Port of Argentia – A Perfect Location

The US Navy searched the entire Eastern Seaboard of North America for the ideal location. In Argentia, they found it. And now it is the platform for exciting new business ventures.

Back in the 1940s, the US Navy was seeking the ideal location for its next naval base, searching up and down the Eastern Seaboard. In Argentia, Newfoundland and Labrador, they found it.

Argentia is a sheltered, ice-free port with over 3800 hectares of industrially zoned uplands adjacent to over 600 metres of dock facilities, ideally suited for development,” says Scott Penney, CEO of the Port today.

“Everything was structurally engineered when the Americans built Argentia,” Penney tells us. “The Americans saw something in this location that was quite unique after scouring the entire Eastern Seaboard. The reasons they selected the site then for military purposes are equally relevant today, and those key attributes are coming full circle for industrial purposes.”

By the early nineties, the Cold War was history, priorities were changing, and the US Navy decided to transfer the port assets to a local management facility who have stewarded the base ever since. But it is only in the last couple of years that the real opportunities here have begun to be unlocked.

“The Port’s objective is to provide economic opportunities for the region and our province,” Penney says. “Just over 20 months ago I took over as CEO and realized its amazing potential for larger-scale projects. “It is a functional facility with a lot of history and many of the characteristics that drew the Americans to Argentia then are appealing today. These characteristics continue to place Argentia front and centre in supporting emerging renewable industry sectors.”

The aftermath of the naval base has also left the port with a lot of infrastructural and location advantages that can now be turned to more commercial ends.

“Our harbour is uniquely sheltered with tremendous water depths. Because of the naval base and its supporting airfield, we have 68 hectares of paved runways, which are being repurposed for heavy laydown marshalling yards within a kilometre from our dock facility,” Penney says. “Argentia is close to the provincial capital at St Johns, which is ideal for the supply chain. Major projects in Eastern Newfoundland are in close proximity to Argentia.”

The port’s military origins and geographical features also mean that, unlike many ports, Argentia is not encumbered by residential areas and other businesses. Being a fair distance away from towns enables uninterrupted industrial activity to take place.

“When the Americans created the site, it had a natural hillside buffer between the base and residential areas. We are a truly industrial site that fosters growth and development, which means permitting and access is fluid,” Penney explains.

A New Vision

Penney arrived at the Port of Argentia in the middle of the Covid crisis, but even then, he could see the port’s potential, and the advantages it could utilize from its heritage. But he also saw that a lot of that potential was yet to be realised.

“The Port of Argentia was functioning more as an entity leasing property, bringing in other entities and utilizing a skilled local workforce,” Penney says. “I have been trying to diversify those sectors as much as possible, with a different business model. Going forward, the Port envisions being a partner of proposed developments and facilities, building structures, and leasing them back to other potential entities. We have been looking at ways to attract companies with long-term investment interests into Argentia.”

The Port of Argentia’s top priority is the energy sector, in both traditional oil and gas, and emerging renewables sectors.

“We are very active in the oil and gas sector, providing it with shoreline supports and stevedoring services offered by key port operators Argentia Freezers & Terminals and Integrated Logistics. Argentia is the construction site for Cenovus Energy’s drilling platform for the West White Rose Project offshore Newfoundland. During peak periods, we see upwards of 800 skilled tradespersons working there daily,” Penney says.

“There is also huge potential around the US offshore wind market, particularly around storage,” Penney points out. “We are using our assets and runways to store equipment and materials for that industry, with Argentia serving as a feeder port to offshore wind fields. I see tremendous potential in that market. Additionally, we just signed an agreement with Patten Energy Group LP for a land-based wind farm and green hydrogen and green ammonia production facility. That is a critical project development in the renewable energy sector. Location is key and our port is the closest for the export of green fuel options from North America into Europe. Germany, in particular, is working with Canada to secure renewable energy sources and reduce its dependency on Russian energy supply.”

“We see Argentia playing a significant role in supporting both the US and Canada’s ambitious goals towards energy transition. Through these two renewable energy projects, we expect to play a leadership role in assisting the US in achieving its goal of 30 gigawatts of developed offshore wind by 2030 and Canada’s initiatives to net zero emissions by 2050.”

The key, Penney says, is opportunity, and diversity. “Beyond our traditional domestic and international shipping lines calling our port on regular schedules with container vessels, we’ve diversified into renewables, heavy construction, aquaculture, and mining,” he says. “That’s been the plan since I arrived.”

Food production and sustainability are another sector in play for Argentia. “Just off our coast, there is an emerging aquaculture development. Argentia receives & stores feed in support of salmon farms and sea cage operations in the adjacent bay. I would like to see more feed production facilities on site for both the aquaculture and agriculture sectors. There is so much opportunity here, and I think there are real possibilities for us.”

Attracting Investment

While the existing structures were of good quality, the port is also undergoing a period of major rejuvenation and expansion, with large-scale construction still underway, and new markets opening up.

With planned dock infra-structure to support larger-scale projects, it is not surprising that the Port of Argentia is going to need a lot of capital going forward, and Penney has applied for funding to both provincial and federal government agencies to realise his plans. The port is in a very strong financial position, with strong reserves, and businesses from a host of sectors are eyeing the port’s facilities with their own projects in mind.

As Penney says, “That is the biggest challenge going forward, particularly around necessary investment for our heavy lift dock facilities and wharves. Bigger projects bring larger vessels, specially built to transport massive cargo and require more docking facilities alongside deeper water.  We will need tens of millions of dollars to keep pace with demand. We have the foundation with large land assets adjacent to a deep-water port, but we will need critical and strategic investment to advance our plans and create new opportunities.”

“We’re actively pursuing opportunities in subsea offshore developments and pending sanction approval of the Bay du Nord offshore project, Argentia is positioned as a possible site for a spool base facility developed on our lands”, Penney states.

Although there are certainly challenges ahead, Penney’s excitement is palpable as he talks about his vision for the port’s future.

“It’s such an exciting time for us,” he says. “I have spoken to ministers in the Federal and Provincial governments, and their excitement and encouragement have been a real spur for us to be a key contributor to the green economy. I envision wind turbines located on our port lands, and we are working closely with Patten Energy on that. It is about being a gateway to transhipment, a green hub serving sectors such as the green hydrogen and ammonia industry. I see us expanding our investments, looking at opportunities everywhere from energy to aquaculture.”

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