Twin Ports celebrates 50 years of ships coming into the harbor
This Sunday will mark the 50th anniversary of the arrival of the first deep-draft oceangoing ship ever to call on the Twin Ports. On May 3, 1959, the British-flagged Ramon de Larrinaga made history when it passed beneath the Aerial Lift Bridge en...
This Sunday will mark the 50th anniversary of the arrival of the first deep-draft oceangoing ship ever to call on the Twin Ports.
On May 3, 1959, the British-flagged Ramon de Larrinaga made history when it passed beneath the Aerial Lift Bridge en route to load 2,000 tons of oats and 4,545 tons of barley.
On Friday -- a couple days shy of the true anniversary -- the Duluth Seaway Port Authority celebrated half a century of service as a hub for international trade by hosting a binational reception for maritime and business leaders at the Duluth Omnimax Theatre.
Its partner and co-sponsor of the event was the Consulate General of Canada.
The seaway contains 16 sets of locks, 13 of which are in Canada, and vessels traveling the seaway's length cross the border 27 times in all.
"The government of Canada joins you in saluting the remarkable achievement that is the St. Lawrence Seaway," said Martin Loken, Canada's consulate general based in Minneapolis. Rep. Jim Oberstar, D-Minn., said Canada and the United States must strengthen their existing partnership to bring the seaway up to date, with locks designed to accommodate the larger size of today's salties.
"On this the 50th anniversary, we have to rededicate ourselves to a more robust and competitive St. Lawrence Seaway," Oberstar said.
Toward that end, Oberstar proposed creating a binational seaway administration that could work to improve efficiency and lower fees. He suggested the two nations look at unifying Coast Guard operations.
The Twin Ports sit at the western-most end of the 2,342-mile St. Lawrence Seaway. While ships typically require a little more than one week to reach Duluth-Superior from the Atlantic, the Twin Ports has emerged as the busiest cargo handler on the Great Lakes.
"Duluth is an important part of the seaway system, generating 46 million tons of cargo a year," said Bruce Hodgson, director of market development for the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corp., based in Cornwall, Ontario.
Although it's not a year-round operation, Duluth-Superior ranks as the 16th busiest deep-draft port in the entire nation on the basis of volume. Vessels call on the Twin Ports about 1,150 times per year.
The seaway system saves shippers an estimated $3.6 billion in annual transportation costs. That's mostly because of the efficiency of moving freight by water. A typical laker can move a ton of cargo 607 miles on one gallon of fuel. By comparison, a train could move a ton of cargo 202 miles and a truck could move it 59 miles using the same gallon of fuel.
While hailed as an engineering breakthrough in its day, the infrastructure of the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway are now sorely in need of investment, said Adolph Ojard, executive director of the Duluth Seaway Port Authority.
Oberstar said he believes the Obama administration will prove more receptive to the funding needs of the seaway than the Bush administration. Already the federal government has appropriated $17 million to start work on a second lock at Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., which would ensure 1,000-foot lakers could continue to operate if the Poe Lock were ever forced to close.
But many in the Great Lakes shipping community continue to complain about their transportation system receiving short shrift.
Of $4.6 billion in stimulus money the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers received through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, just $94 million -- or
2 percent of the total -- was set aside for projects in the Great Lakes.
"It's unconscionable," said Glen Nekvasil, vice president of corporate communications for the Lake Carriers Association, a trade group representing the operators of U.S. flagged ships on the Great Lakes. "We really got shortchanged."