St. Lawrence Seaway Makes Up for Last Winter’s Lost Shipping

Nov. 6, 2014
Grain, road salt and construction materials are flowing through the St. Lawrence Seaway at a frantic pace.

As North American industries stockpile raw materials in advance of the winter months and cities across Canada and the U.S. bring in much-needed salt for road safety, the St. Lawrence Seaway flows with international freight. According to Stephen Brooks, president of the Chamber of Marine Commerce, autumn is the St. Lawrence Seaway’s busiest time.

“In October, farmers started shipping the new grain harvest via the Seaway to countries around the world,” he said. “After losing sailing days due to ice at the start of the season and with only two months left before the end of season, Great Lakes ships are working flat out.  This frantic pace is necessary from now to the end of December to make up for lost time.” 

Indeed, North American manufacturers and cities stockpiled vital materials in advance of the coming winter and farmers relied on the waterway to export the new harvest. Total cargo tonnage from March 25 to October 31 reached 29.6 million metric tons, up 4.5 per cent over the same period last year. Robust grain and steel shipments have more than offset a drop in iron ore shipments through the Seaway.

New grain harvests helped year-to-date total grain shipments (for Canada and the U.S.) reach 8.4 million metric tons, up 49.9 per cent. Grain shipments from Toledo to Ontario and Quebec, for example, continued to be strong in October due to demand for corn for ethanol production and animal feed.

Steel shipments to U.S. ports such as Toledo, Cleveland, Detroit, Burns Harbor and Milwaukee for use in the automotive and construction industries tallied 1.8 million metric tons, up 76 per cent.

“U.S. construction activity is beginning to pick up, which has had a direct effect on cement demand,” said William Asselstine, vice-president logistics, St. Marys Cement (Group Votorantim). "Despite the long winter and slow start to the construction season, during the last few months, ships have been very busy transporting clinker and other raw materials through the St. Lawrence Seaway to our cement plants in Charlevoix and Detroit, Michigan and Bowmanville, Ontario as well as moving finished products to our terminals throughout the Great Lakes.  This is the most cost-effective and environmentally responsible way for us to move these materials.”

Such increases have been offset by a 26.5 per cent decrease in iron ore volumes through the system, however, and an 11 per cent decrease in coal tonnage.

With winter weather just weeks away, municipal stockpiling of road salt took on a new sense of urgency. Salt shipments via the Seaway now total 2.3 million metric tons, up by 34 per cent this season.  NA mines have been working hard to replenish city reserves in Canada and the U.S. and the Seaway is also seeing salt imported from overseas to meet the high demands. For example, salt is being transported out of the Port of Cleveland and Fairport Harbor, Ohio to U.S. towns all over the Great Lakes as well as to Ontario and Quebec. 

"The demand for salt has gone up dramatically this season,” said Captain Scott Bravener, president of Lower Lakes Towing Ltd. and Lower Lakes Transportation Company. “City reserves everywhere were completely depleted from last year's winter. In the U.S., we have been transporting road salt out of the Port of Cleveland and Fairport Harbor to U.S. towns all over the Great Lakes, as well as through the Seaway to Toronto, Hamilton, Oshawa and Valleyfield, Quebec."

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