ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Aging docks need state's help

Many of the Twin Ports' docks are beginning to show their age and soon will need to be repaired or even replaced, according to Chad Scott, a principal partner of AMI Consulting Engineers, a Duluth firm that specializes in assessing marine structures.

Many of the Twin Ports' docks are beginning to show their age and soon will need to be repaired or even replaced, according to Chad Scott, a principal partner of AMI Consulting Engineers, a Duluth firm that specializes in assessing marine structures.

"Some of the facilities are pretty rickety and they're getting close to needing to be closed because they're so unstable," he said.

The cost of fixing the problem is daunting. Scott estimated the expense of refacing a typical commercial loading dock to be from

$2 million to $3.5 million.

In the near future, many operators of private waterfront facilities will face tough decisions about whether to reinvest in their docks or let them crumble.

ADVERTISEMENT

In Superior, the sticker shock associated with addressing the problem has been eased, thanks to Wisconsin's Harbor Assistance Program. The state allows the owners of private facilities to apply for aid to assist with waterfront improvements. Successful program applicants can obtain up to 80 cents of state funding for every 20 cents of their own money they commit to a project.

Minnesota has a similar funding program patterned after Wisconsin's. But it allows grants to be made only to pay for work on publicly owned property.

Given the funding differences from state to state, Scott said he wouldn't be surprised to see more marine activities shift from Duluth to Superior in the future.

"I think that's a definite possibility," he said. "If there's an opportunity to get 80 percent of your project paid for in Wisconsin but not in Minnesota, of course we're going to see some shifting."

Wisconsin's Harbor Assistance Program has been used recently to help General Mills make $1.8 million in improvements to its Superior dock, and Hallett Dock Co. is completing a nearly $2 million project that involved reconstructing sections of dock wall and dredging the adjacent water to a depth sufficient to handle ships designed for the St. Lawrence Seaway.

Two more Superior facilities are seeking funding as well, said Jason Serck, Superior's port and planning director. The CHS grain elevator proposes a $1.7 million investment in its corroded dock, and CLM Corp. is seeking help with a $3 million project to repair and improve the dock serving its growing lime plant in Superior.

"These people are investing in our community," Serck said, observing: "When they do that, it means they'll probably be sticking around for awhile."

Adolph Ojard, executive director of the Duluth Seaway Port Authority, voiced support for the waterfront improvements in Wisconsin, saying: "We applaud any money being spent in Superior. It only enhances the productivity of the port and its reputation."

ADVERTISEMENT

Ojard said that while he would like to offer more financial encouragement for companies to invest in their private facilities in Duluth, the Port Authority simply lacks some of the resources Superior offers.

Minnesota's Port Assistance Program was patterned after Wisconsin's Harbor Assistance Program.

"We asked for a 'me-too' program," said John Kubow, the Port Authority's chief financial officer, recalling the enabling legislation that led to the creation of Minnesota's Port Assistance Program about 15 years ago.

As originally written, the legislation would have allowed Minnesota to offer funding to private facilities, but a 1995 revision required that program money be used solely for improvements to publicly owned property.

The Minnesota Port Assistance Program receives its funding on a biennial basis, and its biggest appropriation to date was $3 million. Five Minnesota ports competed for the money, and even though Duluth successfully captured more than half of the that, it didn't amount to a huge sum spread out over two years.

Wisconsin, in contrast, provided about $5 million in funding for its Harbor Assistance Program, and Serck said Gov. Jim Doyle has included $12.7 million in his proposed biennial budget for the program.

The Minnesota Ports Association is seeking

$10 million in state funding for the next biennium.

ADVERTISEMENT

"I think there should be more money invested in the port, and if there were significantly more money available, I think the Port Assistance Program should be opened to the private sector," Ojard said.

At recent funding levels, however, he said: "There's not enough money to spread around, so I see no reason to change the legislation."

Peter Passi covers city government for the Duluth News Tribune. He joined the paper in April 2000, initially as a business reporter but has worked a number of beats through the years.
What To Read Next
The system crashed earlier this month, grounding flights across the U.S.