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S. Calif. port officials want Punta Colonet to feed boxes north

S. Calif. port officials want Punta Colonet to feed boxes north

Despite proclaiming no fear over evolving plans to build a Mexican super port just 250 miles to the south, leaders of Southern California's ports are taking no chances.

   Officials from the neighboring ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, together the busiest container port complex in the Western Hemisphere, are hoping to see the proposed Mexican port develop as a lucrative transshipment location, with containers arriving in Mexico from Asia reloaded on smaller feeder vessels and sent to the Los Angeles-Long Beach ports.

   Port officials realize that any sizable amount of Southern California-bound transshipment done at the Mexican port would require a high degree of communication and cooperation between the Long Beach and Los Angeles port officials and officials in Mexico. To aid in this, the Southern California port officials traveled to Mexico last month to speak with officials of the Mexican government, garnering a memorandum of understanding calling for increased communication and cooperation between the groups.

   The hope for increasing 'short-sea' traffic between the proposed Mexican port — named Punta Colonet — would help keep Southern California port volumes from suffering while also giving Mexico the opportunity to capture a greater number of shipping lines servicing Punta Colonet. About $140 million a year in cargo flows by ocean to California, less than 1 percent of the $14 billion total in trade between the neighboring nations.

   Next month the Port of Los Angeles and Mexican officials will hold the Mexican Pacific Ports Conference in Southern California aimed at fostering greater cooperation between Mexico and other Pacific Rim ports.

   Mexican government officials are set to proceed with bidding for the initial phases of the Punta Colonet port in December with a winner named sometime in the middle of 2008.

   The Colonet port and an accompanying rail project that would connect to U.S. main lines, has been on the drawing boards for several years. It has progressed slowly, however, experiencing numerous delays, including that caused by a mineral rights issue.

   Differing versions of the Punta Colonet port plan have ranged in cost from as much a $1 billion to $9 billion and varied in scale from smaller than the Port of San Diego to as large as the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles combined.

   The Mexican government's current vision of the port is in the 5 million TEU-a-year size range, about one-third the size of the Los Angeles-Long Beach complex. This plan would make Punta Colonet about the size of the New York-New Jersey port complex, the third-busiest U.S. container port complex with more than 5 million TEUs handled in 2006.

   Mexican government officials in July said they expect bids for the port/rail development and operations contract — both set to be offered to the same firm — to come in at a range of $5 billion to $6 billion.

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