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Hanjin moves closer to port deal

Negotiations for the terminal are almost done

By DAVID HUNT, The Times-Union

Representatives from Korean shipping giant Hanjin spent five days negotiating with the Jacksonville Port Authority this week before both sides took a critical step toward a final contract to establish an estimated 170-acre container terminal here.

Ron Baker, the authority's chief financial officer and deputy director, said a development plan was reached Thursday. While an official contract is not expected until March, Baker said the development plan signifies negotiations are so far successful.

"We have mutually agreed that we have no deal breakers or showstoppers," he said.

Hanjin is South Korea's largest carrier, transporting more than 100 million tons of cargo around the world annually, according to the company's Web site.

Bill Rooney, the managing director for container shipping for Hanjin's North American regional headquarters, said his colleagues in the New York office were awaiting word back on the negotiations late Thursday.

"We'll be discussing it next week," he said. "I do know, generally speaking, the discussions between Hanjin and the port have gone very well."

The Korean shipping line signed a memorandum of understanding with the authority, the precursor to a contract that would have Hanjin ships in Jacksonville by 2011.

Baker said that remains a goal, but the company may begin moving cargo here before the container terminal is completed, likely by leasing space from other port tenants. He said details of the development plan are confidential, but he expects the final contract will be developed in March, when negotiations are scheduled to continue in Seoul.

The Hanjin container terminal spelled out in the memorandum of understanding is expected to cost $360 million and have the capacity to handle more than 7.5 million tons of cargo annually. At least $1 billion in economic activity and thousands of new jobs are projected.

There is a question of where the terminal will go.

The authority has been negotiating for a 167-acre parcel off Heckscher Drive for two years but has not been able to come to terms with the land's owner, New York businessman Abraham Zion.

Earlier this week, the authority's board of directors authorized executive staff to attempt to condemn the property through eminent domain if negotiations remain unsuccessful, a move that raised the eyebrows of land-rights activists.

Baker said the authority is exploring other land options if the Zion property purchase falls through.

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