Updated: Shipyard project sharpens Fraser’s competitive edgeSuperior’s working waterfront got a $3.7 million boost Monday when state lawmakers announce the state’s third largest grant through the Harbor Assistance Program.
By: Shelley Nelson, Superior Telegram
Superior’s working waterfront got a $3.7 million boost Monday when state lawmakers announce the state’s third largest grant through the Harbor Assistance Program.
The program has been vital to dock projects at Hallett Dock No. 8, General Mills Elevator and Cenex-Harvest States in Superior.
State Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, and Rep. Nick Milroy, D-Superior, made the announcement Monday at Fraser Shipyards, which benefits from the grant.
Fraser Shipyards can proceed with plans to replace about 850 feet of sheet pile in Howard’s Pocket on the waterfront in North End and other upgrades at the nearly 120-year-old shipbuilding facility.
The company foots the bill for the remaining $750,000 cost of the project, which will position the company to benefit from the federal stimulus package in its efforts to modernize.
“Because of the $3.7 million grant, the city will apply for a Maritime Administration competitive grant under the federal stimulus proposal for a $10 million grant to complete a three-phase, three-year expansion at this facility to take place,” Jauch said. “It’s really a significant investment in a valued member of the Superior community.”
Jauch commended shipyard officials for having the foresight and willingness to pursue the initial $4.4 million project during these difficult economic times.
“The timing of this grant is going to stimulate economic growth and efforts to revitalize our economy,” he said. He said the 25-45 employees that will work on the project over the next year might have been out of work without the grant.
“These dollars are going to provide jobs for construction workers,” Milroy said. “They’re going to stimulate steel production and they’re going to greatly improve the shipyard’s ability to modernize this facility. Not only are we going to have jobs today, but this is going to allow Fraser to continue with jobs tomorrow, especially in the permanent skill trades that pay the good wages in the Northland here.”
Jim Korthals, president and chief operating officer of Fraser Shipyards, said the state grant will allow the company to put in 850 feet of sheet piling along the length of Howard’s Pocket, portions of which are rip-rapped or contain wooden cribs with stone in them.
“What it will do is allow us to get a vertical face right on Howard’s Pocket, then dredging outside of that so we can actually bring vessels in,” Korthals said. “Then if they need to draft down to depth, they will be able to draft down to depth right next to the wall.”
He said the project would improve safety for employees and access to the vessels.
“Our harbors are a very important part of Wisconsin’s economy,” Jauch said. “They are a significant part of our transportation infrastructure. They deserve our full-fledged commitment.”
Under the federal economic stimulus package, Jauch said U.S. Rep. Dave Obey, D-Wausau increased funding for competitive grants 10-fold to $100 million with 75 percent designated for shipyards that employ fewer than 600 people. With the state and company’s commitment to the first phase of the project, expected to get underway this summer, it puts the company in a good position to compete for federal grant funding, he said.
If the company is then successful in garnering federal grant money, Korthals said it would allow the company to look at the remaining length of Howard’s Pocket, about 900 feet for sheet piling, which was never done.
In addition to the sheet piling, Korthals said the project includes electrical, water and fire services improvement.
“What it would do is make us more competitive,” Korthals said. “Our nearest competitor is now owned by the Italians; it’s based in Sturgeon Bay, Wis. What we would like to be able to do is some of the work they are currently doing, which this would help us do.”
While there were two applications to the Harbor Assistance Program approved by the city council last summer, this is the only one approved so far, Milroy said.
“We really wanted to make sure that this project got rolling so it would qualify for the federal stimulus funds,” Milroy said. “Without that (state) funding, it wouldn’t even qualify for any federal stimulus funds. So hopefully this will transform into a $10 million project.”
And it’s an investment that will ensure the shipyard’s ability to compete, said Jeff Heller, vice president of Krech-Ojard, the engineering firm that worked on some of the plans for the company’s grant application.
“There are no (other) American-owned shipyards on the Great Lakes, so it’s important to keep this place open in case things go bad in the future,” he said. Fraser is locally owned.
“I’ve been to some other ship-building facilities around the Great Lakes,” said Mayor Dave Ross, recently elected to the Great Lakes Mayors Initiative board. “Part of goal is to really retain jobs in the Great Lakes area, and part of it is who has the competitive advantage to bring work into our harbors. … This is a significant investment.”