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Administrator Collister Johnson (Source:  SLSDC)
Administrator Collister Johnson (Source: SLSDC)

Top Seaway administrator says ship traffic up, improvements coming

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The St. Lawrence Seaway is one of the biggest shipping channels in the world, stretching from the Atlantic to Lake Ontario. In recent years, the system of locks and channels has struggled to build traffic and attract companies interested in shipping cargos through to the Great Lakes.

This year, the Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation, which operates the US side of the channel,is requesting $34 million dollars in appropriations from Congress. The money will go to operate the locks in Massena, and it will be used to fund upgrades to the system.

Brian Mann spoke with Collister Johnson, who heads the Development Corporation. He says traffic on the Seaway is rebounding.

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"From the opening of the seaway through May 31, we are up ten percent over last year and we are up four percent in terms of overall cargo from last year," Johnson said. "We tend to be a barometer of the economy in the midwest and as it improves our traffic improves. So we are projecting overall about a seven percent increase in cargo this year."

What about expanding the seaway for larger ships? "It's completely off the table. It's not going to happen. And we are fine with that," said Johnson.

Of concerns that ships are getting larger, Johnson said "they are talking about is the container market, ships have been getting larger and larger. But those are the transoceanic ones."

Johnson said there is one way the Seaway could expand: "If you go to Europe there is a lot of what's called trans-shipment, where a mother ship will come in from Asia to Rotterdam or Amsterdam and load their containers. Then a whole bunch of smaller ships go throughout waterways, and that could work for the seaway."

"There's not much I can talk about now, but stay tuned. We'll see shortly," Johnson said. "We are not getting any bigger we are not getting any deeper, but we can maximize what we have and there's a very advanced piece of technology - optimization technology - that is going to be put into place probably within th next year that allows ships to load more cargo and therefore be efficient in terms of fuel consumption and their economics. That will be probably the most advanced system in the world."

Johnson said asking Congress for money is an appropriate move given the United States' waterway policies. "Canada still charges tolls for it's services. The United States, we don't. We are subject to annual appropriations from Congress. So it is not a case where we are looking to our customer base to fund our operations, we look to the taxpayer. That makes us the same as virtually every other waterway in the United States that does not charge tolls."

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