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Great Lakes ports forecast strong shipping season

A salty vessel passes through the St. Lawrence River in Canada. Great Lakes ports connected to the world via the St. Lawrence Seaway forecast a strong shipping season.

Great Lakes ports are forecasting a "stellar" shipping season after the St. Lawrence Seaway reopened on Tuesday, allowing hulking international cargo ships known as salties to pass through to Midwestern ports including the Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor.

While cargoes were slightly down in Burns Harbor, many other ports saw their highest cargo volumes in recent years. 

The Port of Duluth-Superior handled its highest mark since 2014, and the Port of Green Bay the most since 2013. The Port of Toledo unloaded more overseas vessels in 2018 than any year since 2006, while international tonnage shot up by 30 percent at Port Milwaukee.

Iron ore, petroleum products, construction products and international grain exports were all up across the Great Lakes.

“We are optimistic these trends will continue into the new season, and off-season investments made by the St. Lawrence Seaway and local ports will make 2019 another great season for our members,” said Bruce Burrows, president of the Chamber of Marine Commerce.

Barrows said commerce on the lakes could improve even more with a change in tariff policy.

”To shore up the economic strength of the bi-national Great Lakes-St. Lawrence region, we would also urge the U.S. government to drop steel and aluminum tariffs on Canadian imports and return to a fair and free trade environment between our two countriesm," he said.

Road salt shipments on the Great Lakes also are expected to rise this year, as cities and state highway departments restock after a harsh winter.

“The Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway System is a vital maritime transportation system and a driver of economic development and job creation in the region,” U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao said during an appearance at the 60th opening of the binational waterway at the Lambert Lock in Montreal, according to a press release.

Since 1959, the St. Lawrence Seaway has brought international commerce to and from the Midwest. More than 3 billion tons of cargo worth more than $450 billion has passed through the system of locks and dams on the St. Lawrence River, which connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Midwest.

“As the binational waterway turns 60, it is resilient and ready for the future,” St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corp. Deputy Administrator Craig Middlebrook said. “New technologies, an exceptional reliability record, and significant investments in infrastructure are enhancing efficiencies and keeping the Seaway safe and competitive.”

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Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.