Ports & Terminals

Port of Oakland seeks improved maritime industry collaboration

In the aftermath of the failed effort by the Oakland A’s to build a ballpark and condominiums on the Port of Oakland property, the Port of Oakland’s Executive Director Danny Wan and Maritime Director Bryan Brandes sought support for major infrastructure upgrades to port operations.

Wan noted that the Port has won $600 million in new investments: “We've gotten … over $600 million of investment on grants from both the federal and state levels. Those go into projects like the Seventh Street access improvements, port efficiency, data improvements, and harbor strengthening.”

On November 14th, Wan explained to an assembly of maritime stakeholders that he had requested the Propeller Club of Northern California organize a meeting with Port stakeholders to discuss future projects and improved collaboration. He asked, “We get everybody in a room … to give us some ideas about what you think needs to happen at the Port of Oakland to grow our business …I'm so very heartened by … all of you showing up today.”

SSA Voices Concerns

Ed DeNike, President, of SSA Containers, which operates the biggest terminal at the Port of Oakland (Oakland International Container Terminal or OICT) said that the Port’s support for the failed Oakland A’s ballpark and condominiums at the Port of Oakland’s Howard Terminal created uncertainty. He said it undermined SSA’s ability to attract customers to the Port of Oakland: “We signed a long-term commitment with the Port of Oakland … We bought the biggest cranes in the world sitting at OICT handling any ship that's going to be built now or for the next 20 years. We bought equipment … This thing that happened at Howard Terminal hurt us. We stopped getting any commitment from any carriers for not more than one year because they didn't know what the future was in this Port. We need volumes and we need commitments. We can talk and say anything … that we want to (but) when carriers hear that the Port doesn't care about them, I'm not saying it's true, but that's what they think. When the Port says that there's going to be other uses for a marine terminal then … our customers need to know that the Port of Oakland is supporting the future of this Port then we can get long-term commitments.”

DeNike’s concern was repeated publicly and privately by other stakeholders who say they have confidence in the Port staff but do not have confidence in the City of Oakland. They say the City ignored pleas from truckers, the railroads, terminal operators, longshore labor, freight forwarders, and others that the ballpark and condominium project would be severely disruptive to Port operations.

DeNike was positive about the support SSA has received from International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 10 which represents longshore labor at Oakland: “We've worked with Local 10 for a long time. I feel Local 10 now is … the best I've ever seen them … I think … they realize that their future also is to get the job done. And I think the employer, not only SSA, but the other employers too, have convinced Local 10 that they have to step up to the plate.”

Harbor Trucking Association (HTA) Worries About Port’s Commitment

Matt Schrap, President, of Harbor Trucking Association (HTA), said when HTA met with the Oakland A’s about ensuring port operations would be respected they did not get a positive response: “When our industry first met with Dave Kaval, (President, Oakland Athletics) … he told us straight up that you guys are in the middle of a real estate deal, and you just need to get over it.”

As a result, some export business going through the Port of Oakland is now going to the Port of Los Angeles: “My good friend Gene (Seroka, Executive Director Port of Los Angeles) … couldn't have been more happy that they were moving so much agricultural commodity. But for our shipper customers, exporters, that meant that they had to dray (truck) … down to LA/ Long Beach … (adding) more and more costs, more greenhouse gas … The trucking industry is committed to working with our partners, but the port authorities have to have consistent messaging to make sure that shippers understand how critical this gateway is.”

Meanwhile, Brandon McDonnell, Vice President, PCC Logistics wondered: “Why doesn’t the Port utilize us more to help grow the business?”

Brandes Reports Port of Oakland Progress

Maritime Director Bryan Brandes told the audience that “exports every single year have outpaced imports out of Oakland. And … there are not many ports that can say that. So, we're very pleased with that. So that's a clear target area we want to continue.”

The flip side, however, is that growth has been “flat.”

The Port has done an in-depth analysis into “What area has fallen? What area do we need to go after?”

A major focus is “terminal modernization. It's broken down into five areas, but the first one is terminal modernization. And this includes … the sewers under the ground. It includes the power, and the substations so that we can have enough power to transition everything to zero emissions. It includes wharf upgrades so that we can handle and continue to handle the larger vessels.”

A key element is widening the turning basin in the Oakland Estuary to accommodate larger container ships for the Oakland International Container Terminal operated by Stevedoring Services of America.

“The turning basin is one of the biggest projects we have going on right now.”

Zero-emission transitions are another priority, and the Port has signed green shipping corridor agreements with foreign ports: “We are working with all of our tenants to help transition all of their equipment via grants for zero-emission transition. We're also working with other ports around the world, primarily Asia where we signed … green shipping corridor (agreements).”

Short-Haul Rail

Brandes said that he is also hopeful about short-haul rail: “I've been in this industry several years and short-haul rail has been talked about and it's financially never penciled out … Now it's going to pencil out … The reason is I believe Oakland has an advantage here … Oakland does not have on dock rail. Oakland has off-dock rail … Moving rail needs to be drained off the terminal and going to the rail yard, this is a good thing for the short haul rail into California … And it allows all the carriers to consolidate the cargo into one unit train, moving into the inland hubs of California.”

PMSA and a New Relationship

Mike Jacob, incoming President of Pacific Merchant Shipping Association (PMSA), said that with the Oakland A’s headed for Las Vegas, it was time to start a new chapter in the relationship: “We do need to reframe our conversation post-Howard Terminal … We think that is the place where we need to close the book on this chapter … and come back to a baseline agreement where everyone's (going) in the same direction on growth and trade. And we need to do that because we need to make that value proposition stick. We all need to be marketing the same thing …”

Growth is key: “We need to grow … as Ed (DeNike) mentioned in that context of volume and growth. We're a business where we have a lot of competition for the cargo that pays. So, when Brian pointed out very early on in this conversation … we need to focus on imports and keep our exports.”

Customs Brokers & Freight Forwarders

John Lee, President, of the Customs Brokers and Freight Forwarders Association of Northern California said the operations at the Port are inconsistent and cited problems with picking up containers under the appointment system: “We talked about port visibility that is certainly an area that could improve especially the appointment system. The way it is set up now is …sometimes just when you want to pick (your container) up, it's not available. … So, you do have to look at the schedule and then it's not today, it's not tomorrow … and you have five days or four days to pick up that container. And sometimes we just don't have that much time … before we start getting into the demurrage fees and other charges.”

Existing Port Operations Need Improving

Brandes was asked about several areas of Port operations that he pledged to improve: Old World War II sheds on Port property need to be knocked down and modern transload facilities need to be built. New modern buildings will attract trans-loading businesses to Oakland due to overweight corridors. A new refrigeration facility is needed as the trade is growing. More work needs to be done with economic development organizations in the San Joaquin Valley to attract more distribution centers. The Port should work with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District to establish rules on fumigation. The Port loses a lot of cargo each year to Los Angeles and Long Beach due to not having enough fumigation capacity in Oakland.

Stas Margaronis
Stas Margaronis


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