In Portsmouth, Biden says investment in port will alleviate supply chain issues

At the New Hampshire Port Authority in Portsmouth on Tuesday, Chairman Joe Biden said federal spending on infrastructure projects, such as road repairs and port infrastructure improvements, could reduce costs for consumers.

Portsmouth Harbor has received millions of dollars in federal money in recent years. About $1.7 million from the bipartisan infrastructure bill is earmarked for the port in 2022, to upgrade a shipping channel and a siding. (In total, the federal law set aside $17 billion for port infrastructure repairs and upgrades across the county.)

The money follows $18.2 million from the Army Corps of Engineers’ 2021 budget used to widen a turning basin in the harbor to accommodate larger ships.

“We widened that turning basin to 1,200 feet,” Biden told a small crowd of guests and press at the Port Authority. “We did it. Now it’s easier, faster, cheaper and safer for ships to enter and leave.

Portsmouth Port handles around 3.5 million tonnes of cargo, or $2 billion a year. Fossil fuels such as petroleum, propane and coal accounted for 55% of maritime trade carried through the port in 2012, according to a study published that year. But some leaders see the port as a place to support new renewable energy resources, especially offshore wind. Biden touched on that possibility briefly in his remarks on Tuesday.

“The port can accommodate bigger ships, more cargo, like the massive towers and hubs needed for offshore wind farms,” ​​he said.

In February, state officials published a report on the state’s ability to provide infrastructure for offshore wind development in the Gulf of Maine. The report says developing robust supply chain networks will be important if New Hampshire hopes to take advantage of the economic opportunities presented by offshore wind. Some conservationists say offshore wind offers a great opportunity for New Hampshire to reduce emissions.

Paul Brean, Executive Director of the Pease Development Authority, says Seacoastonline he sees great opportunities for Portsmouth’s role in global supply chains, particularly in the construction and maintenance of offshore wind developments in the Gulf of Maine.

Biden painted a hopeful picture as he spoke in a damp, tarpaulin-roofed building on Portsmouth Harbour. Patches of sunlight shone through holes in the structure, peeking through lingering rain clouds.

“We are the only country in the world, I believe, that has come out of every crisis we have faced stronger than we entered it,” he said. “And this port is a perfect example of that. A lot of important stuff goes into these terminals, from salt to de-iced roads to 85% of the home heating oil used in this state.

For several traders in Portsmouth city centre, infrastructure issues have impacted their businesses.

At the G. Willikers book and toy store on Market Street, Jody and Bob Breneman were presenting the book “Joey: The Joe Biden Storya children’s book about the president written by First Lady Jill Biden.

For Jody and Bob Breneman, siblings who own the store, supply chain challenges have hit them hard during the pandemic, especially for their toys.

“We heard about cargo, ships on the water for weeks and weeks at a time. And that certainly affected our vacation expeditions, getting products,” Jody Breneman said. “We really had to work with each other, our businesses and ourselves and be patient with each other and really keep our spirits up because the industry was very stressed, and still is.”

Cost has also become an issue. Breneman said some wholesalers had raised prices by up to 30% – an increase the store had to pass on to consumers. They stopped selling certain products because the price they should have charged was not worth the value of the item. The shop has pivoted, relying on more locally made products.

But while the Brenemans were enthusiastic about Biden’s visit, they said they did not expect infrastructure improvements in Portsmouth to have a big impact on their own operations.

Their products do not pass through the port of Portsmouth. And for Jody Breneman, the idea of ​​making Portsmouth a bigger supply chain hub is a mixed bag. It would be nice to get products in an easier way closer to home. But dredging the port comes with environmental concerns, as well as the potential impact of more ships on tourism: for example, she said the bridges that ferry people into the city could be raised more often, which would make travel more difficult.

And, she says, the biggest problem she sees in the shipping companies she uses is their ability to find workers.

“I think something has to change in the way people who work in ports are paid and supported,” she said. “They can’t attract people. And usually that means we don’t pay people enough. »

Labor shortages have also muddied things for Hannah Houston, whose family owns Papa Wheelie bike shop in Portsmouth.

“Even though the port infrastructure will probably help get the boats in faster, there aren’t enough people to drive the trucks that we need to get the bikes to us here,” she said.

And when she thinks Portsmouth will become a bigger hub for freight transport, she worries about the workforce in the area, the availability of workers for trucking company staff and the cost of transport. life.

“Someone who is going to earn a warehouse worker salary cannot afford to live in Portsmouth,” she said. “So it seems pretty impossible to me at this point. I can’t even afford to live in Portsmouth.

Modernization of infrastructure and energy costs

Throughout his Tuesday remarks, Biden focused on cutting costs and improving safety and health through infrastructure investments and other federal efforts. He touted a variety of federal investments, including funds for roads and bridges, PFAS cleanup, lead pipe removal, broadband, and electrical grid upgrades.

New Hampshire is should receive $1.1 billion in federal funds for highways, $100 million for broadband coverage extensions, $420 million for water infrastructure investments, and $125 million for public transportation, among other funds .

Biden also pointed to the high energy, food and goods prices many granite staters are experiencing, saying the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s war in Ukraine were to blame.

“I’m doing everything I can to bring prices down to deal with Putin’s price hike,” he said, pointing to his release of 1 million barrels of oil a day for six months from of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

The President concluded with more optimism.

“Maine, New Hampshire and America have recovered,” he said. “They are no longer on the mend. They are on the move.

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