrastructural needs, what freight-handling equipment is needed, a project price tag, and who should operate it.
Woods said if Essar expands production capacity, a larger port facility is likely in the offing.
"They have given us first glance indication that they are certainly interested in seeing an expansion."
Essar spokeswoman Brenda Stenta said any decision to expand marine infrastructure resides with the Indian company's international ports division.
She said it's: premature to comment whether Essar is receptive to outside business"since the study is. being driven - by the city
"There are a whole bunch of parameters to be discussed before we have a position on that."
Stenta told Northern Ontario Business in an interview last year that Essar undertook an engineering study on its dock facilities in 2008, and is open to exploring any options to expand port capacity, even offering access to Western Canada grain shipppers.
Essar allows Tenaris, a nearby seamless tube producer, to use the dock, along ' with other companies "where possible," said Stenta.
The last time the city investigated port expansion was in the late 2000s when a team of consultants, including KPMG, scoped out the full range of road, rail, air and marine opportunities.
One conclusion drawn from the 2007 multimodal study was that the Sault's marine potential was limited since geogv raphy placed it "too far from the action" to find more freight to support a larger port.
But an earlier 2004 Grant Thornton study indicated a port is feasible..
In recent years, the city has made moves to beef up its transportation infrastructure.
A truck corridor now links the Trans-Canada Highway with the Canadian side of the International Bridge to Michigan, where major renovation work starts this spring to update the 1960s-era Customs plaza.
A vital rail link to southern Ontario for, Essar Steel was preserved last year when the city and the company rallied to preserve a Canadian Pacific line thanks to some last-minute government support for overdue track improvements.
BY IAN ROSS Northern Ontario Business