Construction material needs leads to shipping boom at Port of Redwood City

Tony Avelar / The Christian Science Monitor via Getty ImagesPassengers exits a Caltrain commuter train during the morning commute

Tony Avelar / The Christian Science Monitor via Getty ImagesPassengers exits a Caltrain commuter train during the morning commute

Increased import of raw material used in construction has led the Port of Redwood City to have one of its busiest years in recent history, according to a recent report presented to the Port Commission.

The increase in annual activity — amounting to a total of 173,991 metric tons, or 13.9 percent — is largely due to imported sand and aggregates from British Columbia, the report said. Together, the sand and aggregate tonnage jumped 203,435 metric tons — offsetting decreases in other materials the port regularly receives.

“The high quality of the sand and gravel aggregates from British Columbia combined with the dwindling supply of these materials in Northern California because quarries are unable to expand triggered a strong demand that the Port benefitted from,” Executive Director Michael Giari said in a statement.

Businesses on the Peninsula use the sand and aggregate materials to manufacture a variety of construction materials, including concrete and asphalt.

The increase in the import comes after sand obtained from domestic sources — largely located in the Bay Area — dropped 433 metric tons or about 1.42 percent, and has remained flat since 2008.

A Canadian company, Polaris Minerals Corp., supplies the majority of the aggregates imported at Redwood City's port. Polaris ships most of such material from its quarry in nearby Ocra, located on the northeast coast of Vancouver Island. The quarry has “significant” long-term capacity, according to port officials.

Although overall port activity increased — the offset mainly coming from increased sand and aggregates imports — several materials tracked by port officials saw significant decreases. For example, gypsum — a mineral often used in housing construction — imported from Australia and Mexico dropped by 23,441 metric tons, or 33.36 percent. Scrap-metal exports dropped as well, down 6,749 metric tons, due to a weak international market.

Historically, cement shredded scrap, and gypsum traffic have accounted for most tonnage shipped into and out of the port. Only in recent history have sand and aggregates accounted for the majority of cargo traffic at the port.

In the 2012-13 fiscal year, the port received no passengers — unlike 2011-12 which saw 301 disembark.

In total, 70 vessels — 51 ships and 19 barges — made port calls during the year, compared with 26 barges and 48 ships — totaling 74 — in 2011-12.

The surge of activity marks a seven-year high for the only deepwater port in the southern part of the Bay.

Bay Area NewsPeninsulaPort of Redwood CityRedwood CitySan Mateo County

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