Business at the Port of Hueneme bounced back from the COVID-19 pandemic much quicker than management expected, allowing the port to keep its focus on the environment, port officials said at their 2020 “State of the Port” address on Oct. 15.
When the shutdown started in March, all 10 of the automobiles manufacturers that use the port stopped production of cars. The auto-cargo industry accounts for 55 percent of the port’s revenue through imports and exports.
“It was a little bit of a shock to the system to say the least,” Kristin Decas, the Oxnard Harbor District’s CEO and port director, said during a virtual presentation to the Oxnard Chamber of Commerce. The Harbor District is a public agency that owns and operates the port.
The auto-cargo industry is down only 8 percent from the end of last year, well above the port’s projected 28 percent decline, Decas said.
The fruits-cargo trade is up 4 percent, while total port revenue is down 8 percent. The port’s projections had revenue down 31 percent for fiscal year 2020-21.
“We’re holding on strong and I think this is a good story for the community, because we’re going to be able to keep people working and being able to reinvest in our infrastructure,” Dacas said.
The Harbor District’s efforts to make the port’s operations more climate-friendly go back years and are starting to bear fruit.
“At the beginning when I first got elected, environmental issues were not really part of our platform,” said Jess Ramirez, the president of the Oxnard Harbor District’s elected board. “Gradually the board began to change and now I can say that finally, after 12 years, we have seen significant changes,”
Since 2015, the Harbor District has invested over $20 million to tackle environmental issues.
For example, the port installed an onshore power system for incoming cargo ships, which allows ships to use renewable electric power instead of diesel power while docked. And in July 2019, the port bought a new hybrid rotating crane, a $7 million investment, that increased capacity for unloading cargo while producing zero emissions.
“The air is now cleaner than it was 33 years ago when I first started here, so I can honestly say we have done tremendous work,” Ramirez said.
The port also partnered with the Blue Whales and Blue Skies Program and handed out awards to Maersk, GLOVIS, K Line, and NYK Line for participating in a program where shipping lines reduced speeds to 10 knots or less in sensitive areas such as the Santa Barbara Channel, to protect whales and reduce emissions.
Because of those and other efforts, 530 tons of smog-forming emissions were eliminated, Ramirez said.
Also, in response to the pandemic, the board has been committed to helping low-income families by providing food distribution sites for the past 36 weeks.
“It’s all about sharing what we have with our community, and we’re doing awesome work,” Ramirez said.
The port peaked in cargo and revenue in the 2018-19 fiscal year, with 1.65 million tons and about $18 million in revenue.
Revenue was down 1.8 percent from 2018-19 to 2019-20, a small change despite the pandemic that struck in the final quarter of the 2019-20 fiscal year.
“Despite being up against COVID and some pretty big challenges, we didn’t see much of a dip in cargo and revenue, and that is good for our community because it means it can support us economically with good paying jobs and invest in our environment,” Decas said.
Decas also provided an update to the Harbor District’s plan to deepen the port, stating that it should be done by March 2021.
The port has also reduced its debt in recent years. The Harbor District took on a $35 million bond debt in 2006 and has reduced that debt to $8 million, with a projection of $6 million by the end of the current fiscal year.
“We’re in a very healthy fiscal situation here at the Port of Hueneme. Our bank book looks good,” Decas said.