The Foreseeable Future

On November 3rd, 2004, in “A Bridge Too Far”, we recalled some of San Pedro’s earlier activities:

“A few years before container terminals gained prominence, National Steel was busily scrapping decommissioned Navy vessels at the site … Some of us had even experienced the euphoria of watching those ships being built. And then we were forlorn as we watched them die.

“One of the most remarkable structures in all of Southern California in those days was the imposing Gerald Desmond Bridge. It took your breath away. It was state of the art and almost brand new. It would outlive us all, we thought, and our suspicions in this regard were assured when seismic improvements were undertaken and completed just a little while ago … we thought. Well, maybe it won’t outlive us after all. Word of the Gerald Desmond Replacement Project has begun to make the rounds, and it appears as though port authorities are quite serious about the endeavor. When a figure of $ 700 million is published, then you know the authorities are quite serious …

“But with respect to (and for) the Bridge, let’s wait a bit. Let the jury sit a bit. There are a few things that might sway them … The officials can reverse their decision, you know.”

Just two days later, in our “Daydreaming” commentary of November 5th, we predicted the future of San Pedro’s Port of Long Beach. We surmised that in years to come:
“1. The Gerald Desmond Bridge will still be in place because updated studies revealed that there was no need to replace it after all …
“2. Any thought to doubling the size of the port area from 3,000 to 6,000 acres in order to accommodate the 150% increase in TEU volume turned out to be a daydream. The community had nothing left to give and the sea could surrender only so much.
“3. Three week waiting periods in offshore “drift boxes”, at a cost of $ 50,000 per day per ship, adversely affected the profit picture of shipping lines and this loss of time and money led to drastic increases in shipping costs. Ship owners followed the advice of disgruntled shipping agents and end users, and began to direct smaller, less expensive vessels to smaller, more efficient ports …”

Smaller, less expensive vessels? How would that idea ever come about? Who would ever expect that anyone or any situation could force the hands of shipping lines? Well, it’s already happening, and the irony of it is that it involves still another bridge … the Brightman Street Bridge in Fall River, Massachusetts … a little bridge that bars passage of massive LNG ships.

In a lengthy and often volatile squabble over Hess LNG’s proposal to erect an LNG terminal at Weaver’s Cove in Fall River, U.S. Rep. James P. McGovern, siding with those who oppose the facility, has inserted a provision in the Federal Transportation Act that prevents removal of the tiny Brightman Street Bridge and effectively bars passage of Hess’ 950-foot supertankers. So what has Hess decided to do? They’ve decided to resort to “smaller, less expensive vessels”. [How about that!!] It’s what we’re predicting shipping lines will eventually do at U.S. West Coast ports.