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Port's cargo grows 11% though steel firms slump

Despite a continuing decline in steel-industry demand for raw materials, cargo tonnage through the Port of Toledo increased last year by 11 percent, the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority announced yesterday.

Led by coal, historically the Toledo port's highest-volume cargo, tonnage across the Toledo docks increased from 11.58 million tons in 1999 to 12.87 million tons last year. Coal volume rose to 5.7 million tons last year from 5.02 million tons in 1999, but iron ore declined to 2.77 million tons from 2.98 million tons during the same period.

Port officials credited the overall increase to more aggressive pursuit of coal business by CSX Transportation Corp., operator of the port-owned Presque Isle coal dock in Oregon; the opening of a new stone and asphalt terminal, also related to the railroad; and a good harvest that boosted grain exports.

But port president James Hartung, perhaps anticipating a leaner 2001, cautioned that Toledo's port business tracks other economic activity. Coal, iron ore, grain, metals, stone, and petroleum comprise the bulk of the Great Lakes trade. “It is important to remember that many factors in the shipping industry are beyond our control,” Mr. Hartung said. “A continued healthy regional, domestic, and global economy is vital to our continued success.”

While higher than 1999 volume, the Toledo port's volume was lower than its totals from 1997 and '98, when coal and iron ore shipments were significantly heavier.

The steel industry is a prime consumer of both the coal and iron ore shipped through Toledo. Coal mined primarily in West Virginia and Kentucky is loaded onto ships here for delivery to steel mills elsewhere in the Great Lakes, while iron ore mined primarily in Minnesota is transferred from boats to trains here for delivery to mills in Middletown, Ohio, and Ashland, Ky.

Iron ore volume last year was representative of a steel-industry slump that has seen several mills idle blast furnaces during recent months and bankruptcy declarations in late 2000 by LTV Steel and Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel.

LTV has shut down its iron mining operation near Hoyt Lakes, Minn., and several other ore producers have announced production cuts. Industry leaders blame the slump on steel “dumping” by foreign producers whose government subsidizes their costs, thus allowing them to sell steel at below-market rates.

John Loftus, the port authority's seaport director, said coal increased despite the steel slump because CSX developed a coal “blending” business at the Presque Isle dock.

Blending mixes hotter-burning, but dirtier high-sulfur coal with low-sulfur coal that does not burn as hot but produces less pollution. Blending allows consumers, primarily power plants, to reduce their emissions without having to install either costly smokestack “scrubbing” equipment or larger boilers.

Another boost to port activity during the 2000 shipping season came from the new Midwest Terminal next to the coal dock. It began receiving ballast stone shipments for CSX during the year and thus boosted the port's volume of dry bulk cargo.

Mr. Loftus said increased marine shipments by Sunoco Mid-America were the main reason for a near doubling of liquid bulk cargo on the Maumee River channel last year.

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