The Port of Albany will be able to handle more ships at once, as well as ships with heavier cargoes, using a new and expanded $12 million wharf that was unveiled Thursday.
The expanded and modernized wharf will be a major boost for the port and for the Capital Region economy, making it easier to ship and receive goods by water, officials said.
“This is a milestone for this great port,” said Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings, who worked as a stevedore at the port when he was young. “This port is a critical part of our Capital Region Economic Development Plan.”
Jennings, who serves on the Capital Region Economic Development Council, said transportation infrastructure like the deep-water port will play an important role in the regional development plan, which is due to be completed in November.
The new wharf on the Hudson River was built over the last two years with state funds and federal stimulus money, replacing a timber pile wharf that was constructed in 1927, when Franklin D. Roosevelt was governor.
“If you’d seen what was here before, you wouldn’t want to be out on it,” Jennings said.
The new pier is concrete and steel, cantilevered out over the water so ships can pull up next to it. The pier has the ability to support weights of 1,200 pounds per square foot — twice the weight the old wharf could support. A new railroad track has been extended down the pier, allowing cargoes to be directly loaded or unloaded by crane between rail car and ship.
The improvements are also doubling the number of ships that can be docked at the same time from two to four.
The first phase of work, extending the pier about 500 feet along the waterfront, was mostly completed last year at a cost of $7.6 million, with $6.5 million coming from the Rebuild NY Bond Act. The 310-foot extension completed last month cost another $4.3 million, paid for from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the 2009 federal stimulus bill.
U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, said the port project was a use of stimulus money that will create new economic opportunities far beyond the 60 jobs directly involved in construction.
“This is a sound investment. What does it mean? Larger ships and more cargo, and that translates into jobs,” Tonko said.
The port already has a major economic role in the region. The port and its tenants account for $428.5 million in annual economic activity, according to a 2008 study by the Capital District Regional Planning Commission. The study found 1,382 jobs were associated with the port or tenants.
The port in South Albany handled 451,000 tons of cargo last year, up 75 percent from the year before.
About 35 longshoremen work on an average day, and Longshoreman’s Union local President Jim Keleher said more could be put to work if business picks up.
“People have been looking to do something like this for years,” he said.
The most common cargoes coming through the port are scrap metal, grain and wood pulp, but General Electric also uses the port for shipping large equipment made in Schenectady, said port General Manager Rich Hendrick.
“These improvements will allow us to handle the anticipated increase in traffic through the port in the coming years,” Hendrick said. “We are focusing our efforts now on bringing that business to the Port of Albany, thus creating more jobs for our longshoremen.”
Albany County Executive Michael Breslin said the improvements build on an Albany maritime transportation tradition that goes back at least as far as construction of the Erie Canal in 1825. The port provides a site, he said, for shipping goods brought in by boat to the interior of the United States.
“It’s a huge step forward to see this port state-of-the-art, so we can quickly load and unload ships headed out to sea,” Breslin said.
The Albany Port District Commission began to plan the upgrades in 2002 as part of a larger plan to relieve congestion in the ports of New York and New Jersey.
The commission controls about 202 acres in Albany and 34 acres on the Rensselaer side of the river, where the docking berths remain wooden piers. Hendrick said the commission is looking for grant money to rebuild and modernize the Rensselaer pier.