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Of the many factors contributing to supply chain disruptions, ongoing port congestion certainly makes the list. The overflow of shipping containers clogging up ports has been a primary culprit behind the long lines of cargo ships waiting to unload. But a new solution has started to emerge: pop-up container yards that could help to accommodate some of those boxes and free up much-needed real estate within the port complexes.

The Rapid Growth of Pop-up Container Yards

In a fact sheet issued on November 9th, the White House described several immediate steps it was taking as a result of the passage of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal to help relieve supply chain congestion—including a collaboration with the Georgia Ports Authority to create pop-up container yards.

Noting that port authorities were being given flexibility in how they use grants to help reduce supply chain disruptions and port congestion, the White House said, “With this policy change, the Georgia Port Authority will be able to reallocate more than $8 million to convert existing inland facilities into five pop-up container yards in both Georgia and North Carolina. Under the plan, the Port of Savannah will transfer containers via rail and truck further inland so that they can be closer to their final destination, which will make available valuable real estate closer to the port. The effort will free up more dock space and speed goods flow in and out of the Port of Savannah, which leads the nation in containerized agricultural exports.”

In the following video, U.S. Sec. of Transportation Pete Buttigieg describes the impact of pop-up container yards during a visit to the Port of Savannah.

As Edwin Lopez of Supply Chain Dive reported on November 10th, this isn’t the first time pop-up container sites have been implemented to relieve congestion. The Port of Long Beach started one in October of 2020 at Pier S, referring to it as the “Short Term Overflow Resource” site (STOR).

In an email to Supply Chain Dive, Lee Peterson, Media Relations Manager at the Port of Long Beach described how STOR has grown: “It started out as 49 acres to be operated for six months. It’s grown to 64 acres and received an extension for as long as it takes to reverse the backlog.”

Citing an email from Phillip Sanfield, Director of Media Relations at the Port of Los Angeles, Lopez said the Port was taking a similar approach: “The Port of Los Angeles has opened some container terminal-adjacent parcels, and is working on opening others, to make additional space for containers within the Port,” Sanfield said in the email.

On January 3rd, the Port of Oakland announced plans for its own pop-up container yard. According to a press release, the interagency effort is specifically geared toward improving the flow of agricultural exports there: “The program involves the use of additional yard space and equipment, restored export ship calls and assistance to export users. The goal is to provide relief to agricultural exporters who are facing shortages of export capacity and skyrocketing logistics costs.”

The paved pop-up yard is set to cover 25 acres and will be equipped “to move containers off chassis and store them for rapid pick-up. The yard will provide access to equipment and provide faster truck turns without having to wait for in-terminal space. Agriculture exporters will be assisted by federal and state agricultural agencies to use the yard,” according to the release.

Referring to the Port of Oakland as “the preferred export gateway for much of California’s agricultural exporters and for refrigerated proteins,” the release notes that the typical 50/50 balance between export and import cargo volumes has been disrupted by port congestion:

“…the current import surge clogging up the ports is displacing ships and containers that are available to exporters, especially shipments of farm goods. The Port saw significant drops in export volume due to skipped sailings of crucial export lines and lack of equipment for export cargo.”

As a result, State and Port officials convened with farm producers and transportation executives to come up with potential solutions.

“We need the shipping companies to immediately restore the export lines from Oakland to Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent,” said Bryan Brandes, Port of Oakland Maritime Director in the release.

“In the meantime, the Port—along with our federal and state partners—is ready to do everything we can to help provide room and relief to help our agricultural customers,” said Danny Wan, the Port Executive Director.

Pop-ups Beyond Ports

But pop-up initiatives such as these aren’t limited to ports. Retailers like Walmart and others are creating their own pop-up yards close to the ports that are unloading their goods. Such pop-up yards might be created on land already owned by the entity that creates them, or on land rented from someone else.

The following video describes a pop-up yard created by the Georgia Ports Authority on land it rented from Norfolk Southern Railway.

Citing one logistics expert, The Loadstar’s Ian Putzger notes that pop-up yards must meet a few basic requirements, like fencing for security, a manned gate for processing—and if container stacking is required—a reach stacker, and a surface strong enough to support the stacks.

As Putzger notes, efforts to shift containers away from congested ports isn’t a new concept. Last summer, the ports of Long Beach and Oakland signed partnership agreements with the Utah Inland Port Authority to improve supply chain flow.

And though some view pop-yards as a temporary solution, others believe they may play a more permanent role—as described in the following video.

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