The St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation (SLSMC) released summary financial results for the year ended March 31, 2015. While it did not release financial statements, it revealed that it generated revenues of $76.3 million on a volume of 39.9 million tonnes of cargo. The 2015 revenue number indicates that SLSMC was able to raise revenue per tonne by 6.1 per cent, a remarkable achievement. In addition, SLSMC reported that for the first time in six years, its revenues exceeded its “manageable expenses”, by $10.4 million. However, SLSMC did not reveal the level of contributions it received from the Capital Fund Trust, which was established to enable SLSMC to carry out the necessary infrastructure repairs, maintenance and improvements. SLSMC operates the Canadian assets of the St. Lawrence Seaway, which are the property of the government of Canada.

Seaway volumes to the end of June were down in every category, except dry bulk and general cargo. Total volume to the end of June was 10.4 million tonnes, down 960,000 tonnes, or 8.5 per cent, compared to the same period of the previous year. Among the major commodities, coal shipments were down by 33 per cent, grain was down by 12.6 per cent, and iron ore was down by 11.8 per cent. The number of vessel transits was down by 4.9 per cent to 1141.

At nearly 3 million tonnes, up 7.5 per cent, dry bulk bucked the trend. Shipments included 102,000 tonnes of stone, a 24-per-cent increase, and cement which saw a healthy upswing to 563,000 tonnes, a 9.5-per-cent increase. Much of that growth has to do with the rebounding U.S. construction market for residential, commercial and infrastructure projects including roads and bridges. Materials have been heading from several Canadian-based companies to U.S. ports including Cleveland, Detroit, Milwaukee, Saginaw and Chicago. Materials have been heading to ports in Cleveland, Detroit, Milwaukee and Chicago as the U.S. construction market for residential and commercial projects rebounds. The Port of Green Bay in Wisconsin is seeing increased imports of cement that is being used for a major interstate project. Key Canadian destinations include Thunder Bay, Mississauga, Windsor, Sarnia and Toronto.

Lower Lakes Towing, based in Port Dover, Ontario, has seen an upturn in the demand for construction materials over the last two seasons, despite late starts due to ice conditions and is moving cargo from quarries in Colborne, Meldrum Bay, Thessalon, Bruce Mines and Badgely Island. In addition, St. Marys Cement, headquartered in Toronto, continues to load cement products from its plant in Bowmanville, Ontario. Lafarge noted that the demand for materials remains high, despite the fact recent heavy rains in parts of the U.S. and Canada have somewhat slowed the pace of building projects.

In addition to construction materials, other dry bulk cargo also saw surges. During the period, nearly 527,000 tonnes of coke was transported via the Seaway, a 41-per-cent increase over the same period of last year. Pig iron saw an 8-per-cent increase with 21,000 metric tonnes.

During the month of July, the Seaway made up for some of the lost ground, with year-to-date volumes to the end of July rising to 14.5 million tonnes, still 1.2 million tonnes, or 7.3 per cent, below comparable 2014 levels. Drybulk did well with shipments rising to 4.2 million tonnes on a year-to-date basis, up 10.4 per cent, with shipments of salt responsible for a third of that tonnage.

David Cree, CEO of the Windsor Port Authority, said: “Salt, which is mined and shipped through the K+S Windsor Salt Mine, is one of our strongest cargoes so far this season. Total salt shipments are up, even over last year’s strong numbers. Ships are already carrying road salt from Windsor to cities and towns all over Canada and the U.S., which are stockpiling now in preparation for the colder winter months ahead.”

To a large extent, the Seaway represents a bellweather for the Canadian economy. With headwinds plaguing the Canadian economy, the Seaway will be challenged to match the volumes transported during the 2014 shipping season.