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New London - Shipping activity at State Pier nearly doubled last year, thanks to an improving economy and a decision by the port manager to consolidate its Connecticut operations to a single site in New London.
"We had a good year," said Jeremy Riddle, operations manager for Logistec USA, which last year stopped operating out of New Haven, leaving New London as its sole port in Connecticut.
Nearly all of the New London port's activity last year revolved around the importation of copper and steel. Imports of lumber, once the main product offloaded in New London, have ground to a halt over the past three years.
"It's because the housing market has collapsed," said Chuck Beck, transportation maritime manager for the state Department of Transportation.
Last year, 31 cargo ships brought products from as far away as Japan, Brazil and Turkey to the Port of New London. This compares with only 16 cargo ships that dropped anchor here in 2011.
Copper and steel tonnage offloaded last year totaled more than 111,000, nearly twice as much as the year before. In 2011, however, calcium chloride shipments of nearly 11,000 metric tons added to the totals, whereas last year there were no recorded products brought into New London other than copper and steel (oil imports are not recorded).
Riddle of Logistec said steel from New London is taken on flatbed trucks and distributed in about a 300-mile radius, essentially throughout the Northeast.
The DOT's Beck said New London is the second-biggest port in the state in terms of steel imports. New Haven offloads more steel than New London, he said, but the city takes a bigger share of the market than Bridgeport, the only other state port.
The state receives a fee from Logistec, based on the number of tons it offloads in New London, but the city does not get direct benefits from higher port activity. Instead, the DOT's Beck pointed out the state gives New London money from the Payment In Lieu of Taxes program, which compensates municipalities for nontaxable property.
Beck added that there are other economic benefits, including higher wages for local stevedores.
Ned Hammond, economic development coordinator for the city, pointed out that New London once was an important port for offloading lumber, seeing tonnage figures climb over 100,000 from 2004 to 2006. If home building and construction begin to pick up, he said, New London will be ready for even more activity at the port in the coming year.
"That would be a truly good sign," Hammond said.
Logistec, however, is just hoping that the cargo business begins to stabilize.
"We're hoping for about the same as last year," Riddle said. "We're taking it on a month to month basis. It's still a little unnerving."
|BY THE NUMBERS||2012||2011|
|Number of cargo ships||31||16|