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Shipping port expansion should hinge on market, experts say

Coils steel wire are unloaded from Malta-flagged Federal MattawPort IndianBurns Harbor Tuesday April 9 2013. | Andy Lavalley~Sun-Times Media

Coils of steel wire are unloaded from the Malta-flagged Federal Mattawa at the Port of Indiana in Burns Harbor Tuesday April 9, 2013. | Andy Lavalley~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: October 15, 2013 7:13AM



PORTAGE — State legislators plan to move cautiously on expanding the Ports of Indiana into Lake County, with Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, suggesting a market analysis before moving forward.

Mayors Karen Freeman-Wilson of Gary, James Snyder of Portage and Anthony Copeland of East Chicago sat side by side at the Infrastructure and Solutions Study committee Thursday, saying a new port should be considered if it shows it can benefit each community and Northwest Indiana as a whole.

“You don’t see a squabble between us,” Copeland said referring to a future port in either East Chicago or Gary, “nor am I here to rob anything from Burns Harbor.”

Yet experts cautioned against expanding without careful study. Economist Joe Berlin said bulk shipping of items common on the Great Lakes, such as iron and coal, have declined. Iron ore tonnage has dropped from 60 million tons in 1990 to about 40 million in 2010.

Berlin said most maritime shipping growth is in container transport, which is less common on the Great Lakes due to seasonal restrictions and size limits on ships using the St. Lawrence Seaway.

Rich Cooper, CEO of the Ports of Indiana, said he would be excited to hear about expansion, but shared a story about efforts to open multiple ethanol plants at a port on the Ohio River. While there was pressure from the communities to build more than one plant, the port cautiously decided on one.

That plant, Cooper said, is no longer in operation.

“We do believe there’s potential for growth,” Cooper said, “but we need to move forward with a strategic approach.”

Soliday and Cooper also referenced a new public-private partnership to operate and expand Chicago’s port, which could cut in to Indiana’s share.

Soliday said he wants to propose a market study on the potential for a port before considering funding options and a feasibility study.

A vote for recommendations from the study committee is scheduled for Sept. 26 in Indianapolis.



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