River shipping swells 62%
The steady increase in the number of barges cruising Western Pennsylvania rivers makes Peter Stephaich happy.
“It's good for everybody,” said Stephaich, chairman and CEO of Campbell Transportation Co. Inc., which operates 36 vessels with 500 barges on the Ohio River.
An improving economy and the opening of a new battery of coke ovens along the Monongahela River are spurring the sharp increase in river shipping, experts said on Monday.
The Port of Pittsburgh Commission, citing Army Corps of Engineers data, said companies moved 12.7 million tons of goods on the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio rivers in May, up 62 percent from May 2012.
That represents the highest May total since 2008, before the recession. Each of the previous seven months was the highest for that month since at least 2008 as well.
Pennsylvania employers added more than 19,000 jobs in June, and the state's 7.5 percent unemployment rate remained unchanged from May. Americans are buying more cars and trucks, furniture and clothes, but cutting back almost everywhere else, data show.
The shipping increase is “not only a good sign for the economy, but I think it also helps us make a strong case as we try to get more funding for maintenance and rehabilitation of our aging locks and dams,” said Port of Pittsburgh Commission Executive Director Jim McCarville.
Many locks and dams in the Pittsburgh area began operating in the 1930s or earlier. Many are showing their age, with crumbling walls and malfunctioning gates. Congress is considering a bill to boost money for improvement projects in the area.
McCarville said shipping of mineral commodities and manufactured goods increased in May, reflecting what he described as a general improvement in economic conditions.
A scheduled two-week closure of Beaver County's Montgomery Locks and Dam in June helped inflate the numbers, McCarville said, as many companies that receive deliveries via the Ohio River ordered shipments earlier than usual to stockpile goods in advance of the closure.
The opening of U.S. Steel Corp.'s new C Battery in November is playing the biggest role in boosting local river traffic, said McCarville and Frank Gamrat, an economist with the Castle Shannon-based Allegheny Institute for Public Policy.
“There's no question,” Gamrat said.
One jumbo-sized barge can haul about 1,500 tons of coal — meaning C battery requires enough coal annually to fill more than 900 barges.
The battery, which the company built for $500 million, replaced three higher-emissions units at the Clairton plant. It can produce about 960,000 tons of coke annually in a process that requires more than 1.3 million tons of coal, said company spokeswoman Courtney Boone. The coal is shipped to the plant by barge, while finished coke goes out on rail for use in U.S. Steel blast furnaces.
“U.S. Steel depends on the Monongahela/Ohio River system for transporting raw materials and finished steel to and from our Clairton Plant, Irvin Plant and Edgar Thomson Plant in the Mon Valley,” Boone said.
Boone said C battery opened on Nov. 25, but the company ordered coal before then to stockpile it for the opening.
A spike in river shipping in the Pittsburgh area happened about the same time, according to Army Corps data.
Shipping soared 38.2 percent in October, 83.5 percent in November and 79.7 percent in December compared to those months in 2012, data show. In the year's previous nine months, shipping had been down about 5 percent over the same period a year earlier.
Shipping has been up between 34.5 percent and 62.3 percent year to year in the first five months of 2013, data show.
Stephaich said several companies have benefited.
“If we don't get funding and locks and dams continue to deteriorate, a company like U.S. Steel that's putting hundreds of millions of dollars into river development, it's going to make it hard for them to justify that investment. It's a huge issue for our region,” Stephaich said.
Tom Fontaine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7847 or email@example.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Tiny black weevils booming in W.Pa.
- Man fatally shot in East Liberty; police investigating 2nd shooting
- Homewood West woman charged after stabbing woman during card game
- Independence Day festivities scheduled
- Fireworks displays costly, but W. Pa. communities feel obligated
- Public implored to avoid iPhone cases that resemble guns
- Homestead Cemetery records will be preserved
- Tradition rules in Pittsburgh: Keep bridge color the same, poll finds
- Newsmaker: Justin Meinert
- Attorney general accuses Golden Living homes of failing to provide basic services to elderly
- Plenty going on in Pittsburgh over holiday weekend