Thursday, May 1, 2008

Watered-down economy stalls plans for barge service at port

By Mary E. O’Leary
Register Topics Editor
— The Port Authority’s hope to see a container barge project take off sooner rather than later got a reality check recently when a study it commissioned said the market is not there yet.
“The economics are such that we might be a little ahead of the curve on this,” said authority Chairman John Russo Wednesday. “The number of containers necessary is beyond reach at this point unless we can create other economic opportunities to drive that.”
In the five years since the city first made a pitch for a feeder barge service at the port, there are fewer exports from the state, and the cost of diesel fuel has hurt the maritime industry, said Michael Piscitelli, the city’s transportation chief.
Ironically, the high cost of diesel, which prompted a recent national trucker protest, could also be the deciding factor that will open up a market for the shipment of goods by water.
Right now, Piscitelli said businesses are continuing to opt for deliveries along congested highways, but he is optimistic about the future. “The market is changing rapidly. This is still a very active project for us,” he said of a feeder barge in New Haven.
Russo said the key is investment by the state in the three major ports, including Bridgeport and New London. He said this could be advanced by a study commissioned by the Connecticut Maritime Coalition.
“We will not get 400 containers a week without ancillary activity surrounding it (the port),” he said.
Apex, a South Windsor company, will work with a group of economists at FXM in Boston on a four- to six-month study to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of Connecticut’s ports, according to its president, David Lis. “This study should be a tremendous catalyst to selling the attributes of the ports,” Russo said. Russo sees the state building a collegial relationship among the ports rather than a competitive one, such as the one that pitted New Haven against Bridgeport over the feeder barge project.
Bridgeport’s plan also is stalled because the Port of New York and New Jersey has rejected its methodology for moving freight, while Bridgeport’s new mayor, Bill Finch, is interested in a different use for the port.
Russo said ultimately New Haven’s port stacks up well, since it is the deepest harbor of the three, and the authority is laying the groundwork to get money to increase that depth.
The harbor’s location at the junction of interstates 95 and 91, and the availability of rail service, gives it a logistical boost.

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