Windsor Port Authority traffic ebbs after banner year.
Did you know? Only 2% to 10% of shipments worldwide are inspected.
Read on to find out fascinating facts about the shipping industry!
North America’s St. Lawrence water system – which includes the Great Lakes – is one of the largest in the world, and is responsible for draining more than a quarter of the Earth’s freshwater reserves. The artery of this system, the St. Lawrence River, reaches deep into the interior of this massive continent, connecting the Great Lakes system to the Atlantic Ocean.
To celebrate Water Wednesday with WWF and Love Nature, let’s look at five facts about this diverse waterway.
1. This river is massive!
The St. Lawrence is enormous. The river proper, at 1,197 km in length, runs northeast from Lake Ontario towards the Atlantic, where it forms the Gulf of St. Lawrence. All in all, the whole St. Lawrence system is 3,058 km. This behemoth of a river is still fairly young, having only formed around 10,000 years or so ago when the glaciers began retreating, exposing a giant gash in the Earth’s crust.
Because it flows through such a vast portion of the continent, the river has many different habitats, ranging from Great Lakes freshwater systems all the way to the saltwater ocean environments of the estuary. There are around 83 different documented land and aquatic mammals that call the river and its associated gulf home, including the much adored and endangered beluga whale. Before they were hunted to extinction regionally in the northwest Atlantic, walruses used to swim here too. Part of the Atlantic Flyway, the river is a hotspot for at least 400 species of birds, such as bald eagles, ospreys, and black terns.
2. Many original fish stocks are now depleted
When it comes to the depletion of fish stocks, years of pollution and commercial fishing has had massive impacts. The fishing communities that first drew Europeans into the eastern ocean-facing mouth of the river aren’t what they used to be. Herring, sturgeon, and salmon have all been fished to a fraction of their historic populations.
Sports fishing enthusiasts still flock to stretches of the river famous for their small and largemouth bass, northern pike, carp, and muskellunge (a.k.a. muskies). To reverse the decades of commercial over-fishing, research and funds are going into restoration and turning around the plight of some of the river’s most iconic species. WWF’s Loblaw Water Fund, for example, supports on-the-ground restoration work across Canada and in the St. Lawrence River watershed.
3. But it’s not all doom and gloom: Some species are doing just fine
The beaver, mink, muskrat, and fox populations historically decimated by the fur industry have gotten a lot of help over the years from government and private groups. Most populations are on the rebound, but beavers and muskrats are still under pressure in some regions by development and human encroachment.
There’s an enormous wealth of plant life in the many various ecosystems along the river, some 1,700 species we know of right now. That includes species of the beautiful and rare lady’s-slipper orchid, and some curiously named specimens like Fernald’s milkvetch, Connecticut beggarticks, handsome sedge, and Philadelphia fleabane.
One of the most significant opportunities to restore the health of this ecosystem involves managing the flow of the river and lake levels in a way that reflects a more natural state. A new plan, Plan 2014, is coming together and if implemented would has unprecedented restoration potential.
4. The river is a double-edged commercial sword
Settlers began constructing canals to control boat access along parts of the river and the Great Lakes as early as 1783. By 1932 Canada had already linked Lake Ontario and Erie, but the US was still wary of a mutual project. By 1954 they were finally convinced, and in 1959 the mutually constructed St. Lawrence Seaway and Power project opened, connecting Montreal to Lake Erie.
Economically speaking, the project was a huge success for both countries, and the feat is still deemed an inland-water engineering marvel. But progress often brings problems. Invasive species that hitched a ride on incoming vessels now line the length of the river, and have been causing serious concern for decades now. At least 85 invasive aquatic species have been cited in the river itself, and more than 180 non-native and invasive species exist in the Great Lakes. Zebra mussels are probably the most well-known example. They were first spotted in the Great Lakes in the late 1980’s, and they’re now spread throughout the entire system, choking out competitors such as native freshwater mussel species.
5. The river faces many modern-day problems
Like just about every other waterway in the world, the St. Lawrence system is under threat from the usual myriad of stressors such as, development, over-harvesting and pollution.
Recently, the City of Montreal dumped billions of litres of untreated wastewater directly into the river to clear out sewer buildup. WWF-Canada remains opposed to this action and, should a similar issue arise in future, urges the City of Montreal to seek other solutions
Another concern is the possibility of oil spills from boats and underwater transport lines. And just last year, McGill University researchers uncovered microplastic pollution levels in the St. Lawrence on par with the most contaminated ocean sediment samples.
WWF is working to safeguard the St. Lawrence River and has completed assessments on the health of, and threats to, the major watersheds flowing into the mighty river. Read the report here: watershedreports.wwf.ca
After one of the best years in the Port’s history in 2015, total port traffic declined in 2016 with the near-completion of the early works at the customs plaza which will service the new Gordie Howe International Bridge. That work had led to a surge of over 50% in construction aggregates in 2015, but with its completion, aggregate volumes dropped by almost 30% in 2016. This resulted in a decline in total traffic volumes of 15.49% for the
David Cree, President & CEO of the Windsor Port Authority stated “Any declines in traffic are always disappointing, but in this case we were certainly expecting the drop-off in construction aggregates with the near-completion of the early works at the Bridge. We are anticipating that once construction starts on the bridge itself, we will see a further surge in construction aggregates during those years.”
There were several bright spots for the year with steel imports increasing by 28% and grain and related products increasing by 24%. In addition, petroleum products which are handled through the Sterling Marine Fuels dock increased by slightly over 3%.
Other important milestones during 2016 included the on-going rehabilitation of the park and fishing pier at the end of Mill Street, the purchase of green space adjacent to the Port Authority’s offices on Sandwich Street which will be utilized for community purposes, and the purchase in partnership with the Windsor Police Services of a new 25ft WAC SAFE Boat which will greatly enhance marine patrol capabilities on the Detroit
In conclusion, Mr. Cree stated “All-in-all, despite the significant decline in total port traffic, 2016 was a very productive and positive year for the port in many ways. We are looking forward to slightly higher cargo volumes in 2017 and with virtually all of the revenue earned by the Port Authority being re-invested into our community, we will continue to be a leader in the economic and social well-being of the City of Windsor.”
For further information and inquiries, please contact
David Cree, President & CEO
Windsor Port Authority CEO David Cree is photographed in his office at the Windsor Port Authority in Windsor in this 2012 file photo. Tyler Brownbridge / Windsor Star
A nearly 50 per cent increase in stone and construction aggregates — used largely to build the customs plaza for the planned Gordie Howe International Bridge — helped the Windsor Port Authority record a 3.8 per cent increase in traffic in 2015.
Total tonnage for the year reached 5.6 million tonnes, a figure well above the port’s five- and 10-year averages, the port authority said.
Although there were declines in several of its cargo categories, such as salt, petroleum, grain and general cargo, the big increases in stone and construction aggregates were remarkable, according to CEO David Cree.
The port authority suffered a slump in tonnage in 2014, after a record year in 2013. The results for 2015 were described as a nice rebound.
A recent news release noted that almost all the port authority’s net earnings are reinvested back into the community. In recent years it has helped make improvements in the Sandwich area, including development of the new HMCS Hunter naval reserve facility and improving fish habitat along the Detroit River shoreline.
“As our short- and long-term projections remain positive, this will allow the port authority to continue to make significant investments in Windsor’s future,” port authority chairman George Sandala said in the release.
-Brian Cross, Windsor Star
After a slump in total tonnage handled in 2014 following the record year in 2013, Port Windsor rebounded nicely in 2015 with an increase in total traffic of 3.8%. Tonnage reached 5.M2 million tonnes, well above both the five and ten year averages for the port.
David Cree, President & CEO of the Windsor Port Authority stated “Although we did record weaknesses ¡n several of our cargo categories, stone and construction aggregates had a remarkable year, increasing by almost 50% over 2014 and accounting for the overall gain in traffic. This substantial increase in construction materials was generated by the start of construction of the new customs plaza which will serve the Gordie Howe International Bridge”.
As noted, several of the other major products handled within the port experienced declines in 2015, including salt, petroleum, grain and general cargo. Mr. Cree noted “while declines in any commodities are disappointing, we do not see any of these as establishing a trend; they merely represent the normal cycles we experience based on numerous factors, including local economic conditions and world markets”.
George Sandala, Chair of the Port Authority, summarized the year as follows: “We are particularly gratified by both the cargo and financial results which we were able to achieve in 2015. As we have noted in the past, almost all of our net earnings are re-invested in the community. In recent years, this has resulted in significant development and improvements in Sandwich Towne, including the new HMCS Hunter Naval Reserve Facility, the development of over 1500 linear feet of fish habitat along the Detroit River and the on-going construction of two waterfront parks. As our short and long term projections remain positive, this will allow the Port Authority to continue to make significant investments in Windsor’s future”.
St. Lawrence Seaway
CORNWALL, Ontario – With water temperatures well above the 10-year average, the St. Lawrence Seaway closed its 2015 navigation season ice free on Dec. 31.
Thirty-six million tonnes of cargo transited the waterway during the season, with grain, at volumes well above the five-year average, leading the way. The Seaway once again proved to be a key asset for farmers as they shipped their crops to markets at home and overseas, the agency said.
Grain volumes on the Seaway amounted to 10.8 million tonnes, one of the strongest years in recent memory. The Port of Thunder Bay, the principal point of entry for grain into the Great Lakes/Seaway System, reported its second-best season in 15 years. Combined with grain being loaded onto ships from other ports such as Hamilton, Duluth/Superior and Toledo, agricultural commodities have become increasingly important to the Great Lakes/Seaway System.
“The Seaway continues to serve as a vital trade artery, enabling cargo to move to more than 50 countries across the globe,” said Terence Bowles, president and CEO of The St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation (SLSMC).
The 2015 season opened on April 2, about a week later than usual, reflecting the frigid conditions in early spring, and closed Dec. 31 with the passage of the vessel Mississagi through Welland Canal Lock 1 at 3:41 a.m. The last vessel to exit the Montreal/Lake Ontario section was the Baie St. Paul, which exited the St. Lambert Lock at 8:41 p.m. Dec. 30. The 2015 navigation season was 274 days in length.
“Now that the navigation season has concluded, winter maintenance projects at the U.S. Snell and Eisenhower locks are already underway. The maintenance of the U.S. locks is a year round job and Seaway employees are diligently working as we continue to rehabilitate and modernize the Seaway infrastructure under our Asset Renewal Program” said Betty Sutton, Administrator of the U.S. Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation. “The 2015 navigation season saw highs and lows in traditional cargoes that move through the Seaway System. Global demand for coal remained below last year’s levels whereas general cargo to and from international and domestic markets remained high with over a 100% increase. Project cargo and dry bulk materials to support the construction and manufacturing industry also remained in positive standings.”
The sun coloured the patches of clouds pink. Gulls swooped down, gliding along the Detroit River. To the south, steam poured out of the stacks at ADM, where soybeans are heated then crushed. A freighter anchored at the dock. Across the water, flames shot up from U.S. Steel’s iron mill on Zug Island.
“It’s really beautiful,” said Gregg Ward, whose family owns the Detroit-Windsor Truck Ferry. “The smoke, the fire, all the noise — it’s very, very cool. It’s really kind of industrial art.”
Most people probably never see the ferry off Maplewood Drive on Windsor’s west side. There’s not much to it, a small, flat barge pulled by a tugboat and a hut housing a customs officer. But it helps keep the busiest commercial border crossing between Canada and the U.S. — about 7,000 trucks a day carrying a quarter of the $700-billion annual trade between the two countries — moving.
The ferry carries only about 50 trucks a day, but they’re trucks that can’t go across the bridge or through the tunnel because they’re loaded with hazardous materials like automotive paint, fuel and whiskey. And when traffic on the bridge grinds to a halt, like it did after 9-11, this ferry keeps chugging.
Dave Seymour of LaSalle, captain of the tugboat Stormont, expertly nudged the barge into the dock in Windsor with barely a bump early one recent morning.
“There’s a little trick to it,” said Seymour. “You have to learn the current, the wind, know what you’ve got on board, all the variables.”
The trucks on the barge create the same effect as a sail. Sometimes they block his view, so deckhand Doug Pettit, bundled against the chill, radios their position.
The ferry was picking up a wind tower from CS Wind. The base, one of three pieces, was massive — 188 feet long and 235,000 pounds, including the tractor trailer carrying it. It was too big for the bridge or tunnel, even for the Blue Water Bridge near Sarnia. If it weren’t for the ferry, driver Brian Hardy would have to drive all the way around the Great Lakes.
It’s a science and an art getting the tower on the barge. It takes four people — the driver and three others, one using wireless remote control to help steer from behind.
Gregg Ward’s ferry carries trucks of all shapes and sizes across the international border between Windsor and Detroit. Nick Brancaccio / Windsor Star
After the trailer inches onto the barge, it’s disconnected from the tractor, which is then parked next to it. It’s the only way to fit the entire vehicle.
When the barge finally slips away again, it’s so smooth it feels like it’s not moving. The trip back, north and west across the river to the terminal across from Zug Island, takes 20 minutes. But it’s another world. U.S. Steel’s two blast furnaces, blackened behemoths, loom over the terminal. It’s like a post-apocalyptic scene out of Mad Max. The signs for the ferry, replaced last summer, look 50 years old.
“All the soot,” said Ward.
An American who now lives in Dearborn, Ward started the ferry with his father, John, 25 years ago.
“The last thing I expected to be doing was this,” he said, laughing.
He grew up on a small farm in Indiana and has a degree in Asian history and French from the University of Michigan and an MBA in finance from Michigan State.
“Everyone I graduated with went into some kind of banking,” he said.
They started the ferry after a Windsor Port Authority study in the late 1980s called for an alternative border crossing on the water.
“We thought it would be a really simple business,” Ward said. “Of course, nothing is ever simple.”
Truck ferry owner Gregg Ward at the Windsor dock where trucks of all shapes and sizes are transported across the international border between Windsor and Detroit. Nick Brancaccio / Windsor Star
Ward, a 54-year-old single father of two, including a son with autism, is an exceedingly nice guy who is forever upbeat. And there he was, up against the notorious, no-holds-barred billionaire owner of the Ambassador Bridge, Matty Moroun.
The bridge, which is not permitted to carry vehicles with hazardous materials, told companies they could cross anyway. It carried gasoline tankers after the terrorist attacks in the United States.
Ward watched Moroun take over neighbourhoods and a public park. He watched him try to buy votes. And he watched him start building a twin span without permission. Most people were too intimidated to speak up.
Ward was summoned to a meeting with former bridge vice-president Remo Mancini one day, he told The Windsor Star’s Dave Battagello. Moroun was planning to take over his ferry business. Mancini placed documents in front of Ward, and when Ward refused to sign them, Mancini reportedly said, “No, Gregg, you don’t understand, I need you to sign this.”
He didn’t sign. Instead, he became one of the first people to speak publicly, including testifying before governments, about Moroun’s abuses and the need for a new bridge.
“It’s the right thing to do,” he says simply.
He quotes Edmund Burke, the Irish statesman and philosopher: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
“I was raised by my parents to stand up for what’s right regardless of personal consequences,” he said, though he’s embarrassed talking about himself.
And Moroun’s behaviour really set him off.
“I see the Ambassador Bridge, with their continuous, arrogant disregard of the public good, as nothing but well-dressed thugs,” he said. “It’s against the idea of our democracy. It’s one person one vote, not one dollar one vote. It’s running roughshod over the community.
“If little old insignificant me can be a pebble in his (Moroun’s) shoe, I’m happy to do it,” he said. “I should do it.”
The defining moment was when gasoline tankers started crossing the bridge. The government told the bridge it can’t do that. Moroun told the government it can’t tell him what to do.
“Here you have someone who controls the border who’s so arrogant,” said Ward. “It’s amazing to me, the amount of gall, the greed. That really set me off.”
That was when, as he put it, “I was very, very vocal.”
When he testified before Congress in 2007, people warned him, “You’re going to end up dead.”
But Ward continued.
The Ambassador Bridge, the most important border crossing between Canada and the U.S., the lifeline of the biggest trading partnership in the world, is 86 years old and owned by someone who “thumbs his nose at government,” he said.
“We’re the only alternative,” he said. “That’s what’s extremely scary.”
After 9-11, when trucks lined up for miles and waited 14 hours to cross the bridge, Ward’s little ferry moved them 24 hours a day. General Motors credited the ferry with keeping its Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant open.
Truck ferry owner Gregg Ward at the Windsor dock where trucks of all shapes and sizes are transported across the international border and the Detroit River to Detroit, Mich. Nick Brancaccio / Windsor Star
The irony is that most people who support the new bridge will benefit from it — except Ward. The crossing he has long called for will probably put him out of business. It will carry trucks with hazardous materials.
“And the bad news is …,” he shrugged.
His support for the new bridge is so counterintuitive that it surprises people. It has earned him tremendous respect.
“I was struck by how this fellow would be such a big advocate for a bridge that would put him out of business,” said Roy Norton, former Canadian Consul-General in Detroit. “He really does have the greater good at heart.”
Windsor West MP Brian Masse called him “nothing short of a hero.”
“He has done the right thing without any preconditions.”
During the long, arduous fight for a new bridge, that made people who count listen.
“That has been noteworthy to everyone,” said Norton. “When a little guy like Gregg Ward speaks up, and he’s going to lose, but he does the right thing, that has more weight.”
It’s especially generous considering that the Canadian government used to make him pay the $50,000 salary of his customs officer and is still trying to charge him $25,000 a year for icebreaking, even though the U.S. Coast Guard does it for free.
So what will he do when the new bridge opens?
“That’s a good question,” he said.
The Windsor regional and national economies have been affected by the global recession and this has had a negative impact on the port. Windsor Port Authority (WPA) experienced a sharp decline in total volume in 2009 followed by a modest recovery in 2010 due in large part to the Federal Government’s Infrastructure Stimulus Program. With most of those infrastructure projects completed early last year, port traffic again declined, with total volume dropping by approximately 5 per cent in 2011.