Port of Oswego may see funding for railroad and infrastructure upgrade

Aluminum ingots, made by Novelis, are the biggest product shipped through the port.

Senator Charles Schumer was at the Port of Oswego on Monday to unveil a plan to provide funding necessary to make critical upgrades to port infrastructure and equipment.

The upgrades to railroad infrastructure along the docks and other cargo handling equipment, such as oversized fork lifts, are needed to help the Port of Oswego meet shipping demands and increase productivity.

Schumer says the current rail along the docks has deteriorated to the point of shutting down, so he's asking for a $1.5 million dollars from the Federal Railroad Administration to upgrade the mile of tracks at dockside. The were installed in 1963 and are out of alignment, causing regular derailments, according to the Senator. Eight rail switches at the docks also need replacing. The money would go to the Port Authority as a 30 year loan, and Schumer told the news conference how he's campaigning for it: â??I have a little clout in the Senate. Thereâ??s gonna be a new Transportation Secretary, and he or she will come to my office and say â??I want your support.â?? And Iâ??ll say, â??yeah, I want a few things too, at the top of the list will be this loan.â??

The Port of Oswego's activities support seven thousand jobs in Central New York, and the rail link is vital, especially for the time, from December to March, when water-based shipping shuts down because of ice. "We become a road and rail network, and a road and rail intermodal facility in that time," says Port Authority Director Jonathan Daniels. "2004-2005 we handled zero rail cars. It was not part of our mix. Now for the second straight year we've approached 1000 railcars."

No question the operation is expanding: the Port Authority is redeveloping, fencing and landscaping 17 acres just east of Fort Ontario. Right now stacks of aluminum ingots are stored there. Aluminum is the main product shipped through the port: it comes in from Quebec and is processed by Novelis in Scriba (a company that's also expanding, thanks in part to the port's shipping facilities). There's $150-million worth of aluminum ingots in storage at Port Authority sites right now, including some polished, finished aluminum, destined for investment house Goldman Sachs. Daniels points out that five years ago there was just one aluminum shipper at the port, now there are 10.

Other big customers at the port include Perdue AgriBusiness (12th biggest agribusiness in the world) which ships soybeans, fertilizer and other ag products through Oswego. Daniels says heavy equipment, like the components of the Tug Hill wind turbines, and transformers and other equipment for the 9-mile nuclear plants also come by ship, which is why another part of Schumer's upgrade will include finding and bringing in government surplus 'stackers'--heavy lifting equipment for the docks.

A third piece of the modernization plan, is to free federal funds for more harbor dredging, so that all the port's access and docksides are 28.6' deep. Schumer says the money is there, in contributions from port users, but it must be released for use.

The port is credited with supporting 7,000 jobs in a seven county Central New York region. As recently as five years ago, it was referred to as 'the little port at the end of the street.' Last year, it was cited by CenterStateCEO (the Syracuse area chamber of commerce) as a key to development in the region. And not just for Syracuse. Operation Oswego County's Mike Treadwell says "There's very few conversations with manufacturing prospects and i'm sure beyond oswego county and Onondaga County and Madison and Cayuga Counties as well that there isn't some interest in the potential that the port could play."