NC PORTS 2008—Volumes may be volatile, but NCSPA ports are well poised for growth

By: | at 08:00 PM | Channel(s): Ports & Terminals  

By Karen E. Thuermer, AJOTDespite today’s volatile economy, officials at North Carolina State Ports Authority (NCSPA) are optimistic about future growth at its Port of Wilmington and Port of Morehead City.
Port of Wilmington data indicates a 20 percent uptick for container volumes that weighed in at 1,404,401 tons for FY 2008 compared to 1,174,335 tons for FY 2007. The port’s fiscal year ends on June 30th.
“Compared the national downward trend of container volumes, Wilmington’s performance was strong in the face of the more severe than anticipated economic downturn,” comments Glenn Carlson, NCSPA vice president of Business and Economic Development. “Furniture imports dropped to 33 percent of the total containerized volume—from 40 percent of last year’s total volume. However, increased exports such as hardwood lumber offset the decline in imports somewhat.” 
Helping is the CKYH Alliance between COSCO, “K“ Line, Yang Ming Marine Transport, and Hanjin Shipping Co., which started calling at the port with its AWE service in June 2007. This service offers direct service to Shanghai, Ningbo, and Qingdao, China and Busan, South Korea.
“We bucked the downward trend that many seaports on the East Coast are experiencing because we picked up this service,” says Carlson.
Particularly noteworthy is the speed at which NCSPA’s crane team, stevedores, and top lifters were able service a Hanjin vessel in early August. The port set a record with 45.5 moves per hour for an operation that lasted over 10 hours.
The Ports Authority continues to actively pursue new carriers for service to other trade lanes, including the trans Atlantic, Asia, and Latin America. 
Business was slightly down at the Port of Morehead City, which handles primarily bulk and break bulk commodities. For FY 2008, these weighed in at 1,883,935 tons (1,652,863 tons for bulk; 231,072 for break bulk) compared to 2,138,441 tons for FY 2007 (1,862,313 tons for bulk; 276,128 tons for break bulk).
Overall break bulk and bulk volumes at both ports trended lower than the previous year due to the prolonged downturn in the housing market.
“Our ports handle key commodities directly related to the construction and home improvement industries such as imported dimensional lumber and cement,” Carlson explains. “To a certain extent, exports of bulk and break bulk commodities such as steel and bagged resin offset the decline in break bulk and bulk imports.”
Morehead City’s primary break bulk cargoes - rubber and forest products - held steady at previous year’s volumes. Scrap steel volumes increased 14 percent over the previous year, however volumes of phosphate, ore and asphalt declined. These later three commodities are handled by private companies operating through the port. 
NOTEWORTHY IMPROVEMENTS
Helping NCSPA ports are a host of operational and infrastructure improvements such as the deepening of the Cape Fear River’s channel to 42 feet and state and federal government-funded road network improvements. These include a new loop road around Wilmington, the completion of I-73 from Highway 74 to I-85 at Greensboro, the upgrade of US 74 to interstate quality west of I-95. 
“Today North Carolina’s infrastructure is equal or better to that serving the seaports to the north and south of us,” Carlson states.
The biggest news is the five-year, $140 million terminal expansion at the Port of Wilmington. A new terminal operating system was activated during the year as part of the ongoing expansion program. In July, the Ports Authority Board of Directors approved a $16 million construction contract to initiate refurbishment of a second container berth to allow for expanded use of the 100-foot gauge container cranes.
“The entire berth project is projected to cost $40 million,” remarks Carlson. “The remaining work in the expansion program - container yard improvements and development of additional off-site property - will be performed as market demands dictate and business volumes grow.”
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American Journal of Transportation