State decides to ‘go big’ with Port Delaware

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The announcement of a decision to move forward with a container port at the former DuPont titanium plant site in Edgemoor seemed to come out of the blue.

It had been thought that a scaled-down version of the original project might emerge after Massachusetts-based Enstructure took over from Gulftainer, but the size of this project and the inflation-driven price tag surprised some.

Years earlier, Emirates-based Gulftainer had been selected as the port operator under a 50-year agreement that would seemingly free the state from losses and capital costs associated with operating the Port of Wilmington.

Gulftainer planned to build a half-billion-dollar container port along the Delaware River at the Edgmoor plant site, creating hundreds and perhaps thousands of blue-collar jobs.

Gulftainer’s time at the port was, to put it mildly, troubled. Although the company bought new equipment, it fell into a pattern of labor troubles, unpaid bills, and assorted other disputes that sometimes ended up in Chancery Court. The Covid-19 pandemic may have been the final blow.

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In the meantime, the state moved forward on fast-tracking permits for Edgemoor to the dismay of political leaders upriver who felt Delaware was getting preferential treatment, thanks to the clout of the First State’s congressional delegation.

While state officials remained mostly closed-mouth about the situation, there seemed to be a growing realization that any vision of operating the port minus state support was a non-starter.

That led to a bipartisan agreement quietly hammered out in Bond Bill proceedings. Under the deal, the state will invest $195 million in the infrastructure of the container site, which, along with the Port of Wilmington, will be branded as Port Delaware. Ensructure will build out the Edgemor port in phases, depending on the ability to attract shippers.

The project is not without its risks.

The ocean shipping business is highly competitive on the East Coast and other ports will defend their turf and spend heavily. To the south, more than $1 billion is being plowed into a container port in the Norfolk area of Virginia that can handle the world’s largest vessels.

Despite the uncertainties, legislators and the Carney Administration decided to “go big or go home” with Port Delaware.

At a minimum, Edgemoor will bring construction jobs and offer Delaware a chance to make logistics an even bigger part of the economy. It also provides a hedge against any loss of business at the existing Port of Wilmington, a major destination for bananas and other produce. The Edgemoor port, with easy access to rail service and I-495. It is also downriver from Philadelphia and Jersey ports and could offer a slightly cheaper option for shippers.

Enjoy your weekend and if you need to catch up on a busy week of news, check out our Week in Review. – Doug Rainey, chief content officer.

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