Guided missiles rather than ships are a surefire way to get federal funding for ports and the attention of senior officials, with a minimum of hassle. Don't agree? Look no further (6,000 miles to be precise) than Guam.
A check for a paltry $50 million has just been handed over by Marad boss David Matsuda IN PERSON to mark the first stage of a port overhaul. The reason for his intense interest is that the port will be the focus of a $15 billion military expansion, mostly to cater for the Marines being moved from Okinawa plus other units. (UK newspapers refer to it as a "super-secret base".)
Ordinarily, Marad would not cross the Delaware to hand over such a piffling sum to anyone, but civilians jump when the Pentagon commands.
The port buildup has also resurrected a fascinating local political brawl three years ago involving gantry cranes that the island needed.
Two cranes then in use were more than 25 years old, and could have broken down at any time. Authorities could not decide if one or two new units were needed (one suspects this was partly because the Pentagon was being secretive about its own plans). What seemed like a sensible decision was made – a tender for one was issued but bidders were asked to quote for an option for a second.
Officialdom then got itself in a terrible muddle, with tender documents using confusing and contradictory wording, and queries going back and forth. Spelling mistakes made it worse and everything had to be reissued.
In comes China's ZPMC, which was the only realistic tenderer. It quoted several million to supply one unit, making officials' eyes bulge, and the bid was rejected.
Meanwhile, Jones Act lines Matson and Horizon were getting exasperated. They account for 90 percent of port traffic and wanted action. So they rolled up their sleeves and got to work, finding three in Los Angeles.
The disused 50-ton rail mounted models, made by Hitachi in 1983, were bought jointly for $150,000, with the carriers paying for everything (at a total cost of more than $10 million, because of the hire of a heavylift ship and installation costs). Every part, except for the steel frames, was replaced or overhauled.
In return, the two lines have received a discount on tenant leases. All was going swimmingly, except that ZPMC squawked that it should be given a chance to bid again. The island's authorities got themselves in a terrible muddle, but the issue was quietly resolved and the LA cranes duly arrived.
The port's total overhaul will cost about $300 million over 20 years, but the project could easily have been delayed for a couple of years because of the cranes.
One again suspects that some heavy words were put in by the Pentagon. The lesson is clear: military brass always has the final say.