The port of Halifax took about a 20 per cent hit in traffic over 2008, and that’s likely just the beginning.

Port authority executives tried to put a positive spin on the situation at a provincial economic development meeting yesterday. But a few ominous factors threaten to cause major problems for what was called “the lifeblood” of Halifax’s economy.

Even before this year, the port only used about one third of its capacity — processing about 500,000 containers per year out of a possible 1.4 million. Halifax Port Authority president Karen Oldfield confirmed 2008’s numbers are down “in the ballpark” of 20 per cent and 2009 will likely be worse.


Still, Oldfield insisted the port can handle challenges.

“Our port is very, very solid. We have the ability to reinvest in infrastructure and we’ve done that — $55 million over the last five years,” said Oldfield.

“We have great partnerships and a great business community and together, I think we’re going to weather the storm.”

Shipping is down globally, but two looming problems threaten Halifax’s growth in particular.

The first is the dredging of New York Harbour. Currently seven out of eight container ships that come to Halifax are either heading to or from New York.

The shallow and crowded New York Harbour requires many ships to lighten their load at Halifax before they can enter. But once dredging is complete, that won’t be as much of a problem and more ships could bypass Halifax.

The second problem is the renovation of the Panama Canal.

The world’s largest ships can’t fit through it, so they come instead through the Suez Canal and across the Atlantic.

Once the renovations are complete, fewer ships will be travelling in Nova Scotia’s neck of the ocean.

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