Port Otago plans to establish itself as the only deep water port in the South Island by deepening and widening the Otago Harbour channel and redeveloping wharves, berths and the container terminal.
In a development expected to cost tens of millions of dollars, container ships up to 50 per cent bigger, and able to carry 6000 containers, could visit within four years.
Port Otago chief executive Geoff Plunket likened the proposal in importance to the selection of Port Chalmers as a container port in 1976 and said it would prepare the port for the next 30 to 50 years.
"It is essential for Dunedin, and the lower half of the South Island, that Port Otago remains a strong and significant part of New Zealand's international trading supply chain. To make sure that happens, Port Chalmers must be able to handle the largest ships that come to New Zealand," he said.
He said the project was being driven by an increase in dairy and primary resources being exported from the Otago region.
Port Otago had to look forward or risk becoming a coastal feeder to other New Zealand ports, a situation which would severely disadvantage local producers.
Port Otago commercial manager Peter Brown said: "The South Island only needs one deep water port and we think Port Chalmers is the right place for that".
Port Otago is estimated to be capable of contributing $177 million a year to the region. If the proposal goes ahead, that growth is predicted to reach more than $200 million a year.
Staff numbers would increase from 280 to more than 300, with increases to continue incrementally.
A project team of local and national specialists in science, engineering and logistics will spend the next six months investigating the proposal, after which a resource consent application will be filed, which could take 12 to 18 months, if successful.
Port Otago has informed local iwi, the Department of Conservation, the Dunedin City Council and Otago Regional Council of the plans.
The regional council director of resource management, Selva Selvarajah, said the ministry's sign-off might be required.
- Otago Daily Times