Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg tours Port of Monroe

From the Toledo Blade:

MONROE — Ports like Monroe’s represent “a lot of untapped resources and logistical potential” throughout the Great Lakes and Midwest, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg said following a tour Wednesday afternoon of the docks along the River Raisin.

“I’m inspired by the commitment and energy right here at the Port of Monroe,” Secretary Buttigieg said during a post-tour news conference on the wharf where the Tug America, at 126 years the oldest commercially working tugboat in the world, was docked.

Mr. Buttigieg’s visit comes about a year after the U.S. Maritime Administration awarded a $11.1 million grant for improvements to the Monroe port that include wharf expansion and repairs to existing docks.

The port also is using $5 million in state funds to build a marine container terminal scheduled to open during the second half of 2024.

At about 12 acres, the site won’t be anywhere near the size of coastal container ports. But Paul LaMarre III, the port’s director, said it will diversify Monroe’s capabilities and potentially attract higher-value cargoes.

The logistical potential in the Great Lakes and Midwest could be put to greater use, and that potential “is no less important to this country” than coastal ports and shipping, said Mr. Buttigieg, who, before joining the Biden Administration, was mayor of South Bend, Ind., and now calls Traverse City, Mich., home.

Mr. Buttigieg said he scheduled the local visit to call attention to how the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law passed and signed several years ago is now producing results.

“This is shining a light on good work,” he said. “Now we’re seeing the literally concrete example of how it’s put to use.”

The federal funding provides for replacing the surface of an existing wharf and building a second along the River Raisin assigned to handling wind energy equipment; improvements to the turning basin area, including dock repairs, fender and bollard installation, and replacing about 390 feet of failed sheet pile dock face; remodeling a small-boat slip for use by harbor-assist vessels; and installing shore power infrastructure at the riverfront wharves.

The port director played two videos about the port before taking the transportation secretary on a brief tour of its grounds, with stops near the harbor crane, front-end loader, and reacher-stacker and then at the wharf by the tugboat, to which Mr. LaMarre cheekily referred as his “girlfriend.”

Along with the port’s efforts to develop markets for synthetic gypsum and bottom ash from the power plant, he said, neighboring Gerdau Steel has recently shipped some of its bar stock via lake freighters to a grinding-ball mill in Duluth, Minn.

Monroe Mayor Robert Clark said Mr. LaMarre’s success at identifying outbound cargo for ships that bring coal into Monroe has been especially valuable, while the port’s diversification is critical given that Detroit Edison plans to close the plant by 2031.

“We had a port, but it wasn’t operational,” the mayor said of the local harbor’s status when he first took office 14 years ago.

Mr. LaMarre said the Whitmer administration’s recent shepherding of a $5 million maritime program in Michigan was vital to the Monroe port’s ability to obtain federal grant money, to which the state funding serves as the required “local match.”

State funds of $3.2 million, partially matching the $11 million from the federal Port Infrastructure and Development Program, were needed, otherwise, it would have represented three years’ worth of the Monroe port’s entire annual budget, he said.

Mr. Buttigieg, during his time in Monroe, also visited the West Elm Avenue crossing of CSX Transportation railroad tracks, near Telegraph Road, where a $23.9 million federal grant awarded in June will pay for design and construction of an underpass. Construction is scheduled to start in late 2026 or early 2027.


Other coverage

MSNBC: Sec. Buttigieg: ‘We are not about the chaos and the drama’ (Port of Monroe is mentioned at the 4:45 mark of the video)

WTOL11: Transportation Secretary Buttigieg visits Port of Monroe after announcement of $11 million for infrastructure improvements

Michigan Radio: Transportation Secretary Buttigieg tours Michigan’s fast-growing Port of Monroe


Photo Credits: Chris Winters

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