The N.C. State Ports Authority is applying for a federal grant to pay for improvements to container berths and wharfs at the Port of Wilmington.
Spokesman Cliff Pyron said the authority hasn’t yet narrowed down a dollar amount to apply for, as the application for federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery – or TIGER – funds isn’t due until April 29.
“The authority is preparing for global trade changes by making long-term investments in its terminal, equipment and channel,” Pyron said in an email.
According to the federal Department of Transportation, areas in designated urban zones – including Wilmington – can apply for grants ranging from $5 million to $100 million.
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The port is undergoing major renovations as it aims to increase traffic and business.
It plans to use a state allocation of $70 million over the next two years to buy two new cranes and replace a docking berth for large container vessels. It is also in the midst of a $14 million project to widen the port’s turning basin in the Cape Fear River to accommodate larger ships.
Pyron said the federal grant would pay for the reconstruction of two container berths, waterside wharf infrastructure improvements, the installation of a crane rail line, and the partial demolition of a transit shed.
Those improvements are being complemented by some private investment at the port, including the construction of a new cold storage facility that will be open in June and last year’s inflation of two wood pellet storage domes by Enviva.
In 2015 the port had a record year in terms of container traffic, moving nearly 300,000 20-foot equivalent – or TEU – units in and out of the port.
But the widening of the Panama Canal last year means shipping companies plan to send larger ships, carrying as many as 10,000 TEUs, to the U.S. East Coast. Right now, the largest ships accessing the Port of Wilmington carry about 4,500 TEUs.
“The project is just one part of a larger container expansion plan to make the port capable of meeting growing import and export needs in the southeastern region of the U.S,” Pyron said. “Any federal funds received from TIGER would complement funds received from the General Assembly and revenues generated by the Authority.”
Wilmington ranked 28th in North America in container traffic as of 2014, according to the American Association of Port Authorities. The top three U.S. ports were Los Angeles, Long Beach, Calif., and New York.