February 27, 2021 [Global Trade] – What does it take for a port to remain competitive and progressive, regardless of the market disruptions at hand?
Port of Beaumont Director of Trade Development Ernest Bezdek shares the answer to that question and more secrets to the Texas facility’s success in an exclusive interview with Global Trade Magazine.
Known for leading cargo handling for the petrochemical industry, the Port of Beaumont reported robust numbers in 2019-2020 and continues to soar during a historical year of disruptions. According to the latest reports, the port’s liquid bulk terminal handled 4.2 million tons of crude and refined products, and the dry bulk terminal moved more than 2 million tons of aggregate in ’19-’20.
“While aggregate isn’t directly tied to the petrochemical industry, the majority of the product coming through the Port of Beaumont is used for industrial expansions along the Sabine-Neches Waterway,” Bezdek explains. “The port’s Orange County Liquid Bulk facility, which began handling crude and refined products in 2012, has realized a 5,000 percent increase in cargo volume since the first year of operation.”The Orange County Liquid Bulk facility is a public-private partnership between the Port of Beaumont and Jefferson Energy Companies, he adds.
“The liquid bulk facility was responsible for the first shipment of refined products to Mexico upon deregulation in 2017 and continues to ship crude and refined products to international markets, playing a significant role in sustaining the Sabine-Neches Waterway’s spot as one of the top three crude refining complexes in the United States,” Bezdek says.
Another significant statistic the port boasts about is maintaining the position as the fourth largest in tonnage. This title, the port’s record success and forward-thinking approach to operations contribute to all levels of development growth, from local, state and federal initiatives.
“Locally, the port approves tax abatements for companies looking to open or expand along the waterway,” Bezdek says. “On the state level, the port serves on the board for the Port Authority Advisory Committee and works with state legislators to ensure Texas ports are always top-of-mind. And federally, we work with congressional leaders and industry trade organizations to ensure legislation . . . supports the needs of the maritime industry well into the future.”
One example of such legislation he cites is the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2020.
“Additionally, the port supports and encourages private investment,” Bezdek adds, “and it has leveraged public dollars five to one with the public-private-partnerships currently in place.”
ANOTHER LAYER OF FOCUS
Sustainability and infrastructure also top the port’s list for legislative initiatives. Outdated facilities and limited capacities have no place in the modern maritime arena if you want to remain competitive and continue record-setting trends. The Port of Beaumont takes sustainable resiliency seriously, eliminating chances of limiting future growth opportunities. Among the initiatives put in place to ensure the latest and greatest infrastructure is in place, Bezdek highlights the following:
Composite Fenders: “The port replaced deteriorating timber fenders with new eco-friendly composite fenders on our most heavily used dock. Products like Axion’s Struxure boards are estimated to have five times the service life of hardwood, which offers better performance while reducing our maintenance costs.”
Buford Rail Interchange Track: “We are in the process of constructing a second rail interchange track. The additional rail interchange track on our property will allow a higher percentage of outbound surface cargo to be loaded on rail cars as opposed to trucks. Currently, approximately 15 percent of forest cargo and 15 percent of project cargo leaves the Port of Beaumont by truck. It was determined that this percentage could be reduced, resulting in significant benefits in safety, highway maintenance costs, decongestion and environmental impacts if an additional rail line was constructed.”
Main Street Terminal 1: “We will be constructing a general cargo dock to replace docks 2, 3 and 4, which are no longer in use. It is assumed that without the reconstruction of the wharves, 15 percent of the increased project tonnage would come to the Beaumont area by truck. Reconstruction of the wharves will result in reduced congestion on all major highways between Corpus Christi and Houston and Beaumont, but especially on the I-10 corridor between Houston and Beaumont. The new dock will be supported by concrete piles to provide a c foundation with prolonged design life and resiliency. The final concrete topping slab will use synthetic concrete reinforcing fibers as opposed to traditional welded steel wire mesh, which will also provide a corrosion-proof wearing surface with prolonged design life and resiliency.”
BRINGING IT ALL TOGETHER
Unlike other logistics-focused industries impacted by the pandemic, the Port of Beaumont successfully navigated disruptions without much of a slowdown and without compromising the continued development of its employees. Bezdek explained that a developed, educated workforce, carefully executed social distancing measures and a strong mix of diversified cargo have ultimately paved the way to success throughout 2020.
“The port focuses on diversification to minimize disruption and we took an early and aggressive stance on COVID-19 by maintaining strict protocols, social distancing and screening measures since early March ,” he says. “We have 45 employees with more than 500 years of combined experience working at the Port of Beaumont as well as thousands of contractors and partners working at port facilities regularly. The key to breaking records is exceptional teamwork and clearly communicating goals and expectations of the organization, while focusing on employee growth. The more we invest in our employees, the more records we see broken. Of our 45 employees, 40 have participated in some type of training or continuing education in the past 30 days.
“The port’s competitive advantage is much more closely tied to infrastructure and proximity to key assets, such as I-10, three Class I rail carriers and an extensive pipeline network. The newest technology used at the Port of Beaumont that has created the greatest benefit is ArcGIS, a mapping and analytics software that has many uses in a port setting, including asset management, space allocation, utility management, property and lease management, environmental management, emergency response and management, and it also has functions useful for marketing, among other things.
While the pandemic has caused economic decline in many areas industry-wide, the Port of Beaumont’s cargo volumes remained strong with a 7.6 percent increase, year-over-year, when Bezdek was interviewed.
“The pandemic has not had a significant impact on the Port of Beaumont, but we understand this could result in a slow-down in the future,” he concludes. “We remain optimistic that project and breakbulk cargos will bounce back as economic recovery efforts continue.”
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