The Port of Bellingham announced in a press release Thursday that it has reached a new service contract with Ports America, the largest terminal operator and stevedore in the United States.
“This is a major turning point for the Bellingham Shipping Terminal,” Port Commission President Ken Bell said in the release. “As the last Pacific Northwest seaport between the United States and Canada, it was only a matter of time before cargo operators recognized the Bellingham Shipping Terminal as a congestion-free alternative to the docks and terminals serving Vancouver and Seattle. Increased cargo activity at the Bellingham Shipping Terminal will create jobs and stimulate economic activity throughout Whatcom County.”
According to the release, the three-year contract with Ports America, which has options for two additional three-year terms, will allow international cargo to begin regularly arriving at the Bellingham Shipping Terminal. Under the terms of the contract, Ports America will have the exclusive stevedore rights for certain types of steel, as well as inbound international forest products, metal and aluminum ingots, modules, oversized and project cargoes.
Handysize vessels, which typically range in size from 28,000 to 38,000 dead weight tons, carrying breakbulk cargo, or specialized cargo, such as steel coils or pipes, could begin arriving in Bellingham at a rate of approximately once per month, Port Terminals Business Manager Chris Clark told The Bellingham Herald Thursday.
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“We’re optimistic that we can still begin this year,” Clark said.
Though Clark said it was difficult to estimate how big an economic impact the agreement could mean locally, he said, “it will mean a lot more work for our partners, and in particular the Local 7 ILWU (International Longshore and Warehouse Union). ... This will mean a dramatic increase of revenue coming through the shipping terminal as opposed to what we’ve had in the past.”
The 590-foot MV African Egret, which loaded approximately 5.2 million board feet of logs in May, was the last large cargo ship to arrive at the Bellingham Shipping Terminal, but Clark said that experience helped open the door for discussions with Ports America and the new agreement.
“That was an overwhelming success,” Clark said. “The cargo interest, the ship owner, the Local 7 ILWU all did a fabulous job. Everybody was really pleased, and I think word is getting around quickly that we have a great facility that can handle such cargoes.”
Some of the incoming cargo will be stored temporarily at the terminal before it is trucked to its final destination in Canada, the release said. To help with that goal, the Port is in the process of designating the shipping terminal and surrounding areas as a Foreign Trade Zone, where customers would be allowed to store goods without having to pay U.S. import duties and taxes.
“There is a great deal favoring the Bellingham Shipping Terminal,” Ports America Director of Breakbulk and Project Cargo Bart Goedhard said in the release. “In addition to abundant berth space, warehouse and laydown space, the terminal is near major cities, has a dedicated truck corridor to I-5 and has close proximity to rail.”
Ports America entered into negotiations with the Port after several of its shipping customers requested use of the Bellingham Shipping Terminal, which has 1,250 feet of dock space on a deep-water pier, a 550-foot barge pier, 85,000 square feet of covered storage, 40 acres of available land and access to resources via rail, barge, rafts, trucks, containers and ocean-going vessels, according to the release.
“Ports America is a great stevedoring company that will bring work to Bellingham,” Daren Williams, a spokesman for Local 7 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union said in the release. “There are many suppliers in Whatcom County who will benefit from increased cargo activity at the Bellingham Shipping Terminal, and the ILWU will create more full-time jobs as a result of this contract.”
According to its website, Ports America operates in more than 42 ports and 80 locations, including Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia, Longview and Vancouver, Washington.
Though Clark said the shipping terminal could be “ready tomorrow” to begin receiving cargo ships from ocean carriers, Ports America still must relocate some resources, such as forklifts and other machinery for loading and unloading ships, to the port.
“We’ve been talking to them (Ports America), as well as some of their competitors for quite some time,” Clark said. “Ports America was enlightened enough to realize the opportunity we have here in Bellingham and that it was worth putting resources into our facility. ... Our port commissioners had the thought and foresight to approve the contract, not to mention the members of the Local 7 ILWU, who have supported this every step of the way. Without everybody working together, we wouldn’t have been able to put it all together.”