In the harbour
1. Unique Solutions stumbles on
I’ve been following Unique Solutions Design Ltd for several years. Nova Scotia Business Inc has a $5.6 million equity stake in the company, but despite the near-collapse of the company, NSBI hasn’t publicly announced a write-off or write-down of the failed investment.
My own investigation revealed that by 2014 the value of NSBI’s stock could be no more than $1 million — “Taxpayers appear to have lost about $4.6 million, and no one told them,” I wrote. Since then, it’s become increasingly clear that the full value of NSBI’s stock is $0.
My biggest interest in the Unique Solutions story, however, is that it is an example of horrendous reporting by the Chronicle Herald:
But the Chronicle Herald didn’t just miss the Unique Solutions story, and it didn’t just make a couple of mistakes. Rather, the paper falsely framed the story, failed to publish facts it should’ve been aware of, published facts that were incorrect, and otherwise misled and deceived their readers.
On March 24, I reported that Unique Solutions was on the verge of folding up operations:
Unique Solutions Design Ltd will cease operations if it doesn’t find $10 million in new investment. In fact, if the company doesn’t raise $4 million in the next six weeks, “assets will likely be liquidated to satisfy secured creditors and it is unlikely that there will be any residual value for shareholders.”
That’s the bleak assessment of the company’s future as explained by Tuoc Luong, Chief Executive Officer of the company, in a letter sent to shareholders Tuesday.
Six weeks came and went, and so I’ve been dutifully checking bankruptcy notices, and every time I’m in Burnside I swing by the Unique Solutions office to see if the lights are still on. (I’m amused that the only existing body scan machine I’m aware of is in the Unique Solutions corporate office.) Still no closure.
So what happened? How is Unique Solutions still in business?
A while back, the company rebranded as Me-Ality and restructured itself via a corporate holding company called MeID. Yesterday, the Philadelphia Business Journal is reporting that MeID has raised $1.7 million in new financing — from whom I can’t say, as the $115 subscription fee is a bit pricy for me for a one-off story. (The story is news in Philadelphia because Unique Solutions “bought” a Philly firm called Intellifit in 2009 — I’m told, but can’t verify, that Intellifit was worthless and no actual money was exchanged in the deal.)
It’s hard to say exactly, but my review of some company financial statements shows that Unique Solutions is about $100 million — give or take $10 million — in the hole. I don’t know why anyone would dump more good money after bad, but that’s why I don’t have $115 to read one news article, I guess.
2. Port Days
Cape Breton freelance writer Mary Campbell attended Sydney Harbour Ports Day 2016, and reported back for the Halifax Examiner:
This year’s theme was “Thinking Big: A New Home on the East Coast for Ultra Large Container Vessels,” which I guess marks the official end of the “Offshore Oil and Gas” era (if something can end without ever actually having started).
The idea of building a state-of-the-art container terminal, capable of handling the biggest of the new container ships (which have been growing steadily since the plan was hatched—the new Triple-E-Class ships will carry some 18,000 containers) has been around for over a decade. The harbour was dredged with this goal in mind, and the material from the dredge helped form what is now known as “the greenfield site,” a blank slate next to the Sydport Industrial Park in Point Edward (across the harbour from Sydney proper) onto which promoters of various stripes and abilities have been projecting their dreams.
Campbell goes on in great detail to eviscerate the dream and those promoting it.
As I’ve written repeatedly, it makes no sense whatsoever for a megaport to be built anywhere in Nova Scotia. The Port of Halifax is at half capacity and the proposed Melford Terminal is going nowhere for a reason: the geography is all wrong. Being the closest bit of North America to Europe is a disadvantage for the ports, not an advantage:
Think about it. You are the manager of a German manufacturing firm, and you want to export to North America. You’re not going to sell many widgets in Canso or in Eastport. Instead, your primary market is going to be places like New York City, or Chicago, where there are millions of people and lots of industry to buy your widgets.
So how do you get your widgets to Chicago? Expensive and light stuff, you can fly directly there. Everything else has two legs: one by sea, and one by land.
The sea part of the voyage is relatively inexpensive. You can stack a gazillion of your widgets in the new post-Panamax ships. A small, underpaid crew from the Philippines steering a ship flying the flag of a lightly regulated country like Liberia doesn’t cost much.
The land part of the journey, however, is expensive. You’ve got to divide up your gigantic cargo and divvy it into a thousand trucks, each driven by a highly paid (relative to the shiphands) driver, using lots of fuel to get to Chicago. Or, if you’re lucky, you can use rail, which, while cheaper than the trucks, is still much more expensive than the sea voyage, per unit transported per distance.
The guy sitting in Germany isn’t looking for the North American port closest to Germany, but rather the North American port closest to Chicago, or wherever his widgets are going. If that means a longer sea journey, the cost is more than made up for with the huge savings of a shorter land journey. I’m not sure why megaport boosters get this so wrong.
Existing American megaports — New York, Hampton Roads, Charleston — are investing billions retrofitting their operations to handle the post-Panamax ships, and the rail lines are upgrading like crazy, refitting for double-stacked containers and such. There’s no chance — none — that Canso or Eastport [or Sydney] ports can match the investment, and CN will never be able to out compete Norfolk Southern or CSX for the American midwest market. Just ain’t gonna happen.
People in Cape Breton are desperately seeking opportunities for economic development. Those concerns shouldn’t be brushed aside, and the provincial and federal governments have the responsibility to help make sensible “investments” when possible. But there’s nothing at all sensible about this port proposal. Rather, the Cape Breton desperation is being played to by charlatans and grifters who will gladly take government contracts to churn out studies and fly on junkets to sell the impossible dream.
Or, as Campbell writes:
In the end, believing the Sydney mega-port is a possibility rather than a pipe-dream comes down to trusting the people in charge and they make that really damn hard to do. Take Jonathan Wener, the guy responsible for developing the port’s 2,000-acre logistics park, the “Novazone” (I’ve said before it sounds like a nasal spray and I stand by that assertion.)
Wener, who’s been involved with the project for about 10 minutes (oh, alright, about a year), says it’s not just about profit for him, it’s about doing something “great for Canada,” and helping Nova Scotians achieve “the prosperity they deserve.” HPDP [Barry Sheehy and Albert Barbusci’s Harbour Port Development Partners] says for them, it’s about “nothing short of making transportation history.”
All of which is a little too rich for my blood.
3. Examineradio, episode 62
This week we speak with community activist Jayde Tynes about the Bridging Bus project, which aims to help develop community projects throughout the city and plans to bring the organizers to Washington, DC, to experience grassroots organizing firsthand.
Also, LocalXPress gets a reboot, Aidan Cromwell’s murder conviction is overturned and Linda Mosher grabs anything not nailed down.
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(Subscribe via iTunes)
4. Highway 104
A 35-year-old Halifax woman is dead after a three-car collision late Monday afternoon on Highway 104 in Broadway.
Pictou District RCMP and several fire departments responded to the crash involving three vehicles, two of which collided head-on, just before 4 p.m., according to a police news release.
The preliminary investigation determined that a sports utility vehicle had been travelling east on Highway 104 near distance marker 188 and crossed the centre line, striking the rear driver’s side of an oncoming pick-up truck, the RCMP news release said.
The SUV continued east, directly into the path of a westbound car, colliding head-on with that vehicle.
One woman died at the scene. Two children – a three-year-old girl and a four-year-old boy – were in the car with the deceased woman, police said. The boy has non life-threatening injuries and was transported to hospital. The girl was not injured.
The 72-year-old Pomquet woman, who was behind the wheel of the SUV, sustained serious injuries and was transported via LifeFlight to hospital in Halifax. The occupants of the pick-up truck were not injured, police said.
Already people are calling for quicker twinning of highways, but it’s hard to decide how best to spend limited transportation dollars. (Developing rail as a viable alternative to highways is apparently a non-starter.) Twinning takes many years and many hundreds of millions of dollars, and even when the money is available, decisions about where highway money is spent seem to be more about politics than about safety.
For example, there’s no question that a Burnside Bypass in the vote-heavy HRM suburban area (which swings electorally between the Liberals and the NDP) will be built before the 104 in rural (and Conservative) Pictou County is twinned.
Regardless, while we wait for twinning, there’s a less costly interim fix: building barriers so that vehicles travelling opposite directions cannot stray into each other. But that means doing away with passing opportunities, which I guess is its own kind of politics.
5. Peggys Cove
A Quebec woman fell to her death from the rocks at Peggys Cove.
As the opposition finds its legs, Province House is becoming more interesting, says Stephen Kimber.
2. Stone bridges
The other day, Stephen Archibald accidentally discovered an old stone bridge at the head of Mader’s Cove:
I assume this little piece of engineering was on the old road and at some point the highway was straightened and widened and the stonework was allowed to disappear in the woods. That is why I had never noticed it, when the leaves come out it is concealed in the greenery. This got me thinking about the short list of stone bridges I could recall in Nova Scotia. Here we go.
And so follows a delightful photo essay on stone bridges in the province.
3. Too female
“The male-dominated realm of television was made abundantly clear last week when it emerged that CBS turned down a new Nancy Drew series because it was ‘too female,’” writes Brett Bundale, a unionized Chronicle Herald reporter now on parental leave:
The American television network’s fear of hosting a show that’s “too female” makes it clear that while women are expected to watch male leads (like Jack in Lost) the inverse isn’t necessarily true. Sexism exists.
But the problem, unfortunately, isn’t isolated to television
Recently, I noticed my daughter [her older three-year old, not the baby] playing in the garden and using masculine pronouns to describe worms and ants and bugs. I flashed back to elementary school when all the children had to make a poster of an animal. My mom pointed out that every child described their animals as male — except for me and one other girl who referred to our animals with the gender neutral “it.” Not one child drew a female animal.
Thirty-odd years later, I think it’s time we start calling dinosaurs “she” and producing television series written and starring women. That’s the future I want for my daughters, and the egalitarian future all children deserve.
City council (1pm, City Hall) — councillor Jennifer Watts has three agenda items related to the Steele Auto Group’s plans to expand the Colonial Honda parking lot by bulldozing the adjoining neighbourhood.
Watts also is putting forward the following resolution, which is clearly in reaction to council’s vote to not even discuss the issue of Edward Cornwallis’s name placed on a city park and street:
That Halifax Regional Council request a staff report on the status of the municipal strategy to engage with First Nations community on actions identified through the Truth and Reconciliation process and our commitment to partnership as passed in the Dec. 8, 2015 motion of Regional Council. The report is requested to provide an overall framework for engagement, steps to move forward on development of a strategy with a timeline for implementation, and a reporting framework to the Executive Committee.
I’ll liveblog the meeting via the Examiner’s Twitter account, @hfxExaminer.
No public meetings.
Data and healthcare (3pm, Dentistry 4117) — this is the latest presentation in the “Innovation Exchange Series,” so you know it’s going to be good, or at least full of buzzwords. Speaking about “exploring the use of administrative health data in health services research” are:
• Kathleen MacMillan, School of Nursing
• Leslie Anne Campbell, Health Data Nova Scotia
• Amos Hundert, Community Health & Epidemiology
• Gail Tomblin Murphy and Annette Elliott Rose, School of Nursing
In the harbour
10am: OOCL Kuala Lumpur, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Cagliari, Italy
Noon: Freemantle Highway, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Emden, Germany
1pm: Toledo, car carrier, sails from Pier 31 to sea
4pm: Oceanex Connaigra, ro-ro-cargo, moves from Pier 41 to Pier 36
4am: ZIM New York, container ship, arrives at HalTerm from New York
3:30pm: Freemantle Highway, car carrier, sails from Autoport to sea
10pm: Atlantic Star, ro-ro cargo, arrives at Fairview Cove from Norfolk
Erica Butler’s transportation column will be published later today.
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Re your 104 highway story: I encourage your staff to read the report by OPUS INTERNATIONAL CONSULTANTS COMPLETED mARCH 20, 2015. It is an example of money well spent by TIR. Here are a few hilites:At page 56.”While it is believed that twinning would ultimately address many existing safety concerns, there are likely to be other incremental improvements which can be implemented in the short term to reduce both the frequency and severity of collisions.”
P.6 “On average, there has been no growth in study area traffic duriing period from 2004 until 2013.” “5 of 14 people who dies were not wearing seatbelts.”
“The rates of property damage and injury collisions… are in fact lower when compared to the provincial average for similar 2 lane arterial highways across N. S…. Rates of fatals is higher.”
“75 % of collisions involved a single vehicle. “These types of collisions are unlikely to be impacted by a divided highway.”
At page 31: “Overall, there appear to be many opportunities for the Dept (TIR) (to) make incremental improvements to road safety until such time that the study area is upgraded to a divided four lane.”
Opus did a fantatstic job of laying bare the problems with this stretch of highway, yet TIR has not acted on the simplest of these. The conspicuity of the signage is a major problem on this stretch of highway and there could be center line delineators installed along with a rumble strip center. Until the $ are available to twin, why aren’t we seeing doable and affordable changes before the tourist rush! Halifax Examiner- CHECK THIS OUT FURTHER!
I definitely believe that we aren’t getting the full analysis of the accidents. You are quite right that twinning the highway is overkill.
Another quick and simple fix would be better enforcement of speed limits and following distances. Speeding and tailgating do not cause crashes, but when something goes wrong, a little less speed and a little more space can make a big difference
Bring back the trains.
If they are cheaper than trucking why were they ever gotten rid of? We are so backwards.