By Anne Kallas

PORT HUENEME, Calif. – The Oxnard Harbor District commissioners on Monday lauded the first citrus export of oranges and lemons for Sunkist since the 1980s.

CEO and Port Director Kristin Decas said the shipment of fruit to Japan aboard the Solent Star is hoped to be a harbinger of more shipments to come. She said the harbor had requested additional agents from the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture to be on hand to inspect the outgoing fruit, with no problems.

Will Berg, Port of Hueneme director of marketing and public information, said it’s far too early to celebrate the return of Sunkist to the port but about 18 shiploads of citrus are scheduled to leave from the port through April.

“It’s too early to celebrate. It could all go back to Los Angeles,” he said.

The Oxnard Harbor District oversees the Port of Hueneme.

Harbor District President Jess Herrera heralded the move and expressed hope that the Port of Hueneme could again become a major exporter of Ventura County citrus, as it was years ago. “This is a great thing for our community,” he said.

The board also welcomed Carlo Belfonte, from the Board of Economic Development in Baja, California, who represents the Ensenada-El Sauzal-Port Azul Port network.

Decas said the two organizations have been working on a joint study to take advantage of the trade opportunities the port can provide. According to the study, distributed at the meeting, the port provides “niche cargo options,” to the more congested ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles.

The Port of El Sauzal offers an alternative to the busy Port of Ensenada, especially when it comes to agricultural products, much as the Port of Hueneme offers to its two larger counterparts.

The board unanimously approved bids for shore power outlets, necessary to allow refrigerated cargo ships carrying perishable cargo, such as bananas, to keep the cargo chilled dockside.

Chief Operations Officer John Demers said the bids came in more than $1 million more than the anticipated $2 million for the project.
“There has been a significant price increase over the last set we bought just a couple of years ago,” he said. That, combined with money for federal oversight of the project, caused the price increase.

The board also unanimously approved $500 to sponsor the Port Hueneme Little League. Commissioner Jason Hodge questioned what value the port would get from such a sponsorship. After being assured that the port would be featured on banners and written programs, which would be seen by families of players and other spectators, the board OK’d the action.