Seaway president hopes ‘grain boom’ continues

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St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation President and CEO, Terence F. Bowles, addresses the corporation's annual general meeting in Cornwall, Ont. on June 22, 2015. Bowles said the corporation will be focusing on encouraging a grain shipping boom to continue in 2015. (Cornwall Newswatch/Bill Kingston)

CORNWALL – Despite global volatility including the debt crisis in Greece, the top man at the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation (SLSMC) believes grain shipments will help carry the seaway this year.

The corporation ended the year with nearly 40 million tons in shipments, buoyed by a nearly 45 per cent increase in grain cargo.

“Last year’s grain boom was exciting. We think grain is going to be a good cargo for the future so that’s one we want to concentrate on,” President and CEO Terence Bowles told attendees at the AGM in Cornwall and board members joining by phone Monday morning.

“So we’re back to where we were just before the financial crisis (of 2008),” he said in his address at the Pitt Street office. Noting the uncertainly of the global economy, Bowles said “the important thing, we have the capacity to move substantially more cargo to destinations throughout the world so we’re well positioned for the future.”

“We moved nearly 12 million tons of grain through the seaway locks (last year) so that’s the highest volume since the turn of the century…quite a turnaround,” Bowles noted.

The president said there were also strong volumes of iron and steel products being imported into North America, as well as road salt.

“As you know we had a very harsh winter and we even imported salt into the system and it came through the seaway which is excellent because it could have come in through other routes,” Bowles said.

The harsh winter also resulted in a continuing challenge for the SLSMC – lost-time accidents.

There were eight last year – half of them slips, trips or same-level falls. That’s down one case from a year prior. “Mainly on ice during the winter, so that’s one area we’re going to work hard on….we’d like to have zero accidents,” the CEO said.

The seaway also installed three additional hands-free mooring systems at its locks, as part of its $500 million investment in asset renewal. It brings the total number of automated locks to four (out of the 15). The closest automated locks to SD&G are two in Beauharnois, Que. (east of Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, Que.) and one in Saint-Lambert, Que.

“It’s really revolutionary,” Bowles said in an interview with Cornwall Newswatch. “We have this automatic system that uses vacuum pads that will go out from the wall, attach to the vessel, and hold it in place and then move up and down with the vessel in the lock.”

Four more automated mooring systems are planned this year – in the Maisonneuve section of the seaway and the Welland Canal – with all highland locks automated by 2018.

The Iroquois lock is not part of the program because it’s a special pass-through lock.

Bowles said they were also able to complete the $100 million replacement of the tie-up wall in the Welland Canal.

Seaway posts $20 million surplus

The St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation ended the fiscal year with a surplus of just over $20 million.

That’s up from a $16.2 million surplus the year before.

The surplus is non-cash assets, mainly due to growth on pension investments.

The federal government transfers money to the corporation to cover its cash costs. The seaway is allowed to keep any non-cash assets on the books as a surplus.

Seaway revenue was $77.8 million, up nearly 14 per cent from the previous year.

President Bowles noted that “tight control” on costs actually brought operating expenses down 6.5 per cent last year “helping our bottom line considerably.”

On the labour front, the seaway has stability with its unions with signed collective agreements through March 2018.

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