PORT HUENEME HOPING TO BUY NAVY PROPERTY MOVE WOULD BOOST SIZE ALMOST 50 PERCENT

PORT HUENEME HOPING TO BUY NAVY PROPERTY MOVE WOULD BOOST SIZE ALMOST 50 PERCENT

Port Hueneme, a Southern California port specializing in niche cargoes such as automobile imports and citrus exports, could be among the first U.S. ports to turn a former military property into commercial maritime uses.

The Oxnard Harbor District last week unveiled a development plan for the 33 acres the port hopes to acquire from the federal government. Since Port Hueneme's total property now is about 70 acres, the addition would increase the size of the port by almost 50 percent."Thirty-three acres is kind of like a whole new world for us," said Kam Quarles, manager of marketing and trade zone services.

Ports such as Long Beach and Oakland, Calif., Charleston, S.C., and Philadelphia are at various stages in what is normally a lengthy process of converting former military bases into commercial use for marine terminals.

The naval base in Oxnard closed two years ago, and since then the community has been going through the required reuse planning process to determine the highest and best use for the property.

Mr. Quarles said the harbor district continues to negotiate with the city, but is "fairly confident" that the port will acquire the property for cargo- handling usage. He said the base should be completely vacated by April 30, 1996. "We look to acquire it on May 1," he said.

The harbor district last week unveiled a study by Vickerman, Zachary and Miller, a marine architect and engineering firm in Oakland. The plan calls for expansion of the port's container-handling capability, a 60 percent to 80 percent increase in vehicle-handling capability and various non-cargo uses such as commercial fishing, a harbor lighthouse museum and marine research facilities.

Located about 60 miles north of Los Angeles-Long Beach, the nation's largest container complex, Port Hueneme has established its niche in cargoes such as automobiles and agricultural products.

"In terms of container business, they're too close to L.A.-Long Beach," said Don Wylie, director of trade and maritime services at the Port of Long Beach. "But everything can't go into containers." He said auto imports, which require waterfront land for processing activities, and agricultural products, some of which require temperature-control facilities, have been migrating to Port Hueneme from Los Angeles and Long Beach.

For example, the 140,000 square-foot Cool Carriers Refrigerated Terminal, which opened two years ago, handles citrus exports for Sunkist Growers Inc. Del Monte Refrigerated Terminal will open soon, providing 40,000 square feet of space for banana imports and other products requiring dockside temperature control.

Port Hueneme in 1994 had by far its best export year ever, handling 13.6 million cartons of citrus products. These included 8.6 million cartons handled by Cool Carriers and 3.6 million cartons carried by Pacific Express Line.

Mr. Quarles said the port intends to use the additional land to expand the type of cargoes it already is handling and to attract new but similar products. "We'll stick with what we do best," he said.

The long-term plan suggests construction of a freezer facility so the port can expand into products like meat that require freezing. Mr. Quarles said there are a number of former Navy buildings on the property, so it will take four to five years to fully develop the land for maritime uses.