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Secretary Ray LaHood listens to lock leader Steve McCargar, Potsdam. Photo: David Sommerstein
Secretary Ray LaHood listens to lock leader Steve McCargar, Potsdam. Photo: David Sommerstein

Transportation chief says goodbye to Seaway

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U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood's farewell tour swung through Massena yesterday. One of the few Republicans in President Obama's cabinet, LaHood announced he was stepping down last January.

Obama's nominee to replace LaHood, Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx, breezed through a Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday.

LaHood has overseen the St. Lawrence Seaway for four years. As David Sommerstein reports, he said the Seaway will always occupy "a niche" in the nation's infrastructure.

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Secretary LaHood poses for a photo with the Eisenhower Lock crew. LaHood will step down from his post in a matter of weeks. Photo: David Sommerstein

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Reported by

David Sommerstein
Reporter/ Producer

It’s a windy afternoon on Eisenhower lock. And spirits are light as LaHood’s advance team moves around a group of Seaway workers to set up a good shot for the cameras.

“he’ll stand here” Just don’t go over the red line! There’s no ship in the lock here.

The water’s down in the lock, which allows vessels around the Moses-Saunders power dam across the St. Lawrence River. Lock Leader Steve McCargar of Potsdam says that’s because a pleasure craft just went through downriver.

We don’t waste water, so if the chamber’s in the lowered position, waiting for an upbound to come, because there’s an upbound two hours from the lock down there, we’ll put him up through Snell lock and then in three hours he’ll be here ready to go up through.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood emerges from touring the Seaway operations center in a gray suit. Things get more formal, and McCargar reports to his boss.

Not delaying the vessels a whole lot, even with the ice, and operating the new equipment…

The St. Lawrence Seaway employs 135 people here in Massena. So it’s no small thing for the transportation chief from Washington to say President Obama is committed to maintaining the Seaway’s locks and channels.

This is critical transportation for our economy, for our relationship with Canada, and for delivering goods around our country. And I want these folks to know that they play a very important role in transportation in America and in the world.

The St. Lawrence Seaway was hammered by the recession because it trafficks mostly raw materials that fuel industrial growth. Tonnage was down to historically low levels in 2009. And freighter traffic is still trying to climb back to pre-recession levels.

But the start to 2013 has been strong. LaHood says he expects one new cargo to be natural gas from the boom in fracking around the Northeast and Midwest.

As we continue to tap into this unlimited supply of natural gas, you’ll see shipping companies really stepping up using the Seaway to transport this natural resource other places in the world.

This was LaHood’s third visit to Massena during his tenure. He’s been asked about one of the North Country’s most controversial transportation issues – the concept of an Interstate highway between Watertown and Plattsburgh. He’s been fairly neutral in the past. Asked what advice he’d give to the region about a so-called “rooftop highway” as he leaves office, he said, dream big.

Follow your dreams. America’s always been about infrastructure. America’s always been about doing big things.

The St. Lawrence Seaway has been without an Administrator since Terry Johnson stepped down more than a year ago. Craig Middlebrooks has been filling in as interim. A Seaway spokeswoman says the post won’t be filled until after Congress confirms a new Transportation Secretary.

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