October 29, 2012

CT ports urged to find niche

Photo / Pablo Robles
Photo / Pablo Robles
William Gash, executive director of the Connecticut Maritime Coalition, said the state’s seaside industries need to push for a statewide port authority.
Photo / Pablo Robles
The State Pier at the port of New London could double its import of fresh shellfish and scallops if the facility had a fuel station for boats and refrigeration equipment for ice.

Connecticut's three deepwater ports never will be major players in the shipping industry, but the ports at New Haven, New London and Bridgeport should find their own niche in the importing and exporting industries, a maritime study recommends.

The Connecticut Deepwater Port Strategy Study commissioned by Gov. Dannel Malloy this year and released by Long Beach, Calif., consultant Moffatt & Nichol in September, suggests the state's three ports try to specialize in services such as scrap metal exports, fresh food imports, and passenger ferries.

Malloy commissioned the study to identify a roadmap to making the three deepwater ports major economic drivers in the state, and the study came back with recommendations including finding niche markets and establishing a statewide port authority.

"The most important piece of that study is the governance — establishing a Connecticut port authority," said William Gash, executive director of the trade group Connecticut Maritime Coalition. "We have to move it forward in the state."

The study said Connecticut's three deepwater ports have been irreversibly bypassed by the globally integrated marine supply chain. The top 15 U.S. container ports are responsible for 96 percent of domestic container imports, and this consolidation to a few ports such as Long Beach and New York/New Jersey isn't likely to change.

What the three Connecticut ports can do is find specialties where they have natural advantages leading to significant growth in marine services.

Connecticut produces 900,000 tons of scrap metal annually for export, but the port of New Haven only exports about half of that amount. The balance is trucked to New Jersey, Rhode Island and Philadelphia.

"We can do considerably more tonnage and export of scrap," said Judi Sheiffele, executive director of the New Haven Port Authority.

New Haven could increase its scrap tonnage at its existing facilities, open new nearby facilities, and bring scrap metal in by train, Sheiffele said. The amount of scrap metal exported out of New Haven could double.

The study recommends the state government provide some economic incentives for scrap metal producers to export their wares through New Haven, and even entice producers from other states to Connecticut.

"It is just getting out and actively marketing the state for scrap metal," Gash said.

Fresh food imports used to be a major economic boost for the state, as private banana importer Turbana brought in 50,000 tons of bananas annually through Bridgeport. Turbana left in 2008 and likely won't return as New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware have marketed a long-term fresh fruit import strategy.

To make up for the loss, the study recommends Connecticut pursue fresh seafood imports at the state-owned pier at the New London port. The Thames River Seafood Cooperative already has voiced support of fresh seafood imports, which tend to be sent to the New Bedford, Mass. port.

A fleet of six boats fishes for scallops in Long Island Sound, annually harvested and importing up to $2 million to New London. The catch could double if the state provides a boat fueling station and refrigeration equipment to provide ice for the boats.

"Fishing out of New London is certainly a good idea," Gash said.

In Bridgeport, the study highlighted the Bridgeport & Port Jefferson Steamboat Co. that ferries passengers to Long Island without the need for a government subsidy, a rarity in the ferry business. To further support the ferry, the state should advocate for its relocation closer to the recently announced Bass Pro Shop's location in Bridgeport, helping the ferry's need for expanded parking.

"The ferry is basically going to get more cars and people off the highway," Gash said.

Since receiving the report in September, Malloy has yet to act on the recommendations, although they may become part of the General Assembly's legislative session in January.

"There were some valuable insights in the port study, in particular the areas where smart investments may help to create and sustain good paying jobs that provide good benefits," said Malloy spokesman Andrew Doba. "While we are currently looking over options for the coming session, rest assured the governor is committed to growing jobs wherever possible."

The Connecticut Maritime Coalition and the ports see the establishment of the statewide port authority as the top priority for the legislature.

"We are the only state on the East Coast that does not have an institutionalized state organization to support the ports," Sheiffele said. "That needs to happen."

A Connecticut Port Authority could help implement many of the policies and recommendations found in the study, work with policymakers, and provide a direct organization to liaison with private industry, Gash said.

"It is a big signal for private investors looking to move into the state," Gash said. "That is pretty key to moving our ports forward."

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