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Published: Sunday, 3/2/2008

Port is geared for growth in water traffic

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The Port of Toledo has room to grow and is poised to take advantage of likely increases in waterborne transportation as roads and rails become more congested and maritime technology advances, Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority officials told a gathering of local business, academic, and political leaders Friday.

"As a seaport and a city, we must fully utilize our transportation assets and adapt to future markets," Joe Cappel, the port authority's seaport marketing representative, told the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce's Eggs 'n Issues breakfast at WGTE-TV's South Toledo studios.

Toledo and the rest of the St. Lawrence Seaway and Great Lakes system are operating at only 40 percent of their capacity, while coastal ports and the transportation networks leading to them are increasingly "jammed," Seaport Director Warren McCrimmon said.

The seaway as a whole now handles only about 42 million tons of annual cargo, less than the 45 million tons shipped in or out of Toledo alone during its peak year of 1965, Mr. McCrimmon said.

While four-fifths of that Toledo tonnage was coal, which as a rule did not leave the Great Lakes system, the local port decades ago also handled overseas shipments of import and export vehicles and other manufactured goods, the seaport director said.

Those cargoes disappeared as containerization supplanted labor-intensive break-bulk handling of manufactures, he said, while autos increasingly sailed aboard huge "roll-on/roll-off" vessels that, like modern container ships, don't fit through the seaway's canals and channels.

Coal became a victim of tighter pollution laws that have discouraged the use of high-sulfur Appalachian coal, Mr. McCrimmon said.

But Toledo today has the Great Lakes' most diverse port, helping total cargo volumes grow during each of the last three years even though some traffic disappeared, he said, citing German lumber imports that vanished last year when housing construction slowed.

Last year, shipments of imported pipe for a natural-gas pipeline in central Ohio and Indiana often dominated the Toledo docks' landscape, and the local port also handled the arrivals of two large transformers for a Detroit Edison power plant and wind-turbine tower assemblies destined farther north in Michigan.

"We tell our customers we can handle any cargo that can be loaded on a ship, and we mean it," Mr. McCrimmon said.

He and Mr. Cappel are both confident that coastal port congestion will promote the development of feeder services through which containerized freight and other cargo will use large ships to cross the oceans, but be transferred to or from smaller vessels serving smaller ports.

Land around Toledo's port has "superior intermodal connectivity" with roads and rails, Mr. Cappel said. "It is not crucial that we can't take the world's biggest ships into our port. All ports will be needed to handle future cargo."

Port authority officials hope modernization of the Toledo Shipyard, which like the port's International Cargo Dock is publicly owned but privately managed, will further Toledo's reputation for having a full-service port.

A 20,000-square-foot "high-bay" fabrication shop built as the centerpiece of the modernization's $5 million first phase, dedicated Friday afternoon, allows large components for vessel repairs or construction to be built indoors and then be transferred directly to the shipyard's drydocks.

Contact David Patch at: dpatch@theblade.com or 419-724-6094.



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