By Martin Rushmere, AJOTWind power is lifting the hopes of project cargo at ports from Northern California to Washington, with expectations of a steady pick up in 2010, along with breakbulk, following a dismal 2009.
Leading the charge in optimism is the San Francisco Bay port of Stockton. Steel, ethanol, wind power, iron ore, fertilizer are among the commodities that could bring a turnaround, but are being held back by finance. “Without the financing, everything is at a standstill. If the banks open up the doors we should do quite well,” says Marketing Director Bill Lewicki. He refuses to be drawn on what 2010 holds, but says that if the money was forthcoming double-digit growth would be possible.
What really boosts Stockton is the wide range of commodities, coupled with the expansion of facilities and equipment.
- Agriculture and related products. More than 85 percent of the fertilizer imported for California’s agri-engine, the San Joaquin valley, goes through Stockton. Norwegian company Yara has just built a $25 million handling and storage depot, handling 10 types of fertilizer in the 120,000 square foot facility, and is likely to ramp up flow through this year.
Added impetus has been gained with the fall of the dollar and while fertilizer is coming in, a raw material for fertilizer – sulfur (produced as a by-product of oil refining) – is going out to Asia, particularly India as a pH controller for soil conditioning. Exports in the six months to the end of December totaled 54,000 tonnes.
Rice continues its strong performance, racking up 160,000 tonnes in exports in 2009 and a number of shipments are already booked in the first quarter of this year.
A new cold storage facility for perishables of 160,000 square feet has been built to make use of the barge service between Stockton and Oakland. Already this is at capacity and new facilities are likely to be built soon.
- Ethanol – A 60 million gallon plant built by Pacific Ethanol, which partnered with Valero, will be coming back on stream in the spring, to supply California’s requirement for an 85/15 percent mix in gasoline, fed by corn brought in by rail car. It is also hoped that ethanol will be brought in by tanker to be blended at the plant and railed to other states.
- Minerals.– High concentrate, quality iron ore from Nevada and Utah is being sold to Japan, China and other Asian countries.
Project cargo has slowed down, although it is being buoyed by heavy lift components such as turbines and transformers from Korea for hydroelectric and nuclear power plants in Northern California. Wind energy was providing useful income “but we ran into a moratorium when the banks stopped lending and put a real hold on projects. But we are hoping to benefit from Federal grants of as much as $30 billion and will be supplying a number of projects in early or late spring”, says Lewicki. With on-dock rail of 1 ¼ miles, the components can be loaded directly from vessel to rail.
Port rail facilities are being expanded, with interchange yard capacity being doubled and new loop spurs built, using Federal stimulus (TIGER) funds.
Overall, Lewicki says 2010 will be a breakeven year. “We are not in the red and are treading water.”
State capital Sacramento is expecting better results this year because of wind power shipments for a project near the former Travis air force base in Solano County. Port manager Mike Luken says that one of the main breakbulk products, rice, is expected to match last year’s 400,000 tons.
San Francisco is recovering from 2009, which saw “a pretty drastic” drop in breakbulk goods, according to Jim Maloney, Maritime Marketing manager. Volumes declined 65 percent to 30,000 tonnes. The primary commodity, steel (rebar, plates) has been especially hard hit, coupled with lines shoving breakbulk goods into containers to beef up volumes and bypassing San Francisco.
The port is ramping up its marketing efforts, canvassing markets in California and abroa