Although the first wood chip shipments through the Port of Eastport have been promised before and not materialized, port officials and shippers feel confident that a vessel will be loaded with a trial shipment of wood chips by the end of July. The 16,000-ton load will be headed to Killybegs, Ireland, with regular shipments expected to continue afterward. The deal was announced at the Eastport Port Authority board meeting on May 19.
"With the level of financial commitment being put into this on both sides of the pond, I feel very confident this is going to happen," says Port Director Chris Gardner.
The shipments are being made possible by the development of a new method of phytosanitizing the wood chips aboard ship so that they can meet European Union requirements for importation. "We literally have opened up a whole new continent for trade" in wood fiber, says Gardner, because a decision to build a plant for phytosanitation requires certainty about a number of variables, including the market, price and the supply of wood fiber. "The potential is phenomenal, and that we are able to anchor it in Eastport is quite exciting," Gardner says.
E.J. Carrier Inc., a logging company based in Jackman, will coordinate bringing the chips to the port, and Costigan Chip LLC of Old Town, which is owned by the Carrier family, has been leasing the bulk storage yard at the port terminal.
Phyto-Charter LLC, a new company based in Eastport, will be exporting the wood chips. The company will be offering sanitized shipboard heat-treated forest products to the world's wood fiber markets. The markets that Phyto-Charter will serve include the growing biomass energy markets, medium-density fiberboard mills and the pulp and paper industry. Stephean Chute, who has worked previously with the port authority on developing possible wood chip shipments, is the managing director of Phyto-Charter.
The first vessel will be chartered from Fednav, the parent company of Federal Marine Terminals, which operates the port terminal. Fednav, based in Montreal, is Canada's largest ocean-going dry bulk shipping company.
Larry Carrier, who owns E.J. Carrier, says that if the port's bulk conveyor system and bulk storage yard had not been built "we wouldn't be here." Gardner adds that the building of the conveyor system to handle bulk products "puts us head and shoulders above anyone on the East Coast that was talking about it."
The first wood chips are expected to begin being trucked into the port in three to four weeks. A truck can carry 32 tons of chips, which will mean about 500 truckloads to transport the 16,000 tons for the trial shipment. According to Gardner, with the decrease in the number of trucks bringing pulp from the Woodland mill to the port, the total number of trucks coming into the port "will be less than when there was full production from the mill."
Carrier says that the wood chips will be purchased from numerous sources "as locally as possible." He adds that the purchasing of the wood fiber for the chips will not be in competition with the sourcing of wood for Woodland Pulp's mill.
Gardner notes that the Carrier family has been involved in the wood-harvesting business in Maine for three generations. "The port feels very comfortable in trusting the expertise of the Carrier family that they will not upset the fiber market for the Woodland mill." He notes that a lower quality wood is used for the wood chips than for pulp. Also, Gardner points out that more wood harvesting will help all of the companies involved. The competition is not so much for trees but for wood harvesters, he says. "We hope we will be growing chainsaws and hope that will lead to a more stable market for everybody involved." He adds that if the Woodland mill runs into problems "it would also put this venture out of business."
The chips will be sold to a number of customers in Ireland. To receive the wood chips, Killybegs is constructing a bulk conveyor system similar to the one in Eastport. The Irish town in County Donegal is Ireland's largest fishing port and also handles cargo shipping. On May 9 Irish Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney visited Killybegs to launch the Ireland Biomass Initiative and the partnership with the Eastport Port Authority. At the May 19 meeting, port authority board member Bob Peacock suggested that the port authority should consider forming a sister-port relationship with Killybegs.
New heat-treatment system
The shipments from Eastport will be the first time that the shipboard heat-treating system will be used. Chute says the development of the process that would satisfy European Union regulations took nearly two years. Phyto-Charter contracted with the University of Maine's Forest Bioproducts Research Institute to conduct the research. Using National Science Foundation funding, the institute focuses on sustainable forest management and the creation of innovative bioproducts.
Countries in the European Union require a phytosanitary certificate issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in order to import wood fiber, whether hardwood or softwood. The European Union is concerned about the existence of the pinewood nematode, which could contaminate all species of wood fiber. At present, the only acceptable protocol is to heat treat the wood at 560 --C for more than 30 minutes.
The shipboard heat-treating system sanitizes wood chip cargoes by infusing moisture-laden air heated to 600 -- and forced at high velocity through the holds of the ship. A recirculation system is used to ensure that the heat treatment continues for more than 30 minutes. The process meets the European Union requirements and allows for the issuance of USDA phytosanitary certificates. A patent is currently pending on the process.
In other business discussed at the May 19 meeting, the port authority was planning to change how it allocates space for berthing at the breakwater and fish pier, with the north side of the breakwater to be used for all seasonal berthing, the inner basin to be only for commercial fishing vessels and the fish pier to be used for transient berthing. John Foster, who berths a sailboat at the fish pier, noted that the north side of the breakwater would be less protected and more cramped. Also, if a ship is at the breakwater, he would not be able to take his sailboat out under the mooring lines running to the dolphin. He felt the berthing changes could be postponed until next year. Gardner noted that the port authority wants to maximize the space at the breakwater to get the most revenue possible. The board voted to delay the berthing changes for another year, with board member Bob Peacock abstaining.
Concerning the new office building, Gardner said the construction schedule has been delayed by four to six weeks because of the late winter and wet spring. The building will not be open by July 1, as originally planned. The board decided to integrate the power for the city's sewer pump station into the building, which will help provide back-up power if necessary by allowing for the use of the port authority's generator. The electrical cost to the port authority will be approximately $600 a year, which is greater than any offset of the port authority's sewer bills from the city.