‘Very strong’ pandemic-plagued year for St. Lawrence Seaway, CEO says

The St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation's head office in Cornwall, Ont. (Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston, File)

CORNWALL, Ont. — Despite less cargo heading through the St. Lawrence Seaway last season, the CEO says the corporation had a “very strong navigation season.”

Terence Bowles outlined the previous fiscal year that ended on March 31, 2021 during the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation’s AGM yesterday morning (Wednesday).

“Our financial numbers were good, we had strong operational and world class safety results and even the weather cooperated at both the closing of the last season and the opening of the 2021 navigation season which occurred 10 days earlier than the last year,” Bowles said.

The CEO says flooding was less of an issue last year and now there seems to be a problem with drought and low water levels this year. “This shows the cyclical nature of water levels in the Great Lakes.”

The seaway saw nearly 38 million metric tons shipped last year, down 1.6 per cent from the previous year, “which is very good considering the impacts of the worldwide pandemic, so we’re happy with that result,” Bowles said.

CFO Lori Kimball says seaway assets grew 4.6 per cent last year to nearly $255 million. Most from that was the value of the pension fund rebounding from the pandemic. Liabilities increased by about $4 million to $117 million, which was mainly purchases and work done in March that were not resolved before the fiscal year end, unlike the previous year.

As for operations, revenue increased 2.6 per cent to $81.9 million. Expenses also rose 7.4 per cent to $58.4 million as the seaway had to pay $8 million more for future employee benefits. The increase is partially offset by reduced travel and almost $2 million in savings through new tug boat operating procedures that use a “new method of reading (river) currents.”

The seaway spent 5.7 per cent more on upkeep to Transport Canada assets ($74.7 million), which included bridge rehabilitation in Niagara, replacement of lock and bridge network switches and the relocation of electrical components as the Maisonneuve locks.

There was a transfer payment to the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation from the Capital Fund Trust of $60.4 million, that covers 70 per cent of the asset work.

Since $7 million in lease revenue goes directly to the federal government, Kimball says the actual liability to the feds is $52.8 million, meaning the corporation contributed nearly 30 per cent directly to asset renewal.

The bottom line saw the SLSMC end the year with $7.2 million surplus – less than the $15.4 million surplus the previous year.

The St. Lawrence Seaway is currently in its 63rd season of operation.

“We are, I believe, in an excellent position to support growth in Canada and the United States. So let’s all hope for a strong 2021 with health and safety at the forefront and of course, hopefully the pandemic in the rear view mirror ,” CEO Bowles concluded in his AGM address.