Full Steam Ahead: Southeast Ports Prepare For Panama

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Full Steam Ahead:Southeast PortsPrepare for PanamaCanal Expansion30 EconSouth Third Quarter 2010

In four years, the Panama Canal plans to mark its 100thanniversary with the completion of a 5.25 billionexpansion project that will allow more and wider ships tomove between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. In anticipationof capturing a chunk of the transpacific Asian trade previouslydestined for West Coast ports, Southeast ports officials fromNew Orleans to Tampa on the Gulf Coast, and from Miamito Savannah on the East Coast are moving full steam ahead todredge harbors and upgrade their infrastructure.There’s something about a century mark that calls fora celebration. Cities observe their centennials withparades, proclamations, and pyrotechnics. Centenarians are honored with parties and newspaperfeature stories. The year 2014 will bear witness to aLatin American centennial that could arguably have significanteconomic repercussions for the Southeast economy—indeed,for global commerce in general. The Panama Canal will mark itsfirst 100 years with the completion of a 5.25 billion expansionproject that will add a third set of locks to allow more and widerships to pass. The largest container ships—so-called postPanamax ships—will be able to pass through the canal to portson the eastern side of North America, possibly diminishing theWest Coast dominance of the transpacific Asian trade.As the year of completion approaches, competition amongEast Coast and Gulf Coast ports to capture a larger share of theAsian market is intensifying. Many of the Southeast’s ports donot have adequate infrastructure to accommodate the volumeof containers that the larger ships promise, nor do they havethe water depth or channel width to allow the ships to navigate.Currently, a deepwater port has to have a minimum depth of 40 feetto accommodate Panamax ships, which is the largest ship thatcan now navigate the Panama Canal (hence the name Panamax).By this definition, the Southeast has seven deepwater ports.Four of them are on the Atlantic Coast: the Port of Savannah,Port Canaveral, Port Everglades, and the Port of Miami. The otherthree are on the Gulf Coast: the ports of Tampa, Mobile, andfrbatlanta.org 31

Port of GulfportPort of MobilePort ofSouthLouisianaPort of SavannahPort of JacksonvillePort CanaveralPort ofNew OrleansPort of TampaPort EvergladesPort of MiamiPanama CanalThe Port of Savannah’s post-Panamax cranes enable the port tohandle bigger ships and more containers.New Orleans. Once 2014 rolls around, however, and the PanamaCanal opens to the post-Panamax ships, the definition of deepwater port will have to be altered. Fully loaded post-Panamaxships carrying over 10,000 TEUs require a channel depth of atleast 50 feet. (TEU is short for “twenty-foot equivalent” anddescribes a ship’s cargo-carrying capacity. A standard 40-foot(40x8x8 feet) container equals two TEUs (20x8x8 feet).)To accommodate the larger ships and the greater volume ofcontainers, many U.S. ports on the Gulf and eastern seaboardsare undertaking expansion projects of their own. Althoughthe recent recession has created funding shortages and budgetContainer Traffic 2009Southeast PortsGulfport, MS (30/31)Miami, FL (17/16)Mobile, AL —New Orleans, LA —Palm Beach, FL —Port Everglades, FL (16/17)Savannah, GA Containerized 721,16216,751,623The Largest U.S. PortsLong Beach, CA (2/2)Los Angeles, CA (1/1)New York/New Jersey 2,652,20930,128,362——Notes: Table includes top seven Southeast container ports. Long Beach, Los Angeles, and New York are included for comparison. TEUs twenty-foot equivalent units (loadedand empty). Containerized cargo is the total containers regardless of length (loaded and empty). Numbers in parentheses next to port names indicate port’s ranking byTEUs for 2008 and 2009, respectively.Source: American Association of Ports Authorities32 EconSouth Third Quarter 2010

1Chart 1ChartImport Volumes, Port of SavannahImport Volumes, Port of Savannah3002001000200520062007200820092010Note: Data are in thousands of TEUs and are from second quarter 2005 through first quarter 2010.Source: Global Port Tracker: North America Trade Outlook, National Retail Federation, May 2010Note: Data are in thousands of TEUs, and are from second quarter 2005 through first quarter 2010.Source: "Global Port Tracker: North America Trade Outlook," National Retail Federation, May 2010challenges, many ports are forging ahead with their projects todredge their access channels, install new post-Panamax cranesto offload the containers, and add and upgrade container facilities. They are also competing for private and federal dollars tofund the projects. As Alec L. Poitevint II, chairman of the boardof directors of the Georgia Ports Authority (GPA), said, “ThePort of Savannah continues to be committed to its long-termplans.” Despite the recession, he continued, the GPA has notchanged its strategy, and the infrastructure improvement budgetremains strong. Poitevint said that the Port of Savannah recentlyadded four more super-post-Panamax cranes to its inventory,bringing the number of such ship-to-shore cranes to 23. At 425 feetlong, standing 180 feet above the water, and weighing 1,369 tons,these cranes are the largest in the world, capable of handlingsuper-post-Panamax ships the size of 22 containers wide. Since2000, the Port of Savannah has been the fastest-growing U.S.port and is the fourth-largest container port in the United Statesin terms of volume (see chart 1 and the table).Don Allee, chief executive of the Mississippi State PortAuthority at Gulfport, said in a Feb. 2, 2010, USA Today article,“Those who are best prepared when the recession ends willhave the best opportunity for rewards later.” Gulfport is currently undergoing a 570 million expansion not only to repairdamage done by Hurricane Katrina and raise it 25 feet to betterwithstand future hurricanes but also to handle the increasedcontainer traffic that the ports authority is anticipating after thecompletion of the Panama Canal expansion.The all-water route may not be all wetAccording to the Panama Canal Authority (ACP), the largemajority of traffic moving through the canal is between the EastCoast of the United States and Asia. The second major traderoute is between Europe and the west coast of the United Statesand Canada.The Panama Canal has historically competed with the U.S.intermodal system in the Northeast Asia–to–U.S. East Coastroute, according to the ACP’s 2006 expansion proposal. TheACP estimates that the Panama Canal has a 38 percent marketshare of this route, while the intermodal system has a 61 percentshare of it, and the Suez Canal has a 1 percent share. Traditionally, shippers have largely found it more efficient to ship goodsultimately bound for East Coast destinations to the West Coastports, where they are offloaded from the vessels and then movedby truck and rail to their final destinations in a complex systemof transportation. (The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beachdominate the Asian trade; about 40 percent of all containercargo traffic entering the United States still arrives at these twoports.) This intermodal system route offers shippers shortertimes for shipments to reach their destinations than the all-waterroute through the Panama Canal allows, but it also involveshigher costs and some measure of unreliability in service. Onthe other hand, the all-water route to the East Coast through thePanama Canal is less expensive and arguably more reliable, butthe cargo takes longer to reach its destination than it would byway of the intermodal system.Even before the ACP announced its plan to expand thecanal, West Coast ports had lost some of their transpacific business to Gulf and East Coast ports. Congestion and ongoing labordisputes over the past decade have seen to that. With more andlarger ships able to pass through the Panama Canal, the all-waterroute from Asia through the canal and into the U.S. Gulf andEast Coast ports promises to become an even more attractiveoption for shippers transporting containerized cargo. According to The Cunningham Report, a newsletter for the trade andtransportation industry on the West Coast, almost 60 percentof Americans live east of the Mississippi River, which makesthe Southeast ports closer to more consumers and businessesthan are the West Coast ports. In addition, these ports are alsoseen as more business-friendly, more efficient, and cheaper thantheir competition in the West. This momentum is expected tocontinue in the near future. The May 2010 Global Port Tracker,a biannual publication of the National Retail Federation thatprovides a four-quarter rolling forecast of 12 major U.S. ports,predicts growth of 13.5 percent for West Coast ports and growthof 17.1 percent for ports on the East Coast.However, a 2008 study of ports in relation to the impendingcanal expansion by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers suggestedthat Southeast ports’ expectations of hugely increased container trade could be overly optimistic, for a couple of reasons.First, in 2008 shipping companies began cancelling orders forpost-Panamax ships because of concerns about sluggish tradeand credit tightening—which means that these ships will notbe converging on the Panama Canal. Second, climate modelsfrbatlanta.org 33

show that the Northwest Passage—a sea route across the ArcticOcean—could actually be ice-free by 2030, opening up anotherroute from Northeast Asia to the United States. In this case, theCorps of Engineers report said, container ships are likelier tocall on Northeast ports as they head southward from the ArcticCircle, not on those in the Southeast.Where there’s a will, there’s a waterwayDreams of a maritime passageway through the narrowest partof Central America have been around since the Spaniards firstarrived on this narrow strip of land in the early 16th century.However, it wasn’t until the end of the 19th century that technology had reached the point that such an enormous project wasfeasible. In the 1880s, the country of France began excavationsbut abandoned the project after yellow fever claimed the lives ofmore than 22,000 workers over five years. The United States thentook over the project and completed the canal in 1914.In designing the locks to allow passage of its largest warships, the United States accomplished its goal of shortening thetransit of its warships from the West to the East Coast. Indeed,the trip was shortened by a full 8,000 nautical miles, or about9,206 miles, and allowed the ships to avoid the treacherous andexpensive route around South America’s Cape Horn.The Panama Canal remained under full U.S. administration until 1977, when a treaty was signed to hand over controlto Panama by 1999. That year, all responsibility for the canalwas transferred to the government of Panama under the ACP, asemiautonomous agency of the Panamanian government. TheUnited States reserved the perpetual right to military intervention to protect its economic interests in the key shipping route.The Panama Canal gets bigger. The world gets smaller.Dreams for the Panama Canal did not end when the first shipnavigated the canal in 1914. According to the ACP, plans toexpand it have been tossed around since the 1930s. In 1939, forexample, the United States began building a third set of locks toallow the transit of commercial and warships whose size now exceeded the capacity of the existing locks. But with the outbreakof World War II, work on it was suspended.With increased globalization and West Coast port congestion and labor instability over the past decade, many shippershave already opted for the all-water route that the Panama Canaloffers, and the canal has gained a sizable share of containertraffic headed to the U.S. East Coast. According to the U.S. ArmyCorps of Engineers, the Panama Canal sees more than 14,000ships pass through it every year. About 70 percent of the canal’s 100 billion containerized cargo—about 275 tons—is heading foror coming from the United States.However, post-Panamax ships currently don’t have the option to navigate the canal because of their size. The ships thatare able to pass through often face expensive delays. It is not34 EconSouth Third Quarter 2010Chart 2Chart 2Southeast Port ExportsSoutheastPort maMississippi020002002200420062008Note: Data are in U.S. billions.Source: U.S. Department of Transportation, International Trade AdministrationNote: Data are in U.S. billions.Source: U.S. Department of Transportation, International Trade Administrationunusual for vessels to wait up to 10 days during peak seasonbefore they can transit the canal. This idle time can cost shippers as much as 40,000 to 50,000 a day and has bred a sometimes fierce bidding system. In 2006, a British oil tanker paid awhopping 220,000 (not including transit fees) to steam ahead of83 other ships, according to the U.S. Corps of Engineers.In 2006, the Nicaraguan government announced its plan tobuild its own canal, a project with an estimated 18 billion pricetag, more than three times the country’s GDP. The canal wouldconnect the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, as does the Panama Canal,but it would allow passage of post-Panamax ships. Panamaniansneeded no further argument to realize that the Panama Canalwas due for an overhaul. On Oct. 22, 2006, the citizens of Panamaoverwhelmingly approved a plan to expand the canal. Althoughmovement on the Nicaraguan canal proposal seems to have submerged, news of Nicaraguan government officials meeting withforeign investors to finance the project occasionally surfaces.In the Great Recession’s wake,Southeast plunges into port expansionsSoutheast ports officials from New Orleans to Tampa on theGulf Coast, and from Miami to Savannah on the East Coast aremoving full steam ahead to expand and modernize their portsto capture their share of the anticipated traffic that the PanamaCanal expansion will bring.Funding these projects has been a challenging and occasionally even controversial prospect. During the heightof the recession, when cargo volumes and revenues steeplydropped (see chart 2), some ports had their budgets cut and hadto delay planned expansion projects. Other ports did not slowdown at all. Despite the massive budget shortfalls that Georgiahas experienced, the Port of Savannah has kept its expansion

budget relatively intact. According to port director Poitevint, theport remains committed to its long-term strategy and to providing “service to the import and export business, and with theexpectation that the Panama Canal will be finished in 2014.”Much of the funding that ports are vying for comes froma variety of federal programs, including a multiyear surfacetransportation reauthorization soon up for congressional approval as well as the Harbor Maintenance Tax (HMT), enactedin 1986 by Congress to recoup money from shippers accordingto the value of the cargo they are moving through ports. Manyports are banking on future federal stimulus spending as wellas broader efforts, such as the current administration’s NationalExport Initiative with its goal of doubling U.S. exports by 2015.The U.S. Department of Transportation’s fiscal year 2011 budgetrequest, released in February, included 4 billion for creation ofa National Infrastructure Innovation and Finance Fund.In February 2010, 1.5 billion in federal funding becameavailable under Title XII of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) for transportation improvements. However, only 8 percent of the Transportation Investment GeneratingEconomic Recovery (TIGER) grants was made available for portenhancements, much to the chagrin of port leaders. Competitionfor these funds is fierce. Some U.S. ports have already receiveda TIGER grant. Gulfport, in partnership with the Kansas CitySouthern Railway (KCS), was awarded a 20 million grant toupgrade a 76.5-mile track link between the port and Hattiesburg,Miss., a 50 million project that promises to enhance the port’sintermodal system and better connect the port to Chicago, NewOrleans, Canada, and the U.S. East Coast. Currently, the trackaccommodates only 10-mph single-stack freight traffic. Portofficials said that with the upgrade, the track will permit 49-mphdouble-stack standards.In December 2009, another federal grants program wasapproved. Similar to the TIGER grants, TIGER II DiscretionaryGrants are administered by the U.S. Department of Transporta-Left to right: The first ship passes through the Panama Canal, 1914;the Gatun Locks, on the Atlantic side of the Panama Canal; a Panamaxcontainer ship, currently the largest the canal can accommodate.tion and used for infrastructure improvement. Ports are alreadyjostling for their share. Gary LaGrange, president and chief executive officer of the Port of New Orleans, said his port is seekinga 35 million TIGER II grant to expand the port’s dock size.The Port of Gulfport is largely financing the first phase of itsexpansion project with 570 million in community developmentblock grants that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) awarded Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina. Useof the HUD money for port expansion was not entirely withoutcontroversy, as some critics insisted that the money should financehousing while state officials said that port reconstruction waspart of their federal funding request from the start. The port ismoving ahead.Regardless of the challenge of securing funds, the generalconsensus among port administrators is that the newly expandedPanama Canal in 2014 will significantly alter trade routes, and theseports simply cannot afford to miss the opportunity to bring majorbusiness to their regions. zThis article was written by Nancy Condon, associate editor of EconSouth.frbatlanta.org 35

Port of Savannah Port of Jacksonville Port Everglades Port of Miami Port of Tampa Port of Mobile Port of Gulfport Port of New Orleans Port of South Louisiana Panama Canal Port Canaveral. New Orleans. Once 2014 rolls around, however, and the Panama . Canal opens to the post-Panamax ships, the definition of

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