U.S. Ports Update: Green roots take hold

Port authorities at major cargo gateways on all three coasts are investing in infrastructure and strategic planning to become more sustainable corporate citizens—a positive trend that’s making U.S. seaports more efficient and resilient than ever.

By Patrick Burnson · February 1, 2013

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With ocean carriers raising the bar on environmental sustainability, will 2013 finally be the year for a greener and more vibrant U.S. port scenario?

Keeping pace with the greener, slow-steaming strategies employed by vessel operators, sustainable growth seems to be a consistent pattern. And while import volume still has not returned to 2007 or 2008 levels, Zepol Corp., a leading trade intelligence company, has seen a large spike from 2009 to 2010 and then a plateau-like trend for the past three years. Still, 2012 was an especially unique year for U.S. imports.

Zepol reports that U.S. vessel imports climbed a slight 1.2 percent in 2012. This represents a total of over 17.6 million twenty-foot-containers (TEUs) imported, or roughly 200,000 more containers than 2011.

“In the past 12 months there have been strikes at the ports, hurricanes, and shifts in manufacturing—not to mention that in a post-recession economy,” says Paul Rasmussen, U.S. trade expert and CEO of Zepol. “U.S. companies are running their businesses much more conservatively, so it’s no wonder that 2012 imports were less than dramatic and certainly not back to the massive consumption seen in 2007.”

He also notes that inbound shipments in the Port of Houston, for example, have shown a significant increase in the last year, with volume up 11 percent over year-to-date. “The Port of Charleston has also seen big increases in imports for the two consecutive years,” says Rasmussen. “Still, about 40 percent of all imports go through the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, while imports to New York and Newark dropped to a low-point late last year due to Hurricane Sandy.”

Investment in infrastructure gained the national spotlight due to that catastrophe, as a rapid response to restoring cargo operations became an immediate priority after the storm had passed. However, many logistics managers understand that ports have been spending all along to remain competitive partners in today’s more strategic, sustainable supply chain. Here’s a comprehensive look at how some of the nation’s leading gateways are keeping up with new global shipper demands.


Brownfield development
In the case of the Port of New York/New Jersey, Prologis, Inc. a global owner, operator, and developer of industrial real estate, announced late last year that it’s converting a former New Jersey landfill site into a LEED-certified logistics property. In the wake of Sandy, the company signed two leases totaling 740,000 square feet prior to the start of construction.

“This is an important development project for Jersey City that will transform this former waste disposal site, help to advance economic conditions, and improve the local community,” says Jay Cornforth, president East Region, Prologis Americas. “By identifying strategically-located properties, applying our brownfield development and redevelopment expertise, and bringing Class-A facilities to market, we’re able to offer our customers a key location in northern New Jersey, which is one of the most dynamic and land-constrained infill areas in the U.S.”

A wholesale packaging distributor will occupy 395,000 square feet of the development, while an e-commerce food retailer will occupy 345,000 square feet. An additional 140,000 square feet of speculative space will also be developed.

Extensive environmental clean-up work has been completed at the site under the supervision of state and federal regulatory agencies. Since acquiring the 50-acre site in 2008, Prologis has worked in close partnership with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to implement a development plan that returns the site to productive use and will result in permanent capping and closure of the landfill.

It’s a somewhat different story at the South Carolina Ports Authority (SCPA), where the “greening” emphasis has been placed on dockside drayage. While the port grew volume across business segments in 2012, it closed a year marked by new carrier services, progress on the inland port in Greer, and major advancements on Charleston’s harbor deepening project.

Container volume in Charleston was up 9.6 percent in calendar year 2012, with 1.5 million TEUs handled at the port’s two container terminals.

Volume was up 13 percent in December compared to the same month last year, with 124,120 TEUs traded across the docks. Charleston was also the fastest-growing East Coast container port January through November based on the latest month of volume data available from competing ports.

“These results are encouraging,” says Jim Newsome, president and CEO of the SCPA. “However, we have very ambitious goals and a $1.3 billion capital plan to implement in this decade, so we must continue to grow above the market.”

Midway through the fiscal year that began July 1, container traffic has grown nearly 12 percent on the strength of loaded exports and the performance of new carrier services that have expanded Charleston’s reach to foreign markets, such as Vietnam and Australia.

Newsome says that the SCPA is continuing its aggressive approach to cargo development across segments, including transloading operations of agricultural and forest products, growing refrigerated cargo, and imported containers related to e-commerce retailers.

At the same time, the port is encouraging local truck owners to replace their older trucks with newer, cleaner rigs and is doubling the financial incentive for their participation. Eligible truck owners can now get a $10,000 incentive, plus the scrap value of their pre-1994 truck, to use toward the purchase of a 2004 or newer model.

“There will also be a mobile office set up at the port’s Wando Welch Terminal each week to make it even easier for truckers to learn more about the benefits of upgrading their rigs, such as improved fuel efficiency, lower maintenance costs, and decreased air emissions,” adds Newsome.

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About the Author

Patrick Burnson
Patrick Burnson is executive editor for Logistics Management and Supply Chain Management Review magazines and web sites. Patrick is a widely-published writer and editor who has spent most of his career covering international trade, global logistics, and supply chain management. He lives and works in San Francisco, providing readers with a Pacific Rim perspective on industry trends and forecasts. You can reach him directly at [email protected]

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February 2013 · Ports · Transportation · All Topics
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