Port of Oakland’s new chief has work cut out for him
August 19, 2013 - LM Editorial
The Port of Oakland’s terminal operators have had to deal with severe congestion and delays for the past six weeks, thanks to dockside labor disruptions and wildcat actions by independent truckers. Today, the issue became more severe as 30 or more truckers shut down commerce at one terminal and threatened to interfere with two others.
Welcome to your new job, Chris Lytle.
As reported in LM last month, the former executive director of the Port of Long Beach was scheduled to start in his current role here in mid-July. Oakland’s leadership was badly upended by a fiduciary scandal that resulted in the resignation of Omar Benjamin and his maritime director, James Kwon.
“I know there are a lot of challenges here to deal with right away,” said Lytle in an interview with LM. “But Oakland has the resources and the transport advantages to deal with them.”
One of the chief advantages, say industry analysts, is Oakland’s position as a leading export gateway on the West Coast. Given its proximity to California’s agricultural core, Oakland has long been regarded as the premier outbound port for perishables.
“And we want that to only get stronger,” says Lytle. “We are currently dealing with the Port of Stockton to establish regular barge service to bring goods out of the central valley. This not only gets trucks off the road, but also expedites shipping.”
He acknowledges, however, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union is insisting on being compensated for barge moves, too.
“It’s something that we are presently working on with the union,” said Lytle. “It’s a problem, but not an insurmountable one.”
Coinciding with Lytle’s leadership start here, the Oakland Board of Port Commissioners unanimously approved a litigation settlement agreement with SSA Terminals, LLC and SSA Terminals (Oakland), LLC (collectively, “SSAT”), one of the port’s major long-term seaport tenants.
The settlement involves four of the port’s seven marine terminals, and will create operationally the 3rd largest terminal on the U.S. West Coast. In terms of size and operational efficiencies, this new “mega-terminal” will be more in line with competing terminals, allowing the port to sustain and attract more maritime cargo.
This does not mean, however, that Oakland will necessarily repeat its major thrust to attract more inbound cargo calls.
“At least not for the time being,” said Lytle. “We know that our main attraction is for ag shippers to have a reliable partner. We are going to build upon that strength first, before going after new carrier business.”
Lytle also said that he would explore “sea/air” transport strategies using the Oakland airport as a shipping partner.
“It’s an option that has not been evaluated recently,” he allowed, “but one certainly worth considering.”
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