Working Waterfront: Peter Dailey, Port of San Francisco
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Bay CrossingsWorking Waterfront

Peter Dailey

Maritime Director, Port of San Francisco

The Port of San Francisco offers as wide an array of maritime uses as any port on the West Coast. There are seven ports in Northern California, and each port has an important role to play in the area’s maritime industry. Oakland is the largest container port in San Francisco Bay, Richmond handles huge volumes of liquid bulk crags, Benicia is a leading auto import center, Redwood City is a bulk import and export load center and the Ports of Sacramento and Stockton are vital to agricultural importers and exporters.

The Port of San Francisco continues to play an important role with its traditional Port activities. We are home to one of the largest ship repair facilities on the West Coast, the terminus for the regions Ferry fleets, and are the center of the Bay’s harbor services such as tug, tow and pilot boat operations. Fisherman’s Wharf is the center of Northern California’s commercial fishing industry and we are a leading cruise port. Our cargo terminals handle a large amount of bulk, break bulk cargoes such as structural steel, lumber, and rolled newsprint. In fact, Bay Crossings very well may be printed on newsprint that was imported from British Columbia and transported by ship into Pier 80 on the southern waterfront. The shipping industry has gone through a radical change in its technology that has changed the physical requirements of shipping terminals.

The Port was formed in 1863 by the State and became part of the city in 1968. All the finger piers that people see on the northern central waterfront were built for a generation of shipping that has been gone for decades. There was a railroad that ran along the Embarcadero, and the ships would be loaded and unloaded, and the railroad would bring or take cargo from the vessels.

The advent container shipping in the 1960s completely changed the way ships were loaded and unloaded. Now, instead of a long finger pier, you need 100 to 250 acres for container lay-down to handle modern container vessels.

When the BART tube was built underneath the Bay in the 1960s, the mud that was dredged up was used to build the Port of Oakland’s 7th Street Terminal. Oakland invested in container shipping when the container age was in its infancy. Their location on the mainland side of the Bay, in terms of railroad and truck accesses, is very advantageous for general cargo handling.

While our finger piers are obsolete for many of their intended uses, today we use these finger piers for such uses as housing the bar pilots and major tug operations on the northern waterfront. We also have excursion boats such as the Red & White and Blue & Gold on old finger piers and our new Port headquarters building is in a pier that was previously used for cargo shipping.

The WTA plan for comprehensive regional ferry service is an exciting opportunity for the region’s commuters and maritime industries. It could represent a major shipbuilding initiative for California, provide jobs for our maritime unions, and be a key component of our future San Francisco waterfront and the keystone of a regional urban waterfront lifestyle.

The ferry business is key to San Francisco’s maritime activities.

2003 and 2004 look to be two of the biggest volume cruise years that the Port has ever experienced. Cruise shipping has tremendous economic benefit on our City and region, particularly in 2003, when the visitor industry is soft. We’re expecting approximately 75 cruise ships transporting 175,000 passengers to the waterfront throughout the year. Not only do these cruise visits provide significant new business to our shops, restaurants, hotels, taxicabs, and the airport, it helps the tug and ship repair industry, the ship chandlers, longshoremen, and pilots.

We also want to make sure that the cruise lines operate in an environmentally sound way. I believe that cruise lines now understand the need to make environmental issues paramount in their operations. The Port looks forward to working with our cruise customers and the environmental community to protect both the environment as well as the significant economic benefit these cruise ships generate.

Our cargo shipping market is the medium-size ocean container carriers that are looking for more personalized service and better economy and less congestion than available at mega-terminals. We have shipping lines that offer service to South and Central America, which means that a lot of the coffee beans roasted in Northern California as well as Chilean wine move through the Port of San Francisco. We’ve also diversified into bulk building material imports. Materials to make concrete now are imported by ship, taking trucks off the roads.

The question about how the lack of doublestack rail service seriously impacts the level of TEUs, or 20-foot equivalent containers, is complex. Bigger shipping require adequate rail service to get their goods—especially their import goods, but some export as well—into the country. They have moved away from trucks to doublestack rail technology, where you put two ocean containers on top of each other on a lowbed rail car. With this system, they can move a lot of cargo very quickly in and out of the hinterland very effectively and economically. The Union Pacific is the only railroad that calls at the Port of San Francisco, whereas Oakland is served by two railroads. So there are routing and competitive issues on top of physical infrastructure issue. A number of years ago, the decision was made-–we had some federal monies-–to alter that initial tunnel so we could allow higher railcars. The decision was made not to go forward with that plan. In hindsight, it was probably a little shortsighted. If we weren’t able to handle doublestack containers, maybe we could have handled automobile import railcars. The lack of intermodal improvements limits our capability to market the Port.

The Port is poised to make a major rail investment by building a rail/truck bridge across Islais Creek that will connect Pier 80 and Piers 90/92/94 & 96 complex. This intermodal enhancement is probably the largest capital investment to the Port’s cargo transportation system in decades and will also have the benefit of moving truck traffic off of Third Street and provide easier access to Highways 280 and 101.

The Port is always looking for federal grants and state grants for infrastructure improvements. In fact, one of the large areas of concern these days in the port industry is security, obviously. We had applied for a federal grant for a security assessment to be completed by a professional security assessment-engineering firm. We were awarded a $500,000 Federal Security Grant to undertake this security assessment, which we’ve begun. The consultant team is onboard right now, looking at all areas of vulnerability and risk at the Port. What that will result in will be a document that will identify both capital and programmatic efforts to improve security on the waterfront. That’s everything from cruise ships to cargo operations at Pier 80 to ferry boats. As we live in a new world, there are new rules. Next, we’re applying for another federal grant to obtain millions of dollars to help us in terms of what these new mandates are going to be for security on the waterfront.

As far as security concerns, I know the Coast Guard and the Federal Transportation Agencies and the Homeland Security offices are looking specifically at ferry traffic. On the federal level, mandates will be coming forward like they are at the airport, like they are at seaports to a certain extent. But I think any area of vulnerability will be assessed.

The Port clearly has an aging infrastructure. A lot of the finger piers were built in the early 1900s before seismic standards are what they are, for a use that is not compatible with today’s needs. There are some pressing infrastructure issues that the Port needs to address that can’t be handled just from our own revenues. I think there needs to be some sort of mechanism for the Port, be it through bond measure, through federal or state grants, or legislation, to assist us in protecting the jewel of the resource that the Port of San Francisco represents.

The Port’s maritime industries generate thousands of jobs, and economic benefits. In fact, maritime jobs are one of the leading providers of skilled union jobs in San Francisco so it’s important for San Francisco to have diversity in their economic activities. In 2003, shipping and shipbuilding, tugboats and cruise shipping, and cargo shipping all play a very important role in San Francisco’s economy. All these maritime activities are interdependent, as the more shipping generates the need for more tugs, ship repair, longshoremen, and pilots e. The seven ports of Northern California each provide an important economic role to the region. Ports used to focus primarily on growth without looking at cost in terms of environmental degradation or traffic impacts. I think it’s important to gauge a port’s success with a "triple bottom line." Ports need to look not only at their bottom line but they need to take equally into account the environmental issues generated in port and the economic benefits that port activities create for their cities and the region.