Optimistic Ports Outlook for 2017 Great Lakes-Seaway Season


While the first-half of 2016 was tough for many due to global economic conditions, a strong fourth quarter has spurred optimism as the 2017 shipping season gets underway with this week’s opening of the Great Lakes – St. Lawrence Seaway system.

Chamber of Marine Commerce President Bruce Burrows said, “Certainly there was a big improvement in the last quarter of 2016 with the resurgence of iron ore pellet exports out of the U.S. and a strong grain season. We expect that positive momentum to continue with overall cargo volumes increasing this year.”

The Port of Green Bay, meanwhile, expects to see increases in limestone and petroleum this year. In 2016, petroleum product imports were up 1,421 percent as a result of a pipeline shutdown, which had served northeast Wisconsin. These imports are expected to rise as the pipeline shutdown continues. “Based on the 2016 results, I am looking forward to this shipping season as the industry continues to be the most cost-effective method of transportation for commodities,” said Dean Haen, Green Bay port director. “The port is a vital component of our area economy and an economic engine not found in many communities. We want to capitalize on that to expand the movements of diverse cargo and extend the port’s reach to new markets in 2017.”

“The overall feeling in the Port of Duluth-Superior is positive, and 2017 is shaping up to be a building year to regain traffic,” said Vanta Coda, executive director of the Duluth Seaway Port Authority. “Coal should stabilize, iron ore should be up and I believe this port has the opportunity to do well with grain shipments again this year. We are expecting a middle-of-the-road season in terms of project cargo, though we could be surprised to the upside.”

Jeff Fleming of the Port of Milwaukee said they are anticipating another busy year as well. “We expect volumes of inbound raw material for manufacturing and outbound agricultural products will be strong in 2017.”

The Port of Detroit is among those with new projects on the horizon. “We are looking at an extended water taxi/ferry service this summer and expect to execute an agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for a dredging project on the Rouge River to deepen the channel to 25 ft.,” said John Loftus, executive director of the Port of Detroit. “We also anticipate the opening of a new general cargo terminal in Detroit.”

As the shipping season kicks off, the Chamber and its members are keeping an eye on key legislation that is currently up for consideration in the U.S. Congress.

“From a regulatory perspective, it’s crucial this shipping season that we start to see some progress towards cross-border harmony for ballast water regulations,” said Burrows. “We’re hoping the U.S. bill CVIDA will pass both the House and the Senate and create one set of robust regulations for U.S. waters that are overseen by the U.S. Coast Guard and that support the importance of interstate commerce approaches being protected at the national level."

The Commercial Vessel Incidental Discharge Act (CVIDA) (S.168/H.R. 1154) would replace multiple federal and state regulations with a single national standard for the regulation of ballast water and other discharges incidental to normal vessel operations.

CVIDA would provide vessel owners and mariners with a predictable and transparent regulatory structure in which vessel incidental discharges are regulated and enforced by the U.S. Coast Guard, using as its baseline the ballast water discharge standard that EPA’s Science Advisory Board has determined to be the most stringent currently achievable. 

The bill will ensure the installation of high-performing technologies on commercial vessels, and allows for improvements in the national standard as technology improves. CVIDA also preserves the ability of states to enforce the federal ballast water discharge standard, petition for a higher standard, work with Coast Guard to develop best management practices, and regulate recreational vessels operating in their waters.