Jeramey Jannene

Port Traffic Fell in 2021

"But that's not the whole story," says port director.

By - May 27th, 2022 04:45 pm
The Isolda is part of Polsteam's Great Lakes Fleet. The bulk carrier stopped at the Port of Milwaukee to load grain for shipment. Photo courtesy of Port of Milwaukee.

The Isolda is part of Polsteam’s Great Lakes Fleet. Photo courtesy of Port of Milwaukee.

After seeing a spike in 2020, traffic through Milwaukee’s port fell in 2021 to a level below both its five- and ten-year averages.

The city-owned port ended 2021 with 2.35 million metric tons crossing its docks, down 16.4% from the year prior. Pandemic-impacted 2020 saw 2.81 million metric tons, with 2.67 million in 2019. The five-year average is 2.56 million and the 10-year average is 2.51 million.

“Like other port authorities across the nation, Port Milwaukee was impacted by supply chain disruptions, fluctuating weather conditions, and global trade disputes. As a result, tonnage levels in Milwaukee Harbor fell back to pre-pandemic levels in 2021,” said director Adam Tindall-Schlicht in the port’s annual report.

“But that’s not the whole story,” wrote the director. “Port Milwaukee found new success in its strategic partnerships, grant funding efforts, and new economic development opportunities over the past year.”

Construction started in October on the “agricultural maritime export facility,” the biggest investment in the port since the 1950s. Those involved in the $35 million, public-private project, hope it will result in between 160,000 to 300,000 metric tons being exported annually. The primary commodity will be dry distillers grain with solubles (DDGS), a byproduct of ethanol production used as animal feed in less nutrient-rich areas.

Tindall-Schlicht is also optimistic that the merger of Kansas City Southern and Canadian Pacific, which currently serves the port, will result in a growth in rail traffic out of the port. The merger creates the first railroad that directly links Canada, the United States and Mexico.

A new type of cargo is also growing exponentially at the port: cruise passengers. Though they won’t show up in the tonnage report, the port saw more than 1,000 passengers pass through last week aboard three ships. The amount is equal to the entire 2018 total, and more than two-dozen visits are still planned. A $7 million South Shore Cruise Dock expansion is underway.

The number of vessels visiting the port climbed in 2021, with 400 vessels calling on the port versus 349 in 2020. Foreign vessels, which must visit during the St. Lawrence Seaway’s open season, were the only category to decline (27 in 2021, 30 in 2020).

The city-owned port had a net operating profit of $376,222.20 in 2021, down from $790,489.67.

Port tonnage fell at both public and private docks in 2021. Public tonnage was 1.8 million metric tons (five-year average of 1.96 million) and private tenant tonnage was 543,446 metric tons (five-year average of 594,761).

The 2020 surge, despite the pandemic, was attributed to a warm first two months of the year that allowed more salt deliveries as well as agricultural exports and cement handling throughout the year.

The annual report also acknowledges one truly unexpected event: the February sinking of the 50-year-old Harbor Seagull. The port-owned vessel was retrieved and is being repaired.

The full report is available on the Port Milwaukee website.

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Categories: Transportation

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