Jeramey Jannene
Transportation

Port Milwaukee Traffic Up In 2020

Less ice on Great Lakes allows port to keep working through winter.

By - Mar 27th, 2020 12:37 pm
The Great Lakes freighter Stewart J. Cort passes through the Port of Milwaukee in 2017. Photo courtesy Port of Milwaukee.

The Great Lakes freighter Stewart J. Cort passes through the Port of Milwaukee in 2017. Photo courtesy Port of Milwaukee.

Despite the global COVID-19 pandemic, traffic remains strong at Milwaukee’s port.

Total tonnage through March 1st is up 27 percent at the port versus 2019. Shipping, via rail, truck or Great Lakes freighter, continues, but precautions are being taken to protect against coronavirus.

What’s driving the growth? Warm weather. “The numbers at this point in the year are driven by bulk products — salt in particular,” said port spokesperson Jeff Fleming in an email. “Shipping within the Great Lakes has benefited from less ice than in past years, and Port Milwaukee has remained fully accessible all winter.  So, there has been an uninterrupted series of port calls by salt-carrying ships.  Cement and agricultural products have also continued to move through Port Milwaukee.”

Much of the 467-acre, city-owned port is leased to private operators. Port Milwaukee’s office building at 2323 S. Lincoln Memorial Dr. is closed, but port staff is working remotely. “Essential Port Operations crews and other maritime employees are working on site and are following recommended public health precautions,” said the port in a news release Thursday.

The first international ship is scheduled to arrive through the St. Lawrence Seaway in mid-April.

Mid-April is also the approximate time March shipping data will be available. Any impacts to tonnage from the pandemic will be visible then.

Port traffic was up in 2019 despite an ever-evolving tariff situation. The port recorded 2.67 million metric tons of cargo in 2019, up from 2.39 million tons in 2018 and 2.57 million tons in 2017. Salt traffic was up 56 percent in 2019, a bounce back from a substantial drop in 2018 caused by a 12-week strike at the world’s largest salt mine in Canada. Cement traffic grew by 10 percent and limestone by 20 percent.

A large surge in the number of cruise ships visiting Milwaukee isn’t scheduled to start until 2022. The city, as of January, was anticipating 14 stops in 2020 with approximately 4,000 passengers.

The city received a $15.9 million federal grant in February to support a $31.4 million agriculture export facility. Used to export an ethanol manufacturing by-product, it would be the first facility of its kind on the Great Lakes. That facility is expected to open in 2023.

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