Jeramey Jannene

Port Milwaukee Traffic Rose 5% in 2020

Milwaukee out performs most Great Lakes ports, weathering pandemic and storm damage.

By - Jan 20th, 2021 09:49 am
Isolda docks in Milwaukee. Photo by Jack Fennimore.

Isolda docks in Milwaukee. Photo by Jack Fennimore.

Despite a global pandemic, traffic rose at Milwaukee’s port in 2020.

Much of that can be attributed to warm weather at the beginning of the year. Total tonnage through March 1st was up 27% versus 2019. Much of what was coming in then was salt from other Great Lakes ports.

The port, judged by tonnage, ended the year up 5.2% over 2019. Port officials attribute the increase to agricultural exports and cement handling. Total public and private tonnage climbed from 2.67 million metric tons in 2019 to 2.81 million in 2020.

Milwaukee outperformed its peers. The American and Canadian ports along the Great Lakes reported an average metric tonnage decrease of 1.7% in 2020 compared to 2019 according to the Great Lakes Seaway Partnership.

But 2020 wasn’t a complete success for Port Milwaukee. In January 2020 the port’s city-owned facilities suffered more than $1 million in damage when a storm, coupled with high-water levels, damaged facilities. Milwaukee County recreation facilities along the Lake Michigan shoreline also were damaged.

“Port Milwaukee’s resilience was on full display in 2020. We overcame flooding resulting from unusually high water levels on Lake Michigan at the start of the year. We also overcame the pandemic’s sustained effect on the economy and on the Port’s essential operations,” said port director Adam Tindall-Schlicht in a statement.  “Our workforce, our partners, and our customers deserve enormous credit for this past year’s successes.”

Traffic was up notably on the privately-owned docks in the port, growing from 485,814 metric tons to 663,808. Public dock usage declined from 2.18 million to 2.14 million metric tons.

There are a number of projects in the port’s pipeline.

The Delong Company is advancing a $31.4 million agricultural export facility, which Tindall-Schlicht said is the largest investment in the port in several decades. It is expected to be operational in 2023.

Michels Corp. is leasing a large portion of the Grand Trunk site for its new marine division.

The city approved a 20-year lease with Pearl Seas Management cruise line to grant the company priority access to use a cruise ship dock for the desirable turnaround service. The Common Council approved its portion of the lease on Tuesday morning.

Viking Cruise Lines announced in January 2020 that it planned to use Milwaukee for turnaround service when it enters the Great Lakes market in 2022. Turnaround service includes the end of one trip and start of another, generating longer stays and twice as many passengers.

A substantial waterway cleanup effort, centered on the port, is also moving forward. Costs of the federally-supported effort are expected to exceed $100 million.

It was the second straight year port traffic grew following a tariff-induced slowdown in 2018.

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Categories: Transportation

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