It's a port party in South Jersey, and one state leader is sending the invitations.
State Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester) told a room of business leaders and local officials in Voorhees on Friday morning that two port facilities in the works on the Delaware have the potential to invigorate the regional economy - so much so that he envisions a third.
"There's one more that we want to build, down in Salem" County, Sweeney said at a breakfast meeting hosted by the Chamber of Commerce Southern New Jersey focused on transportation and infrastructure, specifically ports.
Sweeney has been a primary proponent of two port facilities being built in Gloucester County: the Port of Paulsboro - a marine terminal being constructed on a former brownfield site with state dollars - and a terminal planned by a firm at the former DuPont Co. Repauno site in nearby Greenwich Township.
"We're going to turn south and look into what we can do down there," he said in an interview, referring to Salem County. Noting proximity to the New Jersey Turnpike and I-295, he said DuPont's facility in Deepwater would be a prime location for a port.
"I would love to see a third port, and I'm going to work very hard to get corporate interest," he said, adding that DuPont had not yet signed on.
DuPont spokeswoman Janet Smith said company officials "haven't really had much in the way of discussions on that."
"We're always looking for ways to use our assets," she said, noting that the area in question is unused land next to the company's Deepwater chemical plant. "We don't really know if this particular idea of Sen. Sweeney's is one that is viable, but it's certainly one that we'd be very happy to discuss with him."
The chemical giant in March said it would sell the dormant Repauno site to New York-based Fortress Investment Group, which announced intentions to create a port facility. Smith said Friday that DuPont hoped to close on that sale in 2016.
Kevin Castagnola, executive director and CEO of the South Jersey Port Corp. (SJPC), told the meeting in Voorhees that business on the river has continued to improve since the recession. Last year, he said, the state agency saw its "largest year ever" in terms of importing steel.
"This year is on pace to break last year's record," he said, citing that progress to say that "good things are happening with the economy."
The SJPC oversees several ports - including a shallow one in Salem City - handling steel products, cocoa beans, and other products. The corporation is working with the Gloucester County Improvement Authority to construct the Paulsboro port, a facility that has experienced several delays and that is expected to open next year.
Last year, Holt Logistics agreed to partner to operate the Paulsboro port.
Sweeney said at the event that the new ports have the ability to create thousands of well-paid jobs. "Things are looking up . . . for us in southern New Jersey," he said.
While Sweeney said Holt would be a good partner for a Deepwater site, Thomas Holt Jr. of Holt said the company had engaged only in preliminary talks about that prospect.
"We'll certainly be talking to the Senate president about it," Holt added.
The panel at the event noted the depleted condition of New Jersey's Transportation Trust Fund and stressed the need for rail infrastructure improvements, acknowledging rail's importance to ports.