OSWEGO, NY – The Port of Oswego Authority has been a vital part the Central New York economy for decades.
It is a critical asset for CNY business and global supply chains for everything from soybeans to aluminum, according to US Senator Charles Schumer. But, deteriorating rail lines and lack of critical equipment could hamper the port’s ability to grow and compete, he added.
The senator was in Oswego on Monday afternoon to announce his three-pronged plan to ensure the port prospers for generations to come.
Schumer was joined by Jonathon Daniels, executive director of the Port of Oswego, and Oswego Mayor Tom Gillen.
The port needs to make critical upgrades to infrastructure and equipment so that it can meet future shipping demands, increase productivity and preserve its role as a critical resource for business throughout Central New York – and around the globe, Schumer told the crowd of port officials, business representative and members of the Oswego County Legislature.
“The port is a great entryway for business and jobs throughout Central New York,” Schumer said. “We’re here today to focus on the big boost in the popularity of the port in recent years. When I first came here in 2007, the port was not as close to as busy as it is now.”
“The roster of companies (that use the port) keeps growing. The needs keep growing,” Daniels said. “Because of that, the senator is here again today to talk about a program to aid the port.”
“The port is growing and that is great news. But there are significant obstacles for it to grow further,” the senator said.
Schumer urged the Federal Railroad Administration to provide a much-needed $1.5 million loan to the port through its Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing program, which aims to finance development of railroad infrastructure.
The loan would have a “very low rate of interest” and be paid back over 30 years, the senator said.
The port would use the funds to upgrade about a mile of rail along the docks, which customers like Trafigura aluminum and Goldman Sachs rely on, according to Daniels.
The tracks have deteriorated to the point of shutting down, Schumer said, adding there have also been derailments all that stretch. The current rails have been in place since 1963, and has had no rehab in the last half century, he said.
“Without modernization, the rail line is at risk of shutdown and the port would be rendered useless,” Schumer warned. “The port handles 1,000 rail cars annually. A few years ago, it was zero. So, if we fix the rail line, it could be thousands and thousands more.”
Secondly, Schumer said the port is in need of a specialized forklift to better handle the large, overweight materials at the facility.
Currently, to handle such cargo, the port has to rent a crane from an outside contractor, which is an unnecessary expense, Schumer said.
He is urging the federal government to transfer one such forklift to the port through a surplus equipment program.
Schumer also announced his support of the Harbor Maintenance Act of 2013.
It would unlock the dredging funding that the US Army Corps of Engineers needs in order to dredge the port and maintain operations, he said.
“$1.8 million worth of dredging needs to be done to make the waters fully accessible to the larger trade vessels that are now coming here,” he said. “The entire harbor needs to be 28 feet, six inches deep. In some places, it is much shallower than that.”
Work at the port supports about 7,000 jobs, the senator said.
“It brings in a flood of revenues each year to the tune of $1 billion. So, the federal government can’t turn its back on all these workers and all this money,” Schumer said. “So, today we are announcing my support for federal legislation that will access funding to get rid of the excess sediment at the bottom of the harbor. I’m going to one of the sponsors of the Harbor Maintenance Act.”
The Army Corps of Engineers has $7 billion just sitting there, according to Schumer.
“They are supposed to use it to dredge our ports. But it’s sitting there. Why? You can’t use it for anything else. It’s an accounting trick, if they don’t spend it, it’s less of a deficit,” he said. “Our legislation would require that some of that money be used for dredging and at the top of the list will be the port of Oswego.”
While the Port’s popularity with the shipping industry has grown significantly in recent years and boosted economic growth across Central New York, its ability to maintain existing business and attract future suppliers hinges on these critical upgrades, Schumer said.
“Each one of these will have a lot of bang for the buck for the federal government. The amount of economic activity, the amount of tax dollars that will come back is huge,” he pointed out. “This port is one of the bright lights; let’s emphasize it, let’s make it better and bigger.”