Great Lakes ports experiencing pandemic-caused dip

Oct 13, 2020

New data shows that shipping on the Great Lakes has taken a hit this year due to the pandemic.

From April through the end of August, cargo volumes in the St. Lawrence Seaway, which is the gateway to the Great Lakes, was down 8% compared to 2019's figures. That's according to the Chamber of Marine Commerce, a binational organization that represents marine industry stakeholders.

The figures show that these losses are being shared across the board, including at the Port of Oswego where its director Bill Scriber said revenues are down 38% compared to last year. Scriber and his colleagues at Great Lakes ports are already starting to make budget cuts for 2021 that will affect their employees and ability to invest in necessary equipment.

A major reason for the decline in Oswego is the decreased orders for aluminum, which is due to a sluggish economy and the Trump Administration's changing policies on tariffs with Canada. 

One silver lining in the report from the Chamber of Marine Commerce is that many Great Lakes ports have received shipments for large projects this year, offsetting some of the losses from decreased cargoes. At least nine ports enjoyed several shipments for wind turbine projects.

Bill Scriber, director of the Port of Oswego, said the pandemic has had a major impact on operations.
Credit Port of Oswego

Unfortunately, while Scriber said the Port of Oswego was also due for several wind turbine shipments as well, that project and a few others have been delayed until 2021 because of the pandemic. 

To mitigate the damages caused by the coronavirus, Scriber has been working with central New York Congressmen John Katko (R-Camillus) and Anthony Brindisi (D-Utica) on including some kind of financial relief for the nation's ports in the next COVID-19 stimulus bill. Ports have thus far not been given loans or grants.

"Our effect goes throughout the whole economy, so if you don’t have a healthy port that can bring in goods and supplies and service customers then you’re not going to have a healthy rebound," Scriber said. "Help us ride out this storm."