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Snowball fight!

HALIFAX, N.S. - From the safety of their snow forts, the Port of Halifax and terminal operators Halterm and Ceres have so far successfully defended their positions that they ain't payin' for equipment that will let drivers safely clean the snow...


HALIFAX, N.S. – From the safety of their snow forts, the Port of Halifax and terminal operators Halterm and Ceres have so far successfully defended their positions that they ain’t payin’ for equipment that will let drivers safely clean the snow off containers before leaving the port.

At least that is what the Atlantic Provinces Trucking Association (APTA) and some others are saying. The port people are keeping their heads down. Curious to know where the Port Authority sat on the issue, I asked: “I would like to know whether the Port of Halifax, as the landlord, has a position on the issue of whether snow removal structures should be installed at the Ceres and Halterm terminals, and with whom the responsibility lies for paying for it.”

Corporate communications replied: “I understand that the terminals and the truck operators have been in discussions on this issue.”

I sent notes to the bosses at Halterm and Ceres: “Would you share your view with me on who should be responsible for the cost of installing and maintaining such a structure, either a scaffolding and catwalk or a machine that clears snow automatically?” There was no sharing.

APTA executive director Jean-Marc Picard was more forthcoming.

“This has been an issue for years but we met with each terminal last year and it’s basically discussed each winter but nothing is ever moved beyond the discussion stage. The Port of Halifax said it was the terminals’ responsibility. They agree, but they don’t want to pay for it. They want APTA to pay for it.” (The legal responsibility for clearing snow, according to carriers and the RCMP, lies with the drivers).

In fact, Picard adds, “Halterm and Ceres made a proposal to APTA last March to install (snow removal equipment) but they wanted us to pay for the equipment. We didn’t think their proposal was worth responding to.”

Picard figures it’s the port’s turn to pick up the bill. “The province has invested in this equipment at their scales, carriers have invested at their terminals, CN has one at the port, so why won’t the Port of Halifax invest in one?”

(CN also paid for snow removal equipment at its intermodal terminals in Moncton, Montreal and Toronto that scrape snow off trailer roofs).

In 2007 the province’s then-named Department of Transportation and Public Works put its money where its mouth was and installed two Scraper Systems snow scrapers at weigh scales in Amherst, at the border and Kelly Lake, just short of the airport. These units have a rubber-edged blade that scrapes snow off a trailer roof as the truck drives under it. Rob Ritcey, managing partner with Dartmouth-based Denex Industrial, which sells the snow scrapers, puts the installed cost at about $25,000, depending on how much dynamite it takes to blast holes in the Halifax bedrock for the uprights.

Carriers want something like this at the port. Even Oceanex, whose container ship Oceanex Sanderling calls at Halterm, wants one.

“Our safety department is talking to Halterm right now about the matter and we are awaiting a response. We have asked them to put something in place. It is not a cost issue. It is a safety issue,” says Glenn Etchegary, vice-president, operations, Oceanex.

Etchegary notes that Oceanex’s other ports of call – Cornerbrook, St. John’s, and the Bickerdyke Pier in Montreal – provide snow removal services. So do all the tenants elsewhere at the Port of Montreal.

Back in Halifax, meanwhile, carriers will hobble along as best they can until this is resolved.

“In this situation, all we can do is be proactive. We don’t let our drivers clean the trailers. We have a contractor who comes over (to the port) and removes the snow off our trailers,” says John Cotterill, manager of safety and driver services, Clarke Road Transport.

Drivers leaving the port with snow-covered containers are liable to fines. Those heading onto the MacKay Bridge that connects Halifax to Dartmouth run the risk of being turned back.

One curious option that crane operators sometimes offer, according to Cotterill and Mike Berrigan, owner, Guysborough Transfer in Dartmouth, is to dangle a container at just the right height so a truck can pass under it to peel off the snow. Cotterill’s take on this technique is a cool understatement: “Make sense?”

What is Cotterill’s prognosis of the situation? “Probably the only way we will get meaningful discussions with the Port of Halifax is to have someone from Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal or Halifax Regional Municipality come to a meeting and say that this is also a shipper’s responsibility.”

Ritcey, who told a somewhat slapstick story about snow coming off a trailer and smashing the windshield of a half-tonne and then a CBC van getting whacked by snow flying off another trailer as it raced to the scene of the first incident, might have the game pegged: “Someone is going to have to die.”


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