Lakes Coal Surges in November

Monday, December 15, 2008

Coal shipments on the Great Lakes totaled 4.1 million net tons in November, an increase of 21 percent compared to a year ago. Shipments were also up nearly 7 compared to the month’s 5-year average. Shipments of low-sulfur coal from Superior Midwest Energy Terminal in Superior, Wisconsin, accounted for most of the increase.

Nonetheless, the dredging crisis continued to hamper shipments. Not one coal cargo topped65,000 tons in November, and many were in the 63,000-ton range. If the Great Lakes were dredged to allow for full loads, some vessels would be carrying as much as 71,000 tons each trip, but the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimates it needs to remove 17 million cubic yards of sediment system-wide before vessels can utilize 100 percent of their rated capacity. Restoring the Great Lakes navigation system to project dimensions will require more than $200 million from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund. The Fund has a surplus of nearly $5 billion, but recent Administrations have not spent the tax-generated Fund for its intended purpose, maintaining the nation’s deep-draft ports and waterways.

For the year, the Great Lakes coal trade stands at 36.1 million tons, an increase of 4.3 percent compared to a year ago. Year-to-date, however, the trade is slightly off its 5-year average.

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