By David Cree
After banner years in both 2012 and 2013, the Port returned to more historic cargo levels in 2014, with total throughput declining to 5.4 million tonnes. Traffic volumes rebounded by 3.85 per cent in 2015 to reach 5.6 million tonnes, which was well above both the five and ten year averages. At this early point in the 2016 year, cargoes are on pace to match the volumes handled in 2015.
The increase in 2015 was due almost exclusively to a surge in shipments of stone and construction aggregates. The increase in demand was driven by the start of construction of the 100 acre customs and truck plaza which will serve the new Gordie Howe International Bridge. In previous years, the port had experienced similar surges in shipments of construction aggregates which were required to build the Hon. Herb Gray Parkway between Highway 401 and the new customs plaza. Stone and construction aggregates are handled at six local terminals, operated by Coco Paving Inc, LafargeHolcim, Miller Paving Limited, St. Mary’s Cement (CBM), and Southwestern Sales Corporation Limited East and West docks. The Port Authority is projecting that volumes of construction aggregates should taper off in 2016 with the completion of the customs plaza, but should rebound thereafter with the start of construction of the new Gordie Howe International Bridge in 2017 and numerous other large infrastructure and road projects which are planned for the area.
The other major commodity handled within the port is salt, which is mined and shipped through the K+S Windsor Salt mine. After a very strong season in 2014 due to the severe winter of 2013-2014, salt volumes dropped somewhat in 2015 to 2,152,000 tonnes, but this was still somewhat above the ten year average for this commodity.
The Sterling Fuels dock, which is owned by the Port Authority and operated by McAsphalt Industries, has undergone significant expansion and upgrades in recent years. The facility handles predominantly liquid asphalt for the local construction industry and various classes of petroleum products for ship refueling. The results of the expansion program were clearly seen in 2013 and 2014 with petroleum shipments increasing by 13.6 and 25.6 per cent respectively. Unfortunately, the terminal experienced a decline in 2015 to just over 260,000 tonnes. This was due in no small part to a very volatile oil market, the fluctuating Canadian dollar and a decline in road construction activity within the region.
ADM is one of the world’s largest grain traders and has operated the Windsor Grain Terminal for over 25 years. Like the oil business, grain shipments are subject to numerous domestic and international factors including global growing conditions, currency fluctuations, freight rates, and domestic and foreign demand. ADM has been able to successfully navigate these conditions and has experienced significant growth in recent years. Unfortunately, 2015 was a very disappointing year with total grain shipments dropping by over 26 per cent to 567,000 tonnes. However, this was still at the approximate ten year average for the terminal and at this early stage in the season, all signs point to improved volumes in 2016.
General cargo, which is handled through Morterm Ltd, has traditionally consisted primarily of domestic and imported steel. These cargoes have been augmented in recent years by imported wind turbine parts, various other heavy lifts, and sugar destined for local food processing industries. Very strong volumes of imported steel drove an impressive gain of over 60 per cent in this category in 2014 and volumes declined only marginally in 2015 to 217,000 tonnes.
The Port Authority has always recognized that the Detroit River, situated as it is, on an international boundary between two major cities, poses very unique safety and security issues. With a new international bridge scheduled for construction and numerous other critical border installations in the area (including an existing bridge, tunnel, pipelines and hydro lines) there has been increasing concern about terrorist activity since 9-11. These concerns have led to one of the Port Authority’s most successful and enduring partnerships with the Windsor Police Service. That partnership was expanded two years ago with the joint purchase of a new state-of-the-art patrol vessel which was christened Defender. That vessel proved so well-suited for patrol duties on the Detroit River that the Port Authority and Police Services agreed to supplement its capacity this year with a new, smaller sister ship named Protector. These replace two outdated vessels which had been in operation for over 20 years and will make the Detroit River a safer place for the boating public.
The Port Authority is continuing its commitment to responsible environmental stewardship of the Detroit River and to the development of significant new fish habitat and spawning grounds. In recent years, the Port Authority and its tenants, Sterling Fuels, Miller Paving and LafargeHolcim have constructed several new spawning areas which in total were amongst the largest fish habitat restoration projects ever completed in the region. In addition, the Port Authority has committed to two major “greening-projects:” the first being the rehabilitation and conversion of an old government dock into a public fishing pier, green space and significant fish habitat. The second project involves a one-acre parcel of property immediately adjacent to the Port Authority’s office building. This property is scheduled to be purchased later this year and will feature enhanced green space, walking paths and an “outdoor museum” chronicling the history of the neighbourhood in which most of the port is located, “Old Sandwich Town” and the importance of the port to the City, both from a historical and more modern perspective.
The neighbourhood of “Old Sandwich Town” is the oldest and most historic in the City and the site of the first settlement in the region. This area had experienced some urban decay over the years, but recently has undergone a significant renaissance. That renaissance was highlighted in a recent series of articles in the major newspaper in the area, the “Windsor Star”, and the Port Authority is proud to be one of the leaders of that initiative. As one of the largest property owners in the area, the Port Authority consistently strives to improve its vacant lands and work with its tenants to beautify their streetscapes and keep their operations as compatible as possible with users in the neighbourhood. The Port Authority has also driven many of the major developments in the area – moving the HMCS Hunter Naval Reserve Facility to port lands, assisting Sterling Fuels in the development of a large new office building/warehouse, and moving the Port Authority’s own offices to the neighbourhood in 2013. The Port Authority is committed to continuing to work with its tenants, neighbourhood and City leaders to build on the momentum which has developed and make Old Sandwich Town a thriving commercial and residential gem within the City.