Lakes Article: Study:
Shipping goods on Great Lakes still the best way
The Muskegon Chronicle
March 20, 2009
Great Lakes freighters are the most
efficient and environmentally friendly way to transport coal, limestone and other
cargo to industries around the region, according to a new government study.
so-called lakers -- ships that haul cargo exclusively within the five Great Lakes
-- move freight at much less cost than trucks or trains and generate far less
air pollution, according to the study by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Lakes freighters save industries $3.6 billion annually in transportation costs,
according to the Corps report.
LOWDOWN ON LAKERS
Here's a numerical
breakdown of the Great Lakes navigation system and the so-called "lakers,"
freighters that never travel outside of the lakes.
1,600 miles: Length of
the navigation system, extending from Duluth, Minnesota, to Ogdensburg, New York;
the system spans lakes Superior, Michigan, Huron, Eric and Ontario.
Commercial ports on the Great Lakes.
173 million: Tons of cargo carried
by lakers in 2006.
44,000: Jobs directly related to Great Lakes maritime
54,000: Mining industry jobs that depend on Great Lakes shipping.
Steel industry jobs with ties to Great Lakes freighters.
$3.6 billion: Savings
realized annually by industries that use Great Lakes freighters instead of trucks
or trains to move cargo.
607 miles: Distance a Great Lakes freighter can
carry one ton of cargo on one gallon of fuel.
70,000: Tons of cargo that
can be carried by a 1,000-foot-long freighter; it would take 3,000 semis to carry
that much cargo.
Source: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
directly into more competitive American steel, lower cost energy, and lower cost
concrete for construction in our cities and on highways," the report said.
study marked the first time the government has quantified the value of the Great
Lakes Navigation system, a network of 63 commercial ports and locks on the U.S.
side of lakes Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie and Ontario.
Lakes Navigation System is a vital component of America's transportation system
... it contains 25 of the nation's top 100 harbors, by tonnage," the report
The study shed new light on an industry that has struggled to distance
itself from one of the Great Lakes' worst environmental problems: Shipborne invasive
Glen Nekvasil, a spokesman for the Lake Carriers Association, said
lake freighters have not imported a single invasive species to the Great Lakes,
a claim supported by numerous studies.
"It is frustrating that many
people and organizations do not make the distinction between salties (transoceanic
freighters) and lakers," Nekvasil said. "Our ships never leave the Great
Lakes, so they have never introduced an exotic."
Lake freighters have
contributed to the spread of foreign species across the Great Lakes, but only
after ocean freighters deposited the invaders in the lakes.
which account for about 5 percent of all cargo shipped on the Great Lakes each
year, have imported 57 foreign species since the St. Lawrence Seaway opened the
lakes to ocean shipping in 1959, according to government data.
studies have found that lake freighters account for about 95 percent of all cargo
shipped on the Great Lakes. Lake freighters hauled 173 million tons of cargo to
and from ports on the U.S. side of the Great Lakes in 2006, roughly 10 percent
of all U.S. waterborne domestic shipping traffic, the Corps report said.
generate less air pollution than trucks or trains because freighters can carry
cargo much farther per gallon of fuel. A Great Lakes freighter can travel 607
miles on one gallon of fuel per ton of cargo -- 10 times farther than a semi-truck
and three times farther than a freight train, according to the report.
1,000-foot freighters that routinely deliver coal to the B.C. Cobb power plant
in Muskegon can haul 70,000 tons of cargo, enough to fill 3,000 semi-trucks.
deliver 1.2 million tons of western coal annually to the Cobb facility, said Kelly
M. Farr, a spokesman for Consumers Energy, which owns the power plant.
Cobb plant's coal is mined in northeastern Wyoming and hauled by train to a massive
coal storage facility in Superior, Wis., at the west end of Lake Superior, Farr
said. The coal is loaded on freighters at the Port of Duluth-Superior and shipped
Consumers' other West Michigan power plant, the Campbell facility
in Port Sheldon, receives coal shipments by train, Farr said.
the ability to receive coal both by boat and rail gives Consumers Energy diversity
in terms of fuel transportation to our power plants," Farr said. "It
gives us a competitive advantage of not having to be 100 percent reliant on railroads
for fuel shipping."
Nekvasil said lake freighters could play an even
larger role in supporting the regional economy if the Corps would spend money
the federal government has in its coffers to maintain a standard depth in all
Great Lakes channels.
Below average Great Lakes water levels in recent years
have forced freighters to lighten payloads to avoid running aground; several ships
got stuck in Muskegon and other West Michigan ports last year.
advocate Jennifer Nalbone, a spokeswoman for Great Lakes United, said climate
change could be devastating for the shipping industry. Some studies have predicted
that climate change could cause Great Lakes water levels to drop several feet
by the year 2100.
"The industry needs to start preparing now for lower
water levels," Nalbone said.
Nekvasil said the federal government could
help the shipping industry adapt to lower water levels by conducting more dredging
in shallow shipping channels.