Record year of cargo shipments expected for State Pier

Workers at the Adm. Harold E. Shear State Pier unload road salt from the Marshall Islands-registered bulk carrier Erasmos on Jan. 22, 2018.   (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Workers at the Adm. Harold E. Shear State Pier unload road salt from the Marshall Islands-registered bulk carrier Erasmos on Jan. 22, 2018. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

New London — The operator of State Pier already is forecasting a record year for cargo shipments coming into the city's deepwater port after the arrival of seven ships carrying salt, steel and lumber to the port so far in 2018, and another four vessels expected next month.

Logistec, port operator at State Pier, anticipates bringing in 100,000 metric tons more cargo in 2018 than it did in 2017.

Last year, an average of two ships per month came into the port, carrying a total of about 250,000 metric tons of cargo. This year, the company is projecting an average of three shipments a month and about 350,000 metric tons of cargo.

"That would be a record year for us," said Frank Vannelli, senior vice president of commercial and business development for Logistec.

The company employs 10 full-time staffers in New London and about 80 longshoremen, who unload the cargo.

Vannelli attributes the growth in shipments to a strong U.S. economy. "People are renovating homes again, new construction, there's a lot of manufacturing, so the steel coils, there's a lot more processing occurring now than in years past," he said.

The increased activity at the port was detailed in a recent newsletter from the Connecticut Port Authority, calling New London the comeback port. The port authority, a quasi-public agency established by law in 2014, is responsible for marketing the state's three deepwater ports — New London, Bridgeport and New Haven — and promoting the state's maritime economy.

"It is a bit of comeback story because it's a look at where the port was in 2010, when all the lumber that was once here dried up," Vanelli said. "After the recession, we had to recreate ourselves."

Lumber shipments are coming back. Logistec is handling quarterly shipments of lumber, primarily from Germany, and also has received shipments of Scandinavian lumber, Vannelli said. In the past, lumber has come in from Canada, and the company is working to bring that back.

In 2014, salt shipments started coming in to the pier again after many years when Steven Farrelly, owner of DRVN Enterprises of Wethersfield, began operating his salt distribution business on the pier. A salt vessel is slated to come in to the port on March 3.

Steel, primarily from Belgium and Germany, is the main commodity coming in to the port.

Logistec is working to bring in a new commodity from South America, though Vanelli said he couldn't disclose any further information, other than the shipment could come in as early as April.

Evan Matthews, executive director of the port authority, said he sees an opportunity to import offshore windmill components. He's heard, from wind turbine developers bidding on energy projects in Connecticut and Massachusetts, that New London's port is one of the few on the eastern seaboard where they could construct as much of each wind turbine as possible in port and move them out of port standing up, he said.

Cargo received at the port is distributed throughout New England, the Northeast and the Mid-Atlantic. State Pier's proximity to Interstate 95, Interstate 395 and New England Central Railroad presents multiple opportunities for moving goods in and out of the port, officials said.

There's a lot of truck traffic in and out of the port, which creates "a secondary economy in terms of creating jobs and keeping people busy," Vanelli said.

The port authority, which owns the State Pier facility, gets 6.75 percent of the assessable revenue generated from the port, which amounted to about $500,000 last year. The port authority is budgeting $560,000 in revenue this year, given the uptick in activity, Matthews said.

The port authority recently put out a request for qualifications for a port operator. Its lease with Logistec ends in January 2019, and there's a two-year option to renew, according to Vanelli, who said "we've been here 20 years. We plan to be here another 20 years."

"We understand that it's business. They need to find out they have the best deal going," he added.

Several terminal operators from Connecticut and New York attended a recent nonmandatory, pre-proposal meeting with port authority officials. When evaluating the final proposals, port authority officials will weigh how much the next operator is willing to invest in the facility, Matthews said.

The port authority secured $4.5 million in bond funding for infrastructure upgrades to State Pier, such as demolishing parts that are condemned.

New London receives payment in lieu of taxes, or PILOT, funds from State Pier. The Department of Transportation estimated revenues from State Pier to be $60,000 in fiscal year 2017.

New London Mayor Michael Passero said the city plans to develop the site of the Thames River Apartments, which is in an industrial zone about a mile down the road from State Pier, for use compatible with the pier.

j.bergman@theday.com

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