The sun shone brightly Thursday on Paulsboro, where the first ship, the Doric Warrior, was docked at the new Paulsboro Marine Terminal on the Delaware River and 55,000 tons of steel slabs were being unloaded, headed to mills in Western Pennsylvania and Indiana.
New Jersey officials, and representatives from the port community, local businesses, and the terminal's first tenant, an international steel company, gathered to celebrate the opening of the first new marine terminal in 50 years on the Delaware.
The 190 acres, directly across from Philadelphia International Airport, features 21,000 feet of new rail track, an 850-foot wharf with two more berths planned, and a $23 million bridge over Mantua Creek that takes traffic directly from Interstate 295 to the riverfront.
"I'm excited that after all this time, it's real," said State Senate President Stephen Sweeney, who along with Assemblyman John Burzichelli, a former Paulsboro mayor, are credited with having the idea and making it happen.
"It's been quite an adventure," Burzichelli said, recalling early discussions with the property's owner, BP, about how to recycle what was a contaminated oil tank farm that BP had stopped using in the late 1990s.
In 2007, BP agreed to remediate the brownfield, provide early funding for feasibility studies and planning, and give the acreage to Paulsboro and developer South Jersey Port Corp. for $1 under a 99-year lease. In 2009, ground was broken for the Paulsboro Marine Terminal.
The project was originally slated for completion in 2012, but languished due to a tough economy. The state, through bonds, committed $173 million toward construction. The Gloucester County Improvement Authority built an access road and bridge over Mantua Creek linking interstate traffic to the port so that trucks do not drive on local streets.
Over the years, potential tenants were considered, including offshore wind developers. But that didn't happen.
In 2014, Holt Logistics was selected by South Jersey Port Corp. to be the Paulsboro terminal operator. The Holt family handles refrigerated and break-bulk cargoes at nearby Gloucester City terminal and runs the Packer Avenue Marine Terminal in South Philadelphia.
"It really is the state of the art for rail operations here," said Leo Holt, president of Holt Logistics. "With the loop track and center loading track, we can do two trains simultaneously. The railroad can pull out a train and stage it while we are busy working on loading others. It is the first of its kind in the region."
Norfolk Southern, whose trains will transport the steel to Farrell, Pa., and Portage, Ind., helped design the rail track that extends onto the wharf.
The Paulsboro terminal employs 40 to 50 people, but the target over time will be close to 200, Leo Holt said.
In the last 24 months, 185 Gloucester County residents have been employed with Holt Logistics through training and hiring programs. "Today from Gloucester County we probably have 110 to 115 working in our system" in southern New Jersey, he said.
Holt Logistics has invested more than $12 million at the Paulsboro site so far, in equipment including two harbor cranes, trucks and lift equipment, stackers, and trailers.
Paulsboro's first tenant, NLMK USA, an international steel company, will initially bring 1.5 million to 1.7 million tons of semifinished steel annually. "In three to five years, we expect that to grow to more than 2 million tons a year, all coming to Paulsboro," said NLMK president Robert Miller.
At its plants in Farrell, Pa., and Portage, Ind., the slabs are converted to "finished sheet products" that go to automobile makers, appliance manufacturers, pipe and tube companies, construction, and heavy equipment makers across the country.
NLMK buys steel slabs around the world, including in Mexico, Europe, Brazil, and Russia. U.S. steel manufacturers make their slabs "to use internally. They don't sell them in the States," Miller said in an interview. "So the only place to buy steel slabs is on the global market. If I could buy them on a regular basis in the United States, I would. I've been buying slabs since 1999."
Miller said Paulsboro's terminal footprint and "state-of-the-art-designed port facility" will make loading the steel onto rail cars faster and more efficient. "The employees in Pennsylvania, their jobs are dependent on us having an efficient service in the delivery of raw materials."