Port of Richmond seeks upgrade and new business

The Northern California Port of Richmond plans investments to improve its infrastructure and enhance its car, bulk, and liquid bulk shipping businesses, according to Charles Gerard, Director, Port of Richmond.
Gerard joined the Port in October 2023 and provided AJOT with a tour of facilities on February 29th and discussed improvements and challenges facing the Port.

As reference, Gerard cited a 2023 report “Port of Richmond Report on Operations, Facilities, Finances, and Economic Opportunities” which provides an overview and analysis of the Port’s operations. 

Port of Richmond Operations

The broader Port of Richmond encompasses ten privately owned terminals and five city-owned terminals. The Richmond-owned Port of Richmond “operates dry bulk, break bulk, and automobile processing facilities on the City’s southern waterfront. The Port’s property includes the Point Potrero Marine Terminal (PPMT), as well as Terminals 2, 3, and 4. Terminal 1 has been through a land use transition but ideally will return to Port priority.

The report says that the Port of Richmond’s Point Potrero Marine Terminal (PPMT), as well as Terminals 2 and 3 are commercially viable for modern operations including:

  • Liquid bulk: This is “liquid that is held within the ship such as vegetable oil imported at Terminal 2.”
  • Dry bulk: These are “bulk products such as iron ore that is exported at Levin-Richmond, a private terminal.
  • Break-bulk: This is material contained in bags, drums, or boxes.”
  • Neo-bulk cargo: “This is material “that is pre-packaged such as bundles of lumber, paper rolls, steel, and vehicles.”

Each of these terminals is “dredged to a depth of 35 feet at Mean Lower Low Water (MLLW) in accordance with the National Vertical Datum of 1988. Since the elevation of MLLW in Richmond is about 0 feet, the depth to the Bay’s floor is approximately 35 feet. This is an important value as it pertains to the size of a vessel that the facility can accommodate. A vessel’s draft is the measurement between the waterline and bottom of the hull.”

A brief description of each terminal is below:

  • Terminal 2 – 8 acres leased of land and two warehouses totaling 140,000 square feet. Terminal 2 has a combination of storage space under lease as well as providing marine access and associated connectivity for palm oil tankers serving the AAK Richmond Corporation on the adjacent property.
  • Terminal 3 – 20 acres of land that is under long-term lease to and being developed by CA Ventures. CA Ventures is developing Terminal 3 into a manufacturing complex for Moxion Power. Moxion Power, in turn, is pioneering environmentally friendly mobile energy storage products and technology within this production base in the Port of Richmond.
  • Terminal 4 – 37 acres of land and a warehouse of 12,000 square feet. Terminal 4 is also under mixed use lease arrangements through a master tenant, Nematode Holdings LLC.
  • Point Potrero Marine Terminal (PPMT) – 130 acres of land, a main wharf, five graving basins, two finger piers and two warehouses totaling 170,000 square feet, and various smaller buildings. PPMT serves the Port’s largest tenant, Auto Warehousing Company, and several other marine services providers.

The Port of Richmond has “excellent access to deep navigable water and strong connectivity to both rail and highways. For the Port of Richmond, in 1996, Congress authorized deepening of the Harbor and Santa Fe channels from (-)35 to (-)38 feet at Mean Lower Low Water allowing for large vessels to enter.”

Furthermore, the facilities are accessible by two Class 1 Railroads, Union Pacific (UP) and Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF). Richmond has public and private terminals that have Port Priority Use. The public terminals that are managed by the Port include the Point Potrero Marine Terminal, as well as Terminals 2 and 3. Terminals 1 and 4 are not included in the current San Francisco Bay Seaport Plan.

Point Potrero Marine Terminal (PPMT)

Point Potrero Marine Terminal (PPMT) is the former Historic Shipyard Number 3, developed to construct Liberty and Victory Ships during World War II. The facility is located at the end of Canal Boulevard. PPMT’s layout matches its World War II condition as the graving basins, wharf, and several buildings still exist. PPMT has several tenants with most of the site occupied by Auto Warehousing Company (AWC). AWC imports automobiles from Japan.

PPMT’s Roll On Roll Off shipping business peaked in 2018 and 2019 but has seen a decline that accelerated during the Pandemic beginning in 2020. The ship call numbers increased in 2023 but not yet to pre-pandemic levels. Based upon data from AWC, the facility received the following total number of vessels over the last five years:

Year/ Total Number of Vessels
2019 92
2020 68
2021 52
2022 54
2023 73

Source: AWC
The AWC operations average about 70,000 vehicles per year, which is the maximum capacity of the facility. While the typical vessel that transports vehicles for AWC can carry up to 6,000 units, the current Ro/Ro vessels that call to PPMT carry between 300 to 2,000 vehicles.
AWC cannot predict the number of vessels and vehicles delivered to PPMT in the future, as it is entirely driven by market demand, but the positive trajectory is expected to continue. Other tenants of the PPMT are marine industry service providers such as The Dutra Group (engineering, construction, dredging), Foss Maritime (tugs, marine service, ship assist), and the Marine Spill Response Corporation providing oil spill response and removal services. Each of these tenants is serving the broader Northern California region and waterways. The historic graving basins constructed during the World War II shipbuilding effort now serve this marine services community as well as providing berthing facilities to other operators including berthing for the SS Red Oak Victory Ship. The SS Red Oak Victory is the last surviving vessel of the 747 ships built at the Richmond Kaiser Shipyards during World War II and is now part of the Richmond Museum Association.

Recent Developments

PPMT serves vehicle import, and Terminal 2 has served liquid bulk. In recent years, Terminal 3 has previously served lay berthing. A lay berth is used by vessels for short-term waiting until a loading or discharging berth is available. Lay berths represent “a good revenue source for the Port.”

Much of the PPMT, as well as Terminals 2 and 3 are older facilities. PPMT was constructed during World War II, Terminal 3 in the late 1970’s, and much of Terminal 2 in the 1950’s. Since 2010, the Port has secured grant funding and collaborated with public private partnerships to renovate its facilities: “One of the largest and most successful updated facilities was the Honda Port of Entry project which funded the reconstruction of PPMT. This project transformed the former Shipyard Number 3 into a state-of-the-art roll on/off automobile processing facility. As part of the Honda Port of Entry, the Port has secured Federal and State grants totaling $20 million dollars, to invest into Port infrastructure and in particular toward improving and expanding the on-dock rail capacity.”

The Port has completed the following projects:

  • A 12-mile fiber optic network operating at 10 Gb/s serving the City of Richmond, in 2012 invested $5 million dollars.
  • A high-mast lighting project improving security at PPMT, as well as rehabilitating much of the electrical infrastructure, in 2014 invested $4 million dollars.
  • An extension of the San Francisco Bay Trail into PPMT, including two overlooks and a hillside pathway, in 2011 invested $2 million dollars.
  • Renovation of the Riggers Loft into the Port Administration and Operations Office and Security Center, as well as space for lease to the Riggers Loft Wine Company for event space and wine production, in 2014 invested $5 million dollars.
  • Removal and disposal of electrical equipment containing polychlorinated biphenyls, improving the quality of water in the San Franscico Bay, in 2015 invested $1.5 million dollars.
  • Removal of outdated container cranes at Terminal 3, in 2019 invested $500,000 dollars.
  • Debris removal and repairs to the Graving Basins, in 2015 invested $100,000 dollars.
  • Maintenance dredging of Terminals 2, berths 7, 8, and the Marina Bay Entrance Channel, in 2019 invested $100,000 dollars.
  • Most recently the Port in collaboration with the City of Richmond and regional agencies completed the Terminal Four Wharf Removal Project in 2023 and 2024. This $2.5 million project removed the largest derelict creosote wharf in the Bay area. The project included the construction of enhanced rock slope protection for the shoreline and the expansion of nearby eelgrass beds.

Infrastructure Challenges

The report notes infrastructural challenges facing PPMT operations:
Pavement. PPMT has “approximately 65 acres of asphalt pavement that requires regular maintenance to prevent deterioration. Maintenance includes spot repairs, slurry seals, asphalt overlays, and re-striping. In areas that receive heavy truck traffic, the deterioration occurs rapidly, requiring more maintenance. Most of the paved area is within the AWC-secured perimeter. Outside of this area is Canal Boulevard, which serves other tenants of the Port and is an alternate access pathway to Point Richmond neighborhoods, most notably Waterline by Shea Homes to the west.”

Utility Systems. PPMT has potable and fire water, sanitary sewer, storm drainage, telecommunications, municipal fiber, and electrical service.
Storm Drainage. The storm drainage system “is a combination of concrete, plastic, and corrugated metal pipe. The corrugated metal pipe dates to the construction of the terminal in the 1940s.

Electrical System. PG&E serves the PPMT by a 12KV feeder system to five substations within the site: The western link that serves the finger piers and substation number 9 needs upgrades.

Ultimately, the Port of Richmond is strategically and centrally located within San Francisco Bay for cargo operations and as a home base for the region’s marine service providers. The Port is nine miles from the Golden Gate with only the single Golden Gate bridge to pass, and the Richmond Harbor Channel is a federally maintained deep water channel. The Port is abundantly served by the interstate highway system and has two transcontinental railroads accessible throughout the port area.

Although faced with an aging infrastructure and the need for investment, Gerard sees great things ahead for the Port of Richmond.

Stas Margaronis
Stas Margaronis


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