The persistence of Great Lakes’ ports in renewing and expanding terminals and other facilities has been a big factor in the St. Lawrence Seaway’s ability to keep attracting business throughout a tough economic period.

 “We have to give the ports credit for all they have done and their plans for the future,” says Raymond Johnston, President, Chamber of Marine Commerce. “They’ve been innovative in finding cargoes.”

While the other ports might envy Thunder Bay’s 10 per cent increase in traffic in 2011, they are all pushing ahead with development plans, while hoping the signs of life in the North American economy will reward their efforts. The announcement that Port of Oshawa has become a Canadian Port Authority helps shine the spotlight on the motivation of the ports to gain new business, he adds.

Tim Heney, CEO of the Thunder Bay Port Authority, says 2011 was a positive year with a 10 per cent increase in shipments, bringing the total to 7.6 million tonnes. Grain was up 20 per cent, which helped offset drops in coal and potash movements.

The port also benefited from steady growth of its project cargo business, mostly windmills, being delivered to destinations primarily in Northwestern Ontario and also as far away as the Northwest Territories. “We’re adding a mobile shore crane to help attract more project business. We’re pretty optimistic about this. It has grown steadily since we started it seven years ago.”

While Port of Windsor saw traffic decline 4.8 per cent to 5.1 million tonnes in 2011, David Cree, President and CEO, says the result isn’t as disappointing as it sounds. “The drop is all in stone, due to the previous surge in construction activity of 2010, which was a good year because of the federal infrastructure program.

“While 2010 was one of our best years, 2011 was in line with the 10-year average,” he notes. “We’re looking for a much better year in 2012. Construction on the parkway for the new crossing of the St. Clair River is slated to begin and it will take 2.5 million tonnes of stone over the next three years.”

The port will benefit from the opening of the Sterling Marine Fuels terminal, he continues. “Petroleum shipments were up, and liquid asphalt shipments will also increase when a new handling facility is complete.”

One development that would help the port is a recovery of the Great Lakes cruising industry, which Cree says has suffered since the terrorist attacks on the United States in 2001. Cree says that the port expects to have some positive announcements to make during the year. “We’ve got some pretty good things on the front burner and some really good things that should happen in the next five years in terms of facility expansion.”

Port of Hamilton also saw a traffic drop in 2011 to just over 10 million tonnes, from 11.3 million tonnes in 2010. The drop was all in domestic traffic especially with Hamilton’s steel mills being shut down. However, international traffic reached 1.3 million tonnes.

Port of Hamilton is in the midst of developing a program to diversify its cargo base and become a leading Great Lakes port by 2020. Vice President Janet Balfour says a number of major projects are in the works and will be announced in the coming months.  

Donna Taylor, President and CEO, Oshawa Port Authority, is busy with the issues of transitioning from a Harbour Commission to a Port Authority, including a new, larger board of directors.  In the last couple of years, the federal government contributed financially to the transfer of the port’s industrial activities from the west wharf to the east wharf, and also for new fencing and landscaping to ensure people who use the city’s parks and nature trails are a safe distance from the port’s heavy industrial operations.

The port will see the start of construction this spring on a rail spur in a joint venture with CN and McAsphalt Industries, she notes. The port has acquired about 12 acres of land to extend its east wharf. The new wharf is being designed to be able to accommodate a short sea shipping berth, a heavy lift area and dockside rail. Currently, the port offers 50,000 square feet of warehouse space, but the plan is to double the size of the new warehouse, once the new wharf has been completed.