Port Authority sets Groundbreaking for Wed., May 27 on $17.7M Port of Duluth Intermodal Project

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Duluth, Minn., USA (May 26, 2015) — On Wed., May 27, the Twin Ports maritime community will gather with business leaders, elected officials and dignitaries from across the state and nation to officially break ground on the Port of Duluth Intermodal Project – the largest infrastructure project undertaken by the Duluth Seaway Port Authority since the construction of the Clure Public Marine Terminal prior to the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1959.

Those in attendance at the 10 a.m. ceremony will be celebrating not only the revitalization of this 28-acre dock but also Duluth’s working waterfront. The long-awaited rebuild and expansion of Dock C&D will put a vacant, underutilized dock back into maritime service after more than 20 years. The completion of this project will enhance the Port Authority’s intermodal capabilities, expand its capacity to handle more heavy-lift and project cargo, and enhance the competitiveness of this entire region by increasing freight capacity via the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway system.

 $17.7 million redevelopment project was funded, in part, by a $10 million transportation Infrastructure Generation Economic Recovery (TIGER) Discretionary grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT). An additional $2.75 million in funding has been provided through the Minnesota Port Development Assistance Program (PDAP); $990,000 was awarded by the State of Minnesota’s (DEED) Contamination Cleanup Grant program; and the Duluth Seaway Port Authority is investing over $3.9 million of its own capital in this infrastructure renewal project.

The redevelopment process will include replacing corroded sheet piling and deteriorated wooden dock walls, resurfacing the deck, reinforcing heavy-lift capacity and constructing a new roll-on/roll-off dock. The project also involves dredging adjacent waters for vessel berths, installing road and rail connections, plus adding enhancements for safety and security. Port officials expect this first phase of reconstruction to be completed in the fall of 2016.

USDOT Maritime Administrator Paul “Chip” Jaenichen, who was in Duluth in September 2013 to announce the TIGER grant award, is returning to celebrate this momentous occasion alongside Senator Amy Klobuchar, Congressman Rick Nolan, MnDOT Commissioner Charles Zelle and Duluth Mayor Don Ness. Port Authority Board President Steve Raukar and Executive Director Vanta Coda also will be making remarks at Wednesday’s groundbreaking ceremony. Administrator Jaenichen will be delivering the keynote address later in the day at the Propeller Club’s National Maritime Day luncheon at the DECC.

In his column in the Duluth Seaway Port Authority’s spring magazine, Executive Director Vanta Coda referenced that it’s taken three directors, 29 years, at least a dozen commissioners and five TIGER grant applications but, at long last, the Port of Duluth Intermodal Project is officially under way. “The story of this dock is, in many ways, the tale of waterfront infrastructure in ports across the U.S.,” said Coda. “How it unfolds chronicles the challenges we face in our ongoing efforts to make this country globally competitive.”  

Dock C&D: 115 years of history

The genesis of Dock D dates back to 1900, when the F. H. Peavey Company erected cylindrical concrete grain silos on the site, the first and largest concrete terminal elevator in the world. The elevator on the C side was built by the Occident Terminal division of the Russell-Miller Milling Company in 1923. In anticipation of the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1959, the Peavey elevator was among the port’s first to extend a high-spout gallery from the head house to accommodate the higher profile oceangoing ships.

The Peavey, or D side of the dock now being redeveloped, is also a footnote to more recent history as the scene of the official welcoming ceremony when the port’s first Seaway vessel, the Ramon de Larrinaga, arrived on May 3, 1959. Cargill purchased the Occident and Peavey elevators from the F.H. Peavey Company in in the 1970s, renaming them Cargill Elevators C and D. In 1976, the company built its then state-of-the-art Elevator B1 on adjacent property.

By 1989, unable to interest developers in the idled elevators, Cargill conveyed the nearby site to the then Seaway Port Authority of Duluth. The facility’s useful life to the corporation had come to an end as things tend to do. The business, the economy, the company or the strategy changed. It’s what happens in the world of commerce. In 1997, the Port Authority began a lengthy demolition, site clearing and environmental cleanup process that would last until 2001. Helberg Drive was completed in 2007 to service the Garfield Avenue waterfront, including Dock C&D. Through the first decade of the dock’s second century, the Port Authority invested additional capital to make the dock functional for ground storage until the day it could properly be returned to full service. After years of planning to bring the project to shovel-ready status, the Port Authority was awarded a $10 million TIGER grant in fall 2013.  

Coda references years of faith, persistence and hope plus the marathon of planning it took to reach this point. He thanks one director (Davis Helberg) for his vision and optimism which set wheels in motion … and another director (Adolph Ojard) for his tenacity in applying five times for a TIGER grant. “Now I have the privilege of seeing those dreams come to fruition during my tenure,” noted Coda. “Their vision and perseverance land squarely at our feet. It is not lost on this team that we are setting the keystone for the next 50 years of this dock’s life. We are excited and nervous and worry over each detail. We all understand how long it took to get to this point. We were not present for all the steps, and the story will go well beyond our involvement.  So goes the life of infrastructure.”

Coda will conclude his remarks on Wednesday in much the same way he wrapped up his magazine column, referencing that in 50 years few will consider the events or remember the individuals who returned this dock to a fully productive life. “That’s okay by us if it serves this community and state well. Good infrastructure does that – silently performs and contributes untold return to the economy – until the time comes when it doesn’t, and then someone else steps up to write its next chapter. So on May 27, as we break ground on the $17.7 million Port of Duluth Intermodal Project, we celebrate the maritime heritage of this Port – the ‘Pride of the Inland Seas’ – and the great, new beginnings of a waterfront asset that will give to this community countless benefits for years to come. After all, that is what we’re called to do:  Set the pace for the Port’s future.                  

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