NEWARK, NJ-As recently as this past spring, some surmised that it would never happen. Maersk Sealand, one of the world’s largest waterborne shippers, had selected the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s Newark and Elizabeth, NJ facilities as the site of its new East Coast container hub over Baltimore, MD and Halifax, Nova Scotia. But the deal was held up for some 17 months because of a squabble between the governors of New York and New Jersey over Port Authority expenditures and other issues.

In the meantime, Maryland re-entered the picture, openly courting Maersk for the designation–and the jobs and real estate projects expected to follow. In June, the two states buried the hatchet, made concessions and signed the deal with Maersk. This week, the shipper broke ground for a $200-million expansion of its Port Newark-Elizabeth cargo hub, a three-year project encompassing 350 acres and including 12 of the largest cargo cranes ever built. They will have the capacity to handle more than 700,000 cargo containers a year.

“This expanded facility will connect the Northeast to any location in the world,” says Tommy Thomsen, president and CEO of Maersk Sealand. It’s also expected to spark a new round of construction for warehousing and distribution facilities in the region.

A key issue is dredging the channels leading into New York harbor, currently too shallow for many of the largest vessels. The Port Authority’s commitment to deepening the key channels in stages over the next several years was a major factor in Maersk Sealand’s decision to site its hub at Newark/Elizabeth to begin with.

Construction is expected to spark similar activity by rival shippers. P&O Nedlloyd BV, for example, has already signed a 30-year lease with the Port Authority. The PA’s long-range plans also call for new terminals in Hudson and Middlesex counties in New Jersey and Brooklyn, NY, plus expansion of older terminals in Newark and Staten Island, NY.

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