Cherry Point could ship potash

Jun, 5, 2008
MARITIME

Canadians studying 2 sites for massive new terminal

JOHN STARK

Whatcom County’s Cherry Point shoreline is one of two places being considered for construction of a massive new terminal where ships would load Saskatchewan potash for shipment to world markets.

The terminal would be built by Canpotex International, a consortium that ships and markets the output of three Saskatchewan potash producers: Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan, Agrium Inc., and The Mosaic Co. Company spokespeople say the terminal is expected to cost $300 million to $500 million.

In one published report, Canpotex CEO Steven Dechka told a fertilizer industry group that the new terminal would have a capacity of 10 million tons per year, as the three potash-mining firms push to increase production and eliminate existing bottlenecks to shipping.

There was no immediate estimate of how many jobs would be created at such a facility, but the total would likely be in the low hundreds at best.

Vancouver, B.C.’s Neptune Terminals, which now reports annual capacity of 17 million tons including Canpotex potash and other bulk products, has a labor force of less than 250, according to its Web site.

Potash is a naturally occurring potassium compound used in agriculture. It can be applied to fields by itself or used in fertilizer blends, and is much in demand as the prices of agricultural commodities soar on world markets.

Spokeswomen for the companies involved confirmed that Cherry Point is one of two sites under consideration for the terminal, but they provided few other details. It is not yet clear exactly where such a terminal would be constructed, or if it would involve the long-envisioned Gateway Pacific Terminals project between the BP Cherry Point refinery and Alcoa Intalco Works aluminum smelter. Nobody from Gateway Pacific was immediately available for comment Wednesday.

Rhonda Speiss, spokeswoman for Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan, said Canpotex now ships potash via rail from five mines in the province to existing terminals in Vancouver, B.C., and Portland, Ore. The product is warehoused at the terminal sites before it is loaded on vessels for shipment to China, India, Brazil, Malaysia and Indonesia, among other places.

“Right now the demand for potash products is at its peak,” Speiss said. “It’s the highest it’s ever been.”

Reflecting that worldwide demand, the price of Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan stock has risen from less than $80 to more than $200 a share in the past year.

Speiss said she could not provide specifics on factors that might be advantages or disadvantages for Cherry Point.

“There really is a multitude of factors at each facility,” Speiss said. “Each facility has its pros and cons.”

Sheryl Nagel, spokeswoman for Mosaic, said a final recommendation will be made to the Canpotex board by the end of June, but she did not know how long it might take for the board to act on the recommendation.

Speiss described potash as a plant nutrient that should raise few environmental concerns. “It’s not toxic,” Speiss said.

Environmental consultant Fred Felleman, who has a long history of activism on Cherry Point issues, noted that environmental groups have a legal settlement in place with Cherry Point industrial property owners, requiring them to take steps to protect dwindling stocks of Cherry Point herring if and when a new shipping terminal is built.

“We don’t really have grounds to challenge it as long as they live by the settlement agreement,” Felleman said. “It’s no surprise. … It’s certainly within the bounds of what we had expected to show up here.”

Reach John Stark at 715-2274 or john.stark@bellinghamherald.com.

~ by fredfelleman on June 5, 2008.

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