By Alex Binkley

A record year for the port of Toronto in 2019 and strong performances by the other Ontario ports on the Great Lakes were matched by a strong showing by some of their American counterparts.

The Port Authorities in Hamilton and Oshawa were merged into Hamilton Oshawa Port Authority during the year and together handled more than 10.5 million tonnes. Oshawa had one of its best ever results contributing 575,000 tonnes to the total. Hamilton’s results last year were down slightly from 2018 due to the disrupted growing season in Southwestern Ontario.

“The amalgamation has been very successful, helping demonstrate that it makes sense for the marine sector to have a more prominent presence and voice in the region,” said Ian Hamilton, President & CEO of HOPA Ports. “We can attract more investment, and make bigger infrastructure improvements. “We are also starting to look at new ideas to improve Ontario’s modal balance, helping reduce highway congestion and the greenhouse gases associated with transportation, by making better use of the more environmentally-friendly marine option.” Hamilton said the results were consistent with those of the Seaway generally, lower relative to 2018’s banner year, but showing overall strength and a positive five-year trend. “We can do very little to influence international trade wars, and we can do even less about the weather. What we can do is make sure our ports are investing in trade-enabling infrastructure and expanding their capacity to handle more cargo.” Several major infrastructure projects were underway or completed at HOPA’s two port facilities in 2019, aimed at growing port capacity and improving efficiency.

In Oshawa, a new, $6 million grain terminal constructed by Sollio Agriculture and QSL opened to serve the growing grain production in Eastern Ontario. In Hamilton, work continued on the $35 million Westport redevelopment project, with new dock walls, rail connections, and warehousing capacity. HOPA also announced a $16 million redevelopment of the Pier 10 area into a food cluster, with new infrastructure to support grain handling, flour milling and sugar refining.

Traffic through the Port of Thunder Bay ran about 10 per cent higher than in 2018 and finished at 9.3 million tonnes. The figure might have been even better but for wet weather across the Prairies, which delayed the fall grain harvest. Shipments of coal and potash were strong and higher overseas canola shipments to international ports helped boost the figures. At just under half a million metric tonnes, direct exports of canola from Thunder Bay by foreign-flagged vessels are at an all-time high. The bulk of the canola exported from Thunder Bay is grown in Manitoba.

Tonnage at Port of Windsor dipped to 4.8 million tonnes from 5.1 million tonnes in 2018. President Steve Salmons said a late grain crop in Southwestern Ontario meant there wasn’t the usual quantity of product available for movement. As well, changes in U.S. steel import rules cut into the port’s transshipment business, he said. Across the river from Detroit, the port handles aggregates, salt, grain, lumber, steel, petroleum, vehicles and heavy lift equipment.

It was a record year for Port of Toronto which moved 2.3 million tonnes of cargo in 2019, marking the highest recorded cargo levels in 15 years. In addition to supplies for the busy construction industry, the port recorded the highest salt cargo levels in nearly 15 years while sugar imports from Central and South America remained consistent with 2018 levels. In addition, the port saw steel products such as rebar, steel coils, steel plate, beam and mesh totalling more than 44,000 tonnes and recorded approximately 14,000 tonnes in warehousing storage.

“From supplying salt for our roads, sugar for our food and beverage sector and essential supplies such as cement and steel to support the Greater Toronto Area’s booming construction industry, the goods delivered through the port of Toronto are part of an important supply chain that supports Canada’s largest city,” said Geoffrey Wilson, CEO of PortsToronto. “In 2020 and beyond, the Port will continue to provide Canadian and international businesses with a convenient, sustainable and cost-effective way to bring goods, and people, into the heart of the city.”

Port of Johnstown processed 1.3 million tonnes of freight during 2019, its second-best year since being taken over by the Township of Edwardsburgh/Cardinal in 2001 and earned a profit of $3.5 million. Since the takeover, traffic has increased by more than 47 per cent and continues to move in a positive direction. Vessel deliveries of salt and project cargoes accounted for 69 per cent of the tonnage arriving in the port last year and truck deliveries the rest. In recent years, the port has expanded its cargo docks and developed additional laydown areas for freight.

In Port Colborne at the western end of the Welland Canal, Mayor Bill Steele is working with local partners Rankin Construction and Snider Dock Services and the federal government and The St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corp. to develop a plan for a marine trade corridor along the waterway that would enable the city to use its highway and rail connections and proximity to the United States to generate more marine business for its facilities.

While many U.S. ports haven’t released final figures for the 2019, the ones that are available appear to mirror the results on the Canadian side.

Port of Duluth-Superior had its third highest throughout since 2015 handling more than 30.4 million tonnes. Led by general cargo, four of the port’s six cargo categories notched season-over-season tonnage gains with wind energy cargo arrivals pacing the surge. Inbound salt also had a strong showing. Iron ore, despite declining from a 23-season high in 2018, remained the port’s top tonnage cargo in 2019, totalling 17.9 tonnes and exceeding the five-season average by more than 12 per cent. The Port learned in February that it would receive a US$10.5 million grant from the Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration to help fund construction of a 56,000-square-foot, rail-served warehouse at the Clure Public Marine Terminal, along with rehabilitation of deteriorating dock walls on the Clure Terminal. The project will also protect seven acres of laydown space for inbound and outbound heavy-lift cargo.

Port  of Toledo said its final 2019 numbers should surpass 8 million tonnes making it a solid year despite a hefty drop in grain shipments because served the port couldn’t plant their crops.

Port of Cleveland handled about 2.1 million tonnes last year, up 9 per cent over 2018 thanks to an increase in business from Canada, while cargo from Europe decreased by 25 per cent, in part because of tariffs imposed by the U.S. government, said Jade Davis, the Port’s Vice-President of External Affairs. The port has received a lot of Canadian barge traffic, especially of pipes and flat-rolled steel for steel plants. The port and terminal operator LOGISTEC have shifted focus to new cargo from Canada.

Port of Green Bay also handled about 2.1 million tonnes of freight, up 8 per cent over 2018 and its highest tonnage since 2006.

Port of Milwaukee made the news for suffering millions of dollars in flood damage during a major January wind story. The Port plans to ask for state and federal assistance for financial aid in repairing its facilities.