By: Peter Passi, Duluth News Tribune

The port of Duluth will receive $10 million in federal aid to rebuild and expand a general cargo dock, according to a press release issued Tuesday by Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken and Rep. Rick Nolan.

The improvements will target Docks C and D and also will pay for improvements to existing road and train connections. The docks have been used in the past as a laydown area to store wind power equipment in transit through the port.

The funding comes from the Transportation Investment Generating Recovery, or TIGER, program, which was part of a federal economic stimulus package administered by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The Duluth Seaway Port Authority has applied for TIGER funding in the past but came up empty in four previous rounds. The authority still has not received any official word on its latest application, but Adolph Ojard, its executive director, said he was encouraged to hear from congressional delegates Tuesday.

“It’s a very competitive process. There are hundreds of projects chasing very little money,” Ojard said, noting that the authority has been a finalist for grant funding in the past but didn’t make the final cut.

The port authority has proposed a $16 million project that would include stabilizing the docks with the installation of new steel pilings, dredging adjacent waters to seaway depth, better securing the area and installing turnouts onto the property from the adjacent Canadian National and Burlington Northern rail lines.

Besides applying for federal aid, the port also is in line to receive $3 million in Minnesota Port Development Assistance funds.

The remaining $3 million has already been set aside by the port authority for a local match, Ojard said.

“We’re in a good position to move forward quickly, but we’ll need to review the grant contract to see when and how the funds will be released,” he said. Ojard expects the work could be completed in one to two construction seasons.

The port authority purchased Garfield Pier, which is home to Docks C and D, in 1997 and spent about $3 million to tear down a grain elevator, preparing the site for future redevelopment.

The grant money could complete the job and none too soon, according to Ojard. He said the pier was built on wooden cribbing and the steel bolts used to secure the original timbers have been rusting away.

“If we waited much longer we would have lost the structural integrity of the pier,” Ojard said, noting that two sections of seawall already have failed and fallen into the slip.

The proposed improvements will further set the table for future development of the 28-acre site, which has 3,000 feet of dock face.

“That’s a strategic property with tremendous value, and we’re prepared to deal with multiple opportunities,” Ojard said.

He suggested the property could be put to use in any number of ways, including handling materials for the region’s paper industries or supplies for new and proposed mining projects the Range.

“Strengthening the Port of Duluth-Superior helps strengthen the economy in Duluth and helps businesses across Minnesota,” said Klobuchar in a prepared statement. “This support will help ensure the Port has 21st century facilities and can continue to play a vital role in delivering Minnesota’s products to markets across the world. 

Franken said the grant would create jobs and improve the global competitiveness of regional industries.

“As the busiest port on the Great Lakes, the Duluth Port connects some of Minnesota’s most important industries to partners and consumers across America and the world,” Franken said in a statement.

Nolan said the project is a “once-in-a-generation opportunity to renovate and revitalize our essential Port of Duluth-Superior, making the port and the city of Duluth more competitive by expanding the number of shippers, diversity of cargo, and volume of shipments in and out of the harbor.”