Dole may shift from Wilmington to new Paulsboro port

Dole bananas like these could soon pass through the new port in Paulsboro rather than the one in Wilmington.
Dole bananas like these could soon pass through the new port in Paulsboro rather than the one in Wilmington. (ED HILLE / Staff Photographer)
Posted: August 01, 2013

The Port of Wilmington's top banana - Dole Fresh Fruit Co. and the 65 million pieces of the yellow fruit it ships there each week - could be lost to the competing port across the Delaware at Paulsboro.

After 30 years in Wilmington, Dole is considering relocating one ship a week - 3.4 billion bananas a year - to a new port being built on 190 acres in Paulsboro.

For Paulsboro, landing Dole and gaining 100 to 120 direct port jobs, as well as the trucking and related businesses catering to the fresh-fruit trade, would be a major shot in the arm.

The port, directly across from Philadelphia International Airport, is on 130 acres that had been the BP Oil Paulsboro Terminal, and 60 acres that was the site of Dow Chemical's former Essex Chemical plant.

"We'd work together to build what their needs are," said Kevin Castagnola, executive director and CEO of the developer, South Jersey Port Corp. "Whoever the tenant is can lay it out and build it the way they want, because it's an open footprint."

Currently, an access road and a bridge are being built over Mantua Creek that will link traffic from I-295 directly to the port.

Delaware and the Diamond State Port Corp. are striving to retain Dole, whose lease expires in December 2015.

Delaware lawmakers appropriated $31 million for capital port improvements, including two new cargo cranes, updated warehouses, and construction of a road for trucks picking up perishable fruit - to bypass long waits at the security gate.

International Longshoremen Association (ILA) Local 1694-1, representing dockworkers, has been asked, at Dole's request, to consider work-rule changes and a wage concession or freeze, said Alan Levin, Delaware director of economic development and port corporation chairman.

A different union - the "deep sea" longshoremen who unload ships - agreed in January to a 7.5 percent pay cut and a wage freeze for six years, Levin said. Wilmington is the largest banana port in North America and second only to Antwerp, Belgium, in banana cargoes worldwide. Dole is its largest customer. Chiquita Brands International Inc. also sails a ship weekly into Wilmington, laden with bananas, pineapples, and plantains.

"We're in the process of evaluating both alternatives," said Stuart Jablon, Dole vice president of operations. "They do a good job for us. But at the same time, Paulsboro is willing to build us a brand-new port with all the bells and whistles that new ports have."

Dole expects to decide by early September.

New Jersey has offered Dole tax-incentive credits for bringing jobs to the Garden State "that are very financially appealing," Jablon said.

When South Jersey port officials solicited a "request for information" from potential tenants, Dole took a look. Preliminary blueprints were drawn. "They got excited. We got excited. We'd bring a lot of labor there," Jablon said.

Paulsboro, a town of 6,000, fell on hard times when I-295 diverted traffic from its downtown. Then shopping malls, such as Deptford, helped kill the mom-and-pop stores.

Ground was broken in 2009 for the Paulsboro port, the first new port on the Delaware in decades.

"We hope they stay," said Delaware's Levin of Dole. "We're trying to make sure they do."


Contact Linda Loyd at 215-854-2831 or lloyd@phillynews.com.

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