EASTPORT, Maine — The port of Eastport reached a major milestone Monday, despite a howling blizzard, when it successfully loaded more than 400,000 tons of cargo in a single year.
“When the port was established, best estimates were that we would be lucky to do 50,000 tons a year,” Chris Gardner, executive director of the Eastport Port Authority said Monday. “This record-breaking year certainly speaks to the potential of this port.”
The Norwegian cargo ship Star Herdla had the honors Monday of pushing the 2010 tonnage to 415,000 tons as baled pulp from Woodland Mill LLC was loaded on board, destined for China.
“This is the first time in our history we have broken the 400,000-ton mark,” Gardner said.
“This is a sign of a promising year ahead,” Eastport City Manager Jon Southern said Monday. “It is also a sign of the need for the [current] expansion of the port.”
The port employs about 60 people, Gardner said, not including tug crews, independent truckers and pilots. “We have a tremendous impact on the local economy,” he said.
The Eastport Port Authority was established in 1977 and an expansion in 1998 and one now under way show that Eastport is considered one of the fastest-growing cargo ports in New England, Gardner said. It is also the easternmost port for shipping to Europe and the deepest cargo port in North America.
Much of that growth is centered on the Woodland mill, formerly Domtar. “We have a hand-in-glove relationship with the mill,” Gardner said. The port almost exclusively ships Woodland wood products. Although the port shipped hundreds of cows to Turkey on three occasions this year, Gardner said those weights were not cal-culated in the cargo tonnage.
“When you think the mill almost closed last year and now we’ve had the biggest year ever, it most certainly speaks to the stability of the mill under its new owners.”
Domtar was sold in October for $64 million to International Grand Investment. IGI is a U.S.-based company registered in Delaware but owned by Guangzhou Dinson Engineering and Trading Ltd., a Chinese firm with several lines of business, including pulp trading.
Company representatives met with outgoing Gov. John Baldacci last week and said they were already looking at hiring new employees and expanding the products at the mill.
“We look to the mill as it repositions itself for new growth,” Gardner said.
“Once that conveyor system is in place,” Southern said, “I think we are going to see incredible things happening at the port.”
Next week, the port will formally break ground on an $8 million conveyor system, expanded cargo storage and warehouse space that will further allow for the port’s growth into markets beyond pulp, such as wood pellets. The conveyor system will allow for both efficient loading of vessels as well as unloading of ships.
Gardner credited the port’s employees for reaching the milestone.
“Hats off to the men and women who actually work on the dock,” he said, “as well as the truck drivers, the longshoremen.”
He said the port would celebrate its 30th anniversary of working with the Woodland mill in 2011.
“What a great way to go into the new year,” Gardner said.