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Delaware, Enstructure partner on port’s future

Katie Tabeling
Port of Wilmington Enstructure

Within months of negotiating more favorable terms to take over the Port of Wilmington, Enstructure has now signed a public-private partnership with the state on massive improvements, including a new port. | DBT FILE PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

WILMINGTON — Delaware is now doubling down its future in trade by establishing a public-private partnership to oversee $635 million in infrastructure improvements at the Port of Wilmington while also developing a new container port in Edgemoor.

Port Delaware, the public-private entity that will oversee the existing Port of Wilmington and the proposed Edgemoor port alongside Enstructure, is touted by Gov. John Carney as a way to keep Delaware’s maritime industry competitive while fast-tracking improvements to quadruple the port’s capacity for cargo by bringing in larger ships to the terminal. 

Enstructure estimates that a 32 month construction window will cover the first stage of the project, with their investment at $150 million. Delaware has committed $215 million, of which $55 million is already allocated or will be in the near future through Delaware’s share of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds. 

Over the entire life of the project, the First State will take on 39% of the cost of redeveloping the 100-acre Edgemoor container port as well as adding the adjacent 25-acre waterfront parcel, according to an announcement from Carney. 

Enstructure, which took over as the Port of Wilmington operator in August, is responsible for most of the construction and equipment costs. In total, the company is projected to spend $335 million on the project targeted to be complete by 2027. Since the port operator is responsible for roughly half of the investment in later stages, state officials noted in a release that those phases will be done when “business justifies the additional capacity.”

“For decades, jobs at the Port of Wilmington have been a gateway into the middle class for thousands of workers and their families— the kind of jobs our state and country were built on,” Carney said in the prepared statement. “This investment to expand the Port will position Delaware to compete for container cargo and larger ships. It will bring new, good-paying union jobs to Wilmington. I am pleased to see strong bipartisan support for this important and necessary next step in making the planned Edgemoor expansion a reality.”

The announcement comes after Delaware officials signed a 55-year deal with Estructure to operate the Port of Wilmington after its past operator, Gulftainer, missed several milestones to invest in the planned container port at Edgemoor. Subsidiary GT USA Wilmington was contracted to spend $250 million to advance Edgemoor by the end of 2020, which was not met, partly due to economic challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic.

In obtaining a long-term lease for the Port of Wilmington, Enstructure agreed to invest $21.5 million to move the 100-acre Edgemoor project ahead. The investment also includes the adjacent 25-acre waterfront parcel that is currently home to its Port Contractors Inc. subsidiary to the port plans, increasing the project’s shoreline by about 45% and its total acreage by 30%.

Terms outlined in the deal Enstructure first negotiated with state officials in 2023 include $87 million in upgrades at the Port of Wilmington, including $45 million spent before the end of 2032. That was reported to include $30 million in buildings and $10 million in cranes and equipment, with the remaining $5 million going to site improvements at the time.

Early plans shared by state officials show that Port Delaware North —or the Edgemoor project —will have the capacity of 1.2 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs). It would also bring another 3,168 workers to the port and create 3,900 direct construction jobs. The public-private partnership will include a project labor agreement with the Building and Construction Trades Council, including the International Longshoremen’s Association union workforce.

Building capacity

The current Port of Wilmington, rebranded Port Delaware South, has the capacity of 400,000 TEUs. Wilmington ranks among the top ports for fresh fruit in the United States and is the No. 1 port for bananas in all of North America, handling 200,000 refrigerated 40-foot containers a year on average. The facility boasts six cold storage warehouses, or about 800,000 square-feet of refrigerated warehouse space, and is possibly the largest complex in North America. Recent reports of bulk shipments of fruit to the port of Wilmington, due to smaller harvests and a sudden drop in containerized cargo, has only stressed the need to move to commercialized cargo.

Aside from fruit, the Port of Wilmington handles a variety of breakbulk products from rice to salt, petcoke to even pregnant dairy cattle. In the past, it boasted of three major auto carriers that deliver imports here, but it does more exporting for companies like Ford, Chrysler and General Motors, as well as military equipment. 

When the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapsed in March, logistics experts found that much of the cargo, including “roll on, roll off,” would be re-routed to neighboring ports in Philadelphia, Norfolk and even the Middle East, because those ports had more capacity than the First State. Industry analysts told the Delaware Business Times in the past that the Port of Wilmington handles an estimated 215,000 20-foot container vessels per year.

When Port Delaware North is complete, it’s expected to draw in container vessels carrying retail goods, perishables, frozen foods, forest products and various “export products.”

“We are excited to partner with the State of Delaware, the Diamond State Port Corporation, the Delaware Building Trades and the International Longshoremen’s Association to significantly expand Delaware’s port infrastructure,” Enstructure CEOs Matthew Satnick and Philippe De Montigny said in a prepared statement. “The Port Delaware Container Terminal will broaden Enstructure’s terminal network and logistics services, while enhancing our ability to serve our customers.”

Through a Estructure spokesman, Satnick and Montigny told DBT they do not have any further information at this time regarding the goods the port will see. However, they did say that it is expected to dredge the channel to a minimum depth of 45 feet, which the partners in the public-private partnership will be responsible for.

The timeline

Right now, Delaware and the state-appointed Diamond State Port Corporation have spent $35 million in ARPA funds on the project while Estructure has spent $20 million. Edgemoor already received a $50 million federal grant to move the project forward.

State officials have earmarked $215 million for the first phase of development that will occur over the next 32 months.

The first phase outlined that the state will commit $195 million in bond funds as well as another $20 million in ARPA funds. Estructure will commit $150 million, according to the state. This stage will primarily focus on waterside construction, including building a seawall, high deck and dredging. 

In the second phase, Estructure projects to spend $50 million in construction with another $115 million later on in the final phase. 

While the port operator is responsible for more than half the total project costs, the rest will be paid out of federal sources or the Diamond State Port Corporation. State funds will come from excess abandoned property revenues made available in previous state bond bills for specific one-time uses, including maritime terminal development.

This is a developing story.

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