Port of Stockton – Serving Stockton

We learn how the Port of Stockton is expanding its facilities and setting its sights on a greener way of working.

The Port of Stockton is a major deep-water port on the Stockton Ship Channel of the Pacific Ocean and an inland port located more than seventy nautical miles from the ocean. The port sits on about 4,200 acres on an island in the Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta, and a portion of a neighbourhood known as Boggs Tract.

The port’s history goes back to 1846 when the first cargo boat ascended the San Joaquin River. Two years later the first ferry service was established on the river, and the first freight vessel, the sloop Maria, visited Stockton. By the 1850s, the port had become a centre of commodity shipping and the supply centre for the California goldfields. The first dredging contracts for the Stockton Deepwater Channel were awarded in 1930, with the Port District officially opening on February 2, 1933. As the role of containerised cargo grew the port management upgraded its dockside facilities and improved the ship channel to accommodate new, larger ships.

50 miles south of Sacramento, 80 miles east of San Francisco, located on Interstate 5 the port sits at the intersection of the Union Pacific Railroad and the BNSF Railroad. Today the deep-water inland port boasts 2,000 acres of operational property, divided into its east and west complexes. Besides that, there are another 2,200 acres of dredging sites around the delta. The port features 12,000 linear feet of dock space, 75 miles of railroad track within port proper, and 7.7 million square feet of covered storage.

“I think what sets us apart is we’re in the San Joaquin Valley, which is an agricultural hub,” says Kirk DeJesus, the Port Director. “That gives us a big appeal to certain customers. We’re focused on bulk and breakbulk cargo. We don’t operate containers at this point, but we’re a good outlet for breakbulk and bulk.”

Delivering Improvement

The Port of Stockton has changed a lot since those earliest days, but there is still more work to do.

“Right now, we have challenges with rail limitations. We have 75 miles of rail track inside the port, but we’re limited to one entry point for both complexes,” DeJesus says. “Another challenge is that we have a draft of 35 feet which prevents certain cargos and larger loads from importing and exporting through here.”

The Port has extensive plans in place to meet these challenges.

“We have a rail infrastructure program in place. We’ve gone through the design concept phase and hope to be in construction next year,” DeJesus tells us. “The program will increase storage tracks inside the port and improve our rail bridge between the east and west complexes. We’re also pursuing legislative options to increase our dredging depth, but that’s a bit more complex.”

As well as vital facilities and infrastructure for the supply chain of the region, the port also plays a vital role in the economy.

“The port proper is responsible for just under 11,000 jobs, with the port staff itself made up of 117 employees, administrative staff for the most part,” DeJesus says. “We are an operative port meaning that we are able to handle cargo ourselves, such as fertilizer. Our staff operates a packaging warehouse, which is unique for a port.”

With recent events, it has been harder than usual to source talent lately.

“Like most employers, we’re struggling to find qualified candidates at the moment, but we try to source locally if we can,” DeJesus admits. “The majority of the jobs we need to fill are for management type positions. We need people to come in who are already qualified. We recently hired a real estate development director from LA with the skills and experience that we need. Internally, we will pay for degree programs if someone wants an advanced or associate degree. We open jobs up internally and promote from within when we can.”

An Expanding Role

The Port of Stockton is not only seeking to expand its facilities and human resources but also seeking to play a greater role.

“95% of fertilizer used in the valley comes through our port, but you don’t see the agricultural exports come through here,” DeJesus points out. “They’ll go to a container port in Oakland, so we’re trying to push a different way of thinking, suggesting they send their volume out via breakbulk or even containers on smaller vessels. Every container or breakbulk load that moves through the Port of Stockton takes trucks off the road as well, reducing traffic between here and Oakland and bringing down the carbon footprint.”

As DeJesus explains, the port is perfectly positioned to fulfil this role, yielding numerous benefits.

“We’re right in the middle of the agricultural belt. Exporting from here would be more efficient and cost-effective. It’s just not something that’s been thought of in the past,” DeJesus says. “It’s always been containers through Oakland, but like I said it’s 70 miles by truck and it’s backed up. We are working to source empty containers here in Central Valley so that farmer and packers can ship out their agricultural commodity from here. Since farmers are struggling to get their commodities out because of the lack of containers, we are also looking for a path to import goods in containers. Once they’re unloaded, the packers will have better access, and then we can export them out from here as well.”

Talking with DeJesus it is clear that he cares a great deal about the role that the port plays in the local community.

“Our CSR programs are significant. We’re the economic engine for the valley, so we make every effort to support local causes. We budget a considerable amount each year to support such causes. We keep our investments local, providing something to the community,” says DeJesus. “We’re a partner with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, as well as many other minority organisations. We also contribute to the local university, community programs, we sponsor local sporting teams, but our drive is with aid organisations such as hospices, child abuse prevention, and the like.”

The port has experienced unprecedented growth over the last couple of years, and DeJesus is expecting a similar performance this year.

“We started stronger than last year, so we need to focus on our business structure as we grow and ensure our assets are up to the task,” says DeJesus. “We have some berth improvements we need to make, as well as the rail improvements we have planned.”

The next big goal for the port is one of sustainability, with the facility aiming to achieve zero emissions in line with state directives.

“60% of our forklift fleet is already zero-emission, which we believe is the highest percentage in California and; therefore, probably the USA,” says DeJesus. “We also have a locomotive that’s zero-emission, so that’s work that we are going to continue as we work on replacing the rest of our port vehicles, supported by a state grant. Community awareness is also important. We border a neighbourhood, so we’re making the community aware of what we’re doing to be more environmentally sensitive. We’re leading the pack on electrifying our rolling stock, reducing emissions, and bringing awareness to the surrounding community. It’s the right thing to do and we can help the surrounding area achieve their environmental goals.”

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