N.C. ports wait for government funding, warehouse tenants
A state budget impasse has the North Carolina Port Authority in limbo over whether it will receive millions of dollars to fund the renovation of a berth for container vessels at the Port of Wilmington.
Port officials are seeking $7.5 million to overhaul one of two wharfs dedicated to container traffic, but the state legislature is deadlocked over the annual budget and has continued funding beyond July 1 at the prior fiscal year level while it hashes out new revenue and spending goals.
The North Carolina House has approved the funding to upgrade the port, but the Senate did not include the appropriation in its budget proposal.
Berth 8 is more than 40 years old and is deteriorating because of age and overuse, port authority spokeswoman Susan Clizbe said, adding that concrete is crumbling from vessel hatches that are laid on the ground.
The port authority plans to tear out the entire dock down to the water, rebuild it to modern specifications and add 100-foot gauge rail for its new ship-to-shore cranes that can handle the largest Panamax vessels. The Port of Wilmington took delivery of four Chinese-made cranes this spring and is using them at an adjacent berth. The rail extension would allow the port to work two vessels simultaneously at both berths.
The port will retain its four existing 50-foot gauge cranes, which will be used to serve smaller ships with mixed cargo. A 32-foot gauge crane at the port is primarily used to move breakbulk cargo with sling hooks. A third berth is also sometimes used to handle container vessels, but is more suited for bulk and breakbulk cargo — as are the other six berths at the port.
Meanwhile, the port authority is also waiting for the U.S. Congress to approve a $100,000 appropriation in the upcoming fiscal year for the Army Corps of Engineers to do a preliminary environmental and dredging survey for the planned development of a 600-acre container terminal near the mouth of the Cape Fear River, Clizbe said. The completed terminal will have a capacity of 1.5 million TEUs per year.
Wilmington's profile would likely change to more of a bulk and breakbulk facility once the North Carolina International Port is built. Port officials foresee Wilmington becoming a greater haven for breakbulk cargo as other ports displace irregular cargo in favor of container operations, but the river port will still serve smaller containerships, they say.
The port is also aggressively marketing new warehouse capacity at the ports of Wilmington and Morehead City. The port authority is scheduled to finish construction of a 177,000-square-foot, multipurpose on-dock warehouse in Morehead City next month and also has a 430,000-square-foot near-dock facility coming available soon at the Port of Wilmington. Clizbe said the existing facility there is being relinquished by current tenant International Paper because it has changed its business model from exporting wood pulp in bales to moving “fluff pulp” in containers.