The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey expects within the next couple of weeks to announce details of its “winter plan” to avoid a repeat of the gridlock that crippled the East Coast’s largest port last January and February.
“We can’t keep it from snowing, but we do think we can add some predictability to how we handle it,” said Rick Larrabee, the port authority’s director of port commerce, at the annual New York-New Jersey Port Industry Day.
Port terminals struggled last winter with a series of blizzards that combined with off-schedule arrivals of big ships, intermodal rail problems and chassis shortages and dislocations. Delays were so severe that large importers such as Home Depot paid extra to open terminal gates on Sundays to get their goods delivered.
“If we’ve heard anything from shippers, it’s that they want consistency,” he said.
Larrabee said port officials want to apply lessons learned last winter and during the gridlock that clogged port terminals in the summer of 2013.
One thing that worked well last winter, he said, was teleconferences to coordinate terminals’ gate closings and discuss other solutions.
Larrabee and other speakers at the Port Industry Day, held in on the unfinished 68th floor of the World Trade Center 4 building, emphasized the need to implement recommendations issued last summer by an industry-wide Port Performance Task Force.
Frank Harder, principal at Tioga Group, said chassis “may be the most challenging of the recommendations simply because it requires a higher degree of innovation.” He said there’s no template for New York-New Jersey to copy for chassis.
A committee of the Council on Port Performance, which was created to work on implementation of the task force recommendations, has been debating how to establish a “gray” chassis arrangement for interchange of equipment in existing pools.
Federal Maritime Commission member William Doyle said some of the task force recommendations will fall under FMC jurisdiction and require commission clearance, but that FMC “is here to help.” The FMC held a daylong hearing last week on port congestion issues. Doyle said the hearing illuminated several problems, including “demurrage fees charges placed on shippers who are ready, willing and able to pick up their containers but through no failure of their own… are unable to get their boxes” because terminals are clogged.
Patrick Foye, the port authority’s executive director, said the task force’s recommendations will help New York-New Jersey retain its position as the busiest East Coast port. He noted Georgia Ports Authority CEO Curtiz Foltz’s recent remark in a “State of the Port” address that Savannah hopes eventually to surpass New York-New Jersey in cargo volume.
Last year New York-New Jersey handled nearly 5.5 million 20-foot-equivalent units, compared with about 3 million TEUs at Savannah. But Foye said Foltz’s statement “does underscore the intense competition of the port business today.”
Foy cited $3 billion in port authority investments in the last decade on projects including dredging channels to 50 feet, construction of intermodal rail ramps, raising the Bayonne Bridge by mid-2016.
He said it is “critical” that the port authority continue collecting an infrastructure-funding cargo facility charge that has been challenged by container lines before the FMC and in the New Jersey Legislature.