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Port of Hueneme’s Cargo Ship Comes In

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Land grabs and boatloads of bananas paved the way for a record year at the Port of Hueneme, officials said Monday.

Cargo volumes broke the 1-million-ton barrier in the fiscal year that ended June 30, the highest level in the port’s roughly 35-year history and a 32% increase over 1996-97 totals.

The previous record, set in 1995-96, was 986,000 tons, 79,000 tons below this year’s figure.

“It’s running the best it has ever run,” said Kam Quarles, a spokesman with the Oxnard Harbor District, the government entity that operates the port.

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Port officials say two factors have contributed to the port’s rise. First, the 1997 acquisition of 33 acres of former Navy land helped boost port capacity by about 50%.

Second, a major contract involving Ecuador-based banana giant Noboa Group that was signed last October is expected to increase imports of the fruit by about 150,000 tons. Banana shipping, which logged a 42% increase over the previous record set in 1995-96, accounted for much of this year’s growth.

Automobile shipments, spurred by a surging domestic auto market, also reached record highs in 1997-98, beating the 1994-95 record by about 10,000 cars, or almost 8%.

Officials with the city of Port Hueneme, which receives 6.25% of the port’s gross revenues, welcomed the news.

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“What benefits them benefits us,” said Port Hueneme Mayor Jonathan Sharkey. “The port is an important economic engine for the county and our community.”

County Supervisor Frank Schillo, whose district includes the port, agreed.

“I look at the port as the largest single economic asset we have in the county,” he said. “I was really excited at the news.”

According to the harbor district’s 1997 economic impact report, port activity is the primary factor behind 2,700 local jobs and $300 million in county economic growth. Job growth and economic expansion are the district’s main goals.

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Those figures will probably rise in accordance with the port’s banner year, and longshore union officials say they have already seen an increase in work for both regular and casual employees as a result of the port’s growing popularity. What’s more, the brief threat of a strike last month has been resolved, said Bill Elder, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 186.

“We have every reason to believe that we will equal or exceed the current year in 1998-99,” said Mike Plisky, president of the Oxnard Harbor District Board.

Depending on the type of new shipping contracts, Plisky said, the port could absorb another 10% to 30% more business.

Port officials also are working toward another deal with the Navy to either purchase or lease a third wharf and 25 acres of adjacent land.

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Supporters say the port’s growing popularity is due, in part, to its aggressive move toward becoming a niche market for smaller shippers and those dissatisfied with the larger ports in Los Angeles and Long Beach.

Thanks to strategic changes implemented in the past decade, the port--the only deep-water harbor between Los Angeles and San Francisco--specializes in perishable goods and goods that are rolled on and off ships.

The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach handle giant containers, which are moved with cranes.

“There are plenty of small shippers, and those are the people who are being abused at some of those larger ports who look at Hueneme as a solution,” Plisky said.

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