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How the Port of Stockton is Navigating the Post Pandemic Waters

By Kristin Withrow posted 30 days ago

large ship at dock

How the Port of Stockton is Navigating the Post-Pandemic Waters

When you hear the name Stockton, if you are even slightly familiar with California geography, you don’t picture a coastal city. While you may not know exactly where Stockton is, you would be correct in mentally placing the city inland in northern California. Certainly, the last thing you imagine is a thriving port welcoming ships 900 feet long with 2 miles of dock space.

The port specializes in bulk and break bulk shipping. These are not container ships. The deep-water inland port can accommodate ships with up to a 35-foot draft (or depth). Bulk and break bulk refers to goods that are commonly packaged in 1-ton sacks, pallets, or other non-containerized goods. Products like steel, fertilizers, cement, animal feeds, auto parts and food grade oils all arrive in the Port of Stockton to be offloaded and distributed into the U.S.

The process of unloading these ships requires a workforce comprised of International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) members who hand off to Port of Stockton tenants. The port handles roughly 5 million tons of goods in a typical year, which translates to $1.4 billion in goods. All this commerce means the port is an economic engine for the economy, resulting in the overall employment of over 10,000 people and $630 million in income to the area.

California Special Districts reached out to the Port of Stockton Port Director @Kirk DeJesus to find out how port operations were affected in 2021 by the pandemic. The nation witnessed photos of massive container ships stuck in the Pacific last fall, unable to reach their destination due to workforce shortages, and threatening to delay the merriment of the holidays and bring the economy to a screeching halt. DeJesus said the Port of Stockton not only avoided the traffic jam, but they also helped to alleviate the problem.

“Some suppliers began changing their shipping methods to bypass the ports in southern California and Oakland at that time. There were non-container ships that were able to come up to our port, unload, and get back out to sea before the container ships waiting offshore were even docked,” said DeJesus. Suppliers who used container ships realized they could change their methods and get goods to market quicker.

This change in operations is something the Port of Stockton hopes will become permanent. Some Asian markets have recognized the efficiency in shipping through Stockton. Perishable goods that have an inland destination arrive faster starting their land journey in Stockton instead of LA or Oakland.

Agricultural exports that originate in the valley can get to sea quicker through Stockton than through the next larger port in Oakland. This shorter truck and rail route also reduces traffic between Stockton and Oakland. Additionally, the reduction in traffic translates to a reduction in air and noise pollution in the heavily populated bay area.

DeJesus said, “we are hopeful some of the changes we’ve seen will have a long-term effect on how business is done because there are also benefits to the environment that come from reducing traffic and congestion.” The Port of Stockton has been Green Marine certified since 2018 and takes their responsibility as stewards of the environment seriously. 

White owl flying away from nest boxThe most popular, and visible, branch of their environmental outreach is their Owl Cam. When old buildings needed to be replaced, the resident owls needed to have new housing options. The port installed 20 nest boxes that have become home to the owls who provide nightly pest control services in the area. There are six owl cams in operation for the public to enjoy. Other environmental stewardship programs include a tree plotter program to monitor trees in the area, water quality protection programs to reduce pollutants and promote the balance between nature and commerce, air quality programs including zero emission forklifts, trucks, and other large equipment considerations to limit their carbon footprint.

The pandemic brought many upheavals and challenges to everyone, but it was also the catalyst for some changes that will be beneficial moving forward.  Special districts like the Port of Stockton welcome the opportunity to leverage change borne of adversity to advance efficiency in their operations for their community.