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Thursday, June 17, 2010

LA Port Board to Lower Truck Incentive Goals

The Board of Harbor Commissioners for the Port of Los Angeles voted Thursday to ease trip criteria required by trucking firms that received $44 million in incentive payments from the port to enter the local drayage market with cleaner burning 2007 or newer trucks.

The motion, approved unanimously by the commission, will modify the terms of the port's incentive program to revise minimum trip requirements, and allow firms that received incentives to reorganize their fleets and meet certain other conditions if they still cannot meet minimum trip requirements.

Port staff recommended these modifications "to address the economic changes that have occurred since the start of the incentive program" in late 2008 and "in recognition of the environmental benefits the port has received from having these clean trucks operating in the port since in the beginning of the Clean Truck Program."

Analysis of trucking moves by port staff have shown that while most of the incentivized trucks are working in the port, their frequencies or operation and weekly trip numbers are below the original criteria demanded under the incentive contracts.

In mid-2008, as the port was gearing up to implement the Clean Truck Program, the number of trucks signing up for port-mandated access license under the CTP were much lower than anticipated. Port officials, looking to bolster the number of trucks participating in the CTP, developed an incentive plan that would pay trucking firms to bring their clean trucks into the local drayage service.

The two truck plan financial incentives were designed to attract members of the trucking industry that did not rely on the port's financial grants to replace or retrofit their trucks.

As part of the port's CTP, port officials offered $10,000 and $20,000 bounties for each clean truck the trucking firms would pledge to a certain rate of annual service at the port. The $20,000 incentive required 300 fully-loaded moves a year at Los Angeles for five years and the $10,000 incentive required a total of 600 fully-loaded trips per year at Long Beach and/or Los Angeles over a one year period. Incentives were only available to truck firms that had not used port funds to modernize their fleets.

The modifications approved by the port board on Thursday, which will take effect July 1, include: revising the basic minimum number of trips required for incentivized trucks from 300 to 150; allowing trips into neighboring Port of Long Beach terminals to be included in the basic minimum trip counts; allowing fleets to use an average of all their trucks making more than 75 trips to calculate basic minimum trip counts; allowing trucking companies a one-time opportunity to downsize their fleet; and, reducing the minimum trip count for the second incentive option from 600 to 480 trips.

Nearly $44 million in incentive cash payments were made by the port to 56 firms to bring about 2,200 of the 2007 or newer trucks into the local drayage market.

Under the 300 trip and 600 trip criteria, 13 of the 56 incentivized truck firms were facing paybacks for not meeting the incentive program thresholds of between $1.4 million to $1.9 million each, according to port staff.

In May, John Holmes, deputy executive director of the Los Angeles port, offered a status report on the number of incentivized trucks that are meeting the program trip goals.

Holmes said that as of February, port data indicated that 30 percent of the 1,860 incentivized trucks in the five-year incentive program had made at least 200 trips and were on track to reach the 300 trip minimum to meet the $10,000 incentive threshold level. Another 971 trucks in this group, said Holmes, or 52 percent, had made less than 100 trips to date. Within this group 393 incentivized trucks were found to have made no trips at all.

In addition, Holmes said only 22 percent of about 2,080 trucks eligible for the 600 trip incentive option (which includes some trucks from the 300 trip group) were on track to meet the $20,000 incentive threshold. Of this group, Holmes indicated that just over 1,300, or about 63 percent, of the incentivized trucks had made 300 or less trips to date.

Data for April, presented at Thursday's meeting, showed nearly identical compliance rates as the numbers presented by Holmes.

The Commissioners said that even with the new thresholds, the port is unlikely to pursue collections or legal actions against those trucking firms facing paybacks for insufficient trip numbers and is committed to negotiating with any truck firm as needed.

The Commission will revisit the need for further reductions sometime in July.

Report: California Exports Increase, Euro Crisis Could Be Problem

California exports posted a significant 21.8 percent increase in April compared to the same period last year, according to the latest analysis of US Commerce Department data by Beacon Economics.

Beacon reports that $11.26 billion in export goods were shipped abroad by state exporters in April, far exceeding the $9.24 billion the state's exporters sent to foreign markets in April 2009.

April was the sixth consecutive month of year-over-year increases in California 's export trade, said Beacon Economics International Trade Advisor Jock O'Connell.

Manufactured exports also climbed 18.8 percent over April 2009, said Beacon, while shipments of agricultural goods and other non-manufactured products were up by 29.6 percent. Re-exports of items previously imported into the state also rose by 28.1 percent.

However, O'Connell offered a warning on the positive look of the numbers.

"Impressive as these numbers certainly are, it's worth keeping in mind that we are still exporting less in real dollar terms than we were in April 2008," O'Connell said.

Beacon also reported that prospects for continued growth in the state's export trade appear to be mixed.

O'Connell warned that the debt crisis in Europe could pull down worldwide demand for California exports through the rest of 2010.

"Since January 1, the euro has lost between 16 percent and 18 percent of its value against the dollar and most other major currencies," O'Connell said. "So it's not simply that our goods have become more expensive for Europeans to buy, it also means that European goods have become cheaper for importers in countries like Canada, Mexico, Japan, China, and South Korea – which represent California's top five export markets."

O'Connell added that the United States competes intensively with European exports, "and they've just cut their prices."

The Beacon report said that some analysts are predicting that the Euro will fall even further, perhaps reaching $1.10 by this fall – a value not seen since the year the Euro was fist introduced.

Senators Raise Export Service Concerns With FMC

Congressional members of an agriculture committee are raising concerns with the Federal Maritime Commission that United States agriculture exporters are suffering severe service issues with foreign-flagged ocean carriers.

The concerns were raised in a June 16 letter to FMC chair Richard Lidinsky, Jr., from Sen. Blanche Lincoln, chair of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, and ranking minority committee member Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga.

The senators noted that while the administration in their opinions has outlined admirable goals to increase U.S. exports, the chain of trade must function fairly and efficiently for American shippers to get agricultural products to key overseas markets.

"According to constituent reports and recent media stories, U.S. exporters may be forced to wait as long as a month to secure space on an ocean carrier compared to earlier wait times of about a week," the senators said in the letter.

"These service interruptions, along with frequent rate hikes, are occurring despite the fact that most U.S. shippers enter into 12-month service contracts with the ocean carriers for fixed rates during the period. These contracts are supposed to ensure that the carriers will provide the necessary weekly equipment and vessel space consistent with each individual agreement. Unfortunately, it has come to our attention that carriers are now routinely failing to honor these contracts. Such breaches lead to increased costs for U.S. agricultural exporters and, in some cases, lost export opportunities."

The senators went on to state that the U.S. agriculture industry's ability to expand overseas seas and boost incomes is being threatened by the service problems.

"The ability of our agricultural exporters to expand markets abroad is dependent on adequate oceangoing vessel capacity and container availability at inland locations," said the letter. "If this critical link in the export chain does not function fairly or efficiently, our shippers will be unable to get agricultural products to key overseas markets. This will not only cost U.S. farmers and ranchers new export opportunities, but could cost them existing overseas customers."

The senators also praised the ongoing FMC investigation into ship capacity and how it impacts U.S. importers and exporters. The FMC is set to discuss the preliminary findings of that investigation in a closed session on June 23.

"It is our hope that the global economic recovery and improvements in fleet capacity will mitigate future problems," said the senators.

"We would also appreciate your perspective concerning the specific authorities that the commission has available to ensure the ocean carriers' honor their service contracts with U.S. shippers, including the ability to penalize carriers for egregious practices. If you lack such tools, we would welcome a discussion of ways to potentially strengthen the Commission's authority with the carriers," the senators wrote.

City Hopes to Grab More Long Beach Port Profits

The City of Long Beach is seeking a change in the way the Port of Long Beach transfers profits to city coffers – a change that could cost the port an extra $12.4 million this year.

The Long Beach City Council on Tuesday adopted a motion to receive and file the City Auditor's recently completed analysis of the city Harbor Department's annual transfer to the city Tidelands Fund. The transfer is permitted by the city charter and capped at a maximum of 10 percent of port profits per year.

The transfer, which must be requested each year by City Hall and approved by the Harbor Commission, was originally approved by city voters in the early 1980s as an emergency bulwark against temporary financial problems in the city. In 1995, following a devastating one-two punch of a general decline in the national economy and the closure of the Long Beach Naval Station and Shipyard – a major source of direct and indirect jobs for the city – city officials began requesting the 10 percent to boost city revenues. The city council has made the request every year since.

While the semi-autonomous Harbor Department, which manages the port for the city, has the option to deny the request, it has never done so in the past. State law mandates that the port money going to the city must be retained in a separate Tidelands Fund that can only be used in the tidelands and port areas. However, by diverting funds that would be spent in the tidelands areas for services such as police, fire and maintenance, the city can offset general treasury funds that might otherwise be spent there. The adjacent port of Los Angeles, managed by a similar Los Angeles City Hall department, has a similar port-to-city fund transfer procedure.

The city auditor's analysis presented Tuesday details how the Harbor Department determines the 10 percent of annual port profits that are transferred to the city and what the city then spends the money on. In the most recent full year, the port transferred just over $16 million to the city in four quarterly payments.

In addition to the Tidelands transfer, the analysis found that port is also directly charged more than $21 million a year by the city for police and fire service within the port area.

City Auditor Laura Doud explained to the Council that because the 10 percent transfer is based on the port's independently audited financial reports, there is a lag time of over a year between when the port makes the profits and the transfer to the city based on those profits. For example, the most recent transfer was actually based on profits during the port's 2008-2009 fiscal year.

Doud recommended that this accounting time line be changed immediately to provide the city with a more "real-time" transfer. Under her recommendation, the Harbor Department will immediately transfer about $12.4 million to the city for the port's 2009-2010 fiscal year. At the start of the city's next fiscal year in October, the Harbor Department will also transfer 80 percent of the port's unaudited 2010-2011 fiscal year profits. The remaining 20 percent of the transfer for FY2010-2011 would be determined after the port's finances were independently audited. The recommendations suggested by Doud would essentially boost the city Tidelands Fund by $12.4 million during the current year.

Doud also recommended that the Council request that the Harbor Department eliminate its accounting practice of deducting the previous year's transfer to the city from the port's total profits, a move Doud said has reduced the previous transfer amounts to the city by about $1 million a year.

It was also revealed during the City Council discussion that while the city charter allows for 10 percent of the port's "net income" to be transferred to the city each year, "net income" as defined in the city charter is a vague term. According to the City Attorney, the City Auditor is the ultimate authority over the definition of "net income" as it applies to the port.

The Council unanimously approved the motion including all of Doud's recommendations, which must now be approved by the Harbor Commission before any transfer can occur.

Immediately after approving the accelerated port transfer schedule, the Council moved to spend nearly all of the extra funds by approving $9.5 million in Tidelands funds to repair about 20 percent of the Naples Seawall. The man-made Naples community, bisected by a canal, is protected from the ocean by a concrete seawall that lines canal and ocean front property. The city has said that about 900 feet of the seawall surrounding Naples is danger of failing in the very near future and needs immediate repair.

The Council approved the motion with the caveat that the $9.5 million can only be spent on the seawall repairs if the Harbor Commission approves the accelerated Tidelands transfer.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Wolfe Named First Choice for Tacoma Port Exec Director

The Port of Tacoma's six-month search for a new executive director is now down to one candidate – the port's own interim Executive Director John Wolfe.

Port commissioners on Friday selected Wolfe as the front-runner for the top executive position at the port from a short list of five candidates announced several weeks ago.

Wolfe has been serving as interim executive director since previous Executive Director Tim Farrell resigned at the end of 2009. Prior to this, Wolfe had served as deputy executive director at the port since 2005.

Prior to joining the Port of Tacoma, Wolfe served in several top executive positions at the Port of Olympia, including two years as executive director. Before this he spent a decade with Maersk Sealand/APM Terminals in Tacoma.

Before Wolfe can assume the executive director position, Tacoma port officials, the port's executive search firm, and Wolfe must negotiate a contract.

The other five finalist for the position included: former PortsAmerica exec Brian Boyle; former South Carolina State Port Authority CEO Bernard Groseclose; Sea Star Shipping exec Ned LaGoy; and trucking and shipping exec Ali Nikkhoo.
In all, nearly 60 people applied for the position.

Seattle Port Volumes Up Sharply, Tacoma Down Again

The month of May played out as a virtual duplicate of the previous month for container volumes at the two major Puget Sound ports in Washington, with the Port of Seattle posting total container volume increases near 60 percent over May 2009 and Tacoma continuing its run of 21 straight months of container traffic declines.

Officials at the Port of Seattle report that 198,175 TEUs moved through the port in the month of May, a 57.4 percent increase over May 2009. Total loaded inbound box volume at the port also rose dramatically, increasing 89.9 percent over the year-ago period to 85,237 TEUs. Total loaded outbound box volumes also climbed 38.3 percent for the month compared to May 2009, with the port handling 46,971 TEUs.

Farther south in Puget Sound, the Port of Tacoma handled a total of 125,527 TEUs in May, a 13 percent drop compared to May 2009. The port also handled 40,362 TEUs of loaded outbound boxes, a 11.3 percent decline over the year-ago period. Total loaded outbound box volume moving through Tacoma during May also declined, with 27,155 TEUs handled--a 27.7 percent drop compared to May 2009.

Redwood City Port Looking for Two Harbor Commissioners

The only deep water port in the Bay Area south of San Francisco is looking for qualified men and women to sit on the five-member port commission board.

Responsible for governing port operations, setting port policy, oversight of the annual port budget, and setting rent and other charges at port marine facilities, port commissioners serve four-year terms.

Applicants must be 18 years or older, live in Redwood City and have an interest in civic involvement. Applications are available on the Redwood City website at www.redwoodcity.org/government/bcc, and must be submitted to the Redwood City clerk no later than Friday.

Originally founded in the late 1800s as a log port, Redwood City went on to become one of the first major hubs of shipbuilding on the Pacific Coast. Today, the port provides berths for dry bulk, liquid bulk, and project cargoes, along with recreational opportunities and public access to San Francisco Bay.

SoCal Ports See Strong Box Numbers in May

The Southern California ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles reported exceptionally strong container traffic growth in May, marking nearly six straight months of positive growth.

The Port of Long Beach handled a total of 524,715 TEUs during the month of May, a 25.1 percent increase over May 2009. Total loaded inbound boxes moved during May were up 26.8 percent to 264,505 TEUs, and total loaded outbound boxes climbed 14.5 percent to 138,659 TEUs, both compared to May 2009.

Across the bay, Los Angeles port officials reported that total container traffic for the month of May saw 689,429 TEUs move across their docks and wharves, a 19.9 percent increase over the year-ago period. Total loaded inbound traffic also rose 12.5 percent for the month to 342,171 TEUs. The port also saw total loaded outbound container traffic increase 5.3 percenthandled 160,621 TEUs

East Coast Ports: Cautious Optimism

By Jim Shaw
June 2010

Ports along the East Coast and within the Great Lakes have not had the best of years, but most are optimistic that the worst is behind and that better months lie ahead. A less-than-severe winter allowed navigation on the Great Lakes to be opened a little early this year as regional steel mills rushed to build up depleted inventories of raw materials while several ports long the East Coast reported near record surges in container traffic during the first quarter. This is seeing a number of ports, such as Halifax and Baltimore, continue to add new container handling capacity to their facilities while also giving bulk and breakbulk cargoes a closer look.

Within New York harbor a bulk cement importing terminal is now being planned for construction on Staten Island while at Philadelphia a recent modernization of older facilities has allowed the port to gain several new cargoes, some at the expense of neighboring ports. In the south, the Port of Charleston has been attracting new customers while Georgia and South Carolina’s Jasper County are continuing to work together on plans for a new Savannah River box terminal. In a move that is being watched closely by other ports, the Virginia Ports Authority (VPA) is negotiating to take over a privately-held container terminal while examining bids from three companies that would like to take over all of VPA’s terminal operations.

Good Start for Great Lakes
On the Great Lakes, traffic started off with a boom this year, with 32 of 55 US-flag Lakers employed by April 1 compared to only 17 at the same time last year. According to the Lake Carriers Association (LCA) these ships moved four times the amount of cargo moved in the same period of 2009 during the height of the recession. However, much of the early activity has centered around rebuilding stockpiles of coal and iron ore, and once these are up to the required levels the LCA has warned that things may quickly taper off. Glen Nekvasil, vice-president of the LCA, cautioned that part of the reason for the early surge was that “inventories were exhausted” and that further progress will depend on economic recovery and higher sales, particularly by such regional steel-consuming manufacturers as Ford and General Motors.

One bright spot on the Lakes was news that construction will continue on a new $270 million taconite processing facility to be built near Aurora, Minnesota by a joint venture consisting of Steel Dynamics of Indiana and Japan’s Kobe Steel. This project had been slowed during the depth of the recession but is now expected to be completed in its first-phase configuration before the end of this year, and with a footprint that will allow it to be tripled in size if demand warrants.

The new facility will initially have an annual production capacity of 500,000 metric tons of pig iron, and will operate the world‘s largest rotary-hearth furnace to produce nuggets with an iron content of almost 97 percent.

Halifax Expanding
On the East Coast, Canada’s Port of Halifax is one of several regional gateways that is expanding container facilities this year, despite the recession, but it is also taking a closer look at potential new businesses. Earlier this year the port began a C$35 million project to extend an existing berth at its South End Container Terminal, as well as deepen water depth at the facility from 14.5 meters to 16 meters (52.5 feet). This will allow the terminal to handle two full-sized post-Panamax container vessels simultaneously and make the berths the deepest on the Eastern Seaboard. However, the port is also working with the operators of the Halifax Grain Elevator, one of the largest in North America, to expand and develop new agricultural businesses, particularly pulse products moving from eastern Canada’s Maritime region.

In a trial move this past spring the elevator used new equipment to load several twenty-foot marine containers with locally grown soybeans for export. Jeff Brownlie, a manager with Halifax Grain Elevator Ltd, noted that the operation was “distinctly different” from previous handling practices at the facility because it represented the first time that the pulse product has been exported in containers through Halifax. “Before this container loading technology was installed,” said Brownlie, “these soybeans would have been transloaded more than 1,000 kilometers away from the Port of Halifax.” The port is now hoping to draw in more regional agricultural exports by using either bulk or containerized handling methods.

New York Cement
The Port of New York & New Jersey, while projecting only weak growth in container traffic this year, is looking at bulks as a possible new business opportunity. Using Recovery Act funding, and with port support, Staten Island Terminal Inc plans to move forward with the construction of a $51.7 million cement import and distribution facility to be located in the Elm Park section of New York’s Staten Island. The new terminal will include a 28,000-square-foot pier equipped with state-of-the-art handling equipment to off-load bulk cement from arriving ships.

A partner in the project is Cementos Lima, owner of one of the largest cement plants in the Americas and a major cement exporter to the US. The cement will be delivered to the new terminal by 40,000 dwt bulk carriers and distributed regionally by trucks capable of handling between 25 and 30 tons per trip. Construction projects within New York City alone are expected to take up to 800,000 tons of cement annually. The Board of the New York City Capital Resource Corporation (NYCCRC) is to make an allocation of up to $28 million in Recovery Zone Facility Bonds to assist in the construction of the terminal, with the project expected to get underway this year and be completed within 2012.

Baltimore’s New Berth
Maryland’s Port of Baltimore, like the Port of Halifax, is preparing to expand its container facilities while keeping a close eye on potential new bulk and breakbulk cargoes. In March, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley joined Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake in groundbreaking ceremonies for the construction of a new berth at the port’s Seagirt Marine Terminal, which will be equipped with four container cranes and have a 50-foot depth of water alongside. The start of construction follows the signing of a 50-year lease and operating concession with terminal operator Ports America under which a newly formed Ports America subsidiary, Ports America Chesapeake, will manage the facility. Ports America has operated Seagirt since the 200-acre terminal was completed in 1990 and has also run operations at Baltimore’s Dundalk Marine Terminal since 1966.

Under the latest agreement, Ports America will provide the Maryland Ports Authority with an immediate payment of approximately $140 million for use on roads, tunnels and bridges, and will also provide annual lease payments while gaining the right to consolidate all current container business in Baltimore at Seagirt. Ports America plans to complete the new berth before the end of 2012, well in time to take advantage of the expanded Panama Canal. The cost of the berth and its four cranes is projected at about $105.5 million.

Philadelphia Gains Cargoes
The Port of Philadelphia, managed by the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority, is continuing to gain new business as a number of its older facilities are modernized and a project to deepen the Delaware River to 45 feet moves forward. In late April, the port authority, along with terminal operator Holt Logistics, came to an agreement with Hyundai Motor Co and its logistics affiliate, Glovis of America, to import and process 150,000 Hyundai and Kia vehicles annually through the port’s Packer Avenue Marine Terminal (PAMT). The vehicles will be processed at an auto finishing facility to be located at Pier 98 Annex and will be distributed by truck and rail.

Glovis, formerly known as Hankook Logitech but now part of the Hyundai Kia Automotive Group, previously moved these automobiles through facilities in Newark, New Jersey and Baltimore, Maryland. Thomas J. Holt, Jr., Chairman of Holt Logistics, noted that it has been more than a decade since Philadelphia last handled shipments of new automobiles, thus the Hyundai/Kia contract “represents a major step forward for Packer Avenue Marine Terminal and the Port of Philadelphia.”

In preparation for the new business the port authority has been working with Philly Ro-Ro Partners, a local company, to upgrade the authority’s 85-acre automobile processing facility at Pier 98. Under that program the authority is contributing $1 million in capital improvements while Philly Ro-Ro Partners, which will operate the facility, is making an investment of $3.7 million. Once all the infrastructure is in place a Glovis-operated auto carrier will be calling at Philadelphia every six days.

Puerto Rico and Paper
Just prior to the Glovis agreement, the Port of Philadelphia was chosen by the European paper company M-real, based in Finland, as its primary US port of entry for high quality paper products. This contract is expected to result in 150,000 tons of new cargo for the port and up to 24 additional vessels calls annually. The paper will be moved through Philadelphia’s Forest Products Distribution Center at Piers 78 & 80 operated by Penn Warehousing & Distribution Company. M-real previously used the Port of Baltimore for its imports, the bulk of which are carried by vessels operated by Holland’s Wagenborg Shipping Company.

Another new shipping line to call at Philadelphia is Sea Star, a major Jones Act carrier serving the US - Puerto Rico trade, which has begun using the Pennsylvania port’s Tioga Marine Terminal on a weekly basis. Sea Star handles containerized freight as well as roll on/roll off traffic and will make use of two container cranes and a mobile harbor crane at Tioga plus the facility’s on-site warehouse and reefer plug availability. The new Philadelphia call will replace the line’s former agreement with Horizon Lines to use terminal facilities at Elizabeth, New Jersey.

Virginia to Take Private Terminal
In Virginia, the Virginia Port Authority and APM Terminals have agreed to the basic framework of a 20-year lease agreement that would give the state agency the exclusive rights to operate APM’s two-year-old Portsmouth marine cargo terminal, which serves APM associated liner company Maersk Line. APM and port officials expect to have a final agreement in place later this summer under which the port authority and its operating arm, Virginia International Terminals, will be able to move cargo through APM’s $500 million facility for 20 years in exchange for annual payments and a profit-sharing provision.

The port authority views the APM lease as a “bridge” to the completion of the development of Craney Island as a major new marine terminal in order to give the port more cargo handling capacity. Craney Island, which is projected to cost $2.5 billion to build, is not expected be completed for another 15 years. In the meantime, the port authority will have the ability to handle more containerized cargo at the APM terminal while redeveloping its own facility at Portsmouth to handle bulk, breakbulk and unitized cargoes, including motor vehicles.

VPA May Take Richmond
As it moves to take over the privately held APM terminal, the Virginia Port Authority is also studying proposals submitted by The Carlyle Group, CenterPoint Properties, and Goldman Sachs to operate all its cargo facilities under long-term lease agreements. The three companies have offered bids of between $250 million and $700 million in upfront payments and annual profit sharing in exchange for the rights to operate the state agency’s three cargo terminals at Hampton Roads for between 30 and 60 years. However, Virginia Secretary of Transportation, Sean Connaughton, has cautioned that the VPA doesn’t plan to move forward with these negotiations until the APM lease is finalized. “We need to resolve the APM negotiations first,” he stressed. “As soon as that’s wrapped up, we’ll make a decision on the public-private partnership proposals.”

Connaughton also noted that the VPA might be interested in taking over the Port of Richmond located on Virginia’s James River. The small port is owned by the city of Richmond, managed by the Port of Richmond Commission and operated by PCI of Virginia, a private company. “Some conversations have already occurred between the VPA and the Port of Richmond,” Connaughton noted, “but at this point we’re just exploring whether they’re interested.” Richmond was once an important tobacco importing port but lost its largest customer, International Container Lines, last year and currently supports only a weekly container barge feeder service operating to Hampton Roads.

Georgia Awaits Dredging Verdict
In Georgia, the Georgia Ports Authority (GPA) has boosted four consecutive months of double-digit growth for its ports as the recession weakens but a long-awaited project to dredge the Savannah river remains tied up in environmental studies. This may affect plans to create a completely new port on the north bank of the Savannah, in South Carolina’s Jasper County, which has been under study for several years. To date, the river’s dredging, known as the “Savannah Harbor Expansion Project,” has taken over a decade in time and $36 million in reports but still appears to be at least a year from groundbreaking. During a project workshop held earlier this year Col. Ed Kertis, district commander of the US Army Corps of Engineers, indicated that the economic analysis of the project is almost complete and that a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) will be available for public review shortly. A final decision on the project could then be made by as early as next spring.

Georgia’s Senators, Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss, are seeking $105 million in federal funds for the deepening project while George Hood, chairman of the Jasper County Council, said a positive and early decision on the project is “vital” for the region. “We need a ruling on Savannah’s permit so we can move forward and ensure Jasper County and our region is ready to receive the larger ships,” he said, warning that continued delays would “jeopardize the future” of the proposed Jasper Ocean Terminal. Both states would like the project completed by the opening date of the widened Panama Canal but continuing reviews and studies could make this impossible.