Pacific Maritime Magazine - Marine Business for the Operations Sector

West Coast Bulk and Breakbulk Ports


October 1, 2017

The Port of Vancouver, USA moves a diverse cargo including dry bulks such as wheat, corn, soybeans and outbound scrap steel to breakbulk, which sees that same steel handled as inbound rolls. Courtesy of the Port of Vancouver USA.

Although the East and Gulf coasts take on the lion's share of bulk and breakbulk cargo in the US, ports on the west coast are busy too, thriving in diverse, niche markets.

Many of them move the bread and butter of construction materials, such as timber and steel, while others handle many types of specialized cargo, from generators and wind turbines to parts for military vehicles.

"On the west coast ports, the dominant things are containers, but there is still quite a bit of breakbulk cargo moved there," said Dr. Rex Sherman, Director of Research and Information Services for the American Association of Port Authorities, which represents more than 140 public port authorities in the US, Canada, Latin America and the Caribbean.

One commodity, steel, is seeing a resurgence after being down last year.

"It has come back pretty strongly in the last few months, and that's good news for the ports because most imported steel comes through ports," Sherman said. "The US economy is pretty strong. There's a lot of construction going on and that's a big consumer of steel."

Autos are also a major commodity for ports such as Vancouver USA, Portland and San Diego, Long Beach and Los Angeles and Hueneme.

And although the demand for auto has cooled, companies continue to expand that business. Last year, auto processing firm Pasha Group inked a 15-year lease with the Port of San Francisco to operate a new facility on Pier 80 to handle cars heading to and from Europe, Mexico and Asia, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. The company expects to invest $5 million to $10 million in facility upgrades in the coming years.

Grain is another major commodity for west coast ports such as Grays Harbor and Longview, which a few years ago opened a grain export terminal, the first to open in the U.S. in a quarter century.

"Investors look at the long term and that (grain export terminal) tells me they're pretty confident that the market is there and it's strong and they're optimistic about it," Sherman said.

Here's a sampling of what west coast ports are moving in the realm of bulk and breakbulk cargo.

Port of Longview

This Southwest Washington port, which has eight marine terminals and industrial property on 835 acres on the Columbia River, moves a large variety of bulk commodities regularly.

That includes calcined coke, fertilizer, potash, soda ash and grains. The port also receives the occasional spot cargo, which can be anything from barley, oats and salt to scrap steel and hay cubes.

The port specializes in heavy lift and oversized breakbulk cargo, such as transformers, brew tanks, wind energy parts and even poles used for power lines in Ireland.

The port has facilities equipped to handle bulk and breakbulk goods.

Located on Berth 9 at River Mile 66, the Export Grain Terminal was built in 2011, making it the first grain terminal to come online in the US in 25 years.

The terminal handles corn, soybeans and wheat and is capable of storing 130,000 metric tons of cargo in silos at the facility. With four complete loop tracks designed to accommodate four 110-car unit trains and served by both BNSF and Union Pacific lines, the terminal is capable of moving 2,000 metric tons an hour, according to the port.

Last year, the terminal set a new tonnage record when it moved 6.8 million metric tons of grains across its docks.

The port's Berths 6, 7 and 8 – which are all located near the port's 70-acre laydown yard – also handle breakbulk products.

When moving oversized cargo, the port uses two Liebherr Mobile Harbor cranes – typically together – along with its on-dock rail system that runs along the bull rail, for safe and efficient cargo transport.

"For instance, when moving 54 metric ton wind blades, we were able to use the tandem-pick method to offload the blades, and place them directly onto our on-dock rail system to limit handling of such a delicate cargo," according to the port.

Longview is currently working on plans to expand its existing Industrial Rail Corridor, which would allow for uninterrupted rail access to and from the port and the main line. Plans include adding additional through track and multiple sidings to increase storage and accommodate growing unit train lengths.

The port is also in the process of revitalizing its Berth 4 facility, the former Continental Grain Terminal. So far, the former dolphin dock has been removed and replaced with an eco-friendly lay berth that curbs overwater shading and the dock's footprint in the river. This alone removed more than 1,000 creosote pilings from the river, according to the port.

The port is now in the process of evaluating what demolition plans may look like when the silos are taken down.

Port of Vancouver USA

About 84 percent of Port of Vancouver's commodities consisted of bulk products, while the other 16 percent were breakbulk products last year.

This major Washington port has a diversity of goods, from liquid bulks such as jet fuel, caustic soda and biodiesel to dry bulks such as wheat, corn, soybeans, scrap steel, copper concentrate, bentonite clay, fertilizer and tire chips.

In breakbulk items, the port handles pulp, steel, autos and project cargo.

The port's two Liebherr mobile Harbor cranes, each of which has a lifting capacity of 140 metric tons and 210 metric tons together, can operate at any port breakbulk berth.

Facilities include Terminal 2, which has a dock that is 1,750 feet long, 30 feet tall and 40 to 43 feet deep at Berths 1,3 and 4; a grain elevator, capacity at Berths 1-4 for general cargo, breakbulk, roll-on/roll-off, heavy lift/project cargo; a liquid bulk dock at Berth 5 and a dry bulk dock at Berth 7.

Terminal 2's Berth 3 has a Paceco multi-purpose crane with a 51-metric-ton capacity and a 115-foot outreach, according to the port.

Terminal 3's Berths 8-9 has a dock that is 1,250 lineal feet long, 30 feet tall with a 40-foot deep berth that can accommodate breakbulk products. It also has 65 acres of open storage and 360,000 square feet of covered storage area.

Terminal 4 handles autos, roll-on/roll-off and high and heavy items, while Terminal 5, which features cargo storage and rail loading, has space to expand on the south part of the terminal for an interested dry/liquid bulk or auto customer.

The 40-acre site gives a potential customer access to the 43-foot deep Columbia River navigation channel and a loop track for trains to move within the port's internal rail facility.

Two additional arrival/departure tracks in the corridor can be added with easy access to ground transportation, including a grade-separated roadway above tracks for trucks to move to and from the port. The site is also close to interstate highways and the Portland International Airport

"We are working with several customers on various import/export project cargo opportunities for 2018," port officials said.

Other projects are on the horizon, including the near completion of the $250 million West Vancouver Freight Access project, which will boost the port's capacity from 55,000 to 400,000 railcars per year and lowers regional rail congestion by as much as 40 percent on the BNSF Railway and Union Pacific Railroad mainlines. Two final pieces remain on the project.

When completed by 2018, the project, which has been under construction for more than a decade, will help US manufacturers and farmers lower costs and make them more competitive in global markets, according to the port.

The port is also finishing the construction of Centennial Industrial Building, a 125,000-square-foot, light-industrial warehouse at Centennial Industrial Park.

The building, when completed in October, will be able to house up to five tenants for advanced manufacturing, warehousing and distribution. It will feature dock and grade doors, on-site office space, easy access for tractor-trailer turn around, and ample electrical supply.

It will also be a green facility, with a solar-ready roof, LED lighting, native landscaping, utility infrastructure for future vehicle charging stations, bird-safe windows and lighting; trapped catch basins; and oil-water separators in the truck bays.

Port of Grays Harbor

The Washington port has a long history of moving bulk and breakbulk products, first as a leading exporter of US timber and now as a leading exporter of American-grown soybean meal.

The port also ships automobiles, biodiesel and other liquid and dry bulk products through the Pacific Northwest gateway, operating four terminals with five berths, three of which move bulk and breakbulk products. Bulk and breakbulk represents close to 65 percent of the port's business.

"It's a huge percentage of what is happening at our terminals and I think it is definitely growing," said Kayla Dunlap, public affairs manager and public records officer for Port of Grays Harbor in Washington.

The terminals that handle bulk and breakbulk are Terminals 1, 2 and 4.

A former chip barge facility, Terminal 1 is a dedicated state-of-the-art liquid bulk terminal, which saw upgrades in 2010. It is 480 feet long and has an on-site rail loop, a berth depth of 41 feet and an apron width of 50 feet.

Contanda, formerly Westway Terminals, has been operating a liquid bulk storage and transport facility since 2009, while Renewable Energy Group has been operating at Terminal 1 since 2015.

Terminal 2 is a state-of-the-art bulk loading facility where Omaha-based, grower-owned cooperative Ag Processing Inc. prepares soybean meal and other agricultural products processed from the Midwest for ocean transport.

The terminal has direct railcar for shiploading and dockside storage for 64,000 metric tons of product. It is 600 feet long and has an apron width of 100 feet and 75 acres of paved, secured cargo yard and near dock warehousing, according to the port.

The largest of the port's four terminals, Terminal 4 has more than 100,000 square feet of warehouse space; a rail loop with on-dock rail access and 120 acres of paved cargo yard. It is 1,400 feet long and has twin deepwater berths that are

41 feet deep with an apron width of 100 feet.

Pasha, which began at Grays Harbor in 2010, operates from Terminal 4.

The port has been successful in diversifying its cargo over the years, though crude-by-rail is not likely to be one of them.

Two crude-by-rail projects that were set to start in 2013 where tied up in bureaucracy and eventually nixed as companies shifted business focus.

Before Ames, Iowa-based Renewable Energy Group (REG Grays Harbor, LLC) purchased its assets in August 2015, Imperium Renewables had been looking to grow its operations with a project to build nine 80,000-barrel storage tanks and expand its rail capacity to handle crude.

But REG Grays Harbor has taken crude oil off the list of commodities they would be pursuing permits for, not a surprise considering REG is in the business of renewable fuels, Dunlap said.

But they are still looking at the possibility of expansion, she said.

"We'll hopefully know more what it's going to look like in the next few months," Dunlap said.

Meanwhile, Contanda flirted with the idea of building five 200K-barrel capacity storage tanks to augment crude capabilities to its methanol distribution terminal at the port and lay more rail line to support the transport of oil between rail cars and ships.

Contanda is instead considering other liquid bulks in smaller quantities and fewer vessel calls and rail cars, Dunlap said.

Still, the port is excited at the potential for growth within its existing customers.

Ag Processing Inc., which reported record breaking growth last year, broke ground in May on a second processing facility in Aberdeen, South Dakota.

"That product will likely be coming to the Port of Grays Harbor when it comes online, which is estimated for Fall 2019," Dunlap said. "We're excited about our existing tenants' future here and we're going to do whatever we can to support them."

Port of San Diego

Of the nearly 2.9 million metric tons moved through this Southern California port in fiscal year 2016, about 23 percent of that was auto cargo (670,847 metric tons), 42.6 percent was dry bulk (about 1,2 million metric tons), 2.9 percent in liquid bulk (84,044 metric tons) and 2.5 percent in breakbulk cargo (71,386 metric tons).

San Diego moves dry bulk such as soda ash, bauxite, cement, fertilizer and sand.

breakbulk cargo includes engines, steel beams and bars for shipbuilders; turbines; propellers; windmill components – towers, blades, hubs and nacelles; yachts; roll-on/roll-off cargo like automobiles and military support equipment like tanks; lumber, brewery equipment and tanks.

The port also handles refrigerated cargo like fruit and other produce, with Dole being its main customer.

Cargo received at the port's two cargo terminals originates from 20 countries including Mexico, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, South Korea and Japan, among others. Export business includes soda ash and mining-related materials from Trona, California, that are shipped to South America.

Other exports include beer, refrigerated perishables and other materials to South America and American-made automobiles and turbines to Asia.

To handle all this cargo, San Diego has two terminals.

The National City Marine Terminal, a 135-acre complex in National City 10 miles from U.S.-Mexico border, is the port's roll-on/roll-off cargo terminal. Pasha is a tenant.

The Tenth Avenue Marine Terminal, a 96-acre facility in San Diego, is the port's omni-terminal where refrigerated containers, bulk and breakbulk cargo are handled. The terminal also has an on-dock cold storage facility, providing approximately 300,000-square feet of temperature-controlled storage and cargo handling, and ample open space, covered space and flexibility to efficiently handle and store non-containerized cargo.

The terminal is also the site of one of the port's exciting projects beginning in the fall.

The $24 million modernization project will allow the port to boost its cargo potential with more laydown space and flexibility for each cargo type.

San Diego was given a $10 million TIGER grant from the Federal Department of Transportation to help fund the project. The first phase is the demolition of two transit sheds.

Other projects on the horizon include Mitsubishi Cement Corp.'s interest in expanding import operations to San Diego and inked a conditional agreement for a new facility on Tenth. The project is undergoing environmental review.

Pasha is also interested in more land and possibly reconfiguring rail tracks to accommodate more auto business. The port, in response, has developed a National City Balanced Land Use Plan, which includes rail reconfiguration for Pasha. The plan is currently undergoing environmental review.

Port of Hueneme

As the only US west coast commercial deepwater seaport between Los Angeles and San Francisco, this port on the Central California coast has thrived on a niche market.

About 20 percent of the port's total tonnage is breakbulk, a number that includes Yara, which moves liquid bulk fertilizer product through the port via tanker ships and operates on approximately three acres on the South Terminal, and Del Monte Fresh Fruit, which uses specialized reefer fleet ships to move bananas in pallets from Central and South America.

Some of Del Monte's ships are also equipped with ramps and are able to carry other breakbulk cargo, such as self-propelled large trucks to and from Central/South America destinations, according to the port.

San Diego moves dry bulk and breakbulk cargo including engines, windmill components lumber and brewery equipment and tanks. Photo courtesy of Arash Afshar, Port of San Diego.

breakbulk products are also being carried by ro/ro vessels and other project cargo ships by WWL, EUKOR, GLOVIS, NYK, K-Line, Siem Car Shipping and others who carry most of the general cargo, military equipment, metals, steel coils, machinery, boats and other items.

About 10 percent of the port's total tonnage is bulk and breakbulk if the Del Monte fresh fruit in pallets is excluded.

All of the port's facilities and terminals can move bulk and breakbulk products and are able to handle high and heavy-lift lo/lo and other cargo. The port has two Liebherr LHM 320 mobile Harbor cranes owned by Ports America to help move cargo quickly.

Hueneme has a dedicated ro-ro terminal, six deepwater berths, and 8,000 parking bays close to three auto processors (Pacific Vehicle Processors, Global Auto Processing Services Inc, and BMW) who have moved upwards of 300,000 vehicles.


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