The following transcript is the fourth and final part of our interview with with two officials from the Maryland Port Administration – Donovan Murray, General Manager, Intermodal/Trade Development and Richard Scher, Director of Communications. It has been edited for length and clarity. Miss the first three parts of this blog series? Read them here, here, and here.
DTJ: So I guess the natural follow-up questions is – and obviously for the factors that are within the MPA’s control – what steps or incentives can the port provide to better ensure that the right mix and volume of cargo is coming through?
Mr. Murray: I don’t know if there’s a simple answer to that question. Supply chain and logistics are becoming an increasingly complex and time sensitive component of truly our customers’ financial success – how quickly they can produce, how quickly they can move products to market, and sell. That is part of Baltimore’s value proposition; making sure that we’re bringing in the proper port partners that can support the customers both current and future that we’re trying to attract. Making sure that they understand the advantages of Baltimore, not only locally here in the port environment about the facilitation on the MPA level, but then for them also to understand in that supply chain dynamic, other regulations such as electronic logging devices that will restrict driver capacity, and utilizing the port of Baltimore in its geographic location and market access to better manage those driver resources.
Just by a change of port selection and doing nothing else, those shippers can take advantage of our location and better utilize those driver resources versus longer and more expensive inland spends.
Mr. Scher: It’s really important for us at the Port Administration to continue to invest correctly in infrastructure. Donovan talked to you before about the public/private partnership that we have with Ports America Chesapeake for our Seagirt Marine Terminal. And that’s obviously been – the term is overused but it’s certainly apropos here – it’s been a game changer for us because it’s actually opened up doors to container business that we would not have had open without having the deeper berth and supersized cranes.
And then other things we’re doing besides that…obviously we’re reinforcing berths at our other marine terminals, we’re doing things like filling in fruit slips, and creating more laydown area for cargo. It’s for us to continue to keep our eye on the ball, and make sure we’re ahead of the game in anticipating what future needs are and make those necessary infrastructure investments.
DTJ: You may both have just answered my next question, which is what other changes do you expect to see at the Port of Baltimore in the short- to mid-term, say, in the next 5 years?
Mr. Scher: Well Donavan talked about the Howard Street Tunnel and double stack. You asked us a second ago about challenges. Because we are doing well, and we are growing, land is a huge challenge for us. But obviously right at the top of that list is double stack rail. We are in the process of working through that now and we feel cautiously optimistic about our chances to secure that FASTLANE funding. And that would be huge for us, if we’re fortunate enough to receive that funding and we’re able to get started with making those adjustments to the tunnel. It’s huge for us. Until we get that, until it’s a done deal, that double stack capability is certainly an issue for us.
DTJ: We’ve covered quite a number of topics in the past half an hour. Hopefully I’ve covered a good chunk of ground. Is there anything else that you’re keen to highlight?
Mr. Murray: Part of the role here in supporting the logistics and supply chain side of our customers’ business are things like commercial real estate. You know we just spoke about land, so it’s not only land to physically handle cargo on and off the water and interchange it off the facilities, but that cargo needs to go somewhere. So it’s engaging with commercial real estate so that they understand our mutual customers’ needs. When they want to put a new pin in the map, when they want to build a new building, when they want to take advantage of a new distribution opportunity, we help facilitate those relationships between the BCOs and the commercial real estate.
Hand in hand with that is economic development and how we, at both the county and the state level, maximize that opportunity for that BCO. Whether we like it or not, ports and states are in a competitive position, and we need to ensure that our story is told best and customers understand all of the resources that can be brought to bear for the benefit of that new potential customer coming in.
On a port-wide and statewide level, the one thing we really didn’t touch on was the environmental initiatives that the MPA puts forward. At a high level, the MPA really has industry-unique and innovative programs you will not find at other ports. We are a freshwater port here, which presents tremendous dredging challenges. Even with those challenges, as we said earlier, Baltimore is one of only three ports on the East Coast that has all the three major components necessary to handle a super-neo-post-Panamax vessel. Almost half of our capital budget every year is spent managing dredged material.
What we do with that are two major things – I’ll say two-and-a-half. One, we create more cargo space. So Richard just mentioned a fruit slip that’s on the western portion of the port of Baltimore that we’re filling in next to Masonville that will become more car parking for future automobile and ro-ro traffic in the port.
The port has also rehabilitated thousands of acres of wetlands in the Chesapeake Bay. Most notably Hart-Miller Island and Poplar Island, which are absolutely wonderful environmental stories of migratory birds that now nest at these islands that were almost eradicated off the map, solely because the port came in with the dredge material and recognized a need that the state had and that the environment had, to be able to recreate these.
The third thing, and it’s really a half thing that we’re in the process of examining, is called innovative reuse. So the tremendous amount of material that we dredge every year, exploring landside uses for that not directly in the port space, for things like road subsurface or construction materials something that we can possibly either provide or sell commercially in the market that would have the same properties, characteristics, et cetera, of currently sourced materials.
With all that said, Baltimore is a leader in many environmental initiatives; so much so, that companies like REI have chosen to route 100% of their East Coast cargo through Baltimore because of our environmental initiatives. Not only have they chosen to route 100% of their cargo through Baltimore, they’ve looked at their other corporate partners and encouraged them to do so as well, knowing that at least on a port level, their partners’ cargo would be handled in as environmentally responsible manner as possible.