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Navy Deal Could Bring More Cargo to County

Commerce: Agreement calling for sharing of wharf would increase Port of Hueneme's capacity and could result in more shipping customers.


After years of negotiations and false starts, the Navy has struck a deal that would allow the Port of Hueneme to use one of its wharves, a move that would give the port a big jump in its cargo-handling capacity and could attract more customers.

In a celebration Friday afternoon, Navy and harbor officials called the agreement between the two entities a cooperative effort that required years of give-and-take.

"It's a miracle," joked Capt. Jim McConnell, commander of the Port Hueneme Navy base. "This agreement continues to offer unfettered access for the Navy and more commercial access. It's good for the Ventura County economy."

Also Friday, port officials said they have bought the so-called Sunkist site--a 14.1-acre parcel purchased for $3.9 million--that will give the port more room to expand. Together, the two properties should increase the area available to the port by about one-third, from 100 acres to 137.

The agreement is still subject to approval by the secretary of the Navy. While approval is not open-and-shut, McConnell said legislation by Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley) has smoothed the way. It could still be months, however, before a new customer's ship is docked at Wharf 3.

Harbor Commissioner Mike Plisky vowed the new space would bring large rewards to the port, increasing by 50% the 3,000 jobs it now generates and the $300 million it now brings in.

McConnell said much of the time spent negotiating was because of the strategic importance of the base, the only Navy deep-water port between San Diego and Washington state.

But Plisky, whom Commissioner Jess Herrera joked was the "bad cop" in the process, was less sanguine about the six years the two groups spent at the table.

"The biggest hurdle is government bureaucracy," he said. "We tried everything from raising hell to getting Gallegly's muscle."

The Navy is not giving up ownership of Wharf 3, a dock that is just beyond a chain-link fence dividing the port and the neighboring Naval Construction Battalion Center. The Oxnard Harbor District would be allowed to use the wharf for its extra space but would have to vacate the wharf if asked by Navy brass.

To use the space, the harbor district would be required to maintain the area and perform small upgrades, and would provide the Navy with 45% of any fees the district receives from shipping companies that use the wharf. Commissioners are hoping for about $20,000 a week from the new space, harbor Commissioner Ray Fosse said.

The port would only be allowed to use the space for automotive shippers, or so-called roll-on, roll-off cargo, so it can be moved quickly to make space for the Navy. But port officials say they should be able to fill up their extra space with little effort.

In fact, the new wharf would allow the port to welcome Wallenius Wilhelmsen, a Swedish company set to ship BMWs and Jaguars here, said Will Berg, director of marketing for the harbor district.

The port would not be allowed to make any large capital improvements to the wharf.

Gallegly, who introduced legislation in Congress clearing the way for shared use of the wharf, had predicted 18 months ago that the agreement could come at any moment.

Calling Friday "one of the most special days in my political life," Gallegly described the port as the "gateway to Ventura County's economic growth" during a speech at the ceremony.

Harbor Commissioner Jesse Herrera gave the Navy extra credit.

The Navy knows "there's a time to defend and a time to serve," he said. "They're taking an opportunity to help us serve the community."

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