Railway, Duluth port reach new agreement

Yvonne Prettner Solon returned to the Duluth Seaway Port Authority board of commissioners Tuesday for the first time since a four-year run of service ended in 1994.

Yvonne Prettner Solon returned to the Duluth Seaway Port Authority board of commissioners Tuesday for the first time since a four-year run of service ended in 1994.

Appointed by the governor in February, the former lieutenant governor's return was praised as a welcome addition for "her knowledge of dealing with politics and economics," said board President Steve Raukar.

"I'm pleased to be back," she said in brief remarks via conference call - a disembodied voice from Arizona but an appreciated one.

She heard a lot in her return, including Executive Director Vanta Coda saying that "we have a great amount of activity that is pending - with construction on (Docks) C and D to begin in two short weeks."

The $17.7 million renovation of Docks C and D features an up-to-90-year construction and operations agreement with Canadian Pacific Railway that was approved unanimously by the commissioners on Tuesday. A similar agreement with BNSF Railway means Docks C and D, when completed in September 2016, will be served by two rail providers to transport parcel and project cargo coming into the docks. The dual agreements are important, said Jeff Borling, the Port Authority's director of industrial and economic development, because they will keep the rehabilitated docks from becoming "captive rail," with only one provider. The Port Authority's Clure Public Marine Terminal has four Class I rail providers, an unusual and enviable situation, Borling said.


"Rail and ports - we do things long-term," Borling said of the 15-year rail contracts with options out to 90 years.

The Port Authority will reimburse Canadian Pacific $210,000 for the installation of a 14-foot "switch section" of track to access Docks C and D.

"There are things that we build and they build," related to the track, Borling told the commissioners.

Lunda Construction Co. out of Black River Falls, Wis., will handle the reconstruction of Docks C and D - first painting heavy steel sheet pilings in workspace created on-site at the edge of Dock D, and then driving those pilings down to build 1,800 new feet of dock space.

Additional rehabilitation work will include installing greater rail and truck access; outfitting for heavy-lift equipment; a new dock surface, or deck; a new roll-on, roll-off dock; dredging of adjacent waters to seaway depth; and enhanced security.

The contract requires the rail operators to carry $100 million in commercial liability insurance if they load hazardous substances. Should the rail carriers handle toxic gases, they'll be required to add another $100 million in liability insurance.

Also discussed at Tuesday's Port Authority commissioners meeting:

• There's a chance that the pending sale of France's Lafarge SA to Holcim Ltd. of Switzerland may result in the sale of the Holcim terminal in Duluth, said Borling, who added that the Port Authority is tracking the on-again, off-again would-be merger that is now more of a takeover. Borling said the Irish cement firm CRH is positioned to buy the Holcim terminal if the larger corporate sale goes through. According to Reuters news service, CRH has agreed to buy a number of assets, mostly European, from Lafarge and Holcim, so the French and Swiss firms can get antitrust clearance for their plan to create the cement industry's biggest company.


• The Port Authority will clean up 4½ acres on the corner of Garfield and Elm avenues in Duluth as part of its continued effort to "work to bring our real estate from inactive to active," Borling reported.

• That oceangoing vessel KOM is expected be the first saltie to reach Duluth in the 2015 shipping season. The Maltese bulk carrier will take on grain; Port Authority spokesperson Adele Yorde suggested to the commissioners the ship will be in Duluth by April 10, but she stressed it was just an educated guess.

• The John G. Munson made the Soo Locks in four days last week; it was the first ship to leave the Twin Ports this season, sailing out with a load of iron ore pellets. In 2014, due to historic ice levels, it took the first ship out 14 days to reach the Soo Locks in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. In the height of summer, the journey takes a day, said Ron Johnson, trade development director for the Port Authority.

• Finally, commissioner Tony Sertich asked how the opening up of Cuba will affect the local port. Johnson told him it was more likely to help ports in the Gulf of Mexico, but that "the ag community has been pushing for this for a long, long time," and that local grain could play a factor. Also, Johnson said cruise insiders are speculating that free trade with Cuba could mean more American travelers and competition for the Bahamas when it comes to attracting visitors. "Canadians have been going to Cuba for years," Johnson said.

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