PORTLAND — With activity bustling around the International Marine Terminal, the center of attention was motionless Monday morning.
Yet the $3.2 million crane serving as the backdrop for Gov. Paul LePage, Department of Transportation Commissioner David Bernhardt, EimskipUSA General Manager Larus Isfeld and DOT Deputy Commissioner Jon Nass was the star of the show about waterfront economic development.
“We are here to show off the new crane,” Nass said as he opened the ribbon-cutting at water’s edge.
Delivered on July 9 from Germany, the 379-ton crane will effectively double the handling capacity for container loads at the terminal as the DOT also expands the surface area for freight handling.
With the crane now in place, the DOT is also expanding the pier area by filling in gaps in the concrete and moving office building to a site just off Commercial Street.
While joking he would like a chance to operate the crane, LePage said it is also an indicator of the rebirth of the terminal area, once home to the Scotia Prince ferry service to Nova Scotia.
“This was a very derelict property 10 years ago,” LePage said.
Since 2008, annual container ship visits have increased from 13 to an anticipated 52 this year. The expansion took hold in 2013, when Icelandic-based Eimskip made the city its primary North American port.
While the company does not have sole rights to use the terminal, Patrick Arnold of Soli DG, which operates the terminal through the DOT and its Maine Port Authority, said Eimskip is the exclusive shipper.
Isfeld said he expects capacity to double again in five years as the company has committed to ships coming to port once a week.
Arnold said data is still being compiled, but the expansion has also meant exported tonnage is equal to imported tonnage, opening new markets for Maine businesses.
There are at least 30 employees working at the terminal now, he added.
Additional agreements between Eimskip and other companies will open more of northern Europe for exports, Isfeld and Arnold said.
The crane itself is mobile, with 64 tires mounted on 16 axles. The total lifting capacity is 124 tons, with a tower height of 107 feet.
The state also expanded rail lines outside the terminal to help move the containers, but the remaining element needed is a cold storage facility, Isfeld and Nass said.
In 2015, the DOT selected Americold to build and operate a cold storage warehouse adjacent to the terminal. In September 2017, the city amended zoning along West Commercial Street to allow for cold storage as a conditional use while increasing allowed building heights.
In June, Americold backed away from its plans, saying the warehouse was not economically feasible to the company.
Nass said great interest in building a cold storage facility remains.
“The phone has been ringing off the hook with folks interested in partnering with us,” he said. “The process now is, we are working with our partners on how we will move forward.”
Nass said the agencies are also looking to bolster community involvement, which has included a “What’s in the Box?” program with local elementary school students visiting the terminal.
Eventually, students will be asked to name a new crane, as the one already in use is slated to be replaced in a couple of years.
Speaking July 30 at the IMT in Portland, Gov. Paul LePage said the new crane behind him shows how much economic development has increased in a decade at the terminal.