01/22/06 — Speaker says ports could be boon here

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Speaker says ports could be boon here

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on January 22, 2006 2:05 AM

During the next decade, North Carolina's ports could become a gateway to markets around the world, providing industry, jobs and revenue for the state, a director of the North Carolina State Port Authority told members of a regional transportation committee at the Wayne County Chamber of Commerce Thursday.

"International trade volumes will overwhelm Atlantic ports over the next 10 years, and we will have a window of opportunity for an expansion in business and the economy," said Cris Mowrey, strategic planning director for the port authority's engineering and development division.

However, that window of opportunity could close if the transportation infrastructure supporting ports in Wilmington and Morehead City is not improved, he said during a joint meeting of the Eastern Carolina Transport-ation Coordinating and Transportation Advisory committees.

To compete against the international market and American ports, Mowrey said both state ports would need deep harbors, direct rail service, interstate highway service, a strategic corridor connector and intermodal rail services.

"I believe you need intermodal rail service so that at least two rail companies are coming in to provide competition. That way you can put the blocks on the trains and get them out of town quickly. We can't do that right now, but we are going after some of these issues," Mowrey said. "Otherwise, they are going to be a couple of piddling ports forever."

A projected $130 million will be spent improving the Wilmington port over the next five years. Mowrey said the state plans to include four 100-gauge cranes at the port. As the gauge number of a crane increases, the machinery has the ability to reach farther to pick up cargo from a ship. The enhancement would improve the crane infrastructure and allow more containers to pass through the port.

In Morehead City, $20 million will be spent to build a 150,000-suare-foot warehouse, Mowrey said. The structure would be used to house the materials shipped into the port, especially rubber, he said.

"If natural rubber gets wet, it turns white, and it's ruined," Mowrey said. "The service we do for companies that bring in rubber shipments is to trim off water damage from the trip."

Another improvement Mowry said he would like to see is the development of Radio Island, which is located near the Morehead City port.

The first phase of construction would create 2,000 feet of wharf for cargo ships with about 300,000 square feet of space that could be used for unloading and shipping, Mowrey said. Since the environmental impact study is complete and the preliminary design is in progress, he said the project, at a cost of $65 million, is waiting to be developed.

"We have been marketing it as a development idea for years and years," Mowrey said. "You have to build part of it before you can get a partner though."

Mowrey said West Coast ports will not be able to handle the growth of the international shipping market. Since those ports do not have room for development, he said any development at Morehead City and Wilmington would increase the port's capacity and the state's economic benefit.

Combined, the ports of Morehead City and Wilmington influence 48,000 jobs and provide $29 million in state and local tax revenues, he said. In Wilmington, the $2.8 billion port handles three million tons worth of lumber, containers, steel, animal feed, wood pulp and military goods.

With construction projects continuing for at least the next few years, Mowrey said he is optimistic that the cargo capacities and profits will grow at both ports.

"I anticipate the numbers will go up because we have been improving over the past couple of years," he said.