Rolling towards an economic boon

By Cathy Dobson, from    The Observer

Creating an unencumbered route to truck oversize freight from Sarnia’s fabrication district on Plank Road to the St. Clair River could generate a huge economic boon.

But the cost will be in the millions.

A study released this week says the expense of clearing utility wires and widening roadways on the most feasible routes will be anywhere from $3.4 million to $6.4 million.

That’s money that might be available through federal and provincial grant programs, says David Moody with the Sarnia Lambton Economic Partnership (SLEP).

“Our next step is to get feedback from local industrial companies and municipal officials to measure their enthusiasm level to make this happen,” he said. “Everyone needs to be on side.”

The study was commissioned by SLEP on behalf of a group of 40 Sarnia companies that belong to the Sarnia Lambton Industrial Alliance (SLIA).

It examined 10 potential sites where huge modules destined for shipping across Canada could be brought to the river’s edge and loaded onto lake freighters.

Local fabricators, machine shops and engineering firms are already receiving smaller jobs to service the Alberta oil sands but they want in on the bigger-ticket items.

The study, conducted by Sarnia’s MIG Engineering, could open the door to local companies securing large contracts and putting greater numbers of local tradespeople to work, Moody said.

Each of the 10 study sites was analyzed and four showed the most potential.

They included:

• Sarnia Harbour, which is the only site that does not require upgrades to handle oversize freight. However the route from Plank to Harbour Road would cost at least $3.4 million to alter.

• TransAlta (former Dow site) is considered the easiest route to deliver modules to and from manufacturers and is the least disruptive along public route. But substantial onsite improvements are needed to enable shipping, estimated at $5.7 million.

• The former Mooretown Stone Dock was used for a recent KelGor module shipment. Overhead wires through Mooretown would need to be permanently buried or lifted, and road upgrades needed at a cost of about $5 million.

• Lambton Generating Station dock has good seaway water depth right up to the dock but is the longest road route. It would require a new loading ramp and road grading. Cost estimated at $6.4 million.

Moody said Sarnia Harbour appears to be the most obvious choice but he has yet to meet with municipal officials to discuss the options.

For the purposes of the study, the enormous modules destined for Alberta were estimated to be 24 feet by 24 feet by 120 feet long, large enough to hold pipes, gauges and other pieces of fabricated steel for oil processing.

“We want to take a good look at what a route for oversized freight could mean to our region,” Moody said.

“We’re trying to address the high unemployment rate in Sarnia-Lambton in skilled trades, which was running around 35% last summer.”

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