MOREHEAD CITY — New commodities are coming to the state port here, including an iron product that requires investment in new facilities.
The new products include direct reduced iron, about 350,000 tons of it this year expected to arrive here aboard about eight ships from Nucor Steel’s plant in Trinidad. The material, otherwise know as DRI, is to be transported by specially designed barges to Nucor’s Tunis plant in Hertford County under a recently approved 10-year contract.
“It’s a big deal for the port. Anytime you get 350,000 tons of something, it’s big business for the port,” port operations director Rex Edwards said Tuesday.
The first ship isn’t expected until about mid-April. For now, the 20 barges that will handle the DRI are still arriving. Four arrived last week – two 52-foot-wide by 260-foot-long ones, each carrying 35-foot-wide by 200-foot-long ones that were lifted by crane.
The business represents a significant investment by barge operator Stevens Towing Co., a freight transportation company based on Yonges Island, S.C.
Two mooring areas were constructed and designated for barge storage, one on the north and one on the south side of the high-rise bridge. The State Ports Authority in September 2013 awarded the $1.14 million construction contract to PreCon Marine Inc. of Chesapeake, Va.
DRI is a dry bulk product – semi-processed iron ore – that looks a lot like BBs for a pellet gun.
Management at the nearby Morehead City Yacht Basin, had expressed concerns about the DRI and its potential impact on the business.
The N.C. Coastal Federation has called DRI a bad fit for the community.
Concerns include the potential that DRI can become combustible, especially when exposed to moisture.
But Port Authority spokesman Laura Blair has said DRI is safely and routinely handled at many U.S. ports, including Wilmington. Officials said precautions are in place to keep the material dry. No loading or unloading of product will take place in the mooring areas.
“When the ship comes in, nothing ever comes to ground. It (The DRI) goes directly over the side of the ships and directly into the barges. We call it ‘direct discharge’ into the barges,” Mr. Edwards said.
Another new commodity that has begun arriving at the port is sheet steel, which is shipped in coils each averaging about 23 tons in weight and is bound for Mitek Industries, a manufacturer of structural components with a plant in Edenton.
The first shipment of 369 coils arrived recently at the port and about five ships are expected yearly. The material, which is used to manufacture galvanized joist hangers and hinge plates and similar components, is also transported by barge to Edenton by Stevens Towing Co.
Meanwhile at the port, the main gate recently opened at a new location, about 475 feet east of the former gate.
Port officials opened the new gate Feb. 5 – during the previous snow and ice storm that moved through the area.
“It’s working out great, so far,” Mr. Edwards said.
The move makes the Maritime Building at the port once again accessible to the public – those without port security credentials – and provides more space for cueing trucks for drivers who also lack the federally required Transportation Worker Identification Credential or TWIC card issued by the Transportation Security Administration.
“TWIC card carriers can flash their badge and come straight in but the non-TWIC drivers are the ones that end up cueing up,” Mr. Edwards said. “The more we can handle on our property, the less impact there is to the community. The other important piece of that is the Maritime Building is now open to the public.”
The Maritime Building includes offices for port workers and was previously used for public meetings, most often by the State Ports Authority, before more stringent national security measures were implemented in the wake of the terrorism attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Because the building was within the old gate, it became off limits to those without port credentials – until the gate was moved.
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