As a shipping crane methodically unloaded the CSAV Rupanco at the Port of Baltimore Wednesday, a small brass ensemble played patriotic tunes nearby while waiters wearing black bowties served tall glasses of tomato and grapefruit juice.
The crane was dwarfed by four, 400-foot versions installed as part of a public-private partnership at Seagirt Marine Terminal. Those new cranes were the cause for celebration at the port, where elected officials, transportation advocates and other stakeholders gathered for a lavish dedication ceremony that celebrated upgrades made at the public port by private operator Ports America Chesapeake.
“The port’s economic future will be protected for generations because of the investments we’re making today,” Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said.
The mayor was joined by Gov. Martin O’Malley and transportation officials past and present, including U.S. Deputy Secretary of Transportation John D. Porcari (a former Maryland transportation secretary), former Maryland Department of Transportation Secretary Beverley Swaim-Staley and Helen Delich Bentley, the ex-congresswoman for whom the port is named.
But the party’s host — and underwriter — was Christopher H. Lee, the founder and managing partner of Highstar Capital, the investment firm that owns Ports America Chesapeake.
Lee, who revealed during the ceremony that one crane would be named for his wife, Susan Ginkel, said the cranes and 50-foot berth at the port — paid for by Ports America as part of the 50-year agreement with the state — ensured that supersized Asian ships would travel to Baltimore once the Panama Canal expansion is completed in 2015.
“They will be navigating to our port, and we are ready,” Lee said.
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Another crane was dedicated to James J. White, executive director of the Maryland Port Administration. The first was dedicated last summer to Capt. Lorenzo Di Casagrande, who died in 2010 after being vice president of the Mediterranean Shipping Co. for 20 years. The last of the four cranes will be dedicated later.
The celebration, months late after the threat of Hurricane Sandy forced the cancellation of an event planned for last October, highlighted the $40 million investment in the four-story cranes, which the port says weigh 1,550 tons each and can lift 187,500 pounds of cargo, seen as critical to attracting larger ships to the port.
But officials also used Wednesday morning to herald a CSX Transportation Inc. plan to build an intermodal rail facility in Baltimore that would allow cargo containers from the port to be double-stacked before being sent via rail to points west. CSX is seeking federal and state approval of the $90 million plan.
Lee, who is also chairman of Ports America Chesapeake, said the intermodal facility was not necessarily “mission critical.” But it made the potential payoff of the port’s infrastructure changes even greater. The Port of Virginia in Norfolk receives an outsized share of the market, Lee said, because it is able to double-stack containers leaving the port. Baltimore cannot because double-stacked loads would not fit through the Howard Street Tunnel.
“Not having double-stacking has been huge,” Lee said.
In the meantime, the new cranes and 50-foot berth are expected to help generate $15.7 million a year in new taxes for the state, and 2,700 people are expected to be hired to handle the anticipated increase in cargo container business at the port.
“Without jobs, there is no progress for our people,” O’Malley said.
Mauro Dalbo, Baltimore manager for Mediterranean Shipping — which has done business at the port since 1988 — said the company was “proud” to send cargo ships to Baltimore because of the port’s work to improve the existing infrastructure.
“They are bringing the future today,” Dalbo said.