Dock project, part of Erie Inland Port, eyed for Presque Isle Bay
BY KEVIN FLOWERS, Erie Times-News
There is no guarantee it will ever be built.
The project might take years to develop, and the price could likely exceed $25 million.
And there is still plenty of legwork ahead to determine which companies that import and/or export goods would be the best fit -- and whether they would sign on to use it.
Nevertheless, local officials looking to improve Erie's waterfront port as part of a multiyear plan to create a large-scale logistics hub in the region are intrigued by the idea of a new, 2.5-acre dock, built out into Presque Isle Bay, that would partially rim an 18-acre parcel of property owned by the Erie-Western Pennsylvania Port Authority.
The property is west of the Mountfort Terminal, where ships load and unload, and south of the entrance to the channel that connects the bay and Lake Erie.
The new dock would extend into water that is about 20 feet deep, which would allow large cargo ships to enter that area without having to dredge the bay bottom, said Ray Schreckengost, the Port Authority's executive director.
The new dock would also be large enough to host heavy cranes and other machinery, as well as new storage and cargo facilities.
"This could take years to put together," Schreckengost said. "But we could use more space down there now, and if the market opportunities are there, it is certainly worth looking at.
"If you can get the right businesses interested in coming in here, you want to go ahead and do it," Schreckengost continued. "There are market opportunities out there, and if the right ones come up for Erie, we certainly want to be in a position to capitalize on them."
D. Tod Eagleton, dock operations supervisor for Carmeuse Lime & Stone, Erie Sand & Gravel Operations, said the need for an expanded dock has been discussed for a long time.
"It would give us more dock space, more back space (room for unloading and storage) and more room for ship repair," he said.
It would also provide extra space for unloading container ships if plans for a logistics hub become a reality.
"It would benefit the port operations and our operations if that goes through," he said.
The dock project is included in a long-range master plan for enhancing Erie's port. Two consulting firms, Martin Associates, of Lancaster, and Vickerman & Associates, of Williamsburg, Va., are studying the port's facilities and any infrastructure changes that might be needed to boost port business.
Martin Associates has also given the Port Authority an analysis of freight flowing through the Port of Erie as part of the $268,425 study.
Erie's port generates about $60 million in annual revenue and about 940 people have jobs directly or indirectly related to the cargo and shipyard activity that takes place on Erie's waterfront, according to consultants.
About 1 million tons of cargo, including limestone, salt and sand, move through Erie's port each year.
Consultants have urged local and port officials to focus on luring emerging businesses -- especially those involving wind energy and wood pellet/biomass exporters -- to increase the Erie Port's volume of business, according to a new freight and strategic development plan.
That is where the proposed dock comes in: The theory is that to capitalize on some of these new business opportunities, Erie will need ample space for loading and unloading cargo, as well as storage. The Erie port's waterfront access, as well as nearby railroad lines, could make it an attractive option for various companies.
"It may be the only thing that enables what comes next," said John Elliott, chief executive of the Economic Development Corp. of Erie County and a driving force behind what's known as the Erie Inland Port project.
The Economic Development Corp. is working to establish a business park -- at least 200 acres -- focused on the distribution, transportation and warehousing of goods.
Infrastructure enhancements at the ports of Erie and Conneaut, Ohio, are also part of the plan, which likely will cost more than $50 million in public and private funds and is expected to include multiple sites. Erie County government has provided $3 million toward the project.
"We know what some of the market opportunities are, like equipment for wind power and biofuels," Elliott said. "These companies are looking for (import/export) space.
"We have to explore those potential market opportunities to determine whether we build something new," Elliott said, "But we don't want to be limited by what we have either. ... If you visit other ports, you will see docks and terminals that service different types of containerized cargo, etc. Some of these industries that might have the opportunity to grow in Erie may require different dock facilities to do that."
John Vickerman, the owner of Vickerman & Associates, told Port Authority officials at a Feb. 22 meeting about proposed port enhancements that consultants were simply providing "a road map" of options for local officials.
"Take the hard-hitting results, focus on the opportunities and develop a plan that focuses on the potentials," said Vickerman, who is coming up with both a concept plan for the dock that will show what it might look like in detail, as well as a cost estimate.
Schreckengost said it would likely cost $25 million to $30 million, and take a long-term lease with at least one major cargo handler -- "someone bringing in high-value products, like televisions, windmill equipment, biofuels, something like that" -- to make the dock a reality.
"If you get the right major tenant," Schreckengost said, "that's all you need."