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Port's Prospects Promising
Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Hiring Port Director was a good move
Sunday, August 12, 2012

A Major Maritime Mission in Monroe
Sunday, July 29, 2012

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Port's Prospects Promising
Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Monroe Evening News - Sunday, October 14, 2012
By Charles Slat

The old photos show several Great Lakes freighters of the old Pittsburgh Steamship Co. wintering over at the Port of Monroe.

Others show a pier filled with hundreds of Renaults, a small French-built economy car, when Monroe became the staging area for the U.S. imports.

The shots from the 1950s and ‘60s document the heyday of the Port of Monroe, when it was a bustling center of commerce and destination for cargoes from around the world.

The port could chart a course soon for a comparable revival of such trade, according to Paul C. LaMarre III, port director. Its ship might come in tomorrow, if not today, literally and figuratively. Mr. LaMarre is making the rounds these days touting not just the potential of the port, but its present-day business. He also says that fairly soon a tugboat will be stationed at the port, ready to meet the needs of any freighters.

Mr. LaMarre’s mission is to underscore the importance of the port to the local economy. He’s armed with an economic impact study showing that in 2010, the marine cargo and vessel activity at the Port of Monroe was instrumental in generating $38.3 million in business revenue and at least $11.8 million in direct personal income.

That commerce accounted for 249 jobs, and 133 indirect jobs, according to the analysis by Martin Associates of Lancaster, Pa. It generated $44.1 million of direct and indirect local spending

The study also estimates that port commerce generated $4.3 million in state and local taxes and $7.9 million in federal taxes.

Mr. LaMarre, hired as port director earlier this year, said he was amazed at the figures. “It begins to become very clear that the Port of Monroe, as it stands now, has had a significant impact on the local community.”

The American Association of Port Authorities ranks Monroe 73rd busiest among 149 U.S. ports in terms of total cargo tonnage, with more than 2.4 million tons in 2010. Toledo was ranked 69th with about 3.9 million tons.

The port’s partners and tenants represent the bulk of the economic impact. Freighters unloading coal at DTE Energy’s Monroe Power Plant, for example, represent a portion of the economic impact, as well as production at the Gerdau steel mill at the port, the Michigan Paving & Materials plant, Omnisource, Ventower Industries and Barnhart Crane & Rigging.

The Martin Associates impact study is said to be conservative in its calculations. For example, in estimating related user impacts at the port, it calculates the commodity tonnage of raw materials, using only the volume of raw materials received via water in the calculation of related employment the port supports.
Although Mr. LaMarre said the port-related economic impact is impressive, “in order to get the port where it needs to be, we need to make infrastructure improvements.”

Plans already are in place for new rail spurs. One will serve the new Ventower Industries windturbine tower plant, so the company can transport tower sections to the port dock for loading on barges. Another $1.2 million project would put down dual spurs, each 1,500-2,000 feet to serve the port docks. The project, which should start within the next year, would be paid from a $1.2 million letter of credit given the port stemming from claims against Michigan Recycling, a scrap metal firm at the port owned by a Sturgis firm that went bankrupt.

The new rail spurs are expected to foster further synergy with Barnhart, a relatively new tenant which created a terminal at the port to enhance its Great Lakes logistics. Barnhart has unloaded water-borne raw steel destined for the Ventower plant, but the steel has had to be trucked to the Ventower plant instead of moving by rail.

Hopes are that the rail spurs to the port docks will be the first leg of a rail loop that will encircle riverside port land, capitalizing on what Mr. LaMarre sees as another big advantage for the Port of Monroe – ready rail access.

“We’re the only port on Lake Erie that has two Class 1 railroads serving it,” he said, noting the presence of Canadian National and Norfolk Southern.

He also said the nearness of I-75 is a big plus. “No other port anywhere in our region has better access to I-75.

Mr. LaMarre said a tug from his father’s tugboat company soon will be berthed at the port, not only to assist vessels as needed but to make a visual statement about activity at the port.

He also said he hopes to increase community exposure to port initiatives so residents will have a better grasp of what the port means on a larger scale to the community. Community presentations, port days and vessel visits will be part of the strategy.


Hiring Port Director Was a Good Move

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Port of Monroe recently hired Paul C. LaMarre III as a  full-time director.

This is notable for two reason.

First, he is the first full-time port director since 1978 when the late Max McCray left the post. Second, he seems particularly well-equipped for the tasks he faces.

Since Mr. McCray last held the post, port responsibilities have been handled and guided by a dedicated core of citizens, part-time officials and employees who juggled port tasks along with other responsibilities. Most recently, Port Commission Chairman Thomas Krzyston and Commissioner Dale Brose often had overseen day-to-day business, aided by the port’s part-time engineer and attorney.

A few years ago, the port was designated the City of Monroe’s economic development office, an arrangement that continued when the city hired a full-time community development director.

But with a gradually recovering economy, it soon became obvious that the pressing demands of community development, and growing interest in port investment, simply were too much and too complicated to be meshed into a single office.

Port officials put out the word, got a number of qualified candidates, and then interviewed the top prospects. 

Mr. LaMarre, a Milan resident and most recently director of maritime affairs at the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, was hired for the job and seems eminently qualified. He has a bachelor’s degree in maritime transportation and logistics. He also has experience in procuring grants and coalition-building. He has been around ships and shipping since he was a kid and has generational ties to the Great Lakes.

Mr. LaMarre also was hired using resources within the port’s existing budget, not requiring a special appropriation or budget increase. 

In his first weeks on the job, he’s been busy familiarizing himself with local firms, movers and shakers and assessing the area’s strengths and weaknesses. In the first couple of weeks, he began to zero in on what undoubtedly will be a major challenge — trying to change Michigan’s rules involving the required exchange of ship-ballast water from international freighters to minimize the risk of introducing new aquatic invasive species into the lakes.

Mr. LaMarre said Michigan’s restrictions are the most stringent in the Great Lakes and are hurting shipping to Michigan from abroad. He makes a compelling argument, but the ballast water rules were long debated and contested before becoming law. Mr. LaMarre at least understands the formidable challenge it would be to change that law.

Regardless, the addition of a full-time port director seems well-timed. The slowly recovering economy, including the auto industry, is boosting Great Lakes freight. More firms now seem willing to consider investing in Monroe County. And two major tenants, Ventower Industries and Barnhart Crane & Rigging have settled recently at the port. Gerdau continues to invest heavily in its steel mill at the port.

The port’s strategic location, its available land and buildings, and now the new talent in the port office comprise a fortuitous tide that might raise the port’s economic fortunes.


A Major Maritime Mission in Monroe
Sunday, July 29, 2012

The new director of the Port of Monroe says this port is key to the area’s economic revival.

Paul C. LaMarre III gets a disappointingly common reaction when he tells friends about his new job as director of the Port of Monroe.

“Monroe has a port?” they ask.

Mr. LaMarre, 31, plans to change that. After about two weeks on the job, he appears to have grasped the task at hand, and is inspired by the old photos in the Port of Monroe offices that show ships wintering at the port during its heyday in the 1950s and ‘60s.

Mr. LaMarre is the first full-time director at the Monroe port since 1978, when the late Max McCray left the post, largely due to declining port business and a desire to retire. Mr. LaMarre, a Milan resident and Michigan native, was about 2 when Mr. McCray left the job.

“We’ve come full circle,” Mr. LaMarre says. “We have the appropriate partners and property to once again let this port handle major tonnage on the Great Lakes.”

Recently, the port has seen traffic averaging about 1.8 million tons a year — small by most measures — putting it in the bottom third of U.S. ports with about half the cargo Toledo gets. “There’s room to exponentially increase that,” says Mr. LaMarre, who left a post as director of maritime affairs at the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority to take the Monroe job.

Largely due to recovery in the auto industry, Great Lakes cargo on U.S.-flagged freighters rose about 5.7 percent in 2011 from the prior year, according to the Lakes Carriers’ Association, a shipping industry group.

Mr. LaMarre suggests growth at the Monroe port should continue. “Our biggest advantages are a strategic location, waterfront properties, experienced and diverse tenants, coupled with a supportive city administration and a willing community,” he said. “Our only disadvantage at this point is draft limitations.”

He notes that a typical Lakes freighter has a draft of 26.5 feet. But the River Raisin’s navigation channel to the port turning basin is 22 feet deep, and beneath the river bottom’s silt is bedrock, making channel deepening unlikely anytime soon.

Stats show that a 1-inch loss of navigable depth means even the smallest freighter will have to forego about 100 tons of cargo.

But Mr. LaMarre also worries about Michigan’s rules for ship ballast water that he says are among the most restrictive in the Great Lakes. He says the rules, designed to keep invasive species from the Great Lakes, also have kept international freighters out of Michigan’s Great Lakes waters and hampered the ability of Michigan businesses to export products to the rest of the world.

He and the Association of Great Lakes Ports are backing Michigan Senate Bill 1212, introduced July 18, that would make Michigan standards — which produced a big battle when adopted five years ago — to conform more with federal ballast water standards.

“This is an issue I knew would be immediately at the top of my radar,” he says. “I intend to work collaboratively with other ports to ensure that industry, agriculture and citizens in Michigan are aware of what this could do to our economy.”

The law has withstood federal court challenges, and Mr. LaMarre acknowledges he faces a formidable battle. But, he says, “I like a challenge. I believe everything happens for a reason and in its due time. There’s no better time than now for the community and port to come together and work on this.”

He says typical Great Lakes cargoes are particularly crucial to the nation’s economy. “Domestic vessels transiting the Great Lakes carry iron ore, which is what the steel in our cars is made from; coal, which produces the electricity that keeps our lights on; aggregate, which is used in our roads and driveways, and grains for our kitchen tables.”

Mr. LaMarre’s hiring is one sign that business has been picking up at the port. Indeed, two major firms have settled at the port in recent years — Ventower Industries, a wind-tower maker, and Barnhart Crane & Rigging, which developed a regional office at the port.

As port director, Mr. LaMarre will be responsible for the port itself as well as the city’s industrial parks and Monroe Custer Airport.

Monroe Mayor Robert C. Clark said Mr. LaMarre should be an asset. “I think he’s energetic, enthusiastic and has a great, broad knowledge of the Great Lakes basin,” Mayor Clark said. “I think he’s going to be fabulous for the Port of Monroe, the City of Monroe and the Monroe County region.”

Indeed, it might be said that Mr. LaMarre has Great Lakes water in his veins.

He’s the third generation to make his living from the maritime industry and got his feet wet in it through his dad, Paul C. LaMarre Jr., a longtime mariner and noted marine artist. His idea of a vacation was booking a trip for his family on a freighter.

“My fondest memories in childhood are of taking trips on Great Lakes freighters,” the new port director says. At age 12, while in the wheelhouse of the Elton Hoyt II, a 698-foot freighter docked at Rogers City, he was invited to take the helm and steer the big ship from the pier. When he saw the stern swinging past the shore as the freighter swung downbound on Lake Huron, he plotted his life’s course.

“I’ve always been passionate about the industry, but at that point, I was hooked,” he says.

Born in Dearborn, he grew up on Grosse Ile and graduated from Brother Rice High School in Bloomfield Hills. After graduating from the California Maritime Academy, he worked as a merchant mariner on the Great Lakes until joining the Navy, where he piloted an F/A-18 Hornet. After discharge, he worked with his dad’s tugboat company until becoming director of the Willis Boyer museum ship in Toledo in 2007, shepherding it through a massive restoration and rechristening it to its original name as the Col. James M. Schoonmaker. The freighter is to be a focal point of the new National Great Lakes Maritime Museum to open at the Toledo Marina District next year.

He has played a key role in developing that museum, though the Monroe port now becomes his priority.

“My main goal is sustainability of the maritime industry,” he says, adding that the port fits into that mission. “You essentially could approach this as a blank canvas and advocate for the maritime industry. Every lakefront town exists, above anything else, because of its strategic position on a waterway. That waterway is an important part of that community’s survival.”

Part of that survival formula, he says, “is letting people know the Port of Monroe is reinvigorated.”


Port Adds Full-Time Director
Monday, July 16, 2012

Paul C. LaMarre III, most recently maritime affairs manager for the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, joins the Monroe agency.

Paul C. LaMarre III took the helm today as director of the Port of Monroe, the first permanent full-timer in the post in more than 30 years.

The Monroe Port Commission revived the post and began recruiting people to fill it in April when it became apparent the changing nature of the port’s business was beyond the scope of the present part-time port commissioners, officials said.

Port Chairman Thomas A. Krzyston and Commissioner Dale H. Brose had been fielding business as well as they could, given their part-time appointive posts on the port board.

“Dale and I could no longer handle the volume and respond with any sophistication, if you will, to the number of inquiries coming in,” Mr. Krzyston said. “We were getting to the point where we felt at though it was time to move or get swallowed up.”

“Without a director, there’s really no one here to run the place or to go out and promote business,” he added.

Mr. LaMarre, 31, is a Milan resident and most recently was employed as director of maritime affairs at the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority. His job as director of the Port of Monroe will pay $80,000 a year.

“Mr. LaMarre was selected from a slate of highly qualified applicants and has the training, skills, plus maritime and port operating experiences to provide immediate leadership for both the development and management of the port,” Mr. Krzyston said.

Mr. LaMarre’s job will include overseeing not only port operations but Monroe Custer Airport and the city’s industrial parks.

In the last few years, the port was seen as the primary economic development arm of the City of Monroe – with responsibilities that blended both port administration and community development.

But the city then decided it needed a dedicated director of community and economic development and hired Dan Swallow for that post. As business at the port has grown, it became clear that the jobs were bigger than one person.

“The business climate has changed substantially since 2008,” Mr. Brose explained. He said previously business prospects came to the port’s door pitching projects that would use port money. Now prospects are coming with their own finances proposing to do business at the port. It meant economic development and port operations were broadening.

“You can’t operate without one another but it’s awfully difficult to operate in a dual role,” Mr. Krzyston said. He said he expects the city and port posts will complement each other but now will have more distinct spheres of responsibility.

Recently the Monroe port has become home to a regional office of an industrial crane company and Ventower Industries, a wind-turbine tower-maker.

Mr. Brose said the new director’s salary was accommodated without increasing the port commission’s budget. About one-fourth of the budget is from fees and leases and the rest comes from a dedicated city millage.

Mr. LaMarre, noted for his knowledge of Great Lakes maritime history, is said to have conceptualized, designed and developed the National Great Lakes Maritime Museum at the Toledo Marine Passenger Terminal and secured grants for it.

He also served as assistant to the president of the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority.

He has a bachelor’s degree in marine transportation, including logistics. He began his career as a naval officer and trained and flew as a naval aviator and also served as a public affairs officer.

After his Navy service, he served as a mate for the Gaelic Tugboat Co. of Detroit and then became executive director of the SS Willis B. Boyer, a lake freighter-turned-museum ship at Toledo.

He is a board member of the Marine Historical Society of Detroit and Great Lakes & Seaway Shipping Online Inc. He also is a board member of the Toledo Maritime Academy and Great Lakes Maritime Academy.


Ship to Winter at Monroe's Port
Thursday, January 27, 2011

  • The Manistee’s layover for maintenance work is the first time in decades a lake freighter will spend the colder months at Monroe.

By Charles Slat

For the first time in decades, a lake freighter is wintering over at the Port of Monroe.

The 690-foot-long Manistee docked at the port on Friday and is expected to stay the winter while undergoing maintenance.

“This is really the first ship we’ve had here in a long time,” said Kimberly Schaefer, adminis­trative assistant at the port.

While berthed here, the com­modities carrier owned by Grand River Navigation of Avon Lake, Ohio, will be worked on by H Hansen Industries, a ship repair firm from Toledo.

Tony LaMantia, owner and president of Hansen, said the Manistee docked at Monroe be­cause of a worsening shortage of facilities where ships can lay over for the winter season.

“A lot of the yards in the Great Lakes are closing,” he said. At Toledo, freighters once were al­lowed to winter along the Mau­mee River, but that doesn’t hap­pen as much due to liability issues, he said.

“At Monroe, they were recep­tive and really worked with us,” he said.

He said the Manistee should be at the port into March when the shipping season resumes. The Great Lakes shipping season usually ends in mid-January as heavier ice and higher vessel in­surance rates idle most ships.

Work on the Manistee will include a lot of steel work, par­ticularly in the cargo holds, and mechanical work as well, Mr. La-Mantia said. While its here, the port will get some freighter dock­age revenue for the first time in years.

Mr. LaMantia said he started with the Hansen in 1957 and bought the company in 1980. He has memories of Monroe as a bustling port. “It was quite a port at one time,” he said. “I can re­member the first year I worked there, all we had was a trail­er to work out of, but I think Hansen’s had more than 400 employees working out of Monroe.” Today, the com­pany’s total work force is about 120.

He said six freighters typi­cally would lay over at Mon­roe for the winter, rafted to­gether in groups of three.

The Manistee “sails all over the Great Lakes,” Mr. LaMantia said. “It’s one of the older vessels on the lakes.”

The vessel, built for $2.2 million in 1943 at River Rouge, initially was named the Adirondack. It was owned by the Reiss Steam­ship Co. and soon was re­named the Richard J. Reiss, and carried coal. In 1964, it was converted to a self-un­loading vessel and carried limestone and iron ore.

In 1964, it was converted to a self-unloader. Then, in 1969, Reiss sold all of its ships to the American Steamship Co. In 2003, the ship was acquired by Ogle­bay Norton and then sold in 2004 to Grand River Naviga­tion for $1.8 million. In 2005, it was rechristened the Manistee.

It has a 2,950-horsepower diesel engine, is 60 feet wide and has 16 hatches that feed into six compartments, ca­pable of carrying a total of 14,900 tons.

Although various barges have docked periodically at the Port of Monroe in recent years, this is the first long-term layover of a freighter since the Sharon, an American Steamship freighter, was mothballed at the port in the early 1980s and later scrapped, Ms. Schaefer said.


MCCC Tech Center Construction Nears
Wednesday, January 26, 2011

By Evening News staff, last modified January 25, 2011

Monroe County Community College said it expects to start construction in July on a new $17 million career technology center south of the Welch Health Education building on its S. Raisinville Rd. campus.

College trustees voted unanimously Monday night to use $8.5 million in reserve funds and gifts it has received to meet the college’s 50 percent match of state money needed for the construction of the 71,300-square-foot facility.

The money will be combined with $8,499,800 in State Building Authority funds for the project that legislators okayed in December. The facility is expected to be completed in September, 2012, college officials said.

“The new Career Technology Center will dramatically increase MCCC’s instructional capacity for existing and new technology programs in response to the needs of our existing local business and industry,” said William J. Bacarella, chairman of the board of trustees.

And, this new facility will be an important economic development tool for Monroe County as we market Monroe to companies in emerging energy and automotive technologies – wind, solar, nuclear and battery.”

He said the building will have the flexibility to adapt to changing instructional and employers needs for local companies like DTE Energy, Ventower Industries and others.

The new building will provide infrastructure to support state-of-the-art classrooms and lab space train students for jobs expected to be in demand, and will allow for the updating and expansion of existing programs now housed in the East and West Technology buildings, which college officials said are inadequate to meet modern technology needs.

These programs include nuclear engineering, welding, construction, computer-aided drafting and manufacturing, electronics, quality assurance, and automotive engineering and service with an emphasis on hybrid and battery technology.

In addition, the new center will provide facilities and equipment needed to develop programs in the emerging areas of advanced manufacturing; alternative energies such as wind, solar and fuel cell technology, and sustainable and green technologies.

Under the same resolution that made the funds available, the college board authorized the intent of the college and The Foundation at MCCC to move forward on a capital campaign that will allow MCCC to adjust the contribution amounts between college reserves and gifts while still providing its $8.5 million share of the cost of constructing the center.

Mr. Bacarella said that he believes Gov. Rick Snyder’s support of the idea of building a new bridge from Detroit to Canada, plus DTE Energy’s efforts to get federal permission to build a new nuclear plant near Newport underscore the need for the new career center.

“When that occurs and those projects begin, Monroe County will be at the virtual epicenter of two of the largest construction projects in the state, the region and the nation,” he said. “MCCC must be ready, and with this building, we will be.”

The single-story building will have high-bay technical labs designed as flexible spaces that can be reconfigured as programs and training needs evolve. Each of the labs will have access to adjacent labs in related disciplines and to the exterior via high bay doors that will allow for delivery of specialized equipment. Access to the exterior also will provide opportunities for larger-format demonstration equipment like solar arrays, geothermal well fields and wind turbine equipment.

The building also will contain traditional classroom spaces and labs, administrative functions and faculty offices.

All materials and systems in the center will be selected with the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system in mind.

“The significance of having solar, battery storage and, hopefully, wind integrated into the campus and overall grid in our region should not be underestimated,” said Gregory Adanin, chief executive officer of Ventower, which is building a plant to make wind-turbine towers near the Port of Monroe.

“This is truly the cutting-edge technology of integrating renewable sources of power alongside traditional nuclear and fossil sources of generation right here in Monroe, Michigan, while making our power grid more reliable and efficient for all,” he said.

“The board of trustees made another historic higher education decision for Monroe County tonight when they voted for the construction of the Career Technology Center, which will be located within walking distance of the new $3-million Detroit Edison solar installation being constructed on MCCC’s campus,” said David E. Nixon, MCCC president.

“This facility will serve as a model for the teaching of alternative energy programs,” he said. “The planning and vision that have gone into making the Career Technology Center a reality are a testament to the dedication our trustees, faculty and staff have to the future of Monroe County.” 

The project is now in the preliminary design development phase and subject to approval of the state’s Department of Management and Budget – Facilities Administration. If approved, the college will move on to final design, bidding and contract award, also all subject to state approval.

It’s estimated that the project will create 100 temporary construction jobs.


A National Moment
Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Article published at MonroeNews.com on Oct 22, 2010

A national moment

The River Raisin Battlefield in Monroe now is America’s newest national park.

The park was dedicated Friday in a ceremony befitting a watershed event that will preserve a historic legacy for generations to come.

“It is an enormous achievement for this community to have positioned itself so that the United States Congress would, by law, and the President would acquiesce to, the creation of this national park,” said Thomas Strickland, assistant secretary of the Interior for Fish, Wildlife and Parks, during the dedication in the Meyer Theater at Monroe County Community College’s La-Z-Boy Center. “These things don’t happen very often. We’ll do our very best to take care of this treasured landscape.”

National Park Service officials later said an official NPS arrowhead sign soon will go up at the existing River Raisin Battlefield Visitor Center on E. Elm Ave. near a 45-acre site that was the scene of the bloodiest battle of the War of 1812 and subsequent slaughter of survivors. Work also will begin in earnest on a plan to further develop the park land, a one-time industrial site.

“The engagements between American and British forces at River Raisin was one of those rare times in history where a terrible defeat laid a foundation for eventual

victory,” Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said from Washington. “I am proud that we are now able to honor the brave soldiers who fought and gave their lives to preserve our nation by adding this battlefield to the National Park System.”

A host of local officials and dignitaries attended the star-spangled ceremony, which included period music from the 1st Michigan Colonial Fife and Drum Corps, and the Monroe College/Community Symphony Band under the direction of Mark Felder.

The event, emceed by MCCC President Dr. David Nixon, included a ceremonial transfer of “sacred soil” from the battlefield to the National Park Service. Monroe Mayor Robert E. Clark handed a sample of the soil in a measuring cup to three NPS officials, saying, ”It’s my honor and privilege to transfer this sacred soil to your responsible hands and entrust the River Raisin Battlefield to the United States of America.”

William H. Braunlich, president of the Monroe County Historical Society, commended all those who contributed to the effort, but said it would not have happened without the dedication of two “powerhouse champions” in Congress – Sen. Carl Levin, D-Michigan, and Rep. John Dingell, D-Dearborn.

The two pushed through federal legislation enabling creation of the park.

Sen. Levin spoke about the importance of the battlefield and the battle cry of “Remember the Raisin” that inspired American troops in victories to come.

“How appropriate it is that we gather here today to dedicate this battlefield park. How fitting it is we preserve the history they made here so that future generations will not only “Remember the Raisin” but be inspired by those memories.”

The senator credited the “Dingell magic” in the House with getting the enabling legislation, calling him “the father of this park.” He also said the legislation would not have gotten through the Senate had Jim Bunning, a Republican senator from Kentucky and former Detroit Tigers pitcher, not been persuaded to co-sponsor the bill, primarily because Kentucky militiamen had played a major role in fighting the battle.

Rep. Dingell, who also got federal funds to help clean a vacant paper mill that was on the battlefield site, commended the community for its determination.

“Congratulations, Monroe, we’ve come a long way,” Rep. Dingell said. “This is the culmination of a great partnership – one that coalesced around a great idea. This community dared believe that a moment of profound and historical importance can be resurrected from industrial ruin.”

“The commitment of our people here in Monroe never wavered,” he said. “You were resolute and today we rejoice at the rewards of a job well done.”

He commended everyone for their efforts over the years, including Richard Sieb, a former Monroe mayor, who was instrumental in developing the battlefield visitor center as well as former mayors John Iacoangeli, C.D. (Al) Cappuccilli, Mark G. Worrell and current Mayor Robert E. Clark for their commitments to the project. “They had the vision to look beyond the rubble and see something so much greater,” he said.

“For over two decades, Monroe County has operated the museum and interpreted with reverence this important chapter in our history,” said William Sisk, chairman of the Monroe County Board of Commissioners. “However, this story never belonged to Monroe County alone. The Battle of the River Raisin is unquestionably a chapter in America’s history, and we now rightly honor the national importance of this battle.”

Among those in the audience was Dr. G. Michael Pratt, now a dean at Miami (Ohio) University, who has done much archeological research at the site and surrounding area over the years. He said the significance of the site was befitting that of a battlefield park. “It’s a great day for Monroe and a great day for the people of the United States,” he said.

The ceremony concluded with the college band playing “America the Beautiful,” which ended with a cascade of colored balloons on the stage.

Those attending also received a commemorative poster of an oil painting created by Michigan artist Tim Kurtz, depicting the battle as it might have occurred on Jan. 13, 1813. Mr. Braunlich said the artist was inspired by stories of the efforts to create the battlefield and the artist subsequently donated the panoramic painting to the visitor center.

National Park Service Deputy Director Dan Wenk said the agency expects to name a permanent superintendent for the park by mid-January and the management plan for development of the park will be completed in about 18 months.

He added that a sign bearing the familiar “arrowhead” National Park Service logo will go up at the visitor center “very, very soon.”

“I would guess we’re going to get a sign on that as soon as we possibly can,” he said.


National Mark Status Achieved
Friday, October 22, 2010

Article published at MonroeNews.com on Oct 21, 2010

National mark status achieved

MONROE, MI—The Department of the Interior today announced the formal establishment of the River Raisin National Battlefield Park, the site of a key battle of the War of 1812 that rallied American forces and eventually led to British forces being driven from the region.

“The engagements between American and British forces at River Raisin was one of those rare times in history where a terrible defeat laid a foundation for eventual victory,” Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said. “I am proud that we are now able to honor the brave soldiers who fought and gave their lives to preserve our nation by adding this battlefield to the National Park System.”

From January 18th to 22nd of 1813, more than 400 Americans, British, Canadians and Indians lost their lives in the engagements around a town then known as Frenchtown in one of America’s worst defeats during the War of 1812.

After the battles had ended, some of the Indian participants who were British allies killed wounded Americans. That incident, coupled with the failure of British commanders to ensure the safety of prisoners of war, so enraged Americans that the phrase “Remember the Raisin” became a rallying cry for future engagements in the war. The event still stands as the bloodiest conflict ever fought on Michigan soil.

“Our national parks provide a rich tapestry of America’s history, cultural and natural beauty,” said Assistant Secretary of Interior for Fish and Wildlife and Parks Tom Strickland “At Raisin River National Battlefield Park, visitors will be transported back to a time when America was still struggling to reinforce its independence and to establish itself as a sovereign nation in a war against the superpower of the time, England. The park is a reminder of the price of freedom and the sacrifices of those who paid that price.”

Congress passed legislation authorizing the park in March, 2009, but the battlefield could not be officially established until sufficient property had been donated to the federal government to allow for effective management of a park by the Interior Department’s National Park Service.

“It is a tremendous tribute to soldiers who fought and died on that battlefield,” said Rep. John Dingell. “This national park is the result of an amazing display of patriotism and love of country from the people of Monroe County. Also, they made a remarkable pitch to win the support of Congress and the National Park Service. I want to thank Senator Levin, Monroe Mayors Cappuccilli, Iacoangeli, Worrell and Clark and Secretary Salazar for joining together over time to make this happen.”

“The War of 1812 was our second war of independence, and the events at the River Raisin were a key moment in that conflict,” said Sen. Carl Levin. “The community has worked so hard to make the creation of this park a reality, and now through our National Park System, all Americans will be able to share in this integral part of the history of our state and nation.”

The National Park Service will work closely with the Monroe County Historical Society to make the battlefield available to the public in the near future.


Big Expansion for Steel Mill
Friday, September 10, 2010

by Charles Slat, The Monroe Evening News - last modified September 10. 2010 11:09AM

Banking on a continued improvement in the economy, Gerdau MACSTEEL said Thursday it will invest $67 million in its Monroe mill to boost production capacity, modernize the plant and improve quality.

The capital investment, starting in 2011, will increase the production capacity by 225,000 tons through 2013, and include a new caster, upgrades to the melt shop and new infrastructure construction. In addition to construction jobs, the work initially could add 50 workers and eventually add more than 100 people to the plant’s work force of about 400.

“This new capital investment program for Monroe is indicative of Gerdau’s optimism over the North American market, where we are seeing a market recovery from the historical low points witnessed earlier,” said Andre Gerdau Johannpeter, chief executive officer of Gerdau, a producer of special bar quality steel.

The company said the improvements to the process technology in the melt shop will allow the plant to meet the increasing demands of the special bar quality steel market, while the increased capacity will enable the plant to take advantage of new market opportunities. Quality upgrades also could enable it to line up new customers.

Gerdau MACSTEEL said it will continue to explore growth opportunities in new applications, both in the automotive and non-automotive sectors, which could lead to additional investments throughout the company’s production network. Traditionally, auto-related customers have accounted for most of the firm’s business, and demand for bar quality steel in the auto industry has been increasing slowly as the economy has struggled to recover.

The mill melts scrap steel in an electric arc furnace to create its bar-quality products.

“Obviously, it’s fantastic for Monroe MACSTEEL, the City of Monroe, and the Monroe region,” said Monroe Mayor Robert E. Clark. “The Gerdau family is very bold and committed to this plant and is moving forward.”

The mayor said he not only was pleased by the expansion, which has been rumored for months, but pleased with the attitudes he saw among employees when plant managers announced the expansion Thursday.“What pleased me and what was impressive to see was the employees,” he said. “Obviously they were very upbeat and happy with the expansion.” He said the Monroe plant is the benchmark for the company in terms of production and quality. “This is the highest-producing and highest quality plant they have in the country. Their standard is what the company is wanting all their plants to meet.”

He said company officials initially have sought city consideration of some tax abatements and other assistance in moving forward with the project, although no specifics have been settled upon.

Monroe City Manager George Brown said he would anticipate a 12-year, 50 percent tax abatement, but that hasn’t been decided and it would be subject to review by city council and the city’s economic review committee.

“They need to see more,” he said of council members. “They were aware of the general parameters, but they need to sit and discuss it and it needs to go through the economic review committee. But this is such a substantial project and such a substantial continuing commitment to the community by a company that’s been here long and been a major contributor and investor both business-wise and otherwise to the community, that I wouldn’t anticipate issues when you look at the relative merits of this compared to other projects we’ve had over the years.”

“If you weigh this against any other project we’ve had in the last several years, it’s going to come out on top and usually that would mean the 50 percent abatement for the 12 years,” Mr. Brown said.

He said the additional tax base wouldn’t fill in the financial hole the city has been facing in recent years, but “it’s helpful, believe me.”

State incentives also are expected to be part of the underpinning for the plant upgrade.

“Michigan state and local authorities have been very supportive in working with Gerdau MACSTEEL,” says Guilherme Gerdau Johannpeter, Gerdau MACSTEEL vice president. “We are thankful for their support and are confident that these investments will have a positive economic impact on the Monroe community.”

The commitment is the first step of a strategic investment plan for the Gerdau MACSTEEL Monroe facility, company officials said.

The Monroe mill, at 3000 E. Front St., began in 1980 as a North Star Steel Co. facility. Its last big expansion occurred in 2004 when the firm, then owned by Houston-based Quanex, invested more than $37.5 million, creating about 25 jobs. Quanex merged with Gerdau in 2008.

Gerdau MACSTEEL is headquartered in Jackson, Mich., with plants in Jackson, Monroe and Fort Smith, Ark., as well as steel processing plants in Lansing and Huntington and North Vernon, Ind.; Pleasant Prairie, Wis. and Canton, Ohio. The company is a wholly-owned division of the Gerdau Group, a Brazilian firm that’s one of the world’s major suppliers of specialty long steel.

Gerdau Group has benefited from growth in developing countries as well as economic recoveries in the U.S. and Japan. Its second quarter gross revenues were up 31 percent from a year ago and raw steel production at its facilities rose 52 percent in the first half compared to 2009.


Local Wind Power Plant Getting More Money
Monday, July 12, 2010


Local wind power plant getting more money

■ A federal grant and state loan have been added to the $9 million in aid already committed to developing a wind turbine tower factory.


Snaring federal funds appears to be a breeze for Ventower Industries, which won a $2.3 million federal grant to help it develop a factory at the Port of Monroe to make wind turbine towers.

U.S. Rep. John D. Dingell, D-Dearborn, announced the additional funds Wednesday as well as a $1.2 million loan from the Michigan’s Clean Energy Advanced Manufacturing Program.

Rep. Dingell said the additional resources for the fledgling firm are cause for celebration because it will mean “high-paying ‘green’ jobs right here in Monroe.”

The company already is getting a raft of federal and state tax credits and loans to subsidize its project on 38 acres of port property east of I-75 and south of E. Front St. Site preparation is under way and the project is expected to be completed next year, employing at least 140 directly and 30 indirectly in its first phase.

A fat yellow earthmover was leveling the 38-acre site Wednesday to make way for a 115,000-square-foot plant.

It has been putting together its plans and a financing package over the past year and already has been authorized for $4.4 million in tax credits from the Michigan

Economic Growth Authority, captured a $4 million Small Business Association loan, a $2 million brownfield reclamation loan, a $2.5 million federal advanced energy manufacturing tax credit, a $3.7 million state employment credit and a $5.8 million brownfield redevelopment credit.

The plant project is estimated to cost between $19 million and $22 million.

James Viciana, Ventower chairman, said the company planned to make towers for both onshore and offshore wind turbines and foreign and domestic companies. The port’s access to water, rail and land transportation and availability of skilled workers led it to choose Monroe over other locations in other states, he said.

He predicted that the current construction is just the first phase. “There is a phase two. It will increase the size of the plant and increase employment here in Monroe and phase two will determine exactly where on the world stage of this business Ventower will be,” he said. “Ventower is a small part of a growing phenomenon that’s going to transform business in the area.” The second phase could mean a 76,000-square-foot expansion. He said a $2 million brownfield loan and a $4 million Small Business Administration loan were keys to the project. “We know exactly how we’re going to repay those loans,” he added.

Monroe County Community College will provide some of the training for workers to be hired by the company and company officials said they hoped the factory also would serve as a real-world classroom for community college students.

Company officials said previously that many of the jobs that would be available would require some welding skills. MCCC recently started a Welding Center of Expertise to broaden its existing welding program.

Mr. Viciana said he didn’t know what the average wage rate might be for the factory, but said it would be above average for the skill levels required of employees.

The company isn’t taking applications yet. Mr. Viciana and Gregory Adanin, president, presently are the only two employees on payroll, and there are three contract workers, Mr. Adanin said.

He said the firm also has letters of intent from various wind-turbine manufacturers who want prototypes of the towers the factory will produce. The first towers the plant produces would go to those companies. The plant will have capacity to make 150 to 300 towers annually.

Mr. Adanin said DeMattia Group of Plymouth is the construction engineering firm, but he declined to name the general contractor on the job because an agreement hasn’t been signed with the firm yet. C. Musson Construction of Monroe Township was doing the site preparation work.

Terri Novak of the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Growth said the plant would “help expedite expansion of renewable energy, reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and reduce greenhouse gases.”

And Monroe Mayor Robert E. Clark said the news of the additional funding was “another great step forward, not only for Ventower Industries, but for the City of Monroe.”


Wind Tower Factory to Open at the Port of Monroe
Thursday, July 8, 2010

Article published July 8, 2010

Wind tower factory to open at Port of Monroe


MONROE - Ventower Industries LLC will begin hiring by year’s end for a Port of Monroe factory that will make towers for industrial-sized wind generators and have about 150 employees by early 2012, company officials said Wednesday.

The privately owned start-up company will begin with about 50 employees early next year after opening its $22 million factory and gradually increasing production and employment, said Gregory Adanin, Ventower president and chief executive.

Mr. Adanin, Ventower Chairman James Viciana, and others gathered at the Port of Monroe Wednesday for a company progress report.

U.S. Rep. John Dingell (D., Dearborn) noted that Ventower recently received a $2.3 million grant and $1.2 million loan in clean-energy stimulus funding, part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that he supported.

Federal stimulus funding has successfully created jobs with companies such as Ventower, which will be a leader in transforming industry in Michigan, Mr. Dingell said Wednesday.

Mr. Viciana, who declined to say how much Ventower jobs will pay, said wind power is one budding renewable energy source that will help alleviate U.S. dependence on the petroleum industry.

A mixture of private investment, government incentives, and loans are being used by Ventower, he said.

“This is providing jobs in a sector that was nonexistent a few years ago,” Mr. Viciana said.

Prior to being awarded federal stimulus money last month, Ventower received a federal, state, and local incentive package totaling about $16.5 million. That package includes a $2 million Environmental Protection Agency loan for building on a former industrial site, and a $4 million Small Business Administration loan.

Mr. Adanin, Ventower’s president and chief executive, said the company is in contract discussions with a number of turbine makers, which he declined to name. He said the company, which will build up to 250 towers annually, will announce when it is accepting job applications on its Web site, http://www.ventower.com.


EPA Unveils Timetable to Clean Up River Raisin
Tuesday, June 15, 2010

■ A three-phase project beginning this fall and ending late next year aims to remove industrial toxins that pose threats to fish, animals and people.



Some of the most potent pockets of poisons remaining in the River Raisin will be cleaned out this fall as part of a larger plan to scour toxins in the riverbed downstream of the Winchester St. bridge.

That’s the tentative timetable federal Environmental Protection Agency officials outlined Thursday during a meeting of the city’s Committee on the Environment and Water Quality.

Scott Cieniawski, an EPA project engineer, said the most recent sampling of the river still showed some areas with concentrations of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) of more than 50 parts per million — a level considered hazardous — despite a series of clean-up efforts dating back to 1997.

PCBs, a now-banned compound once widely used as an insulator and fire retardant, is known to cause cancer. Concerns are that it accumulates in the fatty tissue of fish, which then are eaten by people. The chemical is believed to have gotten into the river through a history of discharges from industry.

“Upstream of the turning basin, things are looking pretty good,” Mr. Cieniawski said. “Pretty much from the turning basin downstream is where we saw the problems.”

The current clean-up effort will consist of three distinct parts — dredging and dewatering of sediment showing the highest concentrations and disposal in a hazardous waste landfill; dredging of sediment with lesser concentrations not considered toxic and disposal in an Army Corps of Engineers’ dredge disposal area at Sterling State Park; and dredging below the navigation channel near the center of the river in conjunction with routine federal dredging to maintain channel depths.

A mechanical dredge would remove an estimated 4,000 cubic yards of the most-tainted sediment, possibly starting in mid-October. It would be dewatered and blended with a stabilizing agent before being trucked to a landfill. It would take about 400 truck trips to get the sediment out of town.

“We anticipate it’s going to be two to three weeks of actual dredging with a couple of weeks of mobilization on the front side,” Mr. Cieniawski said. The work is expected to be completed in early December.

A tentative public hearing and explanation of the process is planned for mid-July.

Dredging of sediment with lesser concentrations of PCBs could begin in June, 2011, and be completed by September of that year.

That dredging would have to be mid-June or after so as not to disturb amorous eagles. “Historically, there have been nesting bald eagles on the river where we would be doing our work,” Mr. Cieniawski said.

About 95,000 cubic yards would be piped to the disposal area at the state park. Another 30,000 cubic yards under the navigation channel would be removed through dredging completed in November.

Rough cost estimates are the work might cost $15 million, paid with a combination of federal Great Lakes Legacy Act money and Clean Michigan Initiative dollars.

When all the work is done, it is hoped that part of the river would be the first taken off the federal list of 14 “areas of concern” in Michigan where pollution poses the greatest environmental risks.

“Some of us have been waiting for a long time on this,” said Daniel Stefanski, a COTE member and Monroe County Drain Commissioner. “We definitely want to be one of the success stories for delisting.”


Battlefield Focus of Park Service's Visit - A Look at the Land
Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Battlefield focus of park service’s visit - A look at the land


The federal government should take possession of land proposed as the River Raisin National Battlefield Park by Oct. 1 and work to form a management plan for the site will start shortly thereafter, a National Park Service official said Thursday.

Ernest Quintana, Midwest regional director for the National Park Service, explored the proposed River Raisin National Battlefield Park, toured the new path linking the battlefield with Sterling State Park, got familiar with the general area and was a guest at a community reception during a daylong visit to Monroe.

He said he was impressed with what he saw and the people involved.

“What’s really wonderful here is the warm embrace we’ve been given,” he said during an interview at The Evening News office.

In other areas where parks have been proposed, park service officials sometimes have faced opposition to their plans, what they refer to as “torches and pitchforks.”

Mr. Quintana said that hasn’t been the case in Monroe. “The trust is there and it’s up to the National Park Service to continue to earn and maintain that trust,” he said.

The national park site near E. Elm Ave. and N. Dixie Hwy. is going through all the legal and environmental reviews required before the government can take possession of the property. It’s expected that the transfer of the property will occur before October.

But he said there won’t be much visible change very soon.

“I suspect at first what people might see is a site manager — a uniformed presence there,” he said. “Not a lot as far as the site itself will change.”

That will occur after a management plan for the site is developed — a process that will involve the public.

Mr. Quintana said one of the first tasks of the site manager, or park superintendent, will be to develop a dialogue with the community long before the management planning process even begins.

But the management plan can take a long time to implement – sometimes years – and the development of the national park wouldn’t be a cure-all for any local economic ills, he said.

“I think we’re going to bring added value, but not begin to lay to rest the issues of reviving the economy,” he said. He said there will be some jobs and tourism generated, but only the combined impact of the national park, the state park, the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge and other assets together could begin to provide a boost to the economy.

He said he was “amazed and very pleased” that people in the community had a vision for a national park years ago and pursued it.

In addition to his tour, he had lunch with a range of local officials and was the guest at a community reception at Monroe Bank & Trust in the afternoon. He also was presented with a copy of “Invaded On All Sides,” the book about the conflict written by Ralph Naveaux, a former director of the Monroe County Historical Museum.

“To have these leaders of the community come out and greet me shows me how supportive and passionate they are to have this happen,” Mr. Quintana said.

The site for the proposed park was the scene in 1813 of the bloodiest land battle of the War of 1812 between the Americans and the British and their Indian allies.

It was a stunning American defeat, but a massacre of prisoners and wounded the next day made “Remember the Raisin” a rallying cry that spurred the Americans on in the war.

Last year, Congress passed legislation, driven by U.S. Rep. John D. Dingell, to make the park a national historic battlefield.


Airport To Close for Runway Work
Wednesday, May 19, 2010


Monroe Custer Airport will be closed for about 30 days beginning next week during a $1.6 million runway reconstruction project.

Airport manager Scott Davison said the airport will close early next week, as soon as Monday.

“Business type of incoming traffic and tenants are going to have to use another airport,” he said. “The contractor has 30 days to complete this. This was one of those necessary evils.”

One section of the runway will have to be removed.

Mr. Davison said such work has to be done “about every 30 years, similar to the life of a street. It’s in poor condition now. The state rating put us at a critical category.”

Custer Airport at 2800 N. Custer Rd. is owned and maintained by the City of Monroe and managed by the Monroe Port Commission. It is considered a general aviation airport by the Michigan Department of Transportation. The airport has a 5,000 foot by 100 foot runway.

Ninety-five percent of the project will be federally funded with half of the remaining covered by the state and the other half by the city, coming from the airport.

The last major airport runway work done in the late 1980s. The current project was considered for funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act but did not make the funding cut. However, federal funding was available through the Airport and Airway Improvement Act of 1982 and the Aviation Safety and Noise Abatement Act of 1979.

State funding also is covered. MDOT received a block grant from the Federal Aviation Administration for airport development projects.

Last month the Monroe City Council awarded a $1.275 million construction contract with Cadillac Asphalt LLC of Ypsilanti. The bid, one of four received, came in 18 percent under the engineer’s estimate. Another contract of $111,000 was awarded to Reynolds, Smith and Hills Inc. for construction engineering services.

The city’s share of the project cost is $37,000, not including previous design costs.


Marine Highways Slated for Expanded Use
Tuesday, April 13, 2010

April 9, 2010 14:52 by Arnold Weinfeld

Michigan Municipal League – The Legislative Link

In an effort to move more cargo on water rather than on our already crowded highways, US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, has announced a new program to identify rivers and coastal routes that could be used to carry cargo efficiently. Given Michigan’s position on the Great Lakes, this could have a positive impact for many of our port and inland waterway communities.

Under the “America’s Marine Highway” program, transportation officials will be able to apply to have specific transportation corridors and projects, designated a marine highway by the Department of Transportation if they meet certain criteria.

The initiative is the result of a 2007 law requiring the Secretary of Transportation to “establish a short sea transportation program and designate short sea transportation projects to mitigate surface congestion.”