Anna Schuessler/Daily Journal
Port Operations Manager Giorgio Garilli talks to workers on a boat from Hawaii. A barge filled with concrete aggregate materials, silos holding bulk materials and boats of all shapes and size help define the port’s landscape.
For the average Peninsula resident, the Port of Redwood City may be easy to miss. Tucked between Seaport Boulevard and Redwood Creek, the docks at the 120-acre port are the temporary homes of vessels containing cargo destined for locations all over the globe. The port’s vessels move slowly, with faded colors blending in with the marshy seascape surrounding them.
And they are massive, their contents indicative of the economic activities driving the Peninsula at any given time. In recent years, the port has welcomed some 50 to 60 cargo ships each year, up to 40 of which have been filled with concrete aggregate material slated for construction projects in the Bay Area and beyond.
Executive Director Mike Giari is no stranger to watching the Bay Area’s economy reflected in the cargo flowing in and out of the port. Giari has worked at the port since 1988 and has served as its director since 1995.
“It does change based on what’s going on in the community around us that the port serves,” he said.
Giari noted the port’s history of exporting redwood lumber in the ’50s and ’60s, and pallets of canned foods when the Peninsula was covered with orchards and farms. In the last two years, the port has seen an average of 1.2 million metric tons in sand and imported aggregate materials used for concrete come through its docks. According to the port’s logs, the number of imported aggregate materials entering the port has more than doubled since 2009, when the recession took a toll on building projects throughout the Bay Area.
Consistent with its history, the port is seeing the effects of an improved economy.
“They don’t operate in clouds, they operate in buildings,” said Giari, of the influx of workers into the area since 2009.
A flurry of building projects designed to house these workers has drawn materials needed to make cement through the port and into construction sites throughout the area.
Giari said most of the aggregate cement materials the port accepts and disseminates are from northern British Columbia. Quarries in the northern and southern parts of the Bay Area that had previously supplied these materials have closed or slowed operations in recent years, Giari said. He noted one quarry that closed to make way for a housing development, which he suspects may be the case for others.
“About 75 percent of the cargo tonnage at the port is inbound, and it’s mostly construction-related,” he said.
Vessels carrying concrete aggregates may dock at the port for 12 to 24 hours, using on-board machinery to unload their cargo onto conveyor belts and into silos or piles. Unlike Oakland’s port, where ships carrying large containers can offload cargo with cranes, the Redwood City port specializes in moving bulk materials off and onto ships and barges. The cargo is later loaded onto trucks or rail cars for distribution across the country.
Much of the material heading out of the port comes from recycled metals, such as old cars and service vehicles, headed to countries like China, South Korea and Peru using the scrap for construction projects.
“The port is crucial. By using water and rail, it reduces trucking and traffic in the area,” said Giorgio Garilli, administrator and operations manager at the port.
Among Garilli’s many responsibilities is making sure the companies using the port’s land and docks have what they need to operate smoothly. The port invested $16 million in building a new dock in 2015, and just completed a major dredging project with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to clear layers of silt away from the waters near the dock. Ensuring the water is at least 30 feet deep at zero tide allows the port to continue accepting large vessels loaded with heavy materials, which might otherwise sink or get stuck in Bay mud.
Though the port serves as an access point for materials streaming in across the globe, it also offers the public direct access to the Bay for boating, sailing, fishing and other water sports.
“We’re the only marina south of Redwood City where you can get access directly to the Bay,” said Giari.
The port, which turns 80 this year, is inviting the public to celebrate with visits from historic ships to the marina in March and its annual Port Fest in October, where Giari and his team offer tours of the port’s docks and wharves, as well as a window into the Peninsula’s economy.
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