New gateway to the river project could transform the economy of Sorel-Tracey, Quebec

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A new port on the St. Lawrence River that will branch out into seven million square feet of industrial land that is to be developed could well transform the economy of the Sorel-Tracy region over the coming decades.

Its main operator sees it in particular as a major export hub for Quebec agrifood products.

The dismantling of the former Hydro-Quebec thermal power plant and its emblematic red and white chimneys created the industrial development opportunity.

The municipality made sure to recover the land, then to acquire the neighbouring spaces in order to develop a new industrial-port zone called Saint-Laurent giving both access to the river, to the railway line and to Highway 30.

Last month, the city unveiled a partnership with the loader QSL, a Quebec company that also has facilities in Chicago and Texas.

An emphyteutic lease allows QSL to occupy the land for 30 years with the option of extending the lease for another 30 years at its end.

An emphyteutic lease is a type of real estate contract specifying that the lessee must improve the property with construction.

The stevedore must set up a barge on the seaway which will serve as a transshipment dock. There would therefore be no construction of invasive installations directly in the river.

Mayor Serge Peloquin said he was particularly proud of the project's "minimal impact" on the environment since it mainly involves upgrading the facilities of the old thermal power plant and adding a sort of floating wharf to it. He is also pleased to have been able to retain ownership of the land by the river.

"The edge of the river, it was important to keep it. It was a priority," he said. "I wanted this asset to remain public property of the municipality and the citizens. The rest of the land could be sold individually depending on the needs of future buyers."

The first market targeted by the new Saint-Laurent sector will be the agri-food industry, confirmed QSL president and CEO Robert Bellisle.

"There is a large component that will be dedicated to cargo related to agriculture to serve our customers who are looking to expand in handling and shipping," he explained. "QSL's first investment will be to erect a warehouse reserved for the activities of the Sollio cooperative group."

This first phase alone should result in the creation of around 40 direct jobs within five years.

It's a vision shared by Mayor Peloquin.

"Between Sorel-Tracy and Saint-Hyacinthe, it's almost 80 per cent agricultural land and we already have demand," he saud. "A demand that affects not only crops but also all kinds of matters related to the agricultural world, such as fertilizers.

"If we are able to bring the goods as close as possible to the consumer, that has a significant impact on reducing costs for the customer."

Peloquin is also salivating at the idea of attracting food processing factories. He cites the recent arrival of the Mini Babybel cheese factory which has led to the creation of 140 jobs.

Regarding strategic positioning, Bellisle goes on to say that the expansion of the maritime industry in Quebec goes through the south shore of the river since the north shore is already saturated. The presence of Highway 30 therefore offers a strategic advantage to the Sorel-Tracy region.

One of the particularities of this new industrial dock will be the handling of oversized parts. These giant structures that can sometimes be seen travelling on the roads need special facilities to be dropped off or collected when travelling by boat, train or truck.

"In our wind farm, when we received the fins and pieces from Germany, we have to find a port in Quebec that could accommodate the boat, so we are going to serve this clientele," said Peloquin.

Industrial commissioner Jacques Thivierge noted that QSL has recently acquired a transporter specializing in the transport of this type of giant part. In addition, two SMEs in the region have developed the expertise to manufacture such equipment intended for the mining, petroleum or aeronautical sectors.

Bellisle confirmed his interest in this type of transport. He also stressed that he wants to be ready in time for the construction of the future Contrecoeur mega-port, which must be able to accommodate 1.15 million containers.

"We're going to have to have big pieces coming in and we're going to need a place to unload them. And for all the expansion of industries around Sorel, Contrecoeur, Varennes, it will become a strategic location for these goods," said Bellisle who believes he can double the volume of QSL activities in the region.

The loader already has another wharf in the Saint-Joseph-de-Sorel sector at the confluence of the St. Lawrence and Richelieu rivers.

Through its agreement negotiated with QSL, the City of Sorel-Tracy has shown itself to be creative in diversifying its sources of revenue. In addition to paying rent on the land and paying property taxes on its facilities erected on the site, the company agreed to pay royalties on the tonnage of goods shipped on the quay, on the rails and on the road.

For Peloquin, it is essential that his municipality find new sources of revenue in order to reduce the burden on property taxes.

-- this report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 9, 2021.

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