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Rail News: Intermodal

Ports: Seattle and Tacoma commissions forge alliance; Savannah authority set to begin harbor deepening


The Seattle and Tacoma port commissions plan to unify the management of their marine terminals and related functions under a Seaport Alliance to strengthen the Puget Sound gateway and attract more cargo to the region.

The alliance will manage terminal investments and operations, and planning and marketing functions at the ports of Seattle and Tacoma, while the individual port commissions will retain their governance structures and ownership of assets.

"Where we were once rivals, we now intend to be partners," said Stephanie Bowman, co-president of the Seattle port commission, in a press release. "Instead of competing against one another, we are combining our strengths to create the strongest maritime gateway in North America."

The alliance is a strategic response to competitive pressures that are reshaping the global shipping industry, officials from both commissions said.

"The ports face fierce competition from ports throughout North America, as shipping lines form alliances, share space on ever-larger vessels and call at consolidated terminals at fewer ports," said Port of Tacoma Commission President Clare Petrich. "Working together, we can better focus on financially sustainable business models that support customer success and ensure our ability to reinvest in terminal assets and infrastructure."

Subject to further Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) review and approval, the two port commissions plan to enter into an interlocal agreement (ILA) to provide the ports with a framework while they examine business objectives, strategic terminal investments, financial returns, performance metrics, organizational structure, communications and public engagement.

The two commissions expect to formally adopt the ILA and submit it to the FMC at a joint public meeting to be held Oct. 14, then provide the FMC a more detailed alliance agreement by the end of first-quarter 2015.

Following federal approval of the agreement, commissioners from both ports plan to hold a public meeting next spring to hire John Wolfe — currently the Port of Tacoma's chef executive officer — as CEO of the Seaport Alliance.

Meanwhile, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal yesterday announced that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Georgia Department of Transportation and Georgia Ports Authority have signed a partnership agreement that will enable construction to start on the long-planned Savannah Harbor expansion project.

Estimated to cost $706 million, the project calls for deepening the harbor at the Port of Savannah from 42 feet to 47 feet. Served by CSX Transportation and Norfolk Southern Railway, the Savannah facility is the nation's fourth-largest container port.

As a part of the cost-sharing agreement, the Corps will use the 40 percent share of state funds to begin construction while it awaits congressional appropriations for the remaining 60 percent of federal funding. The state has already set aside $266 million.

The extra five feet of harbor depth will enable the port to serve post-Panamax vessels and take on an additional 3,600 containers in transit, a 78 percent increase, state officials said in a press release.
"After years of regulatory purgatory, we finally cleared the last hurdle and hope to begin dredging in the Savannah River before the end of the year," said Deal.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 10/9/2014