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Study: Great Lakes Shipping Critical To Economy

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TRAVERSE CITY (WWJ/AP) – Cargo shipping in the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River navigation system supports 227,000 jobs and pumps billions into the U.S. and Canadian economies, says an industry-funded report released Tuesday.

The study describes marine shipping as essential to a variety of industries in the region, including steelmaking, farming, construction and power generation. It says shipping over water saves about $3.6 billion a year in comparison to overland transport costs.

“This report bears out what we’ve long known – that the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway is crucial to the U.S. economy,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said. He described water shipping as “the single most fuel-efficient and cost-effective way to haul goods from one place to another.”

Ships haul a variety of bulk materials on the Great Lakes, their connecting channels and the St. Lawrence River. Among them are iron ore, coal, stone, salt, sugar, train, steel, wind turbine parts and heavy machinery.

WWJ Newsradio 950 spoke with John Jamian from the Detroit/Wayne County Port Authority who said the port brings in $1,877,000 in personal income.

“And in terms of jobs we’re talking about 26,000 related jobs, both direct jobs at the port and indirect jobs,” Jamian told WWJ Newsradio 950.

Jamian said the industry-funded study found that shipping is essential to Michigan industries. “So it’s fair to say that the steel that comes into the Detroit area is steel that is destined to end up usually in a car component,” he said.

Some environmental groups have questioned the wisdom of allowing oceangoing vessels to enter the Great Lakes. The ballast water they discharge in port has introduced invasive species such as zebra and quagga mussels, which are believed to have caused billions in damages by clogging intake pipes, destabilizing the food web and promoting runaway algae growth.

The study by Martin Associates, an economic consulting firm in Lancaster, Pa., found that ocean ships – known as “salties” – contribute much less to the regional economy than the fleet of U.S. and Canadian ships that remain in the area. Even so, transoceanic vessels are crucial because they provide a direct link between the Great Lakes region and overseas ports, said Steve Fisher, executive director of the American Great Lakes Ports Association.

“They enable our farmers to export grain and sell their products overseas,” Fisher said. “They’re essential to helping our manufacturers compete overseas.”

Thom Cmar, an attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the report was “extraordinarily one-sided.”

“It’s undeniable that shipping has a big economic footprint, but the better question is what are the alternatives and what are the investments that need to be made going forward to deal with the downsides of shipping,” Cmar said.

The full report can be found on the Home Page of the Marine Delivers website at www.marinedelivers.com.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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