Port of Vancouver again extends potash deadline

Deal on export facility expected by middle of 2014

By Gordon Oliver, Columbian business editor

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The Port of Vancouver has again extended the deadline for BHP Billiton to sign an agreement to lease port property for a facility to export the crop nutrient potash, this time by 30 days.

The lease agreement deadline, most recently extended in February, was due to expire on Thursday. Todd Coleman, the Port’s CEO, authorized the extension on Thursday. The port still aims to have an agreement in place by the middle of this year, said Theresa Wagner, spokeswoman for the port.

“This is a complex project, and it’s not unusual for projects of this size to require additional time,” Wagner said. “We remain confident that the project will go forward.” Wagner said the extension doesn’t include provisions for changing the substance of agreements on the lease, site improvements and access.

It’s been almost four years since Australia-based BHP Billiton, the world’s largest mining company, selected the port as its preferred site for a facility to export potash.

Initially, BHP Billiton’s operation would encompass up to 45 acres, with the potential to add 50 acres as expansion occurs, for a total of 95 acres of the port’s 218-acre Terminal 5. The port anticipates securing a 30-year lease that would give the company the option of four 10-year extensions. The potash-export project would include handling, storage, and dock and rail facilities.

The export facility would be used to ship potash, a fertilizer ingredient that environmental regulators consider nontoxic to aquatic organisms, to final markets. The potash would arrive by rail to the facility, where it would then be loaded onto ships bound primarily for Asia. The company would haul the potash from the Jansen mine the company is developing in Canada’s Saskatchewan province.

The project is a key element of the port’s growth plan. It’s expected to generate thousands of temporary construction jobs, trigger at least $250 million in private capital investment and provide a lucrative long-term lease arrangement for the port.

The facility is expected to require about 40 permanent workers. But while it would not be a big job producer, it would generate exports of 8 million metric tons of potash annually from Vancouver’s port. Currently, the port handles about 5 million metric tons of cargo annually. Revenue from those exports could pay for other port improvements.

Once a deal is reached at the staff level, the proposed agreement would require approval from the port’s board of commissioners.