County eyes industrial river dock

From   The Observer

Steel fabricators and machine shops in Sarnia-Lambton have a good shot at getting work from Alberta oil sands companies, but first they need a dock loading facility on the St. Clair River and a way to reach it.

Lambton County councillors voted Wednesday to give the Sarnia Lambton Industrial Alliance $20,000 to help begin identifying a transportation corridor to the river, and determine how much it would cost to upgrade it to accommodate large fabricated industrial steel modules built locally.

Alliance chairperson Paul Healy said its 40 member companies came together to find ways to attract customers beyond Chemical Valley.

“The local industry has had significant downswing in their spending for capital,” Healy said, adding, “If you look at the chemical plants that have closed in the last five years, we’ve probably lost eight major producers.”

That has hurt machine shops, fabricators and others serving the petrochemical industry, as well as leading to a more than 35% local unemployment rate in the heavy construction skilled trades, he said.

Industry has been moving to a modular approach to construction, and while Sarnia-Lambton companies are doing that work now, it’s a challenge to move large structures to the river and load them on ships.

Healy said the modules are too large to move by rail. The Port of Sarnia, and the roads leading to it, also can’t accommodate them.

The alliance plans to apply for federal capital funding once it selects a dock site and corridor to reach it.

There are 500 oil producing companies in Alberta and the oil sands expansion is expected to last another three decades, but fabricators there can meet about half the expected demand, he said.

“We have the exact match for the skill set they’re looking for.”

Some of Sarnia-Lambton’s skilled tradespeople have been forced to travel Alberta to find work, Healy noted.

“If we can make this a manufacturing centre for oil producing customers, I think you’ll not only put the current group back to work, you’ll also bring home the group working away from here and also attract new labour.”

Healy said the alliance wants to push forward on creating a dedicated corridor and dock as quickly as possible.

He called oil sands work “low hanging fruit,” adding a permanent corridor would also help the area attract fabricating business from outside of Canada.

“Deep water access gets us to the rest of the world.”

Warden Steve Arnold and Sarnia Mike Bradley have been meeting with the alliance and suggested they ask county council for help with the cost of the study.

“We see a huge future here in manufacturing modules and vessels that will keep people employed here,” Bradley said.

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