Deeper water means more opportunities for Delaware River ports
By Karen E. Thuermer, AJOT
There are big changes coming to ports along the Delaware River. First and foremost is the Delaware River Main Stem Channel Deepening Project.
The Philadelphia Regional Port Authority (PRPA) points to this as the most important project in the modern history of the Port of Philadelphia. The project will deepen the 103-mile shipping channel from 40 to 45 feet, from Camden, NJ, south to the Delaware Bay. The project, which began in March 2010 after years of study and debate, is estimated to cost $311 million.
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett announces the release of state, federal, and US Army Corps funds for the Delaware River Main Channel Deepening Project at the Packer Avenue Marine Terminal in August 2012. Thanks to these funds, the project to deepen the Delaware River from 40 to 45 feet is already about half complete.
The federal government is responsible for 65 percent of the costs, and the local sponsor—in this case, the PRPA—assumes the balance. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers manages the project with significant input from the PRPA, as outlined in the Project Partnership Agreement, which was signed on June 23, 2008.
When the project is completed in five years, about 16 million cubic-yards of material will have been removed from the channel. About 12 million cubic-yards of the material from the river portion of the channel will be placed at existing federal upland Confined Disposal Facilities in New Jersey and Delaware. The remaining four million cubic-yards of sand will be placed at two sites in Delaware for beneficial reuse: wetland restoration at Kelly Island, and shore protection at Broadkill Beach.
“Last year was a banner year for the project,” says Donald P. Brennan, PRPA’s director of governmental and public affairs and co-chair of the Project Coordination Team, which oversees the deepening project.
In terms of funding, the Army Corps allocated $16 million in FY12; Pennsylvania Governor Corbett’s Administration invested another $15 million in local funds; and in March, PRPA learned that President Obama’s budget included $31 million for the project.
“In January 2012, we completed a four-mile section of what is known as Lower Reach B, which runs north of Wilmington, Delaware to the Delaware Memorial Bridge,” adds Brennan. “In September, we started deepening Reach A, an 11-mile section from the Walt Whitman Bridge in South Philadelphia to Essington, PA.”
PRPA expects that work to be done in early January 2013.
“Immediately following the completion of the work on Reach A, we will begin deepening Reach D, which is a 14-mile section from Port Penn/Reedy Island to Woodland Beach in Delaware,” Brennan continues. “When we conclude this work in early spring, we will have successfully completed about 60 percent of the project.”
Three sugar ships arrived at the Port of Philadelphia in 2012 where sugar was handled for the first time. Seen here are longshoremen handling sugar from South America at the Tioga Marine Terminal.
In addition to the progress being made in the channel-deepening project, PRPA representatives are equally excited that both a deeper Panama Canal and its new Southport Terminal will come online at about the same time the channel-deepening project is completed.
“A deeper Panama Canal and a deeper Delaware River will permit a wider variety of ships to reach us, and our Southport Terminal will enable us to handle them more efficiently than ever,” says Joseph Menta, PRPA spokesman.
PRPA is moving full-speed ahead with plans for Southport, the new state-of-the-art, multi-purpose marine terminal in South Philadelphia.
Southport will be the first major expansion of the Port of Philadelphia in over 50 years. It has the potential to double the amount of container traffic at PRPA.
“In the wake of demolition, pre-construction, and mitigation activities, we’re now moving through a permitting process with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection,” says Robert C. Blackburn, Senior Deputy Executive Director, PRPA .
PRPA officials expect to get through that permitting process shortly, and begin construction of the Southport road early this year.
“We’ll also be shortly reconvening with Delaware River Stevedores, the selected operator, to finalize its financing and construction plans for the facility itself,” Blackburn adds. “We’re very excited that, day by day, Southport is becoming a reality.”
South Jersey Port Corporation (SJPC) also stands to gain from the channel deepening project.
Upriver, the Balzano Marine Terminal (formerly named the Beckett Street Terminal) and the Broadway Terminal – otherwise known as the Port of Camden, receive hundreds of ships moving international and domestic cargo through the port's modern and efficient facilities every year. Situated on the Delaware River with easy access to the Atlantic Ocean, these SJPC-operated terminals specialize in handling break bulk and bulk cargo.
SJPC officials continue to market the port for break bulk cargoes, especially given development of its new port facility, the Paulsboro Marine Terminal in Paulsboro, NJ. Phase I of that project, which is expected to be completed by late 2014, will provide two berths.
“We still have a wharf to build as well as upland developments of rail,” SJPC Executive Director Kevin Castagnola reveals. “The access road bridge is being built as we speak.”
Paulsboro brings opportunities to SJPC to attract additional break bulk business, particularly since it brings direct highway access into the port from Interstate 295.
“Being a new facility gives us opportunities to market and offer build-to-suit,” he adds.
The Paulsboro Marine Terminal encompasses approximately 190 acres, 165 acres of which is useable.
Significant for the project is the $18.5 million federal stimulus Transportation Investments Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant, signed in late October between officials from SJPC, Conrail and Salem County. It will create thousands of jobs by upgrading freight rail from South Jersey into U.S. heartland.
TIGER grants are designed to augment local investments into the transportation infrastructure to spur economic and job development.
The SJPC formed an alliance with Salem County and Conrail to leverage their collective $117 million in infrastructure investments to qualify for the $18.5 million federal stimulus grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
The SJPC ocean terminals in Camden, Paulsboro and Salem have direct access to the major interstate highways that can reach out to 100 million consumers within 24 hours and 75 percent of the populations of the United States and Canada within 48 hours. The rail improvements will give the SJPC terminals, with ship-side rail capacity, an enhanced capability to the North America rail network and markets for its customers, including the West Coast.
“The $18.5 million is good but this is an ongoing, evolving process of upgrading and improving our infrastructure,” adds Castagnola.
The SJPC terminals in Camden and Salem and the soon to be opened Paulsboro Marine Terminal are critical to the development of southern New Jersey. Southern New Jersey is a peninsula. The 42-mile rail freight line from Port Salem, through Swedesboro, Paulsboro, Camden and to Delair bridge, connecting it to the national rail network, will be upgraded. And a new two-mile connection to the new docks under construction in the Paulsboro Marine Terminal will be built. The train speed along the 18-mile line from Swedesboro to Salem, which is currently limited to 5 mph because of track conditions, will be upgraded.
The Delaware River Rail / Port Improvement Project is divided into three components, starting with Conrail’s Delair Bridge approach rehabilitation utilizing $12.5 million of the grant with a $12.5 million match. The Salem County component is comprised of two projects; the Oldmans Trestle Rail Bridge replacement at a cost of $3.5 million including a local match of $500,000 and the Salem Running Track rehabilitation at a cost of $1.55 million and a local match of $750,000.
The SJPC component is the Paulsboro At-Grade Rail Infrastructure at a cost
of $3.2 million with a local match of $1 million. This component leverages the ongoing construction of the new Paulsboro Marine Terminal, which will have on-dock rail capability to service ships with rail service directly.
“This is always a work in progress that will require more federal investment,” Castagnola emphasizes.
Port of Wilmington
The Port of Wilmington in Delaware is currently completing the marshal yard reconstruction of Berth 5.
“This berth dates back to the origins of the port,” comments Thomas Keefer, Deputy Executive Director of Diamond State Port Corporation (DSPC). “Phase 1 is now complete.”
DSPC owns and operates the port and is a corporate entity of the State of Delaware
The reconstruction will allow the port to utilize the mobile harbor crane it bought several years ago to move across Berth 5 and into Berth 7. “That is especially helpful, this time of year, for Chilean fruit shipments,” Keefer states.
Particularly significant, the improvement will reduce the time it takes for ships, now calling at Berths 1 through 4, to discharge their containers. “They can now come into Berth 7, discharge their containers and go to work on their pallets.”
While the fruit season is only now ramping up, Keefer expects an approximate 5 to 7 percent increase in fruit shipments this year. The reason, he warns, is that fruit growers and shippers in Chile are under financial pressure given exchange rates.
“They are looking for other markets such as those in Asia where exchange rates are more favorable,” he says.
Besides Chilean fruit, Moroccan Clementine’s, and Wilmington’s highly successful banana business, DSPC is involved in other break bulk and special project shipments such as those related to the wind turbine business.
Last year the port saw several projects related to wind energy. “But as the year rolled on, the business petered out given the possibility of the expiration of tax credits,” Keefer explains. “Now that those credits have been renewed, hopefully this will mean more business will return to the port.”
Meanwhile, the port is seeing an escalating live stock trade, particularly Holstein dairy cow shipments to Turkey and Russia.
The cows are assembled in a quarantined facility outside of the port, then loaded on a special livestock carrier and taken to the port. The cows then walk up a special ramp that links the truck to the ship.
“We anticipate this business to grow in the future,” Keefer remarks. “Our location is good for this business, as is our infrastructure and our ability to handle livestock carriers.”
Holsteins boarding a livestock carrier at the Port of Wilmington, DE.
As a consequence, the outlying area is sprouting companies with expertise in handling live stock.
“Companies are particularly drawn to the port because of the attention we give exporters to make their operations run as smoothly as possible,” he says. Located there are also government agencies, such as the USDA, which are critical to the industry.
Like many seaports around the nation, DSPC is currently in the process of seeking a public private partnership (PPP) that would operate the terminal, expand cargoes, and invest $150 million in needed port infrastructure repairs.
“This would assure that the port would continue to grow and preserve and protect jobs in the future,” Keefer states.
DSPC has received proposals from Kinder Morgan Inc., whose operations include Tioga Marine Terminal in Philadelphia, and Delaware Terminal Operating Co., a new firm formed by the owners of Penn Warehousing & Distribution, Murphy Marine Services and Port Contractors Inc. in Wilmington. DSPC recently named Kinder the "preferred" bidder to lease the port.
“The advantage is that we would be partnering with an entity that is already involved in the marine business and has the capital to enable the port to grow in the future,” Keefer says. “It would offer us the ability to take advantage of new business, improve our infrastructure, and increase the number of associated jobs.”
Among other developments, in October the Port of Wilmington successfully undertook and passed the 360 Quality audit and became recognized as “Certified Terminals” by the 360 Quality Association.
The 360 Quality Association is an alliance of specialized reefer shipping lines and seaport terminals specialized in the handling of reefer cargoes.
“The purpose of this organization is to differentiate terminals from container operations by providing an end-to-end level of quality to the customer and standards from receipt at the exporting facility to the load out of the truck at the importing facility,” Keefer explains.
DSCP is only one of three U.S. ports to receive this certification.
These factors will bode well for the port as the channel receives larger and additional carriers as a result of the Delaware River Main Stem Channel Deepening Project.
Hyundai and Kia automobile cargoes regularly arrive at the PRPA’s Packer Avenue Marine Terminal in south Philadelphia, and are processed across the street at PRPA’s Automobile Processing Facility.