What's the economic impact with loss of Seaway traffic?

The BBC Napels loading cargo at the Port of Milwaukee. – photo courtesy of Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

The BBC Napels loading cargo at the Port of Milwaukee. – photo courtesy of Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

What would happen if we stopped shipping through the St. Lawrence Seaway? Discussions as of late have been concerned about how to reform ballast water sanitation enough to reduce the impact of invasive species. The truth is though, no matter how much treatment goes into ballast water on ships there is still a small percentage of invasive species that live to reproduce in the Great Lakes basin. So, instead of just regulating ballast water dispersal through a permit system, as the Environmental Protection Agency has suggested, why not just stop vessels from coming through the Seaway altogether? 

However, the idea of closing off such a major shipping rout would never pass through the ranks economically. According to the St. Lawrence Management Corporation in 50 years, 2.5 billion metric tons of cargo has been moved through the Seaway valued at more than $375 billion. 

Specific to Milwaukee the port industry is responsible for operation organizations like the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and for ship yard work force wages, according to the January 2014 report "Economic Impact of Wisconsin's commercial Ports." The report also addresses the significance of import/export companies and firms that are attracted to the region due to proximity to the port. It is unclear how such a dramatic change in shipping on the Great Lakes would affect its economy, though. 

In the last week I have contacted the Port's communication manager, Jeff Fleming, to request shipping information regarding tonnage, commodity and ship visits to the port. With this information we will be able to identify economic trends in shipping, specifically for Milwaukee, leading to the question of the overall necessity for the port in the area. 

Cargo transport can easily be maneuvered from vessels to railways or trucking to compensate. Those changes may cause a slight rise in fuel costs but does not seem comparable to the damaging cost to maintain or eliminate invasive species in the long run.