San Joaquin Farm Bureau Federation

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By Craig W. Anderson

The Port of Stockton’s Marine Highway is ready to go with two gigantic cranes for loading containers onto a pair of modified, ready-to-go barges and, said Mark Tollini, deputy port director, trade and operations, "The infrastructure is in place and the barges are ready to go. I expect service to start sooner than later."

And that service could well be benefiting the port and Korea due to a free trade agreement that began in March following years of negotiations.

"We’re starting to see the beginnings of Korean interest with investors for imports to Korea," Tollini said. "This will create a circumstance for shippers using the marine corridor to reduce their ocean freight costs by 20 percent."

Korea needs ag products emerged as a major theme at a recent reception for Jeong Gwan Lee, the South Korean consul general in San Francisco, who said, "This agreement will allow us to do many different kinds of things. We want to revitalize trade and we hope the participants will find new opportunities with us."

A representative of the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency, Myunglae Choi, said, "Korea needs agricultural products. We can help each other," adding that they wanted to develop opportunities between San Joaquin County and Korea.

Unions quash dedication
Unfortunately, a dispute between the longshore union and the Stevedoring Company not only canceled a mid-October dedication ceremony, it has delayed the start of service.

The supply chains solutions company Savage was chosen by the port to manage the M-580 Marine Highway Corridor between the ports of Stockton, Oakland and West Sacramento; Savage is "meeting with the parties to resolve the issue," said Tollini.

Savage will provide container-on-barge service, including management, marketing, logistics, and operating services for the marine highway.

Marine shipping corridor
The marine highway will serve as an overweight corridor for shipping containers at significant cost savings between Stockton and Oakland which will reduce congestion on the I-580/I-5 corridors thus reducing pollution and road wear among other things.

"The marine highway is less expensive and a better method than expanding the highways," Tollini said. "The marine highway is a good investment as it’s finished and ready to go while highway upgrades take years to complete at far greater expense."

"This is a great example of a public-private partnership that will help shape the future of freight transportation in Northern California in an environmentally conscious and sustainable manner," said Allen Alexander, chairman and CEO of Savage.

When the service begins it will use two huge barges – one in Stockton, the other in Oakland – to ferry cargo containers – usually transported via big rigs – back and forth between the two ports along the San Joaquin River.

Weight limits gone
Because of weight limits for containers hauled by trucks, more containers are needed to transport a given amount of goods on highways. However, the marine highway has no such limitations so containers can be filled to the maximum and transported on the barges.

Channel deep enough
Is the channel’s 35-foot depth sufficient for barges and ships for the foreseeable future? "Yes, and in the next couple of years we could acquire the permitting and funds to go to 40 feet," Tollini said. "We work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. But we couldn’t go much deeper without having to do much more work at greater expense."

Money for equipment
Marine highway funding of $13.5 million for the Port of Stockton came from a federal grant and was used to buy two 140-ton mobile harbor cranes, the barges and to modify the port as necessary.

"The grant required that we buy American but these types of cranes aren’t made in the U.S.," Tollini said. "These cranes are German-made and we received a waiver to purchase them."

He added that two barges were necessary for the port to be competitive and "each barge underwent significant modifications."

The door-to-door services include regularly scheduled barge service between Stockton and Oakland, coordinated with ocean-going vessel calls; truck delivery/pickup from facilities outside of the port; product warehousing and a bulk commodity terminal that can receive unit trains and load containers to maximum weight capacity.

Growing commodity shipments, exports
The entire system is expected to grow commodity shipping opportunities over time with "more ag crops going out and coming in," Tollini said. "We have cargoes originating in the Midwest of corn and feeds which are shipped to Asia."

Cement and steel, concrete and the steady core business of fertilizers keeps the port busy because "the economy is starting a modest improvement that I expect will continue over the next couple of years," explained Tollini. "We’re opening markets into China and Colorado coal is going to Japan. We’re seeing more opportunity for becoming an exporter as we’re shipping a couple million tons per year and we expect to become a net exporter in the future."

Getting acclimatized to Marine Highway
Regarding further additions to the Maritime Highway, Tollini said, "This will probably be it for awhile as people will need to become accustomed to it and how it works and will benefit them. I expect there will be some people who jump on it immediately to guarantee barge space and others will follow that lead."

Local commodities could benefit
Those exporting walnuts and almonds may want to consider shipping from Stockton to Oakland, the port from which county commodities set sail for foreign ports. The Korean connection can help create interest in the movement of locally grown commodities from Stockton to Oakland as the relationship between the two nations grows.