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Map - St. Lawrence Seaway

Seaway Traffic Booming Despite Record Low Great Lakes Water Levels

Saginaw River, Michigan Port Officials Mum on Seaway Shipping Connections

October 9, 2006       Leave a Comment
By: Dave Rogers

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The St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation (SLSMC) reported recently that traffic and tonnage volumes on the Seaway continue at the highest pace in many years.

Despite record shipping traffic, the water level in Lake Superior is nearing its lowest point in a century because of a summer-long drought, according to government reports cited recently in the Muskegon Chronicle.

Total cargo volume at the end of September amounted to 31.9 million tons, a 100 percent growth rate in new cargoes, according to Richard Corfe, SLSMC President and CEO.

SLSMC has instituted a new incentive toll system as part of its ongoing Hwy H2O program, which seeks to promote the advantages of marine transportation and attract new shippers.

This initiative has resulted in over 400,000 tons of new cargo contributing almost $1 million of incremental revenue as of Sept. 30.

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"We are particularly pleased with the way shippers are starting to look for the 'marine advantage' and the innovative approach being taken by many ship operators to move this new cargo," stated Mr. Corfe of SLSMC.

Grain and steel shipments continue strong gains this year. Currently operating at about 60 percent capacity, the Seaway's existing locks and channels can readily accommodate almost double the present cargo volume, Mr. Corfe said.

While overall transits are about 10 percent higher than last year, ocean vessel transits are up almost 30 percent. Seaway officials cite increased vigilance to deter foreign invading species.

Officials said the allure of routing goods to market via the Seaway is becoming more evident as coastal ports struggle to meet the tide of imports pouring in from Asia. Some importers are now establishing routes from Asia to Halifax, via the Suez Canal, setting the stage for feeder vessels to take cargo further inland. Feeder vessels, which can accept cargoes from large ocean vessels and bring the cargo inland to a port near the final destination, hold great promise to improve our nations' energy efficiency, lower greenhouse gas emissions, decrease congestion on our highways, and improve our air quality, according to Seaway officials.

The Saginaw River and other Michigan ports have yet to indicate interest in increased seaway traffic despite its potential for economic growth, according to observers of the shipping industry.

Superior, the world's second-largest lake fell to within 2.5 inches of the record low for September 1926, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. "We're getting pretty close," said Carl Woodruff, a hydraulic engineer at the Corps of Engineers office in Detroit.

Lakes Superior, Michigan and Huron are expected to continue the typical fall drop, according to the Corps. Below-average precipitation and above-average temperatures in recent years have caused levels in the three lakes to fall well below their long-term averages," according to the Corps.

Superior is a major source of water for lakes Michigan and Lake Huron. "It's affecting shoreline property owners and shippers are having to carry lighter loads because channel depths will be less than what they used to be," Woodruff said.

Lake Michigan is 19 inches below average, but is still one foot above the record low in 1964, according to Corps data.

A new government study will consider whether a 1962 dredging project in the St. Clair River caused water levels to plummet. The Corps of Engineers dredged the river bottom to a depth of 30 feet to accommodate shipping traffic but failed to place a structure on the river bottom to prevent future erosion.

Parts of the St. Clair River channel are 60 feet deep, a factor allowing more water to flow out of the lakes, according to some theorists. A privately funded study last year concluded that the 1962 dredging project "opened a bigger drain hole in the Great Lakes."


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Dave Rogers

Dave Rogers is a former editorial writer for the Bay City Times and a widely read,
respected journalist/writer in and around Bay City.
(Contact Dave Via Email at

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