Twin Ports shipping up from last season after a slow start

Minnesota State Roundup

Published October 1, 1997  | October 1997 issue

Mother Nature and an 8 percent decrease in international trade have held Duluth/Superior shipping figures slightly below the five-year average, according to September figures from the Seaway Port Authority of Duluth.

While domestic trade increased by 6 percent to 19.2 million metric tons over last year, overall tonnage still lags 3 percent below average. International trade of 5.9 million tons is 8 percent less than last year, largely due to an 11 percent decrease in grain shipments.

Harsh winter weather and subsequent floods hampered rail and truck deliveries of grain to the port earlier in the shipping season, but a good fall harvest should make up for the spring slowdown, says Ray Skelton, Seaway Port Authority environmental and government affairs director.

The increase in domestic shipments can be explained in part by a growing demand for low-sulfur coal from Montana and Wyoming, Skelton says. Shipments of limestone and similar products are also increasing, he adds. Nevertheless, iron ore still tops the cargo list at 45 percent of all shipments, followed by coal at 35 percent and grain at 9 percent through September.

Some changes may be in store down the road for Great Lakes shipping overall and the port of Duluth in particular. Congress is looking at two pieces of legislation: One calls for a binational commission of Canadian and U.S. maritime officials to operate the St. Lawrence Seaway, streamline regulations and ultimately reduce shipping costs. The other initiative involves making operation of the seaway accountable to taxpayers by tying the budget to performance goals.

Locally, the two-year project to demolish two grain elevators along the harbor has begun. When the elevators have been removed, the port authority will have access to a 27-foot-deep channel that can handle from 6,000 to 10,560 additional tons of cargo, depending on the type of vessel. If the demand for coal continues, Skelton says, this additional harbor capacity could be important in the future.

Kathy Cobb