After reviewing the Eastport Port Authority's growth in infrastructure, assets and cash balance and contributions to the city during the past seven years, the port authority's board of directors, at its December 16 meeting, approved increasing the salary for Port Director Chris Gardner from $70,000 to $80,000 for 2014 and also approved giving him a $45,000 bonus for this year. In addition, Gardner will be receiving $24,000 in health insurance and $4,800 in retirement benefits next year. Jett Peterson, chair of the board, comments, "I feel he is very deserving of the salary and bonus. He has worked diligently to increase port activity and the interest in the community. I really think he's top-notch. His goal is to keep on moving."
Before the board discussed the salary and bonus in executive session, board member Bob Peacock presented the budget committee's compensation review for Gardner, noting that the board needed to provide a better measurement of administrative performance "so that people feel that his remuneration is fair."
In the six and a half years that Gardner has been the port director, the port authority's net assets have increased from $2.5 million to over $27.5 million. Peacock noted that $16.6 million was from the transfer of ownership of the Estes Head pier from the state to the port authority. The port authority's cash balance has increased from under $100,000 in 2005 to $927,000 in 2013, and its operating revenue has almost tripled, increasing from about $750,000 to nearly $1.9 million. Since 2008 the port authority has secured over $20 million in outside investments and grants and has acquired, for nearly $1 million, eight pieces of property in the city, all of which are fully taxable. The port authority now pays approximately $20,000 a year in new property taxes. Since 2010 over $10.6 million has been donated by the port authority, primarily to the city. Peacock added, "The port authority has gone a long ways to keeping the police presence here and has allowed port authority employees to help the city."
Peacock did note that the port "is still essentially a one-horse port" with wood pulp shipments and needs a second significant customer. The Woodland mill "is clearly what's keeping us going," he said.
Among the goals for 2014 are to keep all the current customers, attract new business and increase cow shipments, begin bulk cargo operations and the breakwater reconstruction, finish the new warehouse, the new office building with public bathrooms and the new barge, dredge the breakwater inner basin and increase the port authority's cash balance. He added that building a barn so that cows could be quarantined in the area before being loaded on board ship would help a great deal.
Following the presentation of the review, Gardner stated, "A lot of good people have done a lot of good work here." In his report to the board, he thanked all of the people who work for the port authority, Federal Marine Terminals, the truck drivers and tug crew and pilots, without whom "I serve no purpose at the Port of Eastport."
Gardner noted that during this year wood pulp shipments remained strong, cows are continuing to be shipped through the port and the cruise ship business has been growing. Along with businesses interested in shipping wood chips, Cate St. Capital is proceeding with plans for a torrefied wood pellet plant. Accomplishments during the year included providing a facelift to the Coast Guard station, upgrading the tugboat fleet, securing investment for a new road to the port and $10 million for a new breakwater, and acquiring land for a new office space and public bathrooms. While increasing the port authority's investments in the city, the port authority grew its balance sheet and acquired no new long-term debt.
Also, the "outlook looks very good" for wood chip shipments to begin in 2014, according to Gardner. The market is rebounding, and "pricing is coming back to pre-recession levels."
For 2014, the board approved a $1.6 million port authority budget, a harbor account budget of $30,345 and a Coast Guard account budget of $319,932. The port authority's budget is based on shipping 380,000 metric tons of wood pulp, which Gardner termed a "conservative" estimate. It also does not include any funds from projected bulk cargoes, such as wood chips. The budget does include over $675,000 in maintenance reserve funds or funds for port development. With the budget for the Coast Guard station building that is owned by the port authority, the port authority is now earning about $50,000 a year.
Need for rail
Al Day, general manager of Federal Marine Terminals (FMT), reported that the port is expected to ship 385,000 metric tons of wood pulp on 42 ships and 3,780 cows this year. Last year the port shipped 417,448 tons of pulp and 7,355 cows.
Michel Tosini, executive vice president of Federal Marine Terminals at its Montreal office, told the board that FMT has reached a four-year contract with Woodland Pulp to continue shipping pulp. The agreement, which continues to 2018, shows "that the mill has every bit of confidence in us," he stated. FMT's contract with the port authority extends to the end of 2014, and Tosini said that the company, which handles the cargoes at the Estes Head terminal, intends "to exercise our option to stay here another five years."
Concerning FMT's marketing efforts, Tosini said that FMT increased its advertising budget by $100,000 in 2013 and that "it is tougher to drum up business now," with new ownership of companies making it more difficult to secure contracts. He did see some possibilities that might open up for wood chip and pellet shipments through Eastport. However, Tosini noted, "If there's no rail out of a port, it is difficult" to ship bulk products such as chips and pellets. "The potential contracts you're looking at need rail. Otherwise, an awful lot of cargo will need to move by truck." Gardner said the port first needs to prove the use of its bulk cargo conveyor system then will pursue rail access.
Concerning the new access road to the port off County Road, Gardner said that the Maine Department of Transportation has agreed to provide an additional $1 million for the project, for a total of $1.75 million. The road also will be maintained by the state.
A new "spin pile" design for the new breakwater, in which the piles screw themselves into the sea bottom, may result in more savings for the project, so that it will be under the $11 million in funding that has been committed to rebuilding the pier.
The board agreed to a two-month delay on the new warehouse project, so that Fundy Contractors will not have to pour a concrete floor in the current temperatures.
The new tugboat that has now arrived will be renamed the Captain Mack, so that one of the port's tugs will continue to pay tribute to Bob Mackintyre, who had been a tugboat captain for the port. The port authority's Captain Mackintyre tug has been listed for sale for $75,000.