Barges over trucks in New York City

Congestion from trucks is heavy near the Hunts Point Produce Market, a hub for distribution of food around New York City located on the East River in the South Bronx.

With this in mind, the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) has put out a request for proposals (RFP) that seeks to identify operators of a new marine terminal adjacent to the marketplace that would tie into the nascent Americas Marine Highway network. The NYCEDC said that “the new terminal would serve businesses on the Hunts Point Peninsula in the South Bronx by providing an alternative to trucking to move food and other products.”

As envisioned, barge transportation would link the sprawling market “campus” to other New York boroughs, but also with ports throughout the Northeast and mid-Atlantic. The NYCEDC, along with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, is talking to neighboring ports, through the North Atlantic Marine Highway Alliance (NAMHA) formed in late 2018.

The attendance lists for two Hunts Point information sessions held in early April revealed interest from terminal operators, real estate types, financiers and carriers. Not surprisingly attendees included the usual suspects, such as tug operators Harley Marine Services, McAllister Towing & Transportation and Weeks Marine.

But the crowd also included representatives of Harbor Harvest, seeking to launch a cross Long Island Sound food distribution business, and gShip, an upstart seeking to deliver pallets (rather than containers) on small boats around New York City. In May 2018, Harbor Harvest, East Norwalk Conn., a food market dedicated to selling quality sustainable foods, was approved as a designated Marine Highway Program project. Owner Robert (“Bob”) Kunkel hopes to develop a charging station for his hybrid boats.

Both Harbor Harvest and gShip gave presentations at the just completed Connecticut Maritime Association conference in Stamford.

These efforts are still in their infancy. The new initiative is part of New York’s FreightNYC program (an effort to reduce truck traffic by bolstering barge and rail transport), established last summer. The vision espoused in formation documents is to create a hub-and-spoke type distribution network using barges. New York’s role is to assist in development of landside facilities to be served by barge networks.

The Hunts Point RFP explains that it seeks an operator for a marine terminal that handles “various cargo types, ideally various vessel types,” with the “potential to scale, potential to integrate with regional service … ” The terminal operator would commit to operating or contracting reliable barge service. The NYCEDC said that it could potentially commit up to $25 million for “eligible expenses” where the sites are under NYC control.

The NYCEDC can point to successes around the waterfront. Its NYC Ferry program (operated by Hornblower), launched in 2017, have seen passenger counts that have exceeded expectations. New York has a limited container-on-barge service, launched in 2016, linking Port Newark, N.J., to the Red Hook Container Terminal across the Upper Bay, in Brooklyn, N.Y.

About the author

Barry Parker

Barry Parker is a maritime consultant and writer. He covers shipping, energy and commodities, drawing on three decades of transactional and brokerage experience. His writing covers financing aspects of shipping and offshore, plus occasional technical or regulatory articles. His client work for ship owners, cargo interests and others includes project and market analysis, as well as commercial and operational guidance. He divides his time between midtown Manhattan and his home on Long Island Sound. He can be reached at bdp1@conconnect.com.

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