How Great Lakes freighter crews are social distancing on board, and on shore

Source: mLIVE

How do you practice social distancing in this era of coronavirus when you’re part of a Great Lakes freighter crew? With a special set of rules, shipping leaders say.

New protocols and precautionary measures are taking place on ships across the Great Lakes where crews are moving through more than 100 ports this shipping season, according to the Associated Press.

James Weakley, president of the Lake Carriers Association, said the shipping industry has rolled out its own set of safeguards aimed at prevention. Freighter crews are following hygiene and social distancing guidelines set by health experts.

“Not only are there formal ramifications, but there is a very informal peer pressure among our sailors that will keep people from doing anything that is unsafe and potentially cause spread,” Weakley said, according to the AP.

The Lake Carriers Association is made up of 46 American vessels that each year haul 90 million tons of cargo annually across the Great Lakes.

A few week ago, at the start of the 2020 shipping season, Weakley talked about the preparations being made. His comments were put on the LCA website:

“Since February, a tremendous team focus has gone into getting the fleet outfitted and sailing safely with healthy crews. This has been a truly concerted effort by the sailors, the vessel operators, U.S. Coast Guard, Centers for Disease Control, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, public health officials, the Great Lakes dock and port operators, and service providers that keep our fleet sailing. Our first priority is the men and women sailing the vessels. Our efforts are focused on preparedness, prevention, and response to ensure their safety from the impacts of COVID-19. We’ve tried to anticipate as many contingencies as possible and prescribe the actions to counter them. This is a community effort and the partnerships we have forged are strong. The best plans are comprehensive and nimble.”

The U.S. Coast Guard is monitoring these ships as well as any international cargo vessels, especially if they’ve been in an area of the world affected by the COVID-19 outbreak in the last couple weeks.

Petty Officer Brian McCrum, spokesman for the Coast Guard’s 9th District which oversees the Great Lakes region, said these ships will be allowed to enter the U.S. only if they are not carrying sick crew members.

In addition, all crew members must stay on board these ships unless they are involved in loading or unloading cargo, or getting provisions, the AP reported.

View From The Ship

M/V HONORABLE JAMES L. OBERSTAR ON A PELLET RUN 32

Source: Great Lakes Seaway Review – Volume 48 – Number 3 – January-March

The most common view of vessels sailing the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Seaway is from the shore. But sailing shows both the beauty and economic impact of these vessels. Here is an excerpt of Paul C. LaMarre III’s recent pellet run. Thanks to my friends at The Interlake Steamship Company, I was able to take a shipboard retreat on the M/V Honorable James L. Oberstar, or the “Honorable,” as she is sometimes called. This fine ship’s existence is a floating testament to an age of industrial beauty when man and steel united in a form that can only be described as “iron elegance.” The pride with which she was built is apparent in the care she continues to receive today. Boarding during the final hours of October 12, the glowing lights of AK Steel illuminate the Oberstar as she unloads taconite pellets onto the same dock Henry Ford constructed for receiving similar shipments at the turn of the century. Holds emptied, she heads out the winding Rouge River at daybreak under the command of Captain Joseph C. Ruch, on one of the final voyages of his 30-year sailing career. Heading north past industrial Detroit, across Lake St. Clair, toward Lake Huron and the St. Clair River, Honorable is at home, echoing each shoreside wave with a master’s solute. All’s quiet as she plies the blue water expanse of Lake Huron. When the sun peeks through the clouds October 14 following a morning storm, Detour Reed Light passes port side, marking entrance to the St. Marys River. Sliding past mission point where shipwatchers abound, we turn for the locks where the 806-foot ship raises 21 feet. Within a short time, we were passing Gros Cap Reef Light and entering the “Big Lake.” Squalling weather breaks to a rainbow. Soon the moon is lighting our way to Marquette, where we’ll load the next 31,000 tons of iron ore pellets and depart for the downbound return to offload what will make the steel that helps build our toasters, cars, offices and parking decks. While my personal holds are filled for another year, a picture is worth a thousand words. May these images provoke the inspiration that keeps your engine turning.

Paul C. LaMarre III, Port Director, Port of Monroe

 

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No good explanation for Michigan port policy

Source: Toledo Blade

DETROIT — Want an example of a major scandal that has been almost completely under the radar? The Detroit office of U.S. Customs and Border Protection has adopted a bizarre policy that is severely harming trade revenue in the state, and which has had devastating consequences for the Port of Monroe.

That policy is this: The vast majority of international cargo these days is shipped in large containers — and the Detroit office of the CBP is now requiring those metal shipping containers to be X-rayed and scanned for security reasons before they can go out or come in. But no port in the state has the equipment to do that, so the state is effectively shut out of most international trade. This is a policy, according to Paul LaMarre III, the head of the Port of Monroe, that is leveled only against Michigan.

“What to me is most clear is that this should be a non-political, non-partisan regulatory issue,” said Mr. LaMarre, who became leader of the Monroe port in 2012 after years as maritime affairs manager for the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority. “And this is a clear abuse of regulatory authority.”

Mr. LaMarre, a 39-year-old former U.S. Navy pilot, has worked hard to expand the Port of Monroe, with considerable success. Last year, a University of Michigan study found that the number of jobs created by the port tripled under his stewardship, going from 577 to 1,659, meaning millions of dollars for the local economy. But then came the decision to forbid containers.

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That was bad for all Michigan’s 40 ports, but worst of all for Monroe. Though less than an hour’s drive from Detroit, the port is technically outside Detroit’s jurisdiction, according to boundaries set by the Federal Register.

Because Monroe has no customs unit, Detroit has provided cargo inspection as a “courtesy if they have the manpower available.” For years, that wasn’t a problem. But now, whenever a key shipment of goods is about to exit or enter through Monroe, no manpower seems to be available.

“This has cost us [and the community] millions,” said Mr. LaMarre. What normally happens is that the cargo is either diverted to Toledo’s port, which is 14 miles from Monroe’s, or to Cleveland.

The authorities in charge of U.S. customs for Ohio, Illinois, and Wisconsin are based in Chicago — and have far more lenient rules than Michigan’s, which are the tightest in the nation. Christopher Perry, the CBP’s program manager in Detroit, sets the state’s customs rules. He is paid $166,218 a year. He has repeatedly refused media requests to explain his policy and has reportedly been vague about security needs.

No cargo has been halted from leaving or entering — it is just sent or received via different ports, hurting the state’s economy, and in some cases, adding costs to the consumer.

The University of Michigan conducted a major study on the effects of these policies last year, in which researchers looked at the impact of two glaring examples. In one case, Ford Motor Co. wanted to ship new Mustang cars from Monroe to Hamburg, Germany.

This would have meant revenues for the port and saved money for the automaker. But just weeks before the first 100 cars were to be shipped, Detroit customs officials told Ford that they could not guarantee that an agent would be there to inspect the containers. The project collapsed.

Another major project involved the shipment of huge amounts of equipment to the Port of Monroe that would be trucked to Grayling, where Arauco is erecting a factory. Initially the project was approved — but the Detroit office of the CBP announced it would deny entry just before the first ship arrived. The ship was diverted to Cleveland. Mr. LaMarre then got a barge and a tug and brought that shipment to Monroe, but the rest were canceled.

“They keep moving the target, but we are still developing new markets and doing our best to stay competitive,” he said.

The Detroit Customs and Border Patrol seems to be engaged in vindictive retaliation against one of the Monroe port’s biggest defenders, Gregg Ward, owner of the Detroit-Windsor truck ferry. Some months ago, the CBP sent teams with a slow mobile X-ray unit to his ferry, which takes trucks with hazardous material across the Detroit River daily.

“They are inspecting, with a slow mobile X-ray unit, 100 percent of our vehicles,” delaying transit and costing him business, Mr. Ward said. “It is pure harassment. At the Ambassador Bridge they X-ray no car traffic going to Canada and less than 10 percent of commercial vehicles entering the United States.”

Mr. LaMarre’s take: “They are trying to put him out of business. Gregg Ward is one of the finest and most honest men I know.”

What is clear is this: Monroe, and the state of Michigan, are losing millions of dollars because of a seemingly senseless and arbitrary customs rule that exists in no other state. And nobody in government has satisfactorily explained why.

U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., and U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Tipton, have called on the Government Accountability Office to launch a study on cargo screening standards.

Source: The Monroe News

A bipartisan partnership representing Monroe County is continuing to make waves in an ongoing regulatory dispute between a local agency and the federal government.

U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., and U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Tipton, have called on the Government Accountability Office to launch a study on cargo screening standards that they contend to be inconsistent across the country.

“We have received reports that (U.S. Customs and Border Patrol) is not applying a consistent standard at ports of entry across the United States for screening requirements for non-containerized cargo, including for ports in Michigan,” Walberg and Peters wrote in their letter.

The duo submitted an official inquiry and call to action to Gene Dodaro, comptroller general of the U.S. The letter, in which they ask Dodaro and GAO to launch a review of their claim, was submitted to the agency Monday.

The GAO is a nonpartisan federal agency that acts as a fiscal “watchdog,” often rendering recommendations and delivering information to Congress on a wide scope of issues.

For several years Walberg and Peters have been working with the Port of Monroe to address policies levied by CBPs Detroit office on handling break bulk cargo, which is cargo packaged outside of shipping containers.

CBP Detroit has demanded Monroe invest an additional $5 million in security upgrades and that break bulk cargo moving through the port receive complete scanning and inspection from CBP. But CBP Detroit has said it cannot dedicate with regularity the manpower needed to do so, citing limited resources.

The policies have hampered the ability of the port to operate in the international cargo business, costing it and the region millions in revenue, according to a recent study.

Per federal regulations, containerized cargo is required to receive full scanning.

But CBP Detroit has extended that standard to break bulk cargo, and has quelled business agreements at the Monroe port.

It’s a stark contrast to other ports, such as the ports of Toledo and Cleveland, where standards are more lax and where additional time has been given to meet federal standards. The Ohio ports are under a different CBP jurisdiction, too — they are subject to CBP’s Chicago office.

The discrepancy in security standards form the backbone of the legislators’ complaint. In their inquiry, they ask GAO to determine whether shipping standards are being equally enforced at ports of entry across the country.

Walberg and Peters are also asking GAO to clarify what types of cargo are subject to complete scanning requirements as mandated by federal policy and also to determine if CBP has conducted risk analyses on handling break bulk cargo from international ports.

In their letter to Dodaro, they highlight the importance of the shipping industry and its economic impact on the region and the country. They also point to an unequal business environment forged by varying levels of cargo scrutiny.

“CBP’s inconsistent approach gives a strategic advantage to some ports while placing burdensome infrastructure requirements on other ports, such as demands from CBP to purchase expensive scanning equipment that is provided by the federal government at other points of entry,” Walberg and Peters wrote.

The official inquiry to Dodaro and his office is just the latest move made by Walberg and Peters, who have held a series of meetings with officials, many of which have been attended by Port Director Paul LaMarre III.

Peters brokered a meeting between port officials and high-ranking members of CBP last year. Walberg also brought the issue to the attention of President Donald Trump, who indicated its an issue he wanted to hear more about.

That led to a meeting earlier this month with Walberg, LaMarre and Peter Navarro, senior advisor to the president and director of Trade and Manufacturing Policy.

During the meeting, LaMarre was able to discuss the Port of Monroe’s dealing with CBP and the adverse impact its policies has had on the port.

LaMarre is heartened by the bipartisan work between Walberg and Peters. The issue of shipping has a wide impact on the entire state, he said.

“This is about honesty and equity,” LaMarre said. “It is about the men and women working on our docks and the crews of our vessels. It is about Michiganders’ strive for prosperity from the waterways that define us.”

Despite CBP’s restrictions, the Monroe port has been able to grow its international business, though it cannot handle non-crated or containerized cargo, according to LaMarre, who said 2019 was a record year for the port.

He anticipates that trend to continue into this year, despite its business being stymied by restrictions.

“We will not relent; we will continue to seek truth,” LaMarre said “Not just for the Port of Monroe, but for our community, all Michigan ports and the Great Lakes as a whole.”

LaMarre is hopeful GAO’s investigation will offer a clear, definitive answer.

“Why are Michigan Ports being treated differently than anywhere else in the United States?” LaMarre questioned. “They have evaded this question for months. It is time for the GAO to find out why.”

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Senator, U.S. rep call on feds to examine security inconsistencies that hamper Michigan ports

Source: Crain’s Detroit Business

Frustrated with progress in their attempts to get the Detroit field office of U.S. Customs and Border Protection to treat Michigan ports the same way other Great Lakes and ocean ports are treated, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and Rep. Tim Walberg have called on the federal Government Accounting Office to study inconsistencies in cargo screening standards.

“CBP’s inconsistent approach gives a strategic advantage to some ports while placing burdensome infrastructure requirements on other ports, such as demands from CBP to purchase expensive scanning equipment that is provided by the federal government at other points of entry,” they wrote in a letter dated Feb. 24 to Gene Dodaro, comptroller general of the U.S. in the GAO.

“Other coastal and Great Lakes ports have not been subjected to the same strict screening requirements,” said a news release accompanying the letter. “The change in requirements has severely impacted the Port of Monroe’s operations and undermines Michigan’s economic competitiveness.”

On Dec. 8, a Crain’s report detailed how stricter policies for Michigan ports have affected job creation and income for ports, focusing on the Port of Monroe. The Detroit office of CBP, which sets rules for Michigan ports, requires shipping containers to be scanned and X-rayed. However, none of Michigan’s 40 ports has the technology to meet those requirements, effectively shutting the state out of the growing volume of shipping container traffic on the Great Lakes.

Many cargo ships unload at the Port of Toledo, instead, just 17 miles from the Port of Monroe. The Chicago office of CBP oversees ports in Ohio and has far more lenient rules than the Detroit office.

According to a University of Michigan study of port activity highlighted in the Crain’s report, the rules established by the Detroit office of CBP have created millions of dollars in docking and unloading fees in Toledo and Cleveland and has cost Michigan hundreds of jobs. The Detroit office also has stricter screening requirements for what is called break-bulk cargo, which is cargo wrapped or boxed but not in steel containers.

Toledo doesn’t have scanning or X-ray equipment, either. The Port of Cleveland has two radiation scanners but no X-ray equipment.

Last August, a ship arrived in Saginaw with cargo to be offloaded for a power plant under construction in Lansing. The Detroit office of CBP wouldn’t let it be unloaded, so the ship sailed back to Toledo, where the cargo was unloaded without being X-rayed or scanned, put on trucks and driven to Lansing.

Last November, Paul LaMarre, the director of the Port of Monroe, joined Peters at a meeting with CBP officials in Washington, D.C., and Walberg, a Republican, talked about the issue in person with President Donald Trump in January.

On Feb. 13, Walberg set up a meeting in the White House with LaMarre and Peter Navarro, Trump’s director of trade and manufacturing policy to discuss the inequities.

“In today’s age of seemingly divisive politics, it is rewarding and reassuring that Sen. Gary Peters and Congressman Tim Walberg are putting Michigan’s continued prosperity as a marine transportation hub above party differences. The fact that both legislators have engaged the United States Government Accountability Office to investigate USCBP’s inequitable treatment of Michigan seaports is proof positive that USCBP’s disingenuous dialogue with elected leadership will not be tolerated,” LaMarre said in response to the letter to the GAO.

“To this day, USCBP refuses to answer one simple question: Why are Michigan ports being treated differently than anywhere else in the United States? They have evaded this question for months. It is time for the GAO to find out why.”

Port of Monroe - State of Michigan

Peters, Walberg Call for Examination of Security Standards at U.S. Ports

Source: Gary Peters

Inconsistent Screening Requirements have Halted Service at Port of Monroe while other Ports Continue Operations

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Gary Peters (MI), Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and U.S. Representative Tim Walberg (MI-07), called on the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to study inconsistencies in the cargo screening standards at American ports that have halted service at Michigan’s Port of Monroe. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Detroit Field Office has restricted the Port of Monroe from accepting international break bulk cargo – countering nearly 90 years of practice since the Port of Monroe began operations in 1932 – unless the Port invests in significant and costly screening technology and infrastructure upgrades at their own expense. Other coastal and Great Lakes ports have not been subjected to the same strict screening requirements. The change in requirements has severely impacted the Port of Monroe’s operations, and undermines Michigan’s economic competitiveness.

“We have received reports that CBP is not applying a consistent standard at ports of entry across the United States for screening requirements for non-containerized cargo, including for ports in Michigan,” wrote the Members. “CBP’s inconsistent approach gives a strategic advantage to some ports while placing burdensome infrastructure requirements on other ports, such as demands from CBP to purchase expensive scanning equipment that is provided by the federal government at other points of entry.”

Currently, the SAFE Port Act and other federal regulations outline specific requirements for incoming containerized cargo. These requirements lack clear outlined standards for non-containerized cargo. Federal regulations mandate 100% scanning for incoming containerized cargo, but the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has extended the implementation deadline multiple times. The Members have asked GAO to examine whether these standards are being equally enforced at different ports across the country, and how they apply to different types of cargo, including non-containerized cargo such as break bulk.

Text of the letter is copied below:

February 24, 2020

The Honorable Gene Dodaro

Comptroller General of the United States

United States Government Accountability Office
441 G Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20548

Dear Comptroller General Dodaro:

The U.S. economy depends on the secure and expeditious flow of millions of tons of cargo each day. Cargo shipments can, however, present significant security concerns, as individuals have exploited vulnerabilities in the supply chain by using maritime cargo shipments to smuggle narcotics, stowaways, and other contraband into the United States. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), a component within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), has responsibility for administering maritime cargo security and reducing the vulnerabilities associated with the shipping cargo to the U.S. through the global supply chain while maintaining robust trade and commerce.

In general, cargo entering the U.S. via the maritime domain is subject to physical examination by CBP pursuant to a number of authorities, including Security and Accountability For Every Port Act of 2006 (SAFE Port Act). The SAFE Port Act, as amended by the Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007, also includes cargo screening and scanning requirements. However, given that DHS has extended the date by which 100 percent scanning is to be implemented several times, the extent to which the 100 percent scanning requirement is being enforced is not clear. In addition, it is not clear how CBP is defining “containerized cargo” for purposes of the 100 percent scanning requirement and the extent to which the enforcement is consistent across all domestic ports.

We have received reports that CBP is not applying a consistent standard at ports of entry across the United States for screening requirements for non-containerized cargo, including for ports in Michigan. CBP’s inconsistent approach gives a strategic advantage to some ports while placing burdensome infrastructure requirements on other ports, such as demands from CBP to purchase expensive scanning equipment that is provided by the federal government at other points of entry.

Because of inconsistencies that exist regarding cargo security standards for non-containerized cargo—such as break bulk cargo—we would like to request that GAO conduct a review focused on answering the following questions:

  • Does DHS/CBP have any maritime cargo security programs or requirements that pertain to non-containerized maritime cargo and, if so, to what extent are CBP’s non-containerized cargo security requirements and procedures implemented consistently across ports? Please provide any updates on the status of changes to policy for break bulk cargo.
  • What types of cargo shipments (i.e., containerized cargo, break bulk, etc.) does CBP consider to be within the scope of its maritime cargo security programs, such as the Container Security Initiative and the 100 percent scanning mandate?
  • What type of risk analyses, if any, has DHS or CBP conducted to determine the risks of non-containerized maritime cargo before its departure from a foreign port?
  • What do DHS and CBP officials view as impediments, if any, to ensuring the security of non-containerized maritime cargo?

Thank you for your consideration of this request.

Walberg talks Port of Monroe with Trump

Source: The Monroe News

Tipton congressman chats with president on Air Force One

As U.S. Rep Tim Walberg, R-Tipton, sat with President Donald Trump on Air Force One, he knew it was his chance to talk about a local agency’s ongoing customs battle.

Walberg, along with other Republican representatives from Michigan, was accompanying Trump Thursday to an event at Dana Inc. in Warren.

Trump was gearing up to talk about a newly-signed trade deal with Mexico and Canada. Walberg was thinking of the Port of Monroe.

For years he has worked with Port Director Paul LaMarre III to navigate shipping restrictions handed down by U.S. Customers and Border Patrol’s Detroit office.

The restrictions have limited the port’s ability to deal in international trade. They also are at odds with standards expected at neighboring Lake Erie ports, like Toledo and Cleveland, Walberg says, which makes it harder to generate funds to install additional security equipment.

“It’s not fair,” Walberg said. “The (Monroe port) is being given challenges that others aren’t.”

On Thursday, Walberg and the other representatives aboard Air Force came up with a strategy. They had a rare opportunity to discuss constituents’ concerns with the country’s top leader and they weren’t going to waste the moment.

They each selected issues tied to their district and briefly talked about them with the president.

“It was a tag-team effort,” Walberg said. “It was very effective.”

Though brief, Walberg was pleased with the response he received from Trump.

“He indicated to make sure (his team) knew about the issue and that we would discuss it further,” Walberg said.

It’s an interaction he knows will carry weight when he meets with Peter Navarro, assistant to the president and director of the Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy, to discuss the issue of shipping on the Great Lakes.

The meeting, which will occur in the near future, will be the latest in a series of gatherings brokered by officials to discuss disparate shipping standards levied by CBP’s different jurisdictions.

Late last year, Sen. Gary Peters was present at a meeting between LaMarre and some of CBP’s top officials. It was only the most recent of such meetings, which have done little to alleviate the pressure exerted on the Monroe seaport.

“We’ve talked with key individuals (at CBP) until we’re blue in the face,” Walberg said. ”… But that hasn’t dealt results yet.”

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Walberg said he will continue to press the issue because the restrictions have a wider impact on the Great Lakes region.

Stifling trade and conflicting standards create an unequal playing field, which impacts millions of jobs and economic vitality, Walberg said. The conversation with Trump and his team exerts how wide-reaching the issue can be, he added.

“I’m going to take that as a real step forward,” Walberg said. ”… The port is a huge opportunity for not only Monroe, but also the entire shipping industry on the Great Lakes.”

At the local level, LaMarre is buoyed by the fact that awareness of the issue has reached the top of the country’s executive branch. The issue has battered the port, he said.

″… to know that our issue (with CBP) has reached the president’s ears can only be compared to a glimmer of sun peaking through the storm clouds at sea,” LaMarre said. “Hope is the powerful fuel I know, and today Walberg has refilled our tanks.”

Support from legislators has been monumental in dealing with the restriction, LaMarre added.

He has been in contact with Walberg regarding the port and its struggles since restrictions cut off several trade deals years ago, including a lucrative one that would have shipped Ford Mustangs to Europe via the Saint Lawrence Seaway.

Moving forward, LaMarre wants transparency as to why CBP’s restriction are necessary for Monroe’s port and the same level of scrutiny isn’t applied elsewhere.

″(CBP) is discriminating against the Port of Monroe and our community as a whole as we fight to remain economically sustainable,” LaMarre said. “Thanks to Walberg, new light has been shed on the issue …”

See the gorgeous freighters of the 2020 Interlake Steamship calendar

Source: Cleveland.com

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Lakers are the stars of the Great Lakes.

The up-to-1,000-foot freighters are eye-catching, mesmerizing, romantic vestiges of industrial glory days. And we can’t get over their size, whether they’re powering through Lake Erie or pivoting around the hair-pin curves of the Cuyahoga River.

Interlake Steamship Co., which is based in Middleburg Heights and owns nine lakers, celebrates the beauty of the ships in its annual calendar.

Lakers — make up about 95 percent of freighter traffic on the Great Lakes — move about 4 million tons of iron ore in the nine months the lakes are clear of ice.

Much of it is unloaded onto the Port of Cleveland bulkhead terminal west of Whiskey Island, then transferred to slightly smaller, river-class ships that can navigate the river up to the ArcellorMittal steel mill, including the Buffalo and the Dorothy Ann-Pathfinder. (None of the boats are owned by the steel companies or the port.)

Ships make about 450 round trips on the Cuyahoga each year. Many of the ships are loaded with iron ore from Duluth, Minnesota.

The journey to Cleveland takes about 57 hours, at a top speed of 17 mph.

Want a calendar of your own? Interlake donated calendars to the National Museum of the Great Lakes. You can buy one at the museum for $9.95, plus shipping. To order, call 419-214-5000 extension 200, or go to the website at nmglstore.org.

US gives funds for ‘marine highway,’ but frustrates import/export efforts

Source: Freightwaves

Port of Monroe, Michigan, loses cargo after U.S. Customs and Border Protection squashes its plans for moving imports and exports.

The U.S. Maritime Administration’s (MARAD) award of more than $1.1 million to the Port of Monroe, Michigan for a domestic “marine highway” project is welcome news for a port that says its efforts to increase international business has been stymied by the Detroit office of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Paul LaMarre, director of the port, said the grant from MARAD will be used to purchase a crawler crane, a crane mounted on tracks.

The port in 2016 had a route designated under MARAD’s marine highway program. The proposed “Lake Erie Shuttle” would be a domestic container service between Monroe and Cleveland, with the possible addition of other ports such as Detroit and Buffalo, and the crane would be used to load and discharge containers and breakbulk cargo.

Currently, if ships loading and discharging cargo in Monroe do not have their own gear, the port has to rent cranes, which LaMarre says can be prohibitively expensive.

The port has been working with Green Shipping Line, on a proposed short sea service, Green Shipping Line was founded by Percy R. Pyne IV, a longtime advocate of short sea shipping and founder of the short-lived American Feeder Lines, which operated a service between Halifax, Portland, Maine and Boston in 2011-12. Pyne continues to look at starting up a domestic coastal service not only on the Great Lakes but on the East and Gulf Coast as well as building specialized vessels for the wind energy industry in the U.S.

The Port of Monroe is now looking at a number of opportunities to move cargo domestically or internationally, with a focus on the automobile industry, said LaMarre.

For example, he says the port could load containers with finished cars and other products and receive containers with automotive parts. In addition to the proposed Lake Erie Shuttle, the port and Green Shipping Line are looking at possibly transporting coils of aluminum made by Novelis in Oswego, New York, on Lake Ontario to Monroe and shipping aluminum scrap back to Oswego.

LaMarre said that the port also wanted to ship automobiles — specifically Ford Mustangs made at an assembly plant in nearby Flat Rock, Michigan — overseas but that effort was frustrated by decisions made by the Detroit office of Customs.

He said the port had done a demonstration for Ford of how the cars would be loaded in containers, but he said “ultimately the containers went back to Europe empty.”

“CBP compromised the entire project. Not only were they going to require inspection and putting their seal on outbound containers, they were going to require 100% scanning. They are still standing on that.”

In another instance, he says Monroe was denied the ability to discharge project cargo — construction material, machinery and supplies — bound for a $500 million fiberboard factory being built in Grayling, Michigan, by the North American subsidiary of the Chilean forest products company Arauco.

He said the project would have resulted in 14 breakbulk ships visiting the port.

“Overnight, in 2017 U.S. CBP decided a wood breakbulk crate is a container requiring scanning in Michigan and nowhere else in the country. That stands to this day,” said LaMarre. The first shipment of cargo was eventually taken to Cleveland, where it was not required to be opened, devanned or scanned by CBP according to an exhaustive 44-page report prepared by the University of Michigan’s Program in Practical Policy Engagement in May that detailed the Port of Monroe’s jousting with CBP.

The University of Michigan report found “CBP-Detroit imposes clearance requirements on Michigan ports that are not required elsewhere in the United States. This renders Michigan ports unable to handle crated or containerized cargo, putting them at a comparable disadvantage” and that “CBP-Detroit’s policy has damaged the reputation of the Port of Monroe and the state of Michigan, resulting in lost business and the potential loss of region-lifting economic developments like the Arauco project.”

CBP told Crain’s Detroit Business in December that because no two ports are exactly alike, it “must evaluate all requests for services individually.”

The Monroe News in August said a CBP officer in Detroit told it that facilities in Michigan lack the proper infrastructure and technology to inspect containerized cargo and that CBP’s limited resources are a factor in its decisions because working with the port requires pulling staff from their existing responsibilities.

LaMarre said while the initial shipment for the Arauco project was loaded on a barge and moved from Cleveland to the Port of Monroe, the subsequent shipments moved through Cleveland and Canadian ports and then trucked to Grayling.

Wind energy towers manufactured by Ventower Industries at the Port of Monroe (Photo Credit: Port of Monroe)
However, he says Monroe has been highly successful in arranging the movement of project cargo moved by carriers such as Spliethoff and Big Lift, including wind energy towers made by Ventower Industries. The port also installed a $1 million rail spur on its dock to receive a 390-ton generator stator from Rotterdam for the DTE Energy’s Fermi 2 nuclear power plant in Newport, Michigan. It also handles coal for DTE’s coal-fired power station, which is located next to the Port of Monroe.

“I say we are the biggest little port on the Great Lakes,” says LaMarre. “When I started here in 2012, it was an overgrown, grassy field that used to be a landfill. We have gone from not even being able to see the water because the trees were so high to a bustling seaport. And we have done it with very few resources.”

Port of Monroe to buy crane with $1.1 million grant

Source: The Monroe News

Federal grant money has been awarded to fund equipment upgrades and training geared toward attracting more cargo to the Port of Monroe.

The U. S. Department of Transportation’s America’s Marine Highway Projects Program announced Tuesday the local port will receive $1.1 million. Paul LaMarre III, port director, said the funds will be used to buy a crawler crane, which will move cargo and heavy equipment.

“The grant is symbolic (of the fact) the Port of Monroe is here to stay and we are in the cargo business,” LaMarre said. “We will relentlessly continue to develop a prosperous seaport for the City of Monroe and beyond.”

The Marine Highway Projects Program, which is administered by the Maritime Administration, works to expand the use of the country’s water systems, including the Great Lakes, which are connected to the St. Lawrence Seaway System via Lake Erie.

Each year the program awards grants to projects that have been identified as Marine Highway Routes. The port and the Lake Erie Shuttle Project, an initiative to spur economic growth in the region, received a Marine Highway Route designation in 2016. Port officials pursued the grant because it presented an opportunity to help fund a project that makes the local entity more competitive in the shipping industry, according to LaMarre.

“There are very few grant programs that exist specifically for port- related projects and equipment,” he said. “We thought it was prudent to apply for funding for what has the potential to be most costly piece of equipment the port will utilize.”

The port will purchase a Manitowoc MLC165 crawler crane, which has a maximum boom length of 276 feet.

“The key to attracting cargo to your terminal is efficiency and economics,” he said. “A crane can single handedly provide both of those things.”

A crane is expensive to rent, which created a disadvantage for the local port, according to LaMarre. Last year, DRM Terminal Service, the port’s terminal operator, spent about $500,000 on crane rentals, he added.

The addition of the crane enables the port to handle different kinds of cargo, LaMarre said, adding the Manitowoc model can be customized with different attachments and other types of equipment.

The port submitted the grant proposal Sept. 20 to the DOT. Once port officials sign an agreement, the port will have 24 months to use the funds provided by DOT.

The grant was awarded on the contingency that the port also generate additional funds to purchase the crawler crane — the grant program requires a community match.

The total cost of the crane, its installation and associated training is approximately $1.7 million. LaMarre said the port will use a combination of its own money, funds from DRM Terminal Services and financing to cover the nearly $600,000 still needed.

“We have a reasonable amount of time to come up with the local match funding,” he said.

The port worked with New Jersey-based grant writer Tiffany Torrey on the 10-page grant proposal. LaMarre said Torrey is respected within the maritime community.

“She is very familiar with the field in which we operate,” he said. “She has been highly successful with her applications for projects.”

Though the crane will be owned by the port, DRM Terminal Service will use it and handle its maintenance, which is a common industry practice, according to LaMarre.

In addition to the business the new equipment will help attract, LaMarre is looking forward to flying an American flag from the top of the crane. He also plans to fly a “Don’t Give Up the Ship” flag, a motto LaMarre has used as a rallying cry as the port remains embroiled in a regulatory dispute with U. S. Customs and Border Patrol. During the War of 1812, Cmdr. James Lawrence of the American frigate Chesapeake ordered his crew ′ Don’t give up the ship’ after he was fatally wounded during a battle near Boston Harbor in 1813. Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry won his naval battle with the British on Lake Erie three months later while flying a blue battle flag inscribed with those words.

For several years CBP has imposed regulations that have limited the port’s ability to handle international cargo. LaMarre contends the regulations, which were handed down by CBP’s Detroit office, are inconsistent with expectations at other Great Lake ports. An independent study determined those regulations have cost the port several millions of dollars in revenue each year.

With the aid of U. S. Gary Peters, D-Mich., and U. S. Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Tipton, LaMarre has been seeking to operate more freely in the international shipping business as he works to comply with requirements set forth by CBP.

Last year Peters brokered a meeting with CBP officials to address the issue.

He supported the port’s recent grant application, highlighting the importance of the maritime highway and its economic impact on the area.

“I was proud to support the Port of Monroe’s application for the grant, which will allow it to upgrade equipment, make more investments to continue growing and delivering the products families and businesses across Michigan rely on every day,” Peters said.

LaMarre said there isn’t a set date for the installation of the crane. Given what the port has faced in recent years, it’s not going to rush the process, he added.

“With so much support for our continued prosperity for the American taxpayer, we would hope that (CBP) would recognize that the Port of Monroe deserves its resources and support,” LaMarre said. “All of our recent challenges have forced us to be patient. … We will ensure the (crane) is installed when it makes the most sense.′