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A Seaway freighter passes under the bridge near Massena in December 2012.  Photo: David Sommerstein.
A Seaway freighter passes under the bridge near Massena in December 2012. Photo: David Sommerstein.

Seaway digs out from recession

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The St. Lawrence Seaway, and its commerce between Great Lakes ports and countries around the world, got hammered by the recession.

Craig Middlebrooks, acting administrator for the U.S. side of the binational waterway, says the steep drop was between 2008 and 2009. "It was almost a 25 percent drop. And I think '09 tonnage was among the lowest for decades."

Middlebrooks says the Seaway's been creeping back to pre-recession levels since then. Last year helped. Tonnage rose almost four percent, driven by coal and iron ore exports to China and Europe and U.S. steel imports. Industrial wind components also continue to be strong.

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Reported by

David Sommerstein
Reporter/ Producer

Middlebrooks spoke with David Sommerstein this week about the Seaway’s present and future.  He says last year’s growth was remarkable considering that the summer’s drought devastated one of the Seaway’s staples – Midwest grain.

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US grain was down almost 20%, it is remarkable and yes we were a little surprised that we could finish the year up 4% with US exports being down so much.

The Seaway, because it ships so many raw materials in and out, is often seen as sort of a leading indicator, one way or the other, of the US economy overall. What does the last few years tell you about the way the domestic economy is trending?

Something very interesting going on ...that's manufacturing. Some have described it as a renaissance in manufacturing.
We characterize it with the term "steady growth". Something very interesting going on with the Midwest economy in particular, not only United States but also in Canada, but particularly in the United States, and that's manufacturing. Some have described it as a renaissance in manufacturing.

Commercial navigation, with the types of commodities, not just raw materials but also highly-finished steel products, as well as wind components, alternative energy components, services that sector very, very well.

A lot of people around…the North Country will say the Seaway never delivered on its promises, that there were a lot of environmental effects, a lot of land was lost here in Northern New York, environmental effects like invasive species and other effects to the shoreline. Here in Northern New York we have the small port in Ogdensburg and we have your administrative center in Massena, and where the locks are. What do you think going forward the Seaway has to offer to this region?

As you can imagine, I wouldn't necessarily agree [that] the North Country region hasn't benefited from the Seaway. Ogdensburg over the last number of years in particular, just to take that as a snapshot, with the emergence of wind components, the alternative energy industry and the expansion of that, Ogdensburg has become a real node point.

In addition one of the most interesting developments economically in the entire port community on the great lakes is happening in Oswego right now. Oswego is poised for a lot of interesting economic development over the next couple years. The way Oswego is incorporating itself into the intermodal transportation chain in the North Country, there's going to be a lot of interesting development going on there.

And I guess I would just say on the environmental front, the vector of introduction of invasives through international ships, which is acknowledged, has really been shut down. I think new requirements to use salt water flushing beginning in 2006, and that's been rigorously enforced by the US side and the Canadian side, since 2006…since [then] there's been no new…establishment, so no detection of invasives on the Great Lakes since that time.

A note on what Middlebrook said on invasive species: According to the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, the last invasive animal species to enter the Great Lakes via the Seaway is the bloody red shrimp in 2006. Environmental groups like Save the River in Clayton, NY, have called for even tougher rules on how freighters clean their ballast tanks.

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