Pacific Maritime Magazine - Marine Business for the Operations Sector

Ports of the Pacific: staying competitive


May 1, 2019

An advantage at the Port of Bellingham is a lack of time-consuming vessel lineups, changing ship queues and unpredictable berthing rules. Photo courtesy of the Port of Bellingham.

Up and down the west coast, there are dozens of seaports that support US and international markets, whether they play a role in ferrying agricultural and break bulk goods or generate and package products from strategically-placed warehouses and industrial facilities.

These west coast ports play a role in not only supporting domestic and overseas markets, but in making an impact on a local economy as well, especially when it comes to wages and revenue.

Here, Pacific Maritime Magazine highlights some of those seaports:

Port of Bellingham

Free of the congestion so often found at docks and terminals serving the Vancouver, BC and Seattle areas, the Port of Bellingham has the advantage of never having issues with time-consuming vessel lineups, changing ship queues and mercurial berthing rules, said Michael Hogan, Public Affairs Administrator at the Port of Bellingham.

"We specialize in 'stress-free' vessel operations at an easily accessible facility staffed by port professionals and hard-working longshore labor," Hogan said.

To strengthen this advantage, the port in recent years has invested more than $7.5 million in capital improvements, which include buying cargo-handling equipment, fortifying its docks, building new roofs for the warehouses and other upgrades.

In 2018, the port and ILWU Local 7 teamed up to discuss equipment needs necessary for the terminal, with an allocation for forklifts, terminal trucks and trailers, a hopper and belt conveyor, a reach-stacker and a front end loader, as well as a 140-foot certified truck scale for weighing cargo. The port recently inked a service contract with Ports America, the largest terminal operator and stevedore in the United States, after several Ports America shipping customers requested use of the Bellingham Shipping Terminal, Hogan said.

The contract gives Ports America exclusive stevedoring rights for certain types of steel as well as imported international forest products, metal/aluminum ingots, modules, oversized and project cargoes, he said.

Much of those exports will be kept for a short time at the shipping terminal before being moved by truck 25 miles to the Canadian border. The Port is working to designate the shipping terminal and surrounding areas as a Foreign Trade Zone, where customers can store goods without having to pay US import duties and taxes, Hogan said.

Other port contracts include a firm that moves armor rock from the Whatcom/Skagit county region to the mouth of the Columbia River for an Army Corps of Engineers project.

Port of Camas-Washougal

Although this mid-sized Washington state port doesn't get much barge traffic – it lacks the deep draft – the Port of Camas-Washougal has been busy developing and managing more than 500 acres of industrial property.

In May, the port completed one of its biggest projects, Building 18.

The 50,000-square-foot building was a speculative project that was originally supposed to be only half the size, but the port was able to double the size with help from state and federal grants.

"The purpose of building this first was that we didn't have any inventory; we've been completely full up until last year for the last three years," said Port Chief Executive Officer David Ripp.

"By the time we completed construction and had an occupancy permit for the building, we had it completely leased out to six different businesses ranging from a medical device manufacturing company to a wholesale RV parts and repair shop that was already a tenant of ours but wanted to take over more space."

The port's location and business-friendliness are big reasons why companies want to do business here, Ripp said.

He spoke about a medical device company that relocated from California for the more business-friendly climate.

"We're 20 minutes from Interstate 5, 10 minutes from Interstate 205 and we're right on Route 14," he said. "We're 15 minutes from Portland International Airport. Our power rates are good. I think we have a friendlier work environment, and I just I hear more and more frustration with Multnomah County on taxes and requirements."

Another business moved to the port's industrial property because it wanted to expand, but wasn't able to grow at its previous location.

"They needed more space and the timing was perfect," Ripp said.

Port officials are in talks on land leasing and other deals on the remaining property.

"The market for that is going well right now," he said.

Meanwhile, the port is working on other projects, including a 20-acre waterfront mixed use development at the site of a former lumber mill.

The port has finished the first phase of the project, which involved building a riverfront park and a trail that is roughly about three quarters of a mile.

Phase 2 of the trail will head east and tie into another trail system that goes into the Steigerwald wildlife refuge.

"It will meander through that whole wildlife refuge so you could technically take off here from the port and then in about three miles you could be right in the heart of the wildlife refuge,"

Ripp said.

Port of Coos Bay

The Oregon International Port of Coos Bay has seen the advantages of owning and operating the Coos Bay Rail Line (CBRL), allowing the port to offer customers a bundling of services with a navigation route less than an hour to open sea, more than 600 acres of industrially zoned waterfront property, and connections to the rest of the nation via its 134-mile rail line, one of the state's longest short line railroads.

"The reliability and cost-competitiveness of moving freight by rail is demonstrated by the sustained growth in loaded railcars shipped, as well as transportation cost savings," said Margaret Barber, External Affairs Manager for the port.

Since reopening the rail line, carloads have tripled and are capable to handle future growth. That has translated into local economic benefits; the shippers on the line employ nearly 1,000 people throughout southwestern Oregon.

"Shippers rely on CBRL to get their goods to both national and international markets," Barber said. "CBRL is a key transportation alternative to existing industries and provides economic incentives to help attract new business to the region."

To maintain that critical connectivity, the port received a $20 million federal BUILD grant to rehabilitate bridges along the rail line.

Meanwhile, the port is working with the US Army Corps of Engineers to widen and deepen the Coos Bay Federal Navigation Channel from a depth of 37 feet to 45 feet and a width of 300 feet to 450 feet. The project will help improve navigation efficiency, lower shipping transportation costs and accommodate larger vessels.

The port also received $8 million in additional federal funding toward maintenance dredging in the Upper Bay from river miles 12-15.

The port also continues to support the Jordan Cove natural gas liquefaction and export terminal project, which would allow natural gas to be delivered to the terminal by a 229-mile pipeline from the Malin hub in southern Oregon and produce 7.8 million tons of LNG, adding 120 additional vessel calls annually, according to the port. It's currently undergoing the lengthy permitting process.

Port of Portland

This Oregon seaport has had an eventful 2018.

The year began with The China Navigation Co.'s Swire Shipping's monthly container service at the port's Terminal 6, exporting goods to Australia/New Zealand and Western Star trucks to Australia.

The port then announced a deal with BNSF Railway to service Terminal 6 customers, allowing them to move cargo between Portland and the ports of Seattle and Tacoma for overseas shipping.

Meanwhile, at Terminal 5, Canada's largest mineral exporter Canpotex completed its nearly $150 million terminal expansion after five years of planning and work.

The improvements and new equipment and warehouse space allow the company to boost its ability to move potash.

This year, port officials are building upon its cargo business, marketing Terminal 6 as a multi-purpose facility, said Ken O'Hollaren, director of marine marketing for the port.

"It's operating pretty well and we hope it continues to grow," he said. "What it has enabled us to do is generate Terminal 6 container activity. It's given our workforce a lot of man hours and we are able to demonstrate to the trade that we're experiencing terminal productivity."

O'Hollaren touted the terminal's recent handling of its first breakbulk cargo of wind turbine parts, which were used on a wind project in Eastern Oregon. The parts came from Korea during three separate ship calls.

"We felt that it went well and hopefully it positions us well for future business," O'Hollaren said.

The movement of its top products – wheat, potash, soda ash and automobiles - has resulted in steady volume growth, said Randy Fischer, senior research analyst at the port.

"I think it's a great story to note that our volumes have grown every year in the last four years from 8 million tons to now over 12 million tons," he said. "It's like a 50 percent increase in your tonnage in a four-year period. It's pretty significant."

And there's room to grow at the Port of Portland, O'Hollaren said.

"Portland is very well positioned because we have real estate, and real estate is in short supply at other US ports on the West Coast," he said.

Port of San Diego

This Southern California port has had some tremendous successes in the past year, with more progress to come in the near future.

In 2018, the Port of San Diego welcomed two major cargo business customers, celebrated the strongest cruise season in seven years and made significant progress in a multimillion-dollar project to modernize the Port's Tenth Avenue Marine Terminal.

This year, the port anticipates growth in cargo numbers, with volumes reaching 1.9 million metric tons.

"This growth can be attributed to a new breakbulk liner service from northern Europe, the addition of bulk sugar from Mexico and the fact that we are actively promoting all the improvements at the Tenth Avenue Marine Terminal," port officials said.

The Tenth Avenue Marine Terminal Redevelopment project, when completed, will give the port an advantage in the realm of specialty cargo by providing laydown space and flexibility for each cargo type, according to the port.

"The plan envisions three distinct cargo nodes within the existing footprint of the terminal and is focused on current core specialties of project, roll-on/roll-off, and break-bulk cargo such as military equipment, wind energy parts, shipbuilding steel, and vehicles; refrigerated containers for fresh produce such as bananas or other produce; and dry bulk cargo such as soda ash, aggregate and cement," according to the port.

The port has demolished one shed and is preparing to demolish a second transit shed as part of the project. Sitework improvements including earthwork, utilities, site lighting and pavement and on-dock rail improvements.

The San Diego port also hopes to break ground in 2020 on the Chula Vista Bayfront, a project to turn 535 acres of mostly industrial land into destination for visitors. The project will include parks and open space, as well as a hotel, convention center, parks, RV resort, office and retail space, and some residential units.

Meanwhile, the port is working on a $14 million restaurant project called Portside Pier, located on the waterfront along the North Embarcadero in San Diego. Expected to open early next year, the project calls for four restaurant concepts in one building and will feature a public walkway and a dock and dine.

Speaking of the Embarcadero, the port has plans for 70 acres of the Central Embarcadero area, known as the 1HWY1 Project, and entered into an Exclusive Negotiating Agreement with Protea Waterfront Development in October 2017.

The Oregon International Port of Coos Bay has reopened the Coos Bay Rail Line (CBRL), carloads have tripled and are capable to handle future growth. Photo courtesy of Port of Coos Bay.

With work expected to start in the next five to seven years, the project includes retail, office space, hotels, a spire for viewing, an aquarium, a possible educational complex, parks, plazas and urban spaces, according to the port.

In terms of rail car improvements, there's a port project under environmental review called the National City Balanced Plan, which addresses the needs of the port, the city of National City and tenant Pasha Automotive Services, which annually processes about 430,000 vehicles at its terminal. About 200 vehicle rail cars per train will be added as part of this project.

And as part of its Blue Tech investment, the port authorized a pilot project for using a special vessel that removed 15 tons of trash and debris from San Diego Bay. It also launched shellfish and seaweed farming pilot projects to nurture a sustainable aquaculture industry in San Diego Bay.

The port also reached an agreement with the US Navy giving Blue Economy Incubator businesses access to new technology that navy engineers are developing in research labs.


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