Duluth News Tribune

By Laura Butterbrodt

In response to President Joe Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure plan proposed Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar stopped in Duluth to discuss the importance of the Lake Superior port.

Klobuchar joined Duluth Mayor Emily Larson and Deb DeLuca, executive director of the Duluth Seaway Port Authority, for a brief news conference at the Clure Public Marine Terminal on Thursday afternoon.

“This is the first time that a president has proposed a package of this size that would really allow us to start competing on the stage of other industrialized nations,” Klobuchar said. “We’ve fallen behind because we really just haven’t done enough when it comes to infrastructure and you can’t fix it with Band-Aids and duct tape. This idea of a major infrastructure package would be really great for northern Minnesota and specifically this port.”

Biden’s proposal, which would be dispersed over a period of eight years and offset costs by increasing corporate tax revenues over a period of 15 years, includes $42 billion for ports and airports. $17 billion of that would be for inland waterways and ports.

While Klobuchar commended advancements the Port Authority has made, including its expansion on Rice’s Point and the acquisition of the Lake Port Dock, she acknowledged that there are still major challenges the Great Lakes need to overcome for shipping.

She has specifically requested $207 million from Biden's administration for a new lock at the Soo Locks, and vowed to continue urging the current administration to increase icebreaker capacity for the U.S. Coast Guard on the Great Lakes.

DeLuca said the outlook for this year’s shipping is positive and expected to fully bounce back after the pandemic’s hit in 2020. The demand for steel is high, she said, and iron ore shipping started 12 hours early on March 23 to help make up for last year’s losses.

The port and its 21 terminals supports nearly 8,000 jobs and $1.4 billion in economic activity, DeLuca said. The Clure terminal receives project cargo, has access to deep-water shipping channels and uncongested connections to highways and railroads. She said this infrastructure is critical to regional industries.

“We connect those industries to global markets and we provide them with competitive freight rates,” DeLuca said. “This is really important, because the industries that we support supply well-paying jobs with good benefits. They’re accessible across a broad range of educational backgrounds — it's the type of economic development that we need.”

Larson described Duluth’s port and its activity as the “most obvious secret of Duluth.” While the ships and Aerial Lift Bridge are well-known and loved, many people don’t appreciate or understand the infrastructure that goes into the port and the economy.

Larson also discussed other impacts the $2 trillion proposal could have on Duluth, including $115 billion for U.S. roads and bridges.

“I know that the president is prioritizing roads, bridges and highways, and we have plenty of examples,” Larson said. “We’re happy to roll out the red carpet to President Biden again and show some of the projects that we think would qualify for that.”

The Duluth Seaway Port Authority has already invested $27 million into the terminal since 2015, and DeLuca mentioned several capital projects that are upcoming, including building more dock walls and warehouse space with the $10.5 million federal grant received last year from the Port Infrastructure Development Program.

DeLuca concluded the event by gifting Duluth Seaway Port Authority stocking hats to Klobuchar and Larson. Also in attendance were newly appointed Port Authority Board of Commissioners President Tony Sertich and Vice President Yvonne Prettner Solon.