Construction rebound bolsters St. Lawrence Seaway traffic

A U.S. construction surge has boosted bulk material transfer through the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway since the start of the 2015 season. Officials report dry bulk cargo volume of nearly 3 million metric tons, up 7.5 percent through the first part of the season, April–June, against figures for the same period in 2014. Materials leading the way in volume gains are stone, with 102,000 metric tons delivered through June, up 24 percent from last year, and cementitious materials, with 563,000 metric tons, a 9.5 percent jump.15 Sea 400

One of the largest cement and aggregate carriers for the U.S. and Canada, Lower Lakes Towing has seen construction material demand rise over the last two seasons. Vessels have been dispatched to Cleveland, Detroit, Milwaukee and Chicago ports as residential and commercial building markets continue to rebound from recession troughs.

“Although we had a later [2015] start due to ice conditions, demand for construction materials has been strong in the major markets we serve,” notes Lower Lakes President and Captain Scott Bravener. “The construction sector has been somewhat flat since 2008, but we saw a slight uptick in activity last year and have seen that grow even more this season. The rise in homebuilding in the U.S. has been a leading contributor to the increase.”

“[We are] currently experiencing a 75 percent increase in cement shipments from June 2014 to June 2015, and anticipate this growth to continue throughout the season,” says Port of Green Bay (Wis.) Director Dean Haen. “This increase is related to the reconstruction of Interstate 41 and growth in homebuilding in northeast Wisconsin.”

Beyond concrete materials, the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority reports that general cargo shipments of steel, project cargo and aluminum have already surpassed 75,000 tons, accounting for a 17 percent increase for the category over last year. Across the board, however, total year-to-date (April 2 through June 30) cargo on the Seaway was 10.4 million metric tons, down 8.4 percent, with iron ore down almost 12 percent and coal shipments down 32 percent. Despite the numbers, officials say that it’s still too early in the season to predict an outcome and are optimistic the Seaway will see a boost.

“Despite difficulties clearing severe winter ice resulting in a late season start, shipping on the St. Lawrence Seaway remains a key driver for the U.S. and Canadian economies,” affirms Chamber of Marine Commerce President Stephen Brooks. “We’re particularly optimistic that increased demands for construction, grain, steel, salt and other materials will keep Seaway traffic steady over the remainder of the year.” — Chamber of Marine Commerce, Ottawa,