The U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD) has announced more than $7.5 million in grants for nine "marine highway" projects.
"The America's Marine Highway Program is dedicated to expanding the use of our inland waterways for freight movement," said Maritime Administrator Mark H. Buzby. "This round of grant funding will be used to continue that expansion and ensure that our waterways are used effectively."
The nine projects are scattered across the U.S.
MARAD awarded $1,291,800 for the proposed Fernandina Express container-on-barge service between the Port of Fernandina, Florida, north of Jacksonville in Nassau County, and the Port of Charleston, South Carolina. The funds will support the purchase of marine terminal handling equipment in Fernandina essential for the efficient loading and unloading of cargo.
Christopher Ragucci, director of the Ocean Highway and Port Authority of Nassau County (OHPA) and CEO of Worldwide Terminals Fernandina, which operates the port, said OHPA and Worldwide have identified three exporters near the port that move forest products such as kraft liner board, high-end cellulose, and lignins that can be manufactured into chemicals and additives for manufacturing and construction. Those companies move products in containers by truck to Savannah, Georgia, for shipment to Asia and Europe. At the same time, he says, there are importers moving cargo through Charleston that currently move containers by truck to the region around Fernandina and Jacksonville.
"Those are two specific flows that we are in the process of trying to capture to be the core to start this thing," he said, but he added that the service could potentially move cargo even further north or south if there is demand.
The goal is to shuttle loaded and empty containers between ports by water rather than moving them by truck. OHPA's immediate focus is on international container movements, but he said the company would be happy to move domestic containers as well.
He said the port is negotiating with some tug and barge operators, but "if that does not bear fruit we would be prepared to try and operate it ourselves."
Ragucci noted that while there has been interest in short sea shipping for decades, it has been slow to catch hold in the U.S., in large measure because of competitive truck rates and the convenience of trucks. However, he said there may be opportunities to move overweight, hazardous or less time-sensitive cargo by barge.
The other grant recipients are:
- The Paducah-McCracken container-on-barge marine highway project. MARAD said a $480,000 grant "will be used to support the purchase or lease of facility and transportation equipment at a Baton Rouge facility that will be used to load and unload containers." The grant was sponsored by the Paducah-McCracken County Riverport Authority in Kentucky.
- The Baton Rouge-New Orleans container shuttle. The grant of $1,040,000 will be used to purchase six purpose-built barges and lease one towboat. The vessels will support a growing container service between Port Allen — across the river from Baton Rouge — and New Orleans. The grant application was sponsored by SEACOR AMH, which has seen its business grow rapidly with the boom in exports of plastic resin from U.S. producers.
- The Lake Erie Shuttle. More than $1.1 million was awarded for a project sponsored by the Port of Monroe, Michigan. The funds would be used for the purchase and installation of a crawler crane and the training associated with its use in the port to support the Lake Erie Shuttle Service. That service was described in an earlier MARAD publication as a proposed service to carry cargo for Ford Motor Company and other shippers between the Port of Monroe, Michigan, Cleveland Ohio, with the possibility of adding Detroit and Buffalo to the rotation.
- Expansion of barge services along the Columbia River between four locations: Port Morrow — near Boardman — and Portland, both in Oregon, and Vancouver and Longview, both in Washington. The $1,623,200 grant will support dredging and other improvements to marine terminals in Port Morrow.
- Development of an operational plan by the Port of Houston Authority for a container-on-barge service between terminals. Funding totaling $180,000 was awarded for a study.
- Additional equipment to support the Port of Virginia's container-on-barge service on the James River between Richmond and marine terminals in Hampton Roads. About $190,000 was awarded for equipment in Richmond.
- A new trestle and combination dock/ramp to support the loading and unloading of barges and research vessels at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, a commercial space launch facility located at NASA's Wallops Island facility. MARAD awarded a $96,425 grant to the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority.
- Conversion of two vessels used in the Seattle-Bainbridge Island Ferry Service from diesel to hybrid-electric propulsion. MARAD is providing $1.5 million to help pay for the conversion, which it said will result in a significant reduction in emissions.