Business & Real Estate

West Coast port delays frustrate growers, businesses

The continuing slowdown at West Coast ports – including a planned four-day shutdown over the holiday weekend – has ratcheted up the anxiety among Northern California growers and businesses.

“If they’re not working, we can’t ship material,” said Jeff Donlevy, business development manager for Sacramento-based Recycling Industries Inc., which recycles and exports cardboard, newspaper and other paper products from four facilities in Sacramento and Yuba City. Much of what the company exports goes to China, but the paper flow has been cut to a dribble by the West Coast port slowdown.

With the latest action idling most activity at 29 West Coast seaports, Donlevy says his company is being put in the position of “closing our doors to some of our customers.” Donlevy said the company currently is “at risk of losing one of our biggest (domestic) customers.”

He declined to name the customer, but added: “We need to get some resolution soon. Even if they sign the contract, it’s going to take many months for us to get back to normal.”

A months-long stalemate in contract talks between the Pacific Maritime Association and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, both based in San Francisco, has clogged major ports in California up and down the West Coast. PMA has charged that a work slowdown by longshoremen is the root the problem; the ILWU contends that port managers have mismanaged the ports and exaggerated the problems.

What the PMA calls the “temporary suspension of vessel operations” over the Presidents’ Day holiday weekend put added pressure on growers who ship agricultural products.

Carissa Sauer, spokeswoman for the Modesto-based Almond Board of California, said in an email that “the situation has created uncertainty and anxiety for the almond industry, our customers and ultimately our consumers – which could impact the industry for years to come.”

Almonds are the state’s No. 1 ag export and generate about $11 billion a year to the state’s gross domestic product, according to a recent Almond Board report. The Sacramento-based Blue Diamond Growers cooperative is a major force in the state’s almond industry, generating record annual revenue of $1.5 billion with its 2013 crop.

The Almond Board said about 70 percent of California almonds are exported and nearly 80 percent of those exports go through the Port of Oakland, which has seen shipment activity slow down to a trickle in recent weeks.

Sauer said almond handlers and shippers have reported “hundreds of containers delayed, dozens of canceled orders, several rerouted orders at considerably greater expense as well as hundreds of thousands of dollars in congestion and other charges during the port slowdown crisis.”

Even though the West Sacramento port is part of the 29-port consortium, it is not expected to see major disruptions.

“It’s business as usual here,” said Frank Patalano, the port’s terminal manager for Seattle-based SSA Pacific, operator of Port of West Sacramento. “We’re not a container port.”

Call The Bee’s Mark Glover, (916) 321-1184. Staff writer Darrell Smith contributed to this report.