A long-planned short-sea shipping service may be falling victim to the growing tide of gentrification in the old industrial harbor at Bridge-port, Conn. For three years, the Bridgeport Port Authority has been planning to launch a roll-on, roll-off barge service that would have carried up to 80 import containers up Long Island Sound from the Port of New York and New Jersey.
The overnight service would have operated six days a week from a new ro-ro ramp at Bridgeport that was to be built or retrofitted, using $1.5 million in state funds awarded in 2004. The project was touted as a way to alleviate air pollution and reduce delays for truckers carrying cargo between New York and New England.
But politicians in Bridgeport, who had once supported the barge service as a way to revive commerce in the old seaport that had lost its industrial base, now see waterfront land as hot property for condominium developers. The feeder service is not dead yet, but it faces a number of hurdles.
"Some local politicians who have gotten caught up in the primary election for mayor on Sept. 11 have come out in opposition to it, but it still has a lot of statewide and regional support," said Joseph Riccio Jr., executive director of the Bridgeport Port Authority. He said waterfront neighbors object to the service because of the trucks that would come into the harbor to pick up containers.
Riccio said that argument is illogical. "The fact of the matter is that all of these boxes are going to come through Bridgeport on I-95 anyway whether or not they pick up the boxes here." He said that if a full container is stripped and reconsolidated into less-than-containerload shipments in New Jersey, one container that might be delivered and picked up in Bridgeport could become four LCL shipments that pass through Connecticut on I-95.
Kaye Williams, a member of the Connecticut Maritime Commission and owner of the Captain's Cove Seaport, a marina in Bridgeport's harbor, said he thinks the proposed barge service is too small to work. "I'm for commerce and always have been, but they've got to do it right . . . If you're going to do it, do it big time, on a humongous scale. Otherwise, don't even bother doing it."
Bridgeport has been losing much of its maritime business over the years. It still has a weekly bulk service that brings in low-sulfur coal from Indonesia; tankers that import petroleum products for the terminal owned by Motiva; and the Turbana banana import operation, which is moving to Philadelphia next year for cost reasons. The barge service is one of the few options to keep the port in business.
Williams fears the worst. "The future for Bridgeport is that if the Canadian consortium that owns the yard was offered enough money by a condo developer, they would take it. Other than the Indonesian coal service, there's nothing else going on in this harbor."
The tug-barge service was to be subsidized by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey under the agency's Port Inland Distribution Network. Its subsidy would have been $25 per container, with the operator repaying $5 per box out of any profit. The port authority's PIDN concept gave birth in 2003 to a weekly service under which Columbia Coastal barges carried containers from New York harbor 150 miles up the Hudson River to Albany. The barge service, which at one point carried about 400 containers a week, was terminated in 2006 after its $4.5 million in federal and port authority subsidies ran out.
"The Albany service wasn't as ripe a route for the service as ours is," Riccio said. "The truck traffic between New Jersey and Connecticut is much more severe than between New York and Albany. It's also much cheaper to truck a container to upstate New York than to get it into southern New England."
Peter Leach can be contacted at email@example.com.
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