Barge-Builder Sold

Allan Appel PhotoA local shipyard has a new owner—and maybe a new name and a new future.

A national outfit called U.S. Waterways Transportation LLC has purchased the shipyard, Buchanan Marine, at the base of the Ferry Street Bridge on the Q Avenue side for an undisclosed sum. The local shipyard employs 32 people.

U.S. Waterways owner Edward Whitmore said those jobs are safe, for now, as he oversees the “greening” of the facility and turns it into a repair shop for the eight tugboats his company owns and the barges they pull.

U.S. Waterways Transportation also owns Norfolk Tug in Virginia.

Whitmore plans to change the name of the Annex facility to “New Haven Shipyard”—if his plans bear fruit and the local operation survives.

He said he sees the future of the Annex facility as a repair site for the barge equipment his companies own. He said the company plans to invest time and money to create an “environmentally friendly facility that anyone would be proud to have on Long Island Sound.”

“The facility needs to improve its environmental footprint materially,” Whitmore said In a phone interview from his home base in Norfolk.

While he praised steps already being undertaken for stormwater treatment improvement, he said the site will have to be paved in order to facilitate the more efficient clean-up of rust and paint from blasting of the steel components of the barges.

“We’re going to work with folks in New Haven to do that productively,” he said.

Equipment modifications are also in the works, Whitmore said. Soon all of Whitmore’s barges that ply the inland waterways will be 200 feet long. However the rail cars at the yard onto which the barges are lifted from the Quinnipiac River in order to be carried to repair areas can handle only 150-foot lengths.

“That facility [the Fair Haven shipyard] is about maintenance and repair for the barge equipment. We would seek to improve the facility to lift the 200-foot equipment,” he said.

“Can we do this? Yes. In New Haven? Yes. In an environmentally friendly way? Yes,” he said.

“If that facility can be productive in terms of taking care of equipment, it will be there for a long time. If it’s not competitive, we’ll look to do it elsewhere. I hope forever in New Haven,” he said.

Norfolk Tug owns nine boats that ply the waters along the Gulf and East coasts. The tugs accompany barges that transport fertilizer, coal, petroleum, steel and dredge products, and construction materials and debris.

Back in July Buchanan CEO Rich Jurczak led U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal and U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro on a tour of the shipyard. The aim of the visit had been to highlight a new federal initiative to provide credit so companies such as Buchanan could expand.

At the time, Jurczak (who is no longer with the company) said Buchanan’s barge building output had been halved due to lack of availability of credit. Five years ago the company had over 50 employees. As of last summer, he said he was down to 26.

Whitmore estimated the current yard and office staff total 32.

“Provided we can repair barges in an environmentally friendly way and do so competitively, absolutely those jobs will remain,” he said.

Carlos Eyzaguirre of New Haven’s Economic Development Corporation described Whitmore as “an avid marine guy” who has spent a lot of time on the Sound, a sailor interested in conservation.”

Whitmore praised New Haven officials for their long-range plans including the development of the port district. Eyzayguirre, port officials, and others are planning a meeting in the upcoming weeks. The aim: to make sure that Whitmore knows about grants and tax incentives available in town.

“He wants to engage in the community, to use renewable technology,” Eyzaguirre said. He reported that there had been discussion with Whitmore about replacing the tire bumpers on the barges with dense high-tech foam.

And will the facility get re-branded “The New Haven Shipyard”?

Yes, perhaps next year, said Whitmore—if it makes it.

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