It happens every year about this time. “It” is a fight between “ma” and “pa” heard on both sides of the St. Lawrence---from Cornwall to Kingston and Massena to Cape Vincent.
“Ma” is Mother Nature and “pa” is ‘Old Man Winter.” They fight about their river’s ice cover. “Pa” wins in late December or maybe January while ”ma” usually wins by late March. (I know it sounds corny, but they have been having that fight since, well, forever.)
Their tussle finally ends, and the winner is declared when the first ship enters Snell and Eisenhower locks---meaning the Seaway is open for the rest of the year. This year it was March 22 when the river opened for its 64th commercial navigation season.
Port directors and economists on both sides of the border---as well as the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation of the US and the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation of Canada--- are wondering if the horrendous war in Ukraine will have a dramatic impact on the Seaway. Because Russia and Ukraine now account for 30 percent of global wheat exports there may be an increased demand for US and Canadian grain.
Reports say Ukraine could lose five million tons of wheat exports through September because of Russian interference and the exodus of its farmers. In addition, economists are hedging predictions because everything depends on the availability of grain from North America this year. Drought in the US and Canada might have an impact on the output of both nations. Terence Bowles, president and CEO of the Management Corporation told Canadian media, “I don’t like to say it’s going to help us because it looks like we’re profiting from other people’s troubles, but I would say (we are) in a good position to be able to help replace a lot of (the) grain which won’t be available.”
His American counterpart, Craig H. Middlebrook, a 27-year veteran of US Seaway management also is carefully watching the potential impacts of sanctions and Ukrainian agriculture prospects. As Deputy Administrator he has led the US corporation since January 2017 when Administrator Betty Sutton left the post; she is now a judge in Ohio. The Administrator position is filled by Presidential appointment. It is not known why President Trump made no appointment; whether President Biden appoints an administrator remains to be seen.
Middlebrook has held nearly every Seaway management position throughout his 27 years with the Seaway. The Corporation is an agency of the US Department of Transportation along with the Federal Aviation Administration, Highway Administration, Motor Carrier Safety Administration, Railroad Administration, Transit Administration, Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials and Safety Administration. (Wow, what a letterhead and business card the Secretary of TRANSPORTATION must have!)
The US Seaway's responsibility is the river from the Massena/Cornwall bridge to Cape Vincent. It operates two of the Seaway’s 15 locks, Snell, and Eisenhower at Massena. The other 13 are Canadian. Last year the transits through Snell and Eisenhower numbered 3,918, up 1% from the previous year, with ships carrying a total of thirty-eight million tons. The US locks scored a 99.9% reliability rate. In recent years, the Canadian and American Seaway entities have invested $800 million and $200 million, respectively, in lock modernization and rehabilitation.
What about the 2022 season? That depends on what is happening in Ukraine. Think grain and more grain. The Port of Oswego in New York State, recently spent two days loading more than 18,000 metric tons of grain bound for Brussels and Ireland. It was the first export of grain from the Great Lakes this year, The port has six additional contracts for international grain shipments this year and expects more because of the strain on the world’s supply chain.
Additionally, construction of a $6 million visitors center will begin this summer at Massena’s Eisenhower Lock, a project spearheaded by NY Senator Chuck Schumer. When completed, it is expected to be a major St. Lawrence River tourist attraction.
Do You Know:
• The first of 10 US Seaway administrators was Louis G. Castle who served from 1954 until his death in 1960. His was a familiar face in NY and Canada during Seaway construction.
• Administrator #8 was Albert Jacquez, who served from 1995 to 2005. Because the US Seaway corporation cannot make grants, Clayton Mayor Norma Zimmer and the author of this article negotiated an agreement with him to pre-pay the village for 50 years of dockage in Clayton for winter storage of Seaway channel markers. Those funds were used to construct the 1000 Islands Regional Pier---a channel side pier which has become a popular Clayton fixture.
• The US Secretary of Transportation is Pete Buttigieg, whose name is frequently mentioned as the Democrat Party’s candidate for President in the future.
• The US Coast Guard was at one time a fixture in the Department of Transportation. It is now within the Department of Homeland Security. The US Seaway corporation was at one time an administration within the Department of Commerce. Washington sometimes plays musical chairs!
• Representative Marcy Kaptur of Ohio, who is the longest serving woman in the history of the US House of Representatives, is considered the Seaway’s most prominent supporter in the House, having served 48 years in Congress. Because of the number of ports throughout the Great Lakes their members of Congress have always had a strong interest in the Seaway.
• Ogdensburg is the first American Seaway port for ships headed into the Great Lakes.
Do you want more ‘gee-whiz’ facts about the Seaway? Google the names of the Canadian and US Seaway corporations on the internet. In addition, legendary US broadcaster Walter Cronkite is the narrator of an online documentary about the construction of the Seaway.
By Cary Brick
Cary Brick is a retired 31 year Chief of Staff with the US House of Representatives. He also served at one time as the Director of Communications of the American Seaway Corporation. He is a frequent contributor to TI Life, see his articles here.
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