In conversation with: Duluth Seaway Port Authority


The Port of Duluth-Superior, nestled on the western point of Lake Superior, is the US’s farthest inland freshwater port – offering an intriguing logistics outlet for shippers in the region.

Hosting 21 terminals, the Duluth Seaway Port Authority in October announced that its Clure Public Marine Terminal now has the ability to handle significantly larger volumes of international shipping containers by vessel.

Deb DeLuca, Executive Director of the authority, told PTI that the $36 million in investment to the terminal since 2015, and is part of a larger call for increased container throughflows to the port.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the well-documented inland congestion has highlighted the critical need for improved transport links for shippers in the central and midwestern US.

The five-berth Clure Terminal has 430,000 square feet of warehousing storage, and a pair of rail-mounted gantry cranes.

“We have been building toward this opportunity to carry maritime containers – but just having the capacity to do it, doesn’t make the service come to you,” DeLuca commented.

“This crisis highlights the need for additional inland container services that brings those containers all the way into the middle of the continent before you need to start moving them on land. We see this as the opportune time to move on the development of that service.”

The port authority, which operates the container terminal, is considering developments of container services including a feeder inland service from major Canadian ports Montréal or Halifax, in addition to direct chartering of boxships with private containers.

Future services will likely be a hybrid of feeder routes and chartered ships, with a maximum capacity of around 1,000 TEU.

“It will probably materialise being some hybrid of [those services],” DeLuca explained.

“We’re working with the intention of seeing containers moving in the spring 2022. There is a lot of demand from the cargo owners that are looking for alternatives.

“Obviously they’re not trying to replace movement to coastal ports, but they want alternatives – and to provide both supply chain resiliency and greater variety within the supply chain. I do think the drivers are exactly that demand for more diversity.”

Sustainability growth

Some 800 vessels move through the Seaway port’s terminals every year, with four Class I railroads serving the port.

A driver of increased demand for Duluth’s container services is the demand for greener services.

Duluth has an intermodal rail facility; in addition to welcoming increased container flows through feeder services, which is the most sustainable method of moving containers inland.

“There’s an interest there in how do we green the supply chain: and if you look at a nationwide carbon footprint, it makes a lot of sense to lengthen the maritime leg and shorten the land-side transportation leg,” DeLuca noted.

“I think the cargo owners are also looking at how do we green their supply chain as well. And that’s the other driver to be mentioned for developing these feeding and chartering services.”

Duluth Cargo Connect, the port authority’s multimodal logistics hub providing multimodal transport and warehousing is a key focus for Duluth moving forward.

The Clure terminal also has foreign trade zone status, sweetening the option for some shippers to reduce costs in transporting its cargo with the port

“We’re working with our terminal partners on plentiful project cargo, breakbulk and container activity through our terminal,” she outlined.

“Our goal is expanded regional manufacturing and responsible industry, because if our transportation asset should be a big economic development, we need to consider a reduced environmental footprint for port and transportation-related activity in that area.”

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