From shipping cars to Africa to a new security checkpoint for truckers, Judith Sheiffele has big plans for New Haven’s year-old port district.
The New Haven Port Authority heard about those plans at its annual meeting Thursday night.
“People drive by on the I-95 corridor and have no idea about what goes on” in the tangle of pipes, buildings and piles of material that flank the highway, said Judith Scheiffele, the authority’s executive director [pictured standing recently in the port area].
One of her main goals in the coming year is to change all that.
There is a “grave lack of understanding on the part of the public” about how vital the New Haven port is to their lives, Sheiffele said.
At Thursday night’s annual meeting, Sheiffele presented her first annual report since becoming the authority’s first executive director last St. Patrick’s Day. The authority is a quasi-public body whose commissioners are appointed by New Haven’s mayor. It is not technically a city agency.
Sheiffele outlined five areas on which she wants to concentrate during the next year. Two of them, outreach and marketing, target the lack of public understanding of the port and its function.
“People only think of trucks” when it comes to understanding how goods reach them, she said. She wants to launch a public relations campaign “to inform the general public of the need and ultimate dependence on a reliable, cost-effective system for distribution of goods and the role the marine highway plays in that system,” she said in the action plan presented to the board.
She also wants to produce a handout describing the “assets of the Port of New Haven,” along with signs for the port district describing some of the port’s history and activities.
A rail spur crosses Waterfront Street, a bumpy, busy road that flanks the docks about a quarter-mile away. She wants more rail tracks to bring more rail service near the docks. She also wants to improve port security, including a staging yard for trucks picking up and delivering at the docks.
Truckers who don’t have the Transportation Worker Identification Card that grew out of the increased security after 9/11 cannot enter secure areas until accompanied by security personnel. So they so they idle along the warren of streets near the waterfront. Sheiffele wants there to be a staging yard so security personnel can vet the truckers.
Finally, she wants to expand the land available for port use by purchasing properties as they become available and the state removes material and equipment from land it has purchased as staging areas for the Interstate 95 rebuilding project.
State Department of Transportation engineer Brian Mecure said he and Sheiffele are discussing that subject, and reported that the I-95 project was on schedule, with bids going out this week for the second phase, the bridge supports. The bids are due to be opened in May.
Charles Beck, the transportation marine manager for the state Bureau of Aviation and Ports, said the U.S. Senate version of the nearly $900 billion stimulus bill working its way through Congress includes the beginnings of studies within the definition of “shovel-ready” projects qualified for funding. So some of the studies about to begin on the dredging of New Haven’s port might be paid for by the federal government. New Haven’s main ship channel cannot handle some of the larger ships plying the seas because it is too shallow, according to Sheiffele.
Altogether, Sheiffele told the commissioners Thursday, her first year has been busy, establishing a position that hadn’t existed, and purchasing a number of properties, as well as learning all she can about her new responsibilities.
Sheiffele, a retired city economic development official, has purchased 14 acres on Waterfront Street near Alabama Avenue for the authority and is in negotiations to purchase the Colonial Hardware warehouse when that business moves into the River Street redevelopment area. She has her eye on other areas, many of which are now used by the state.
She is paid $45,000 a year to be the only employee of the port authority. The job keeps her busy.
The authority has sway only over the port area east of the Quinnipiac River. The port district comprises 366 acres. Some of the larger businesses located within the district include the New Haven Terminal, United Illuminating, Coastline Terminal, Magellan, the Gateway Terminal, Gulf Oil Terminal, the Greater New Haven Water Pollution Control Authority and Motiva Terminal. The old U.S. Steel plant, now home to the area’s only biodiesel facility, sits north of I-95 in the port district.
According to a 2003 document, the most recent available, New Haven was handling 10.9 million tons of goods a year, nearly twice as many as Bridgeport. Much of New Haven’s business comes from domestic sources. In fact, after Boston, New Haven handled more domestic goods than any other New England terminal at the time of that estimate.
Gateway and Coastline are the two terminals that handle dry cargo, such as sand, salt, cement and scrap. Gateway owns the three huge cement silos along I-95, one of the city’s landmarks.
New Haven used to be known for its ability to handle steel quickly and efficiently. But steel fabrication has fallen off with the drop off in building. Now steel rolls are the only steel products coming through New Haven.
Shipping Cars To Africa?
On a recent cold afternoon, Sheiffele took a reporter on a tour of her domain, much like any proud parent. Because of security concerns, the tour avoided the docks and the area near them.
She pointed to an empty field that she soon hopes will have lots of cars on it. She and the city are hoping that a business that buys cars and ships them to West Africa will use New Haven as the storage and embarkation point. The cars are now being shipped from Bayonne, N.J., but that is only temporary.
The Board of Aldermen would have to declare a few feet at the end of Waterfront Street no longer a city street, because unregistered cars cannot cross even a few feet of city street by law.
The port authority, she said, is like a chamber of commerce for the port, plus a landlord on its acreage. That’s where much of the port authority’s revenue comes from. The city, state and federal governments police the port, the docks, govern what can and cannot be brought into the port, what can be stored there and the movement of goods between water and land.
The harbormaster and dock master are city officials who hold sway over the port area. The U.S. Coast Guard, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Customs Service represent the federal government. The state Board of Harbor Commissioners, the DOT, the Transportation Strategy Board and the Connecticut Maritime Commission are state agencies for the port.
On her tour, Sheiffele looked out at the mostly empty, snow-covered land, a forlorn landscape that, through her eyes, is a forest of possibilities. She sees acres of cars to buildings worth of steel and dry goods, as well as the oil, gas and jet fuel that are pumped through the miles of pipes over which she looks.
“All we need now is the business,” she told the commissioners Thursday night.
By Leonard J. Honeyman