2018 Great Lakes Waterways Conference Recap

Two Lake Freighters on Welland Canal

More than 200 leaders, experts and influencers from across the maritime industry gathered together for the 2018 Great Lakes Waterways Conference on Feb 6 and 7 at the Renaissance Cleveland Hotel in downtown Cleveland, Ohio. The bi-national annual meeting between the US and Canada focused on topics including autonomous technology, government partnerships, wind energy and vessel safety.

Major New Investments – Cleveland Cliffs HBI Plant in Toledo

Toledo, Ohio will be the location for a new $700 million hot-briquetted iron (HBI) plant. Cleveland Cliffs, a major supplier of iron ore and steel in North America, is opening the plant – the first of its kind in the US.

“We’ll be in the 10-12 million ton per year category, which will make us one of the largest US ports on the Great Lakes system,” Paul Toth, President & CEO of Toledo-Lucas Port Authority said during remarks.  “It means 100 more ships coming to Toledo and bringing iron ore to the region. This is very exciting for the future of this region.”

According to Lourenco Goncalves, Chairman, President & CEO of Cleveland Cliffs, the plant will break ground in April and will provide the greater Toledo area with some 1,200 jobs during peak construction. Commercial production will begin in July of 2020 (generating 130 permanent jobs), with approximately 2.4 million tons of iron pellets coming from mines in Minnesota to the Toledo plant and producing 1.6 million tons of HBI.

Autonomous Technology

The topic of autonomous technology is front and center in transportation. Experts from the Michigan Office of the Great Lakes, Wartsila North America, and David Larkin Knight LLC discussed what that might mean for freighters and if there is a place for autonomy on the Great Lakes.

Possible Game Changers in Shipping:

  • Smart Ship Technology – Remote control operation, decision support, navigation positioning, operations optimization, onboard automation
  • Innovation in Onshore Infrastructure – Shore control for docking, mooring, landing and discharge of cargo

Making the Case for Autonomous Technology:

  • Augments safety
  • Better quality of life for crew
  • Streamlines regulation
  • Greening of transport
  • E-navigation and collision avoidance

Government Partnerships

Funding remains a challenge for infrastructure projects including the need for a new lock at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan to connect Lake Superior and Lake Huron. At Great Lakes ports, funding is necessary to dredge, manage and possibly reuse up to 3.5 million cubic yards of sand and silt.

“We cover 60 commercial ports and 80 recreational harbors in the region – it’s all aging,” said David Dale, Programs Director of the Great Lakes and Ohio River Division of the US Army Corps of Engineers. “One of the big challenges is to make decisions of what projects can happen and what can’t because we simply don’t have the resources.”

The Corps is working diligently on winter repairs of the Soo Locks and emphasized the infrastructure’s critical importance to the region’s economy. In addition, the Corp is working on emergency repairs to the Black Rock Lock in Buffalo, New York, reported Josh Feldmann, Chief of Operations, Buffalo District. The lock, which closed due to structural failure of the perpendicular gate anchor assembly on one of its operating gates, will re-open in May of 2018.

Rear Admiral Joanna Nunan reported on the US Coast Guard Ninth District’s Great Lakes Maritime Strategy, which ensures the safety, security and stewardship of the Great Lakes system. Strategic priorities include emergency preparedness, enhancing partnerships and stakeholder relationships, maintaining the safe and efficient use of the Great Lakes waterways, protecting the cyberspace of the Great Lakes and Seaway System, and continued optimization of Coast Guard personnel.

Julie Gascon, Assistant Commissioner of the Canadian Coast Guard Central and Arctic Region, reported on the progress of the country’s Oceans Protection Plan, a $1.5 billion plan that improves marine safety and responsible shipping, protects Canada’s marine environment, and offers new possibilities for indigenous and coastal communities.

According to Craig Middlebrook, Deputy Administrator of the Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation, and Terence F. Bowles, President & CEO of the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation, strong gains were made during the 2017 Navigation Season. Seaway cargo was up overall by 9 percent – amounting to 38 million tons. Next year, the season could see up to 40 million tons of cargo.

Future Great Lakes Developments

Lake Erie Energy Development Co. (LEEDCo) shared plans about Icebreaker Wind, the first offshore wind facility in the Great Lakes, the first freshwater wind farm in North America and only the second offshore wind project in the US.

“We want to be a leader in this industry and put Northeast Ohio on the map,” said Dave Karpinski, LEEDCo Vice President of Operations. “The wind resource of the Great Lakes is vast; it’s tremendous.” He said LEEDCo is on track to obtain all permits for the build and construction is scheduled to start in 2020.

Lindsay Dew, Director of Operations and Compliance at Great Lakes Towing Co., reviewed Subchapter M compliance and safety management. Subchapter M, a towing inspection rule effective in June of 2016, requires all vessels comply in order to receive a Certificate of Inspection to operate. Dew provided perspective, from an operator’s standpoint, how the Great Lakes Group is achieving Subchapter M compliance, including Best-in-Class shipyard services and capabilities, a state-of-the-art 770-ton marine travelift, and Subchapter M consulting.