Friday, May 13, 2011

Vancouver USA Rail Project Gets Boost From Rejected Florida Rail Funds

Florida's loss is the Washington state Port of Vancouver's gain.

The federal government has announced that the Vancouver port will receive $15 million for its West Vancouver Freight Access (WVFA) rail modernization project from the $2.4 billion in high-speed rail funds that Florida Governor Rick Scott rejected in February.

The Vancouver grant is being provided through the U.S. Department of Transportation and will be administered by the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT).

The $15 million windfall will be specifically invested in the construction of a rail access point at the east end of the port that is separate from the BNSF mainline. The $38 million project – part of the overall $150 million WVFA plan – is set to start by April 2013, with scheduled completion in January 2016. Matching funds from the port will make up the bulk of the cost for the project beyond the federal funds.
“This [DOT] award demonstrates how our partnerships with the Washington State Department of Transportation, our congressional representatives and the BNSF Railway Company have effectively demonstrated the passenger and freight rail benefits of this project to the region and the national rail system,” Port of Vancouver Executive Director Larry Paulson said in a statement.

Divided into 20 project elements, the overall WVFA project includes construction of a new dual carrier rail access into the port, enhancement of the port’s internal rail system, relocation of port facilities and utilities to accommodate track realignment, and improvements to port roadways.

The WVFA, the largest capital investment in the port's history, is at the heart of port officials' efforts to attract new business and retain existing businesses.

"We needed to increase our rail capacity. We needed to handle unit trains that are more than 100 rail cars long and unclog a bottleneck caused by trains coming into the port, stalling national rail lines to the west coast," Port Executive Director Larry Paulson said last month.

In July 2010, the port completed a rail loop project as the final phase of its $66 million Terminal 5 rail upgrade project – itself the first key component of the larger WVFA project. Completed ahead of schedule and on budget, the rail loop marked the first major milestone under the West Vancouver Freight Access and Industrial Track Agreement, a deal reached between the port and BNSF in 2008 that provides the overall blueprint and timeline for the WVFA project. The entire WVFA project is set for completion some time in 2017.

When completed, the WVFA is expected to triple the rail car capacity of the port-area BNSF tracks.

Calif. Export Levels Surpass Dot.Com Era Levels In March

California exporters shipped $13.95 billion worth of cargo in March, a 12.8 percent gain over March 2010 and the 17th consecutive month of year-over-year gains, according to an analysis by Beacon Economics of foreign trade data released Wednesday by the U.S. Commerce Department.

Manufactured exports rose by 12.8 percent compared to the year-ago period, according to Beacon, while non-manufactured exports – primarily raw materials and agricultural products – were up by 10.9 percent. Re-exports, those goods brought into the U.S. and then shipped out again such as through a Foreign Trade Zone, increased by 17.9 percent in March.

“On an inflation-adjusted basis, California’s export trade hit a new high for the month of March, even exceeding the level of exports recorded at the height of the boom a decade ago,” Beacon’s International Trade Adviser Jock O’Connell said.

O'Connell said that it’s remarkable that the latest gains occurred despite the disruption brought to the normal transpacific trading patterns by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, California's fourth largest export market.

Beacon analysis experts predict that California’s export trade will continue to see positive growth. The report goes on to state that the chief factors currently aiding California exporters is growth in the state's target markets and the drop of the dollar to its lowest value in decades.

"The importance of these steady gains by exporters to the overall recovery of the U.S. economy shouldn't be underestimated," Beacon founding partner Christopher Thornberg said. "Rebalancing our external accounts is a critical component of healing the economy in the aftermath of the massive financial bubble that hit in the middle part of the last decade."

An apparent reprieve from steadily rising oil prices should also help exporters by keeping transportation costs in check at least through this summer, Beacon's O'Connell said.

Los Angeles Port Labor Agreement With Construction Union Approved By City

The Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday approved a five-year labor agreement that will cover more than $1.5 billion in planned Port of Los Angeles construction projects.

The agreement, which was approved by the port governing board in March, sets guidelines on the types of workers that must be hired by contractors for the various port projects.

The projects are expected to require a total of more than 6,000 workers through 2016. Under the terms of the agreement struck with the Los Angeles/Orange Counties Building and Construction Trade Council: 30 percent of the jobs must go to local port-area residents; 10 percent must go to "at-risk" workers, such as unemployed or workers with criminal records; and, at least 20 percent must go toward union apprentices.

The rest of the available positions will go to union workers.

Supporters have argued that such labor agreements assure quality union workers for projects while reducing work stoppages and strikes during construction.

Opponents of similar labor agreements have said they drive up costs and shut out small contractors who can not afford to provide labor from outside their own firms.

The Marine Exchange of Alaska: Alaska’s Maritime Safety Net

By Ed Page

The crew of the Marine Exchange, from left to right, includes Steve Lanwermeyer, Bill Benning, Brett Farrell and Ed Page, seen here with the 32-foot landing craft Cleat that is AIS equipped and used to install, service, test and repair AIS sites in Southeast Alaska. Photo Courtesy of the Marine Exchange of Alaska.

At times an evening swapping sea stories can lead to good outcomes. Such was the case in the fall of 2000 when Coast Guard Captain Ed Page, Paul Fuhs and Jeff Thompson met in Anchorage. After sharing stories on Alaska maritime casualties, the three decided to start a marine exchange that would build and operate a vessel tracking safety net for Alaska. All three had worked in the Alaska maritime community, knew the challenges of operating in the Last Frontier and saw the need for such a capability. Ten years later, the non-profit Marine Exchange of Alaska (MXAK), launched at the dawn of the 21st century, is operating one of the largest vessel tracking networks in the world, providing information on vessels sailing the waters of our nation’s largest maritime state that boasts a staggering 34,000 miles of coastline and more than 40 ports.

The core business of a marine exchange is collecting and “exchanging” maritime information to aid safe, secure, efficient and environmentally sound maritime operations. While many of the marine exchanges in other ports and regions of the US have operated for more than 100 years by visually sighting vessels and exchanging information via phone and radios, the brokering of maritime information has become more sophisticated with the advent of radars, the internet, satellite transponders and AIS (Automatic Identification System). Due to the enormity of Alaska’s maritime regions, only through applying emerging technologies could a marine exchange cover the entire state and offshore waters.

In reflecting on the startup, Ed Page noted, “Throughout my 30 year Coast Guard career I was exposed to several marine exchanges and was impressed with their wealth of knowledge of regional maritime operations. I found them to be an invaluable asset.” While assigned as the Captain of the Port in Los Angeles and Long Beach, Page partnered with the Marine Exchange of LA/LB in establishing the first joint industry and Coast Guard Vessel Traffic Center. He became intrigued with the idea of developing a marine exchange for Alaska.

“The only way we could make a marine exchange work up here was to use satellite transponders, AIS and the Internet” remarks Board President Paul Fuhs, former Mayor of Dutch Harbor. Fuhs was a diver who met Page in the 80’s when he was hired by the Coast Guard to detonate shipwrecks in the Aleutians to burn off the fuel oil before it affected the environment. Fuhs added, “Soon after we opened the doors, in addition to Page, we hired two retired Coast Guardsmen, Paul Webb and Bill Benning, who worked in search and rescue and communications in Alaska. They helped build the Alaska vessel tracking system and safety net.”

To conduct field tests of tracking systems in the most challenging marine environment Page and Benning chartered a fishing boat in the Aleutians and installed various tracking systems. “Bill Benning’s communications expertise, savvy and tireless work ethic was pivotal in developing MXAK’s vessel tracking network.” Says Fuhs.

Membership and Funding
MXAK’s Board of Directors is comprised of Alaska Marine Lines, Crowley Maritime, Totem Ocean Trailer Express, Port of Juneau and Alaska’s three pilot associations, all of whom embraced the vision and provided the initial funding along with the State of Alaska. Federal and state legislators, mayors of Alaska communities, Alaska Governor Sean Parnell and Admiral Papp, the Commandant of the Coast Guard, have all visited MXAK and applaud the progress in maritime safety attained from the federal/state and industry partnership that has supported the development, operation and maintenance of the system. Today, with funding provided by the marine industry, Coast Guard and State of Alaska the Marine Exchange operates 80 AIS (Automatic Identification System) receiving sites throughout Alaska, from above the Arctic Circle, west to Adak and south to Ketchikan providing vessel-tracking coverage for more than 200,000 square miles of Alaska waters.

Vessel Tracking Applications
The operation of the vessel tracking system benefits both government and the marine industry.

Safety: The system’s ability to locate vessels in distress and vessels that may be able to provide assistance is routinely tapped into by the Coast Guard, who has real time access to vessel tracking information obtained by MXAK’s system.

Efficiency: The ability to ensure the timely dispatch of pilots, tugs, line handlers, shore gangs, truckers and Coast Guard vessel escorts when vessels arrive at various locations.

Environmental Protection: The effective deployment of response vessels and the validation of compliance with environmental protective measures (speed restrictions in whale areas, offshore discharge of sewage, compliance with Areas To Be Avoided, Risk Assessments and fisheries management) is enhanced by vessel tracking.

Security: The monitoring of shipping, dispatch of Coast Guard vessels and response to security incidents are also all aided by vessel tracking.

Building and Maintaining the Expansive AIS Network
Executive Director Page is proud of the accomplishments achieved by his crew of 14. “We have a team of adventurous men who think nothing of packing a sleeping bag, bear protection and tools and heading off to remote areas of Alaska on a boat, helicopter or float plane to build an AIS site,” he says. “We’ve installed AIS receiver sites at abandoned lighthouses, fish hatcheries, tug offices, port offices, schools, mountain tops, fish processing facilities and pilot stations throughout Alaska.”

While Page may be running the show, he’s also one of the crew, boarding helicopters, sailing on boats and even kayaking to remote islands to lend a hand digging foundations for solar panels and wind turbines, hauling concrete and batteries and building structures needed to support the AIS sites.

MXAK processes, displays and disseminates data received from AIS, satellite transponders and fishing vessel VMS sensors, via a secure, password protected web site, with users restricted in what they are authorized to view. The data can also be accessed on iPhones and iPads.

Maritime Advocacy
In addition to vessel tracking, MXAK has been an advocate for the Alaska maritime community and saved the industry millions by convincing TSA to establish mobile enrollment TWIC centers in Alaska, working with the Coast Guard in exempting small ports and facilities from security regulations and in allowing for less burdensome security measures for lower risk ports and facilities. Presently, MXAK is leading an effort to develop and implement more cost effective Alternative Planning Criteria (APC) for addressing Coast Guard required Vessel Response Plans for tankers and in the near future, non-tank vessels. The APC focuses on resources and procedures that will prevent oil spills in lieu of procuring large caches of offshore oil recovery equipment that in most cases is ineffective in Alaska’s offshore waters.

Coast Guard Recognition
17th District Commander Admiral Christopher Colvin recognized the Marine Exchanges’ accomplishments when he presented the Coast Guard’s Meritorious Public Service Commendation to the organization. The citation in part read “Since 2000, the Marine Exchange of Alaska has played a key and leading role for Maritime Domain Awareness throughout Alaska by adapting available, and in some cases leading edge, technology to provide critical maritime information to both commercial and government users at unprecedented levels.”

Last year the MXAK crew logged more than 3,000 miles in their 32-foot landing craft Cleat and 200,000 miles on aircraft in the process of installing and servicing their sites in Alaska. With the federal budget challenges, the Coast Guard is not receiving the funds needed to build the AIS and Rescue 21 systems Alaska needs to effectively carry out the service’s safety, environmental protection and security missions. Due to the high cost of building these networks in Alaska, the safety net provided for mariners sailing in the lower 48 won’t be built in Alaska for many years, if ever. On this issue Page says, “We’re looking at expanding our AIS network to fill in gapped areas, develop the capability to send weather and safety messages over AIS and incorporate Rescue 21 Digital Selective Calling VHF radio transceivers throughout Alaska – technology that will benefit the Coast Guard, the State of Alaska and the marine industry. And, with the Arctic oil development and maritime operations heating up, we’re expanding our capabilities up there too”.

If MXAK’s accomplishments made over the last 10 years are any indication of the future, one can expect MXAK staff should have no trouble completing this challenging worklist as well.

For more on the Marine Exchange of Alaska check out their web site at

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

California Air Quality Agency Awards $58M for Ship-to-Shore Systems

The air pollution control agency for much of Southern California announced Friday that it had awarded $58 million from voter-approved Proposition 1B funding for ship-to-shore power projects at major ports in the state.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District awards will provide funding to help build 25 ship-to-shore systems for ships calling on area ports. Ten ship-to-shore systems will be built at the Port of Los Angeles, 12 at the Port of Long Beach and three at Port Hueneme. Currently, the Port of Los Angeles has four such systems and the Port of Long Beach has three. All of the projects are expected to be complete by the end of 2013.

Ship-to-shore systems allow vessels at outfitted docks to plug into the landside power grid for electricity to keep the vessel's onboard equipment and systems operating while berthed. Most vessels supply this power by running onboard diesel auxiliary engines, one of the leading generators of air pollution during a vessel call. Vessels plugging into a ship-to-shore system can shut off their auxiliary engines, cutting their emissions generated per call by up to 50 percent. Most vessels must be specially modified to plug into a ship-to-shore system.

Also included in the AQMD announcement was a $1.6 million award to Carnival Cruise Lines to modify one passenger cruise ship in its fleet so that it is capable of using ship-to-shore power while docked at the Port of Long Beach cruise terminal. AQMD previously awarded Carnival $5 million for the installation of a ship-to-shore system at the Long Beach cruise terminal. The project is expected to be completed this fall.

“The projects approved today will eliminate thousands of tons of pollution during the next decade,” AQMD Governing Board chairman William Burke said. “Clean, zero-emission technology is here and we must accelerate its use now for the health of all Southland residents – and especially those living in communities near the ports.”

Beginning Jan. 1, 2014, a California Air Resources Board regulation will require an increasing number of container and passenger ships to be capable of using ship-to-shore systems when at berth in California ports.

The shore-side power projects are expected to reduce 762 tons per year of nitrogen oxide emissions, or NOx, and 13 tons per year of particulate matter, or PM, emissions over 10 years. Modifying one Carnival Cruise ship to accept ship-to-shore power will reduce 59 tons per year of NOx emissions and 2 tons per year of PM.

Oakland Mayor Heads to China on Trade Mission

The new mayor of Oakland, and the city’s first Chinese-American to hold the post, has joined Port of Oakland officials on a trade mission to China.

Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, who was sworn in this January, is joining Oakland City Council President Larry Reid, port commissioners, Port Executive Director Omar R. Benjamin and other port staff on the trade mission, which began May 7 and is set to last through May 13.

The group will meet with Chinese business and civic leaders in Beijing, Hong Kong and Shenzhen during the trip.

A primary goal of the trade mission is to develop business connections that will hopefully translate into increased cargo volumes, both export and import, moving through the Oakland port.

Other goals include developing direct air service between China and Oakland and securing investments from Chinese businesses with an eye on creating more Oakland jobs and increase revenues at the port.

Oakland is California's third busiest container port.

“The Port and City of Oakland are poised to enjoy ‘good luck’ in our commercial and cultural relations with China, the second largest economy in the world. ‘Luck’ is often defined as the intersection of opportunity and preparedness, ” Port Commission First Vice-President Pamela Calloway said. “Mayor Jean Quan and Council President Larry Reid have expanded our opportunity to grow our business at the airport and seaport. We are prepared for this opportunity to enhance and increase more than 50,000 jobs within the Northern California megaregion.”

In 2010, the Port of Oakland, the third busiest container port in the state, handled 5.15 billion metric tons of cargo worth more than $14 billion worth either coming from or going to China.

Seattle Port Officials Visit Inland Quincy Port, Eye Cooperation

Several Port of Seattle port commissioners and executives visited the Washington State Port of Quincy Intermodal Terminal last week, with an eye toward the viability of utilizing Quincy as an inland port to facilitate intermodal shipments by rail from central Washington to the Port of Seattle.

The Seattle port officials also met with Quincy port commissioners during the visit to hear about the recent economic and transportation developments that have occurred at the Port of Quincy, including high-tech data center expansions by Microsoft and Yahoo and new major data center development projects by Dell and Sabey.

In addition, Quincy staff provided the Seattle officials with a tour of the Port of Quincy Intermodal Terminal and the Pacific Northwest-Chicagoland Express "Cold Train" Intermodal Service.

The "Cold Train" service is a refrigerated intermodal container rail and distribution service running between Quincy, in central Washington state and Chicago, Illinois. Since starting a little over a year ago, the service has rapidly grown in popularity with produce shippers in the Pacific Northwest, according to Quincy officials, as well as with shippers in the Midwest.

The "Cold Train" service departs the Port of Quincy five days a week loaded with fresh or frozen produce destined for the Midwest. The produce, grown and packed by local growers/packers in Washington state, is loaded into "Cold Train" 53-foot refrigerated containers and brought to the Port of Quincy Intermodal Terminal. At the terminal, the containers are double-stacked onto an expedited nonstop train to Chicago.

According to a Port of Quincy release, Seattle officials on the trip – which included port CEO Tay Yoshitani and port commission president Bill Bryant – expressed interest in how the "Cold Train" service could work with the Port of Quincy as an inland port to facilitate intermodal shipments by rail from central Washington to the Port of Seattle.

In addition, Quincy officials report that there was discussion about how the "Cold Train's" success of shipping both inbound and outbound cargo has effectively turned the Port of Quincy Intermodal Terminal into a key distribution hub for the central Washington area.

Japanese Firms Eye Vegetable Oil Facilities at Hueneme Port.

Osaka-based Fuji Oil Col Ltd. and Itochu International, a New York-based subsidiary of Itochu Corp. in Tokyo, are proposing to invest $30 million in facilities at and near the Port of Hueneme to transport and process 100,000 metric tons of unprocessed vegetable oils a year.

The plan could create more than 60 full time jobs in the port area and generate up to $25 million in regional economic activity per year.

The two firms are discussing the plan with the Oxnard Harbor District, which oversees the port. The plan calls for the two firms to bring in the oil through the port, ship it via underground pipelines to a near dock storage farm and then truck the oil to a nearby processing plant. The $30 million estimate would cover the construction of a small office, a steam boiler and six to ten storage tanks on a two-acre site within the port area and the construction of a five-building processing plant on a ten-acre parcel nearby in Oxnard.

Under the proposal, the two firms would make the $30 million investment in exchange for an at least 40-year lease with the port. The lease rate and estimate wharfage and dockage revenues under the proposal would net the port about $1.2 million a year.