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Port of Wilmington expansion possibilities detailed

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The technical and engineering firm AECOM is studying several expansion possibilities for the Port of Wilmington, including the old Evraz Steel Mill, Riveredge Industrial Park, and the area adjacent to the port auto berth.

By Christi Milligan

The global technical and engineering firm tasked with leading a strategic master plan for expansion of the Port of Wilmington offered stakeholders a first peek at its areas of study.

More than 120 people turned out for the open house hosted by AECOM team leaders. A series of stations highlighted the plans areas of study, timeline, analysis and approach, and attendees were encouraged to offer feedback.

The Port of Wilmington operates one of the largest on-dock cold storage complexes in North America and handles 400 vessels each year, generating $417 million in annual business revenue and supporting 5,600 jobs annually.

“In order to preserve these jobs and ensure consistent revenue for our future, we must evaluate our existing facilities, current trends, growth opportunities and establish a plan that will help the port remain competitive and viable in this ever-evolving world,” said Gene Bailey, executive director of Diamond State Port Corp., the corporate entity that owns the port.

AECOM kicked off the project in December and will finalize its key findings this spring based on SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) for proposed expansion locations, and review of technical, environmental and legal issues for each possible site.

“We’ll also look at infrastructure – rail and highway factors and we’ll look at the layout of each site and how that site could best be used,” said Tim Gunner, AECOM project manager.

The sites under review include:

  • Expansion of the existing port
  • Expansion to the former Evraz Steel site in Claymont
  • Utilization of Riveredge Industrial Park, the greenfield site south of the Delaware Memorial Bridge
  • Possibility of using Port South

Gunner said the strengths of the existing port’s 300-acre location along the Christina River include its proximity to open and neighboring railway and interstate. But the port lacks a docking berth on the Delaware River like its neighbors in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

The recent dredging of the Delaware River to accommodate larger vessels has resulted in expansion of port facilities along the river, with both New Jersey and Pennsylvania pursuing upgrades to accommodate a broader market.

Gunner and Bailey said turnout for the open house exceeded expectations, and included New Castle County officials who have pushed for a new $627 million cargo facility at the Riveredge Industrial Park.

The county funded a study of the site last year. That proposal includes a state-of-the-art container terminal equipped with the latest equipment, including cranes that will handle larger container vessels that carry 8,500 TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent unit, standard unit for describing a ship’s cargo carrying capacity); and two berths, with room for up to four.

“Our job as a consultant in a master plan is to be objective as possible – trying to look at facts and not allow emotion to guide us,” said Gunner. “Eventually some of those ideas will bubble up.”

According to Ronald “Kimoko” Harris, business agent for the International Longshoreman’s Association Local 1883, the county and the union have been on the front end of expansion for several years.  Harris is also a member of Diamond State’s expansion task force, and he said he’s hopeful AECOM’s findings will point to the development of Riveredge.

“People have finally started listening,” said Harris, of public interest in the port’s expansion. “What else do we have but the port now?”

The Port of Wilmington is the number one importer of fresh fruit, bananas and juice concentrates, and operates one of the largest on-dock cold storage complexes in North America, according to Diamond State Officials. It serves more than 200 million North American consumers through truck and rail delivery.

“We want to position the Port of Wilmington in such a way that over the next 20 years we can maximize its ability to have an economic impact on Wilmington and the state,” said Gunner. “That’s from a job standpoint and the ability to generate revenue. Whatever we can do to make that happen are the goals of the strategic plan.”

AECOM will present a draft of the strategic master plan in the spring at a second public open house.

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