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City of Sault Ste Marie, Algoma Steel relaunch bid for huge port development

Approval of a new $112,000-a-year job at city hall last week signalled the quiet rebirth of what used to be the Sault’s hottest job-creation prospect
A 2019 conceptual plan for Port of Algoma. The new plan will start with a smaller footprint than this but is expected to expand as community demand increases.

Sault Ste. Marie is shovelling some significant cash into reviving hopes of establishing a public-access port at Algoma Steel.

City officials expect to spend $793,800 over the next three years to develop the idea.

A decade ago, a Port of Algoma was considered the Sault's top economic development priority.

But the ambitious vision evaporated after the steelmaker sought and obtained insolvency protection on Nov. 9, 2015.

Now, there's renewed interest.

"This will improve community prosperity, increase tax assessment within the industrial and commercial classes and increase community prosperity," says Laura Devoni, Algoma Steel's director of strategy, corporate affairs and sustainability.

"We support the City of Sault Ste. Marie's efforts and are willing to enter into discussions to explore, develop and collaborate on the development of a public access port located within the property boundaries of Algoma Steel," Devoni said in a recent letter to the city.

"Additionally, we support the city's effort to engage industry, community, government and First Nations stakeholders to determine the market demand, business opportunities, available funding programs, and environmental requirements and governance options to support the development of a public access port."

"Algoma Steel offers our support to the port project and is willing to participate in a task force to advance the next steps of the project," Devoni said.

"I think it's been talked about since about the '70s and it would be great to see it come to fruition," Mayor Matthew Shoemaker mentioned during last week's city council meeting.

"We've gotten beyond the point of examining and studying it any further and now we have to get into the implementation phase and get started as quickly as possible," the mayor said.

Councillors agreed last week to spend a total of $198,450 over the next three years toward the cost of hiring a senior co-ordinator for port development.

The job will pay $112,000 a year.

Sault Ste. Marie Economic Development Corp. has agreed to kick in an equal amount and the city is applying for $396,900 in funding from Transport Canada’s green shipping corridor program.

Talks are also taking place with Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corp. about additional cash.

"Sault Ste. Marie is strategically positioned at the centre of the Great Lakes and we haven’t done enough over the years to take advantage of our location," Shoemaker said.

"By allocating funds to the port project over the next three years, we’re hoping to finally move from talking about the potential of the port to unlocking it."

"The existing port complex holds immense potential to catalyze cost-efficient supply-chain options for the regional economy," said Graham Atkinson, the city's manager of business development.

"Despite its significance, the port primarily caters to Algoma Steel's manufacturing activities, limiting access for third-party cargo. Thus, the city has long harboured ambitions for expanding and developing a public-access port, a vision yet to materialize.

"Northern Ontario's critical mineral industry is poised for significant growth, presenting abundant opportunities for materials processing, value-added manufacturing, and shipping, particularly in Sault Ste. Marie," Atkinson said in a report to city council.

"The region's rich mineral deposits, including cobalt, lithium and rare earth elements, have attracted increasing attention for their strategic importance in various industries, including renewable energy, electric vehicles, and technology sectors.

"Sault Ste. Marie stands at a geographic advantage, strategically positioned to receive bulk critical mineral extractions for processing and subsequent shipping into different markets, notably the United States, leveraging its robust multimodal transportation infrastructure.

"With well-established port facilities and an extensive network of railways and highways, the city offers efficient logistical pathways for transporting materials to domestic and international destinations.

"Moreover, Sault Ste. Marie boasts ample industrial space, particularly in proximity to the proposed port development area, providing an attractive environment for materials processing, manufacturing, and distribution activities," Atkinson said.

— SooToday