aerial view of the picton terminal at sunset
Boats Heading

How an Odessa, Ont.-based company has given new life to a local deep-water port.

When it comes to transportation, new isn’t always better. Sometimes solutions can be found in what already exists, and made better by retooling, rethinking and rejigging. Just ask H. R. Doornekamp Construction Ltd., a family owned business headquartered in Odessa, Ont., near Kingston.

This forward-thinking company, with a workforce of 80 to 100 employees, has a group of companies under their parent umbrella, including Picton Terminals, an industrial deep-water port on Picton Bay that they’ve worked hard to reinvigorate over the past six years.

The original facility was built in 1953 for Bethlehem Steel to ship iron ore to the US, but it closed in the 1970s when the nearby iron ore mine also shuttered its doors. From the early 1980s, it operated as a port under different leaseholders at a smaller scale, but it wasn’t until Doornekamp, recognizing an opportunity to improve export as well as to bolster their construction services, purchased the port in 2015 that it began to operate at its full potential once more. “The Doornekamp team has spent every minute since purchasing the port to upgrade and redevelop the site,” says Sandy Berg, a project manager at Doornekamp. “The shiploader, for example, had been sitting idle since about 1979, and it is now fully computerized, with all the tech it needs today.” Graham Seymour, the port manager at Picton Terminals, chimes in with an interesting fact that illustrates just how innovative Doornekamp has been in the renovation of the port: “Back in the ’50s, and all the way up to the ’80s, it took about 10 people to operate that shiploader. Now we’ve got it down to three, with the use of updated technology.”

“This type of shipping is better in terms of carbon footprint than both trucking and rail,” says Berg. Boats have the best fuel economy of any shipping option, at approximately 243 kilometres to one litre of fuel.

tugboat tied up at dock at the picton terminal

The modernized, privately owned port has now become an important fixture in the Doornekamp portfolio. “We’re still developing the port,” says Seymour. “We have regular port jobs happening for other companies on the site — we ship steel and aggregate, for example — but for Doornekamp, the activity is currently tied closely to a construction project in Toronto, at Ashbridges Bay Marina.” The stone that is required for the project, which is the build of three breakwaters on the north shore of Lake Ontario, is surplus aggregate from the redevelopment of the Picton Terminals. It’s loaded onto barges to ship from the terminal.

The Ashbridges Bay build, called the Ashbridges Bay Landform Project, is a good example of how having port access can make some construction work more efficient. Without Picton Terminals, Doornekamp would either need to hire a third-party marine shipping company or put the stone on trucks on the road. “It gives us an advantage to support marine construction projects,” says Seymour. “If we were just a regular land-based construction company, it would be harder to manage. Imagine how many trucks you’d have to have to get 4,000 tonnes of armour stone down the highway to Ashbridges Bay. We can put that volume of stone on a barge at our port and have it off-loaded at the other end within a week. That’s extremely fast for getting that kind of quantity to a marine construction site.” It also means product is handled less and requires less equipment.

In addition to efficiency, marine shipping also has environmental advantages. “This type of shipping is better in terms of carbon footprint than both trucking and rail,” says Berg. Boats have the best fuel economy of any shipping option, at approximately 243 kilometres to one litre of fuel. In comparison, a truck is about 35 kilometres to one litre of fuel. This translates to cost savings and less greenhouse gas. “We honour the environmental side of things. We promote shipping by water, but we also all want water to swim in, to fish, to enjoy…we need to protect the waterways we grew up on,” says Seymour. Even the updates to the port itself are being done in concert with Ministry of the Environment-approved plans for storm water management. “We have a 90-foot limestone cliff on the site, and you can’t just start moving dirt around,” says Berg. “It has been a multi-phase, multi-year project that is coming to a close.” The pinnacle to this project will be a covered, dry storage bin in the rock. The site stores road salt, and previous to this improvement, the road salt — which ships in massive quantities — was stockpiled under tarps. “Once we complete the storage bin, all of the salt will be stored under a roof,” says Berg. “We will no longer require the single-use tarps destined for the landfill that previously covered the salt.”

Considering that this port was a shell of itself just a few years ago, these kinds of improvements are mind-boggling. But it just goes to show, making something old new again can have far-reaching positive implications if you look hard enough.

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