Friday, April 27, 2012

Posted by Pacific Maritime Magazine

BNSF Resolves Soil Contamination Charges

BNSF Railway has agreed to pay a fine to settle charges that it mishandled contaminated soil at a construction site in the North Portland area in 2009.

The US Environmental Protection Agency announced April 25 that BNSF has been assessed a $37,500 penalty for the mishandling and transportation of contaminated soil from a construction project near the McCormick & Baxter Superfund, a former wood treating facility on the banks of the Willamette River.

According to the EPA, a BNSF contractor excavated and removed at least 36 cubic yards – equivalent to three truckloads – of soil containing the hazardous waste pentachlorophenol.

The EPA alleges that the contractor then failed to properly characterize the excavated waste, didn’t lawfully store and manage the waste on site, and didn’t properly transport the contaminated soil from the site to a disposal facility equipped and permitted to handle such waste.

Each failure was a violation of federal hazardous waste law, according to the EPA. And although a contractor performed the work the responsibility for ensuring that all construction projects are performed in a safe and lawful manner was BNSF’s according to the environmental agency.

“Managing and transporting contaminated soil safely requires that you pay attention to detail and strictly comply with all federal, state and local laws,” Edward Kowalski, director of the EPA’s Office of Compliance and Enforcement, said. “Major corporations and their contractors are well aware of the rules and the importance of properly managing hazardous waste.”

Pentachlorophenol is a restricted use pesticide that has been used industrially for decades as a preservative for railroad ties, wharf pilings and other devices made of wood. Exposure to high levels of the chemical has been shown to cause liver damage, harm the immune system, and have damaging reproductive and developmental effects.

In signing the penalty agreement, BNSF did not admit to any of the allegations, according to the EPA.

Port of Tacoma Contemplating Bulk Goods Terminal

A former aluminum smelter that’s been closed for over a decade at the Port of Tacoma could be transformed a bulk export terminal, according to port CEO John Wolfe.

Wolfe, in an April 24 interview with the Tacoma News Tribune, said that the 96-acre former smelter site, which is located at the northeast end of the port’s Blair Waterway, could eventually become the location of a bulk export terminal that could ship raw materials such as iron ore and potash.

The smelter, which was built during World War II and has been closed since June 2000, was bought by the port in 2003 for $12.1 million.

The bulk terminal, Wolfe told the newspaper, is part of a strategy to diversify the port’s business beyond traditional containerized goods import. As part of the strategy, Tacoma is looking as widening the Blair Waterway to more easily handle the larger ships calling at container and bulk terminals, Wolfe said.

Although there’s been interest, no customers have yet signed up to use the proposed bulk terminal, Wolfe told the paper.

One material the port’s already ruled out exporting, however, is coal. This, Wolfe said, is due to various reasons, including ongoing resistance to other planned coal terminals in the Pacific Northwest by environmental groups.

Another possible venture the port is looking into, Wolfe said, is bringing in crude oil from North Dakota by train, then distributing it via tankers and barges to various West Coast refineries.

Port of Seattle Bans Wastewater Discharge

The Port of Seattle Commission on April 24 voted to ban discharge of all wastewater – treated and untreated alike – at its two cruise terminals.

The ban, which will be inserted into a tariff governing cruise ship practices, goes into effect May 1. It affects vessels docking at the Smith Cove Cruise Terminal and Pier 66 terminals.

The motive behind the ban, according to the port, is to help cut down on water pollution.

“This policy helps us achieve economic and environmental goals,” Commission President Gael Tarleton said “We are committed to creating that growth while also protecting Puget Sound.”

The tariff change solidifies what had already been non-binding port policy since 2004, when the port, along with Northwest Cruise Ship Association and the Washington Department of Ecology, established a voluntary agreement.
No cruise ship has discharged treated wastewater while at berth in Seattle for the past two years, according to the port.

The Department of Ecology and other agencies are currently studying the feasibility of a Puget Sound-wide “no discharge zone,” with the results expected in 2013.

About 200 cruise ships call at Seattle annually, according to the port, with 202 expected in 2012. Each visit of a homeport ship brings an estimated $2.1 million to the local economy.

The port’s 2012 cruise season begins May 6 with the arrival of the Holland America ship ms Oosterdam.

Port of Tacoma Names Summit Award Winners

Winners have been announced in the Port of Tacoma’s first-ever Summit Awards, given for outstanding contributions to port business and the surrounding community.

The “Business Magnet” award was given to container transload company MacMillan-Piper. In giving the award, the port said the recipient had doubled its warehouse transloading space to 202,000 feet to support handling bulk cargoes in the past year, and also helped improve air quality by reducing the number of idling and draying trucks by unloading import containers and load them with exports in the same location.

International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 23 received the port’s “Livable Community” award for donating more than $200,000 in money and goods during holiday drives and other fundraisers during the past year. Union members also donated thousands of hours of their personal time to organizations such as Tall Ships Tacoma, St. Leo’s Hospitality Kitchen and the Multiple Sclerosis Walk.

Totem Ocean Trailer Express, which provides weekly trailership service between Tacoma and Anchorage, received the port’s “Environmental Stewardship” award. It was lauded for being the first commercial cargo carrier in Puget Sound to install shore power. As such, the company’s ships now operate off the commercial power grid when at berth instead of from the ship’s own diesel-powered generators.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Alameda Corridor: Big Project, Big Results

By Mark Edward Nero

It was one of the most massive and ambitious transportation projects in Southern California in decades.

It cost $2.4 billion, took hundreds of workers five years to construct, but was somehow finished on time and under budget.

It involved the use of a million cubic yards of concrete, 150 million pounds of rebar and 2,200 concrete struts, each weighing about 50,000 pounds.

And perhaps most amazingly, it managed to turn two rival businesses – the Union Pacific and BNSF railways – into staunch allies and venture partners.

The “it” is the Alameda Corridor, a 20-mile freight rail expressway linking rail yards near downtown Los Angeles to the ports of LA and Long Beach. The rail line, which is named after its Alameda Street route, is now celebrating its 10th anniversary.

Stretching through eight cities, the corridor is a series of bridges, underpasses, overpasses and street improvements that separate freight trains from passenger rail and street traffic.

“It’s great for our ports in terms of providing a really efficient link from the harbor areas to the downtown rail yards,” Mike Christensen, the Port of LA’s deputy director in charge of development, said of the Corridor. “And it does it in a way that avoids this really, really potentially horrible interaction with the transportation networks that the old rail network would have exposed us to.”

The origin of the project dates back nearly 30 years. It was in the 1970s when, facing increases in cargo crossing their docks, the ports of LA and Long Beach began to study ways to make comprehensive rail and highway improvements to upgrade the efficiency of cargo movements.

But it wasn’t until 1989 that the two competing cities and ports came together in a joint-powers authority to design and build a rail cargo expressway. Construction began in April 1997.

When it opened on April 15, 2002, the Corridor’s main purpose was to relieve the bottleneck of cargo at the ports, mainly through consolidating four railroad branch lines. The corridor was designed to carry up to about a third of the ports’ overall traffic volume.

And during the decade of its existence, the rail expressway has accomplished its mission, according to John Doherty, CEO of the Alameda Corridor Transportation Authority, or ACTA, the joint-powers authority formed in 1989 by the cities and ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

“I think the Alameda Corridor’s an outright success, it’s doing exactly what it was intended to do, namely provide an opportunity to move more and more containers that have national destinations from on-dock rail facilities without impact to the surrounding communities,” Doherty said.

“In terms of everything it was put in place to do, it’s carrying the (one third) percentage of the ports’ volumes it had intended to carry,” said Doherty, while mitigating the effect of what trains every day would have had on the 200 grade crossings that the railroads used to encounter. “The backup of traffic at those 200 grade crossings would have been untenable.”
It also would have been untenable elsewhere within the transportation chain, Christensen said.

“When the corridor went in service in 2002, we were at kind of an accelerating pace of growth,” he explained. “Over the next years, particularly between 2002 and 2008, (the Corridor) was able to soak up that growth that, had it not been there, we would have been in really bad shape. It took not only the growth of traffic coming across the docks, but it also allowed us to grow our on-dock rail loadings.”

Christensen said that had the corridor not been built, the traffic bottleneck would have continued to worsen, because the on-dock intermodal loadings would have stayed on the existing congested rail lines.

“I think what you would have seen … you would have seen the rail lines getting close to capacity, but also massive amounts of traffic blockages as those mile-and-a-half trains run along the line,” he said. “I think you would have seen a rail system that would have been groaning under the weight of the rail traffic that emanated from the port, particularly the on-dock rail yards.”

Before the corridor was in operation, there were about 30 to 35 train trips daily from the ports to the rail yards, with each train traveling at about 15 miles per hour. But according to Doherty, the average is now about 40 trains per day traveling about 30 MPH.

That said, the current 40 train trips daily is actually down from the 55 a day that was common during the first few years of the corridor’s existence. Doherty said one of the reasons why is increased efficiency.

“Railroads over the past several years have been running their trains far more efficiently than they used to. The average container train on the corridor right now is close to 330 containers per train, whereas back in 2002, 2003, when we first opened, there were 230 containers per train,” he said.

“So the railroads have significantly lengthened their trains; obviously you’re going to be moving fewer trains, but more cargo,” he explained. “Trains now are running 8,000 or 8,500 feet long, whereas they were running 6,000 to 6,500 feet long 10 years ago when we first started.”

But another and perhaps larger, reason for the decrease in daily train trips, is the global recession of 2008-2009, which for a time resulted in an estimated 25 percent decrease in traffic volume at the ports, and therefore a corresponding drop in corridor traffic.

“As go the ports, so goes ACTA,” Doherty said.

“With consumer spending down because of the recession, imports have been off considerably. So we’re going through the throes of that now,” he explained. “The ports have seemed to have reached bottom, and then started to climb. They climbed considerably in 2010 and flattened in 2011. It’s expected to stay a little bit on the flat side in 2012, as well.”

The lingering effects of the recession could be felt at the port complex and on the corridor for some time to come.

“It is going to take four, five, six, maybe seven years perhaps, to climb out of the recession, just to get back to where we were,” Doherty predicted. “We’re in the middle of a comeback now, but it’s all going to be predicated on how many false starts we have on the economic recovery.”

In addition to a sluggish economy, another possible factor in the Corridor’s future traffic volumes is the expansion of the Panama Canal. Under the expansion, the canal’s capacity is expected to double by 2014. If this happens, it would mean larger ships that can’t currently travel through the canal would be able to do so in the future, and might not be so reliant on West Coast ports as far as the import and export of goods moving to and from the US East Coast.

This is of great interest to ACTA because a large portion of cargo imported through LA/Long Beach and moved along the Corridor to regional rail yards is headed for the East Coast, Midwest and other destinations outside of Southern California.

“There’s a big wait now in terms of what impact the Panama Canal expansion in 2014 may have, not only on the ports of LA and Long Beach, but on all the West Coast ports,” Doherty said. “People are anxiously awaiting to see whether or not East Coast destinations and distributing lines will send more cargo that would have otherwise come through the West Coast, whether they’ll send that via all-water through the Panama Canal.”

There are various schools of thought regarding the possibility.

“They vary anywhere from virtually no impact to the balance that currently exists, to some saying maybe it’ll have significant consequence,” Doherty said. “We’ll see what the consequences of that are come 2014.”

But ultimately, annual cargo volumes at the ports are expected to more than triple from the current 14 million TEUs over the next few decades, and Doherty said that the Corridor should be able to accommodate that growth.

“We designed the corridor to carry the volume of cargo in support of the ports when they reach their capacity, and that capacity will be 44 million TEUS – even through there’s only 14 million TEUs at the ports now,” he explained. “If the ports do reach the 44 million plateau, which is now forecast for 2035, the Alameda Corridor will be able to successfully handle one third of that cargo.”

The Corridor, which was one of the most expensive and ambitious public works ventures in the US at the time of its opening, is the result of funding through a public-private partnership. Money from the ports – a combined $400 million – paid part of the cost, as did another $400 million in loans from the California Department of Transportation and various other sources. The largest chunk of the money, however, came from $1.1 billion in revenue bonds.

The bonds are being repaid through use fees and container charges, which as of January 2012 range from about $5 to $21 per TEU, depending on various factors, including a container’s size, whether or not it’s loaded, and if it’s a waterborne container.

BNSF and UP are responsible for the fees.

“It’s a great example of public-private partnerships,” Christensen said of the arrangement. “You can’t talk about the success of the Alameda Corridor without really mentioning that this was a deal that was made with the two Class 1 railroads.”

“The fees on containers basically pay the mortgage,” he said. “And as such, they have been great partners and are part of the success story.”

And another part of the story is an upcoming milestone that might go overlooked by many, but should serve as an example of how much of an impact the rail corridor has had.

Doherty pointed out that the corridor expects to hit a particular train milestone right at the 10-year mark.

“We’re approaching 150,000 trains that will have used the corridor since (it was launched in) 2002,” he said. Over ten years, 200 crossings and 150,000 trains makes 30 million traffic interactions removed from the system. Impressive numbers indeed.

Mark Edward Nero has been a professional journalist since 1995 and has covered the maritime shipping industry since 2002, including the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach as a reporter for the Long Beach Press-Telegram.

Puget Sound Maritime Achievement Award

The 2012 Puget Sound Maritime Achievement Award Selection Committee is accepting nominations for this year’s award to be announced at the Seattle Propeller Club’s June luncheon.

Nominations must be received by April 30, 2012 and may be e-mailed to Nominations should include specific achievements of the candidate, particularly those impacting the Puget Sound maritime community, and a brief biography of the nominee. Industry segments represented by past recipients include steamship lines and agents, tug and barge operators, marine architects, passenger and fishing vessel operators, port authorities, stevedores, labor, and government. Several paragraphs about the nominee are sufficient.

Also, we will be accepting nominations for the recipient of the Seattle Propeller Club’s Public Official of the Year Award. Each year the Seattle Propeller Club recognizes a local elected or public official whose outstanding work or service has made a significant contribution to maritime commerce in the Pacific Northwest.

Feel free to contact Rich Berkowitz at (206) 443-1738 with any questions about either award nomination.

Port of LA Adopts 5-Year Strategic Plan

With an eye on the goals of market share growth, job creation and infrastructure development, the Port of Los Angeles has adopted a five-year strategic plan for the years 2012-2017.

The plan, which was approved by the port’s harbor commission April 19, maps out priorities, objectives and various initiatives in seven areas: developing infrastructure, enhancing overall competitiveness, growing market share, optimizing land use, advancing maritime technologies and maintaining the port’s ranking as the top trade gateway from the US to the Pacific Rim.

“Changing economic tides will require new and innovative approaches and a forward-thinking game plan,” port Executive Director Geraldine Knatz said. “This newly adopted strategic roadmap provides a clear path to assure the port’s future success in the global marketplace.”

Among the main goals the port has outlined for 2012-2013 are delivering terminal and infrastructure improvement projects; adapting its Business Development Plan to better reflect the changing dynamics of the industry; and developing a comprehensive stakeholders’ outreach plan to be used as a “messaging matrix” system, so that all port messaging is consistent across the organization.

Future goals include increasing exports, increasing the number of zero-emission trucks in the port’s drayage fleet and enhancing the port’s cash flow through consistent revenue growth and expense controls.

“This strategic plan will ensure that the port remains competitive over the coming years and proactively meets the challenges of a new era of international trade,” Harbor Commission President Cindy Miscikowski said.

The new strategic plan builds on the previous 2006-2011 Five-Year Strategic Plan. Under the planning process, which began in March 2011, input was gathered from a multi-division Port Strategic Plan Task Force, harbor commissioners, port staff, constituents, customers and labor representatives.

The port says the strategic plan will undergo continuous evolution and performance measurement over the next five years, as well as an annual assessment and re-evaluation to ensure relevance prior to the start of the annual budget process.

An “organizational performance dashboard” will be used to measure progress toward implementing the initiatives, according to the port.

The initial version of the five-year plan is available for review at

Ground Broken on Oakland Truck Scales Project

The California Dept. of Transportation and the California Highway Patrol on April 21 broke ground on a project to replace an aging truck weight scales station near the Port of Oakland.

The new facility, which will be maintained by Caltrans and operated by the CHP, is being built a half-mile east of the existing scales facility, which has been in service since 1958. The new location has been designed to accommodate multiple construction bays, additional truck parking and newly designed traffic lanes on the Interstate 80 freeway.

With the completion of the new station, vehicles on I-80 exiting onto Highway 12 will be able to travel along a new, elevated ramp, thereby passing over trucks merging onto I-80 from the scales.

“This project will make it easier for the CHP to inspect trucks quickly and keep goods from the Port of Oakland moving efficiently,” Acting Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty said.

Also, the new facility’s weigh-in-motion scales won’t require trucks to come to a complete stop before they’re weighed, which should make the entire process more efficient and less time-consuming, according to Caltrans. 

Nearly 10,000 truck trips are made daily between the Port of Oakland and I-80, according to Caltrans spokesman Vince Jacala.

Half the funding for the $100 million project comes from California’s State Highway Operation and Protection Program; the rest comes from regional and local funds, Jacla said.
Construction is expected to be complete by June 2013.

US EPA Official Visits LA, Long Beach Ports

US Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa P. Jackson toured the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles on April 19 to get a first-hand look the ports’ efforts to clean the air and water in the San Pedro Bay.

During her visit to the Port of Long Beach, Jackson boarded a port pilot boat to view hybrid tugboats and a plug-in electricity berth for oil tankers. At the Port of LA, Jackson observed fifth-grade students aboard a “floating environmental science lab,” a boat tour program facilitated by Think Watershed, a collaborative partnership whose mission is to educate students about the watershed’s impact on the marine environment and to inspire them to become stewards of the environment.

“I’m excited to be here to see the great things the Port of LA is doing to protect the waters of this community, and to open up opportunities for environmental education to the next generation,” Jackson said. “These students know that this is their water, and they’re taking an active role in its protection.”
While touring Long Beach, Jackson also saw a locomotive from the nation’s cleanest short-line railroad, climbed into the cab of a cutting-edge zero-emission big-rig truck built thanks to funding from the port’s Technology Advancement Program, and met with Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster and Harbor Commissioners Doug Drummond and Rich Dines.

Her visit to the port complex, which came in observation of Earth Day, also coincided with the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act.

Port Metro Vancouver Projects Modest Cruise Season Growth

Port Metro Vancouver says it expects the number of passengers embarking and disembarking at its cruise terminals during the 2012 cruise season to modestly exceed the 2011 season.

The port estimates 670,000 passengers, a slight increase from 2011’s 663,000, will take part in 191 vessel calls at the port’s Canada Place and Ballantyne cruise terminals.
“Port Metro Vancouver continues to grow sustainably,” Robin Silvester, the port’s President and Chief Executive Officer, said in a statement announcing the projection. “The 2012 cruise season builds on a very successful 2011.”

Vancouver’s cruise industry has estimated that it stimulates more than $2 million in economic activity to the regional economy for every cruise ship call at the port.

“Cruise ships are a vital aspect of tourism in British Columbia,” British Columbia Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation Pat Bell said. “In 2011, the cruise industry contributed $1.3 billion to our economy, $50 million in provincial taxes and provided over 7,000 jobs.”

Vancouver’s 2012 cruise season began April 16.