Port expansion could grow state's economy

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A guide to the future development of the state ports offers suggestions about how the state can grow its economy through expansions of existing ports in Wilmington and Morehead City or construction of new facilities.

The 274-page N.C. Maritime Strategy study, released Friday afternoon, was compiled for the state Department of Transportation by consultants AECOM and URS at a cost of about $2 million.

The study concludes that the state can support existing businesses and create new jobs through improvements at existing ports, but also leaves the door open for the possible development of a deepwater container facility in Brunswick County.

Among its recommendations is the further study of two sites along the Cape Fear River in Brunswick County – one off River Road in the northern part of the county and the other on State Ports Authority-owned land near Southport.

"In response to stakeholder input and given the range of container options considered, a supplemental analysis of the relative benefits and costs of container developments at River Road or at Southport is warranted to provide the State with sufficient information to support the selection or rejection of either of these alternatives," the report states.

According to a DOT news release, data in the report will be used by state agencies in making decisions about how to invest in the state ports.

"This study provides us with invaluable data we'll use to create a realistic, private-sector-modeled strategic plan for the ports," said Tom Bradshaw , DOT statewide logistics coordinator.

The study indicates enhancements to the ports and related infrastructure would provide growth opportunities within several North Carolina industries, including agriculture and the military.

For containers, the report states that the existing container terminal at Wilmington can handle less than a third of the projected demand of North Carolina-based shippers in 2040. To meet those needs, the state could either expand and modernize the Wilmington port or construct a new port at Radio Island in Morehead City or at one of the two sites in Brunswick County. Each option has pros and cons, according to the report.

The study also found:

Improving facilities for refrigerated cargo at existing ports would generate $147 million in benefits by 2047 at a cost of $24 million.

Access to better ports could save in-state shippers $1.3 billion annually and provide $91 million in increased revenue for businesses in their supply chains.

Highway improvements to better serve the ports would save businesses $4 billion a year in travel-time expenses.

Expanded container facilities would generate $5 billion by 2047 and cost an estimated $3.7 billion.

Expanded operating hours at N.C. ports would cost more money, but the current hours are affecting shippers' use of the ports, particularly those that ship by truck.

Larger ships expected to call on East Coast ports in the future will need a deeper channel than the Cape Fear River's 42 feet.

The report can be viewed at ncmaritimestudy.com.

Source: http://www.starnewsonline.com/article/20120629/articles/120629633/1004/port_ex%20pansion_could_grow_states_economy?p=all&tc=pgall