The port of Baltimore has concentrated its search for a private partner to operate the state-owned Seagirt Marine Terminal on two competitors - a vital step in preparation for the expected widening of the Panama Canal in 2014.
The Maryland Port Association said Tuesday that Ceres Terminals Inc./Alinda Capital Partners LLC and Ports America Group/Highstar Capital have passed the qualification process and will be permitted to submit bids to run the Southeast Baltimore terminal.
The lead partners are both familiar names in the Baltimore port. Ports America has operated Seagirt Marine Terminal since it opened in 1990. Ceres has been a leading stevedore here for more than 30 years.
James J. White, executive director of the Maryland Port Administration, said the state expects to make a final contract award late in the fourth quarter. The winning bidder would lease the terminal for a minimum of 30 years and would be required to put up the estimated $80 million it will take to build a new 50-foot berth to accommodate the larger ships expected to call on the port after the Panama Canal is widened. That project is expected to be completed in 2014.
White said there were only the two responses to the state's bid invitation but that both qualified. He expressed delight with the quality of the bidders, calling them both experienced stevedores backed by strong infrastructure investment funds.
"I think we're in great shape," he said. "We're very encouraged and excited to move this thing forward."
The next step in the process is for the state to outline the specific terms and conditions it is proposing for the public-private partnership agreement. The bidders will have until Sept. 4 to submit initial offers, and negotiations toward a best and final offer would take place in the fall.
White said construction of the new berth is expected to begin in 2012 and take about 18 months.