ILA seeks new options in San Juan port planning
Officials from the main office of the International Longshoremen's Association are seeking to intervene against a proposal to start shifting Puerto Rican freight from the Port of San Juan to the Port of Ponce on the opposite side of the island.
ILA general counsel Elizabeth Alexander told the Shipper's NewsWire that union leaders in New York are getting involved with efforts to lobby Puerto Rico Gov. An'bal Salvador Acevedo Vil' to find alternatives to a proposal to convert space in San Juan harbor now used for sea freight movements into a facility for berthing mega-yachts and other tourist-related activities.
Puerto Rico is developing the harbor area with a new convention center and has plans for hotels and high-rise residential units, but traditional freight activities have continued thus far.
However, Fernando Bonilla, director of the Puerto Rico Ports Authority, has been pushing a plan to move general cargo freight handling activities — especially labor-intensive breakbulk cargoes –away from San Juan Harbor to make way for other activities.
In an article in the El Nueva Dia last week, Bonilla said the Port of San Juan could be ready to handle the mega-yachts by the end of 2008, with further changes following suit in 2009.
The overall plan is to have more freight move through Ponce on the south coast, with freight trucked to the more heavily populated north coasts, where San Juan is located.
However, Alexander said the proposal would eliminate jobs, increase transportation costs for Puerto Rican businesses, and overtax the transportation infrastructure in not only Ponce but on the main north-south road between the cities.
'This just doesn't make sense,' she said. 'Ponce is not ready to handle that.'
The ILA is proposing to develop a lineal pier along the north side of San Juan harbor that would be able to handle freight movements more efficiently in the available space. In addition, she said, freight handling activities could be moved to space immediately adjacent to new harbor developments. That would make way for more tourist friendly development without having to require freight movements across the island.
Alexander added the ILA is trying to avoid a worst-case scenario in which picket lines would be set up at San Juan terminals, effectively shutting the port down. She said some members of the Teamsters Union have proposed the picket lines, and said if the Teamster made the move, the ILA would have no choice but to honor the picket lines.
'We don't want a work stoppage, especially with the economic problems facing Puerto Rico right now,' Alexander stressed.
Meanwhile, she said the ILA is urgently trying to set up a meeting with the governor, but any efforts have been rebuffed since Alexander originally contacted the governor's office on Aug. 16.
Bonilla is scheduled to testify before a committee hearing of Puerto Rico's House of Representatives reviewing port development plans on Sept. 7, after cancelling an initial appearance scheduled for August.