Wood chips may be shipped through the port of Eastport for the first time as early as June, as a new contract is being eyed that would include both the exporting and importing of wood biomass. The deal for supplying biomass fuel for a plant in Nova Scotia had been worked out in Turkey.
According to Stephean Chute, managing director of Ishofn Ltd., who represented the Eastport Port Authority at a wood fiber conference in Istanbul earlier this month, plans call for the firm of E.J. Carrier Inc. to be shipping out 9,000 tons a month of biomass fuel that would be loaded on barges chartered by Great Northern Timber and taken to Port Hawkesbury, N.S. Under the terms of the proposed five-year contract, about 9,000 tons of hardwood chips also would be imported through the port and sold in this area and the Bangor area. Another company involved in the deal is Cousineau Forest Products. More details will be released once a contract is signed.
The port authority is leasing the chip yard at the port terminal to Costigan Chip LLC, which is a subsidiary of a company owned by Larry Carrier. To handle the importation of wood chips, two hoppers will need to be added at the port terminal.
At the April 16 meeting of the port authority board, Port Director Chris Gardner noted, "We will have to dance really fast to do this by June." He added that, while concerns had been expressed about the possible impact of wood chip shipments through the port on the Woodland Pulp mill, it may turn out that the importing of chips could provide a new source of fiber for the mill.
Shipments to Turkey eyed
At the Istanbul wood fiber conference, Chute presented the port authority's promotional piece to all of the 250 delegates. At the April 16 board meeting, he noted that there had been substantial interest in the new ship-loading conveyor system at the port. "The Port of Eastport's proximity to the wood fiber source and being the most easterly port within the United States gained a lot of interest among the delegates," Chute states in a memorandum about the conference.
While wood fiber prices plummeted in 2011, with companies not being able to ship biomass product at those prices, world markets are now beginning to rise and the European biomass sector is now growing. Large capacity pellet plants to feed the European demand are now coming online in the U.S. South. Predicting that there would soon be an equilibrium reached in pricing, he said biomass products will soon start to be shipped again.
Medium density fiberboard (MDF) plants in Turkey will be looking for additional suppliers, and Chute said, "I'm convinced you will have commitments this year for the year 2014 for shipments to Turkey."
Another wood pellet proposal
Along with the Cate Street Capital wood pellet plans for Eastport, another wood pellet company based in Aroostook County also is considering shipping through the port. The company is proposing to manufacture the pellets at the former Loring Air Force Base in Limestone and truck them to the port, primarily through New Brunswick, using B-trains, which are three-axle truck tractors with three-axle semitrailers. Because the trucks would be at the higher Canadian weight limits, a bill to allow the trucks to travel on the roads from Calais to Eastport and from Limestone to the border in Aroostook County is being considered by the legislature. Port Director Chris Gardner had testified in support of the bill, LD 1076, during a hearing before the Transportation Committee on April 9. If the bill does not pass, the only option for the shipments will be through the port of Saint John.
New phytosanitation technology
Research on a potential phytosanitation solution for wood biomass being shipped overseas is progressing, with testing at the University of Maine passing "with flying colors," Gardner said at the April 16 meeting. More testing is now being conducted at Maine Maritime Academy. Certified heat-treating of biomass fuel being shipped to Europe is necessary in order to eradicate the roundworms found in conifers.
In his notes from the wood fiber conference, Chute states that the ship-board heat treating system will satisfy European Union requirements for importation of wood fiber from North America. "This development of new technology, once approved, will give a great advantage to the Port of Eastport, opening up exports to Europe, which has been closed for more than a decade, due to the phytosanitary requirements of the EU Zone countries."
Also at its April 16 meeting, the board voted, with City Manager Jon Southern and city council President Mary Repole abstaining, to lease from the city the 10-acre parcel known as "Blueberry Hill," which will serve as a buffer for the wood pellet facility planned at Broad Cove by Cate Street Capital. Under the 40-year lease terms, the port authority will pay the property taxes on the land. If the wood pellet plans do not progress, the land would revert back to the city after two years.
Gardner and former Senate President Kevin Raye met with Passamaquoddy Chief Clayton Cleaves of Pleasant Point recently to discuss the Cate Street Capital wood pellet project, particularly concerns about increased truck traffic through the reservation and also employment opportunities. Cate Street Capital representatives also will speak with the tribal council about the plans.
While the construction costs for the warehouse project at the port terminal will be funded by $1.5 million in state transportation bond funds once they are released by Governor Paul LePage, the port authority will be paying CES Inc. for engineering costs, which are anticipated to be about $60,000. The port authority will be taking out a loan from The First bank to cover both the upfront construction costs and the nonreimbursable engineering costs, allowing the port authority to have access to more cash at this time for the breakwater repair.
Roland "Skip" Rogers, former manager of Federal Marine Terminals, has been relicensed as a tugboat captain and will be working as one of the port's tug captains on a part-time basis.
The port authority's copier will be offered to the city, the school department and the Downeast EMS ambulance service and then put out to bid if necessary.