The City of Sarnia is spending more on Sarnia Harbour each year than it's pulling in, and a business plan is needed to outline how to invest in its future.
Community Services General Manager Stacey Forfar delivered that message to council during a special corporate priorities and strategic planning meeting Monday.
She said ship repairs and maintenance is the primary activity that keeps the harbour operational.
"Revenues are really tied to the berthage of those vessels, electricity use, and the warehouse rentals around that facility," Forfar said. "The oversize load corridor and CESTAR dock facility will offer some new service lines and potentially some new revenue sources when they're fully operational. The demand for that service, as we're well aware, is tied to the potential for import and exports of those oversize loads across this community."
Forfar said the harbour currently holds a marine designation.
"There is an opportunity to look at a commercial designation as part of a future review process, to really see what that potential looks like and what it could leverage in the future," she said. "Then there's a tourism component, we've probably all seen the Great Lakes ships, the cruise ships, that go up and down the St. Clair River. There's also industrial tourism. It's a thing in some places and there's an opportunity to tie into that at some point if that made sense."
Forfar said a provincial marine strategy could also expand opportunities for marine facilities and to potentially access grants.
"We're not really certain where this is going to go. The work is underway by the MTO [Ministry of Transportation] and staff in our economic development department are plugged into this process to monitor it and stay informed," said Forfar.
Ownership of the facility was transferred to the city from the federal government, with a one time reserve fund of $8.56 million, in 2014.
"The reserve fund is virtually depleted at this point," Forfar said. "It will be done either at the end of this year or next. There is another reserve fund, it's the Sarnia Harbour Reserve Fund, which is where our revenues have been sitting. This facility makes in and around $300,000 a year, plus or minus, give or take, up and down, really depending on the level of activity that year."
Forfar said the funds have been accessed for a variety of capital expenditures including; dredging, electrical upgrades and emergency repairs.
Mayor Mike Bradley asked staff to investigate if users are helping to cover operating costs.
He also suggested council could be made a governing body of the harbour.
Staff are looking at developing a negotiated request for proposal [NFRP] to move the idea forward.