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Freighter loads are up

by Candice Miller on September 23, 2013

Lake carriers report increases for August

Beth LeBlanc

Times Herald

Tony and Gale Santilli celebrated a freighter-filled 40th anniversary on the St. Clair River Sunday.


The Berkley couple ate at Freighters beside the Blue Water Bridge and finished in time to watch the CSL Baie Comeau make its way south along the river.


“We come up here a lot just to watch the freighters,” Gale Santilli said. “It’s a quick getaway for a lot of people.”


A pastime for the Santillis and fellow freighter watchers is a business for carriers and shippers — one that’s making a steady recovery after the recession and low water levels decreased loads.


U.S.-flag carrying vessels transported about 10.5 million tons of dry bulk cargo in August 2013 — an increase of 1 million tons, or about 10.6 percent, from August 2012.


Coal shipments accounted for much of the August increase, said Glen Nekvasil, vice president of Lake Carriers’ Association.


“Our cargoes were up a million tons primarily because of a big jump in coal,” Nekvasil said. “When you see a jump there over the summer, that means the utilities were pumping out more power.


“Most of the coal that moves on the Great Lakes is for power generation,” he said.


Lake Carriers’ Association represents about 57 U.S.-flag vessels.


Those vessels carried about 2.4 million tons of coal in August 2013 — an increase of 39.3 percent from August 2012. The coal carried in U.S.-flag freighters accounted for about 76.4 percent of the coal moved on the Great Lakes in August.


Year-to-date numbers show a 7 percent increase in coal, but 3 to 4 percent decrease in iron ore and limestone.


Nekvasil said iron ore and limestone shipments likely are down because of lower steel production and fewer construction projects.


Nekvasil said freighters were able to carry more in August because of increased lake levels, but still are about 5,000 tons below capacity.


Currently, freighters moving on the Great Lakes can carry about 65,000 tons.


“If the system were dredged properly, those boats would be carrying 70,000 tons,” Nekvasil said.


Low water levels and limited funding for dredging have been an area of concern for some time, Nekvasil said.


U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township, is currently working on the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2013, or House Resolution 3080. Part of the act would designate the ports and harbors of the Great Lakes as one navigation system.


The united navigation system would make the Great Lakes more eligible for dredging and maintenance funding from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund.


The Blue Water area can only benefit from the increased loads, said Frank Frisk, maritime consultant at Vantage Point.


“That just adds to the viewership of people following their favorite freighter,” Frisk said.


Frisk said people from all over the United States, and even Europe, visit the area just to catch a glimpse of the vessels parading down the river.


Allen and Maxine Coyle, of Broomfield, Colo., were visiting family in Romeo Thursday, but made a trip to Port Huron for a Coney dog and a stroll under the Blue Water Bridge.


“Back in the old days, there used to be lots of ships through, back when they were smaller,” Allen Coyle said.


“There was just a constant stream of them.”


Judi Rejc and her 88-year-old mother, Anne Horner, watched the Algorail make waves along the St. Clair River Thursday.


The two Kenockee Township women are no strangers to freighter-watching, but Horner said it’s still a thrill to watch the mammoth vessels traveling the river.


“I look at how long and heavy they look and how much cargo they can carry, and they can still float — that still amazes me,” she said.

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