There are signs a “no” the provincial and federal governments gave earlier to funding requests for a job-creating heavy load transportation corridor to Sarnia Harbour could become a “yes.”
A group of metal fabrication and industrial services companies that make up the Sarnia Lambton Industrial Alliance have been working for several years to lower the cost of moving large industrial vessels through the community.
Working with municipal officials, they developed a $12-million project to permanently raise utility lines, adjust intersections and make other improvements along a route connecting Sarnia Harbour with local fabrication shops and industrial sites.
Sarnia pledged $4.7 million, Lambton County $1.2 million, St. Clair Township $75,000 and the alliance $10,000 to cover half the cost, and asked the province and federal governments for the rest.
Both senior levels of government turned down the initial requests so the project’s municipal backers decided last year to move ahead on their own. They plan to do as much of the work as they can with the $6 million already pledged locally, while holding out hope the province and federal governments will eventually contribute.
And then, Lambton-Kent-Middlesex MPP Monte McNaughton was appointed infrastructure minister following last year’s provincial election and he agreed to take a second look at the project.
Premier Doug Ford was also encouraging when asked about provincial support for the project during a visit to Sarnia in November.
“I think it’s extremely important to get trade and commerce moving,” Ford said.
A new federal Infrastructure Minister, Francois-Philippe Champagne, was also appointed in Ottawa last summer.
“I have quite a good relationship with him, and presented the project,” said Sarnia-Lambton MP Marilyn Gladu, a Conservative.
“He was interested and wanted more information.”
Gladu said Champagne met with McNaughton after receiving the information.
“I’m hopeful the two of them can work together and that they may be able to fund the remaining part of the project.”
Gladu said “political will” is important in these situations and Champagne is interested in seeing “worthy projects get out the door.”
Currently, local metal fabricators making large industrial vessels for customers outside of the area face high costs to move their product the short distance from their shops to Sarnia Harbour for shipping.
Fleets of bucket trucks are needed to raise overhead wires and intersections weren’t designed to accommodate the large loads.
A business plan prepared for the alliance estimated a permanent corridor lowering those transportation costs could general an additional $9.5 million in annual sales and create 2,613 person years of employment.
Gladu said Champagne could see that “for a very small amount of money” from the provincial and federal governments, the project could create a large number of well-paying jobs.
“And, it’s an election year,” she added.
Lambton County officials and other community representatives are expected to meet again with McNaughton at an upcoming rural municipal conference to continue the lobbying.
Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley said the federal government has asked the community to “re-tweak” the funding application.
“That’s under way, now,” he said.
“I’m really confident in the first six months of the year we’ll see this come to a positive outcome.”