Focusing on expansion possibilities, federal officials tour Wilmington port

U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, D-Delaware, and Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works R.D. James toured the Port of Wilmington Tuesday afternoon. (Zoe Read/WHYY)

U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, D-Delaware, and Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works R.D. James toured the Port of Wilmington Tuesday afternoon. (Zoe Read/WHYY)

Looking toward the future, officials toured the Port of Wilmington Tuesday, as well as the former Chemours Edgemoor site, which Delaware wants to develop into a new container port.

Earlier in the day, U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, D-Delaware, and Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works R.D. James also toured Rehoboth Beach and Bethany Beach to learn more about setting the scene for that growth.

“We’re focused on economic development and growth. People, governors, presidents, senators, don’t create jobs — what we do is help create a nurturing environment for job creation and job preservation,” Carper said. “A big part of that is moving people and commodities. Most of the cargo that moves around the world doesn’t fly in airplanes, and it’s not on trucks — it’s on the water.

“Hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of economic development, thousands and thousands of jobs, flow from right here,” he continued. “This is about jobs, and if we didn’t have Army Corps of Engineers … we would be dead in the water.”

The port is the leading import site for bananas in North America, and it has the largest dock-side cold storage facility.

But as the port nears its maximum capacity, the Diamond State Port Corporation and the state say expansion is crucial to the state’s economy while creating hundreds of jobs.

The corporation and the state propose a new port on the Edgemoor site, which the state bought from Chemours for $10 million. The proposal consists of two ship berths capable of holding much larger ships than the current port.

The roughly $400 million project is too costly for the state to fund alone, so it’s seeking a public-private partnership. The state recently considered a proposal from United Arab Emirates-based Gulftainer.

“There seem to be a number of responses that have been willing to invest money, because they see what we see here, which is the opportunity along this river to expand,” said Delaware Secretary of State Jeffrey Bullock.

The project would involve dredging a 45-foot access channel connecting the new port to the main channel of the Delaware River, which would require James’ approval.

James said he intends to visit all the ports in the U.S., but the Port of Wilmington was the first on his list.

“This is one of the economic lifelines of this area, and it’s an economic lifeline for our nation,” he said. “The money made here and transfers of goods made here don’t stop here in Delaware — they go all over our nation.

So these coastal ports are important to our way of life, the conveniences we have, and the good food products we enjoy.”

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