Seagirt is dedicated with 'pride, optimism'

October 25, 1990|By John H. Gormley Jr.

As about 1,000 people looked on yesterday afternoon, state Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein gingerly knocked a champagne bottle against the yellow ladder of a towering blue container crane at dedication ceremonies for Seagirt Marine Terminal.

Screwing up his resolve when the bottle refused to break the first time, Mr. Goldstein gave the ladder a good whack.

This time the bottle smashed, splattering droplets of bubbly liquid over the pants and shoes of Isaac Shafran, the Maryland Port Administration's director of development.

Thus Mr. Goldstein dedicated one of the terminal's three dual-hoist container cranes to Representative Helen Delich Bentley, R-Md.-2nd.

Mr. Goldstein had to pinch-hit for Mrs. Bentley, who was late for the ceremonies. But when she did arrive she, too, was given a bottle of champagne. Standing next to the crane, she cocked the bottle back like a hitter awaiting a fast ball, then swung it with authority. The outcome was never in doubt.

There are three dual-hoist cranes, dedicated to Mrs. Bentley, U.S. Senator Barbara A. Mikulski and state Treasurer Lucille Maurer. The other four are single hoists that can be converted later to dual-hoist operation.

Dedicating the crane twice was probably not a bad idea, in view of what the Helen Bentley and the other cranes at Seagirt will be called on to do -- reverse the declining fortunes of the port and restore Baltimore to its former glory as the gateway to the Midwest.

Yesterday's lavish celebration to mark the dedication of Seagirt, the crown jewel of the port -- representing an investment of about $300 million in public funds -- began at the Inner Harbor just after noon as about 600 people boarded two boats that usually provide harbor cruises.

On board, the guests drank cocktails, snacked on crab dip and listened to live jazz during the short trip down the Patapsco River to Seagirt. One of those on board was Richard Huang, president of U.S. operations for Evergreen Marine Corp., one of two steamship lines that have signed Seagirt leases. Mediterranean Shipping Co. is the other.

Evergreen is among the top three lines in the port in the amount of cargo handled. Seagirt's modern facilities were a crucial consideration in Evergreen's decision to continue sending its ships to Baltimore.

"Without Seagirt, with only Dundalk [Marine Terminal], we may no longer be here," Mr. Huang said. Seagirt, he said, is a step the port had to take to remain competitive. "If you don't improve yourself, you'll be out of business," he said.

The new cranes are a key element in the improved productivity Evergreen expects at Seagirt. The port's older cranes move about 25 cargo containers an hour. Seagirt's new dual-hoist cranes have a design capacity of 55 containers an hour.

When Evergreen's first ship came to Seagirt two weeks ago, the cranes averaged less than 20 an hour. Last weekend, on the second Evergreen ship, the cranes did much better, averaging 25 or 26 an hour and briefly achieving a rate of 30 an hour, said Capt. William Chan, Evergreen's head of operations in Baltimore. Captain Chan said he expects the performance of the cranes to improve as their operators get more practice. "When you buy a new car, you go a little bit slow at first," he said.

Seagirt received bad reviews from truckers during its initial operation as long lines developed at the terminal gate two weeks ago, just before the arrival of the first Evergreen ship.

Michael Angelos, head of Maryland International Terminals, the state subsidiary that oversees Seagirt, said a number of steps have been taken to help truckers get in and out of Seagirt more quickly.

When the boats carrying the guests arrived at Seagirt yesterday, the passengers were greeted by the Patapsco High School marching band, conducted by a bandleader standing on a gray oil drum.

State Secretary of Transportation Richard H. Trainor told the crowd that Seagirt is the "greatest facility in the world." The challenge now, he said, is "to fill it up."

Governor Schaefer said, "After a long hard struggle of many years, we are here to celebrate." Emphasizing the role organized labor has played in helping to promote the port and make Seagirt a success, the governor said, "There's a new pride and optimism here."

Creation of the landfill on which Seagirt rests cost $90 million. The state Transportation Authority provided an additional $220 million for turning the mud dredged from the harbor floor during construction of the Fort McHenry Tunnel site into what the state has been trumpeting as "the most productive 265 acres of land in the shipping business."

Mr. Shafran, who was responsible for managing the construction of the terminal, thinks that huge investment will prove to be a wise one. "I think this will turn the port around," he said.

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