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Shoemaker: Steel mill needs Huron Central

Closing the rail service would 'create an undesirable difficulty' for Algoma
rail tracks generic 1 turl 2016
File photo by Jeff Turl

Saving Huron Central Railway is critical to the future of Sault Ste. Marie steelmaking, Ward 3 Councillor Matthew Shoemaker said this week.

"We have to do everything that we can to support Algoma at this critical time," Shoemaker said at this week's City Council meeting. "To have an entity like this that supplies a service to them go down at this time, it would create an undesirable difficulty."

"Algoma is on its way to exiting from CCAA [Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act protection].... I have to believe that this would throw a wrench in Algoma's plans for any future costs that they're going to incur for any costs to bring their product to market," the councillor said.

City Council voted Monday night in favour of a resolution from Ward 1 Councillors Steve Butland and Paul Christian, asking that Butland and former Sault chief administrative officer Joe Fratesi be appointed volunteer co-chairs of a task force charged with persuading provincial and federal officials to support Huron Central.

The task force resolution was supported by Tom Dodds, former chief executive officer of Sault Ste. Marie Economic Development Corp., who sent this letter to Mayor Christian Provenzano and city councillors:

Dear Mayor and Council:

While I have not had the opportunity to speak with the city councillors tabling this resolution, nor Mr. Fratesi, I do wish to submit my unqualified endorsement of it, as someone familiar with this situation having been directly involved with it earlier in my career.

As FedNor director, I was the Industry Canada executive lead on this file and worked closely with the city and more specifically, the chief administrative officer and mayor in bringing to a positive conclusion.

Independent of the city’s efforts, FedNor/Industry Canada commissioned an economic impact assessment of HCR's termination/continuation 2010, completed by KPMG with confidential information provided by key stakeholders, which articulated the economic importance of this railway.

This study helped provide the basis for both federal and provincial infrastructure support in 2010.

I can tell you without hesitation that the leadership provided by the city in facilitating, negotiating and securing regional commitment and support was the critical to the success.

The combination of strong political support by mayor and council, provincial, political efforts by David Orazietti, and the experience, efforts, integrity and credibility brought to bear by, then CAO Fratesi  who chaired the effort, was instrumental in securing multi-stakeholder support for railway infrastructure improvement funding and preventing the railway from ceasing operations.

This federal and provincial infrastructure funding commitment was unprecedented for a short-line railway in Ontario.

And this was directly as a result of a Soo - led team effort.

I might remind those who not may be familiar with the situation at that time (in 2009) that CP, who owns the railway, was quite clear that if HCR terminated service (which HCR’s parent company, Genesee Wyoming had wanted it to do), it did not intend to operate the line, and would therefore will follow the discontinuance process as set-out in the Canadian Transportation Act.

Enclosed is a PowerPoint presentation prepared by CP in preparation for the termination of HCR short-line service.

This purpose of this resolution should not be taken lightly, nor should anyone have any illusions about the significant challenges faced in the limited time available.

I have expressed my concerns about this matter for some time so I am pleased to see this before council.

As experience has demonstrated, community leadership is needed.


Tom Dodds



David Helwig

About the Author: David Helwig

David Helwig's journalism career spans six decades beginning in the 1960s. His work has been recognized with national and international awards.
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