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Richardson plans expansion at Vancouver port

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RICHARDSON International is investing $120 million in the western Canadian grain-handling infrastructure with a plan to expand its Vancouver port terminal.

The family-owned Winnipeg company is looking to increase the throughput capacity at the terminal to five million tonnes a year from the current three million tonnes.

The decision to beef up its port facilities comes after an ambitious five-year run. When the company digests the $900-million acquisition of 19 country elevators and crop-input centres from Viterra announced in March, Richardson International will be the largest grain-handling company in the country.

In addition to the Viterra deal -- which has yet to close -- the company also spent $15 million revamping its canola-oil packaging operation in Lethbridge and announced a 25 per cent expansion to its Yorkton canola-crushing plant that just opened in 2010. In 2007, the company acquired about $300 million in assets from the former Agricore United.

"It has been five years of significant growth," said Jean-Marc Ruest, vice-president of corporate affairs at Richardson International. "It's reflective of the optimism that exists in the sector. It is a very exciting time."

Port capacity is a key element of the burgeoning supply chain Richardson manages from the Great Lakes to the Pacific.

"This is a very, very big project for us," Ruest said. "Exports off the West Coast are key to our business. The ability to increase our capacity to load vessels is very important."

The company has started a public consultation in Vancouver to secure support from the community and stakeholders in the busy port operation.

Included in the plan is building two 40,000-metric-tonne concrete storage annexes approximately 54 metres high. When completed, total storage capacity at the terminal will be 178,000 metric tonnes. The plan calls for the addition of a second rail line that will be able to double the number of railcars it unloads to 300 on a double track from 150 cars a day on a single track.

After permitting approval is secured, it's expected to take about two years to complete.

One industry official said regardless of the acquisition of the Viterra assets, Richardson has been planning to increase its Vancouver port terminal capacity for many years.

Tracey Shelton, a spokeswoman for Richardson, said, "For Richardson, this expansion is critical for our business. It is a very significant project, the largest investment of its kind for us in Vancouver."

Brenda Tjaden Lepp, owner of FarmLink Marketing Solutions, said Richardson's heavy investment in the Prairie ag infrastructure makes sense.

"They're in a great position to take advantage of the Prairie agricultural boom," she said. "They have the history, they have the knowledge. They are working a good, long supply chain and have lots of pieces in place and a few gaps to fill."

In addition to the 19 country elevators it will acquire when the Viterra deal closes, Richardson also gets 25 per cent of Viterra's Cascadia terminal, also at the Vancouver port.

Richardson's export business will also pick up with the end of the Canadian Wheat Board monopoly. But Ruest said the expansion was going to be required regardless.

"We get increased West Coast throughput (with Cascadia), but even with that increased capacity it would still not be enough to capture what our requirements for throughput are going to be," Ruest said. "We need both the expansion and the Cascadia capacity."

martin.cash@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 3, 2012 $sourceSection0

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