November 3, 2017 – Paul Morden, The Observer – Sarnia, Lambton County and St. Clair Township are being asked to commit to help pay for a $12-million, job-creating oversized load corridor project, as part of an application for federal funds to cover half the cost.
Lambton County council committed this week to contribute $1.2 million over four years for the proposed corridor to Sarnia Harbour, and on Monday Sarnia council will be asked to commit to its share of $4.7 million, and St. Clair Township will be asked to confirm its $75,000 pledge.
Another $10,000 will come from the Sarnia Lambton Industrial Alliance, a group of local fabricators and industrial services companies that has been asking for the corridor since 2012.
Commitments for the local share of the project’s cost need to be in place before the federal government will consider making a contribution through its National Trade Corridor Fund.
If the federal funding comes through, work on the corridor is expected to take four years. That includes completing detailed engineering and then burying or permanently raising utility lines on a route between local industrial fabrication shops and the harbour.
Street lights will also have to be moved or replaced with units that can swing out of the way.
Roads will also have to be re-engineered to accommodate heavy and oversized loads. Improvements will also be needed at Sarnia Harbour.
In a report going to city council Monday, city staff is recommending $1.9 million of Sarnia’s contribution come from a harbor reserve fund, and the balance from the city’s capital reserve.
County council voted Wednesday to fund its share from reserves, a move Rick Perdeaux, chairperson of the industrial alliance, said was very welcome.
“It’s important for the economic growth of Sarnia-Lambton,” he said.
Earlier studies estimated a permanent corridor will add the equivalent of 2,600 full-time jobs in the coming years, as well as $263 million to Canada’s gross domestic product.
Local companies that make large metal vessels and industrial structures have increasingly been shipping them to customers located outside of the community as the amount of work available in Sarnia-Lambton’s Chemical Valley has declined.
But, each time they move a large vessels or structure from their shops to the harbor, they have to pay the cost of raising utility lines and maneuvering through streets not designed for the oversized loads.
“We know that within the next 24 months there are going to be numerous items shipped out,” Perdeaux said.
“It really is difficult from a cost point of view to keep having redundant services raised and lowered, raised and lowered. It just makes no sense.”
Perdeaux said shipping costs on a “million-dollar-vessel” can be $250,000.
Often, the short trip just through Sarnia can be responsible for a significant portion of the shipping bill.
“If you can reduce that by 75 per cent, you’ve made things a lot better,” Perdeaux said.
While local officials said they will continue to search for additional sources of funding to offset what local communities are being asked to contribute, the Ontario government has said so far that it doesn’t have a program that can help.
The city’s staff report says Sarnia-Lambton’s corridor project is one of approximately 200 from across the country that made it through an initial round of screening for the federal funding program.
“It is anticipated that fewer than 10 per cent of the proposals will be successful,” the report says.
Perdeaux said that if councils in Sarnia and St. Clair Township also commit to the funding so the application can move ahead, the community is expected to hear back from the federal government in a few months.
“We’ll keep our fingers crossed,” he said.