Warren McCrimmon, the port authority's seaport director, said virtually the entire decline, including the 53 percent drop in grain cargoes, was attributable to the region's faltering economy.
"There was no market and no ships," he said. "The lack of bottoms [ships] coming in is significant, and you no longer had steel coming in as a major import."
Foreign ships delivering steel and forest-products to Great Lakes ports often take U.S. or Canadian grain out when they leave. But last year, just 22 overseas ships, or salties, called in Toledo, down from 38 the year before and 81 in 2006.
Port authority officials are hoping that state and federal "stimulus" programs intended to revive the national and regional economies will be beneficial for both the Port of Toledo and Toledo Express Airport.
Paul Toth, the port authority's interim president, said officials hope to land as much as $15 million in state and federal funding toward two transportation infrastructure projects: the Ironville Docks on what used to be a Gulf Oil refinery in East Toledo, and a new U.S. Customs inspection station and warehouse at the BAX Global cargo-hub complex at Toledo Express Airport.
Mr. Toth stopped short of job-creation predictions for either project, offering only that their immediate impacts would be in the construction sector and they would bring "long-term dividends to northwest Ohio."
The Ironville Docks are expected to increase the Port of Toledo's cargo-handling capability to support its future development as an inland hub for "short-sea shipping," a concept in which containerized freight hauled across the oceans on mammoth container ships is transferred to or from smaller vessels at coastal ports.
Local port and government officials met several times last year with organizers of a proposed deep-sea port at Melford, N.S., that could become such a transfer point for cargo sailing to or from Toledo via the St. Lawrence Seaway.
Virtually all cargo now handled through Toledo's port is bulk or break-bulk, rather than containerized. Iron ore, destined either for steel mills in southwestern Ohio or northeastern Kentucky or for oversea mills after reloading, was the biggest local cargo by weight last year, with 4.68 million tons moving across Toledo's docks. That represented a 7.3 percent decline from 2007.
Coal, long the heaviest-volume cargo in Toledo, dipped relatively slightly, by 1.5 percent to 3.19 million tons last year. Along with grain, bigger declines were recorded in the general cargo and liquid bulk sectors. The former includes metals, forest products, and bulky manufactures like pipe, while the latter features petroleum products and liquid fertilizers.
Dry bulk, including such cargoes as stone, sugar, and pig iron, was the lone bright spot. Mr. McCrimmon said dry bulk increased thanks to robust shipments of petroleum coke, a by-product of oil refining.
A. Bailey Stanbery, chairman of the port authority board of directors' seaport committee, said the 10.34 percent decline was nothing to be ashamed of, considering the economic environment, and he commended Midwest Terminals, the stevedore at the authority-owned general cargo docks, for its efforts to diversify the types of cargo shipped in and out of Toledo.
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