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Port’s Prospects Promising

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

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

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.