New use for Cambridge port? Ships fail to call, putting Shore port's usefulness in doubt.

December 04, 1991|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,Evening Sun Staff

Cambridge has grown tired of waiting for its ship to come in.

Citing a lack of business to its downtown port, local politicians and business people are agreeing with the Maryland Port Administration's assessment that another use should befound for the 11-acre Eastern Shore facility.

Although the Maryland Port Administration has invested $800,000 in the Cambridge port during the last four years, the port has generated revenues of only about $300,000. MPA Director Adrian Teel says the port simply is not viable in a competitive market in which even major ports such as Baltimore are being underused.

The facility on the Choptank River is at a disadvantage because its dredged channel is only 20 to 25 feet deep, compared with 50 feet in the shipping lanes leading to Baltimore. Also, the Cambridge port has no nearby rail link, and it is not near a major distribution area.

Teel and state Transportation Secretary O. James Lighthizer met with Cambridge and Dorchester County officials about two weeks ago to discuss closing the port.

"It was pretty unanimous throughout those meetings that the port has not been profitable," Teel says.

The Cambridge port was opened in the early 1960s and flourished for a time as ships brought seafood to the city to be processed in plants there. But with the decline of the seafood processing industry, the use of the port dropped drastically.

Efforts were made to revitalize the port a few years ago, but without success.

County Commissioner Jack Colbourne says only two vessels called at the port in 1989 and one vessel last year. So far this year, no ships have called at the port.

"The port is dead. It's just not feasible to leave this property dormant waiting for a ship to come in," Colbourne says.

Patricia Soutiere, executive director of the Dorchester Chamber of Commerce, says the port is at a disadvantage because the region has no goods to export. "Ships don't want to come in here, unload something, and go out empty."

Alternative uses being considered include turning the property into a mini-Harborplace or building a hotel and conference center on the site.

Teel says the MPA is seeking help from the Department of Economic and Employment Development to find options for the property. The state may seek outside proposals as well, he says.

The MPA might hold on to the land and lease it to another user, or it could sell the property, Teel says.

"If we can get a steady stream of revenue from that, it would be better than what we've had in the past," Teel says.

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