Melford International Terminal Inc. has received conditional environmental approval for its planned $300-million deepwater container terminal on the Strait of Canso.

“People in the global shipping and transportation industry understand the significance of this regulatory approval,” Melford International chairman Hugh Lynch said Thursday.

“It shows that we have done our homework, it triggers an exciting next stage for this project, and gives us tremendous momentum.”

Melford spokesman Richie Mann said Thursday the environmental approval means the project, which includes an intermodal rail facility and a 600-hectare logistics park, can move toward its projected 2011 start date.

“We are able to conclude components of the project like land purchases,” he said, adding that the approval should also help free up financing for the project, even in these days of tight credit.

“We have eliminated regulatory risk and can turn our attention to construction,” he said, noting that the terminal project will create 300 to 500 construction jobs at peak.

Provincial Environment Minister Mark Parent said in a letter to Mr. Lynch that he was satisfied “any adverse effects or significant environmental effects of the undertaking can be adequately mitigated” with the conditions applied to the approval.

Those conditions include the submission of an environmental management plan that identifies roles and responsibilities; monitoring, inspection and training requirements; and communication and reporting protocols.

The minister also required Melford to submit a surface water management plan that includes sediment and erosion control measures; emergency spill prevention and management measures; and details for monitoring water quality.

Melford also has to detail its plans to protect wildlife habitat and wetlands; monitor air quality and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions; develop archeological discovery plans with input from the Mi’kmaq community; and work with the province, the District of Guysborough and the Town of Mulgrave to upgrade Highway 344.

Mr. Mann said Melford had expected many of those conditions and he didn’t think they would increase the cost of the project.

Melford CEO Robert Stevens said the turmoil in global financial markets has made the terminal development, expected to have a 1.5-million TEU (standard shipping container) capacity by 2015, a more attractive project.

“Today’s economic challenge actually reinforces that the shipping and transportation industry needs what Melford has to offer: reduced costs, greater efficiencies, enhanced security and reduced environmental impact in a container terminal operation.”

Guysborough Warden Lloyd Hines called the approval great news for the company and for the community, which he said wants jobs and economic development.

“Council has worked hard to create winning conditions for this project,” he said. “We congratulate (Melford) on achieving this major milestone.”

According to Melford, the terminal will be the closest North American deepwater mainland port to Europe, Asia and the Indian subcontinent, via the Suez Canal.