The Jan. 22-24 winter storm shut down mid-Atlantic port traffic for a weekend, and terminals in the New York-New Jersey harbor complex remained closed early this week, struggling to clear up to 28” of snow.
“New York is a total mess. Eight ships were postponed today,” Craig Rising of McAllister Towing and Transportation Co. Inc., said Monday from the company’s New York City office. “Philadelphia is up and running, they had no arrivals over the weekend.”
“It was real bad, they said it was some of the worst they’ve seen at Cape Henlopen,” said Capt. Wade Guilday, president of the Pilots’ Association for the Bay and River Delaware.
With 20’ waves off Delaware Bay and sustained 50 knot winds, the pilots could not make transfers and had to watch carefully over vessels at anchor.
“But we had no negative impact on the port. The ships got down the river safely even with the whiteout conditions,” Guidray said. After a Monday and Tuesday busy with arrivals and departures, “we’re in good shape now,” he said.
While Philadelphia-bound shipping waited out the storm, the Coast Guard shut down traffic in the Port of Baltimore with a temporary safety zone from Saturday into Monday morning. Vessels already anchored or tied up had to stay put for the duration, with special permission needed for any transits.
The storm posed less of a problem for passenger vessel operators coming on a weekend. However, NY Waterway made its usual preparations for the run-up planning and recovery operations, said Alan Warren, vice president of operations.
“We keep a close eye on the forecasts” and coordinate to ensure critical employees will be available, Warren said. The company makes heavy use of social media to alert its customers to what’s going on.
“It may sound strange, but we also monitor other forms of public transportation,” Warren said. That is because if a major landside connection goes out – say, the PATH trains that link the Manhattan financial district and New Jersey – the ferries can get a big influx of new passengers, many of them unfamiliar with the service.
“We did stop at 7:30 (p.m.) on Friday because other transportation was shutting down, and we didn’t want to be dropping people off in the city with no way to get around,” Warren said.
“It’s important to remember the aftermath of the storm,” Warren added. NY Waterway maintains its own terminal parking areas so workers start clearing snow early during storms, to be up and running when passengers return.
“This helps getting back to business continuity,” he said.
That aftermath was a big problem for cargo handlers. After storm conditions delayed arriving ships, backups on shore in New Jersey and New York continued to keep them waiting in harbor approaches well into the following days until terminals could be cleared of snow. The massive container yards on the New Jersey side of the harbor remained closed early this week, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey said.
“Right now we are seeing that Red Hook in Brooklyn and Global on Staten Island will be open,” said Edward J. Kelly, executive director of the Maritime Association of the Port of NY/NJ. “Bayonne, Port Newark, Port Elizabeth, they will be closed for continued snow removal.”
Years ago, snow would simply be plowed off the terminal piers. But that changed with environmental regulations, aimed at keeping pollutants out of the harbor. So now snow must be stockpiled in corners of the terminals until it melts or can be removed further, Kelly said.
Then there is ice and snow on top of the containers slowing operations. “It gets into the corners, and you can’t get lifting equipment in there. Workers have to go in and break it up,” a time-consuming and potentially hazardous chore with snow and ice on the container stacks, Kelly said.
“Plus the ships are backed up … the ships are delayed, but they’re still coming in,” Kelly said. “The good news is, it’s a relatively slow time of year.”