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CHS benefits from harbor assistance grant

The eastern dock wall at Cenex Harvest States in Superior will have new sheet piling installed later this year with the help of a $1.7 million grant from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation's Harbor Assistance Program. (Submitted photo)

The largest grain storage facility on the Great Lakes is getting a helping hand from a Wisconsin Department of Transportation program designed to maintain port facilities.

Gov. Scott Walker announced the harbor assistance grants Wednesday.

Cenex Harvest States in Superior was awarded a $1.7 million grant to support its $2.36 million project to repair its 590-foot east dock wall, which is critical to providing adequate water depth for shipping activities, allowing ships to loaded safely and providing support to its massive storage facility on the waterfront west of the Blatnik Bridge.

AMI Consulting Engineers has been tracking degradation of the east wall for 14 years, which requires immediate remediation to prevent soil failure through one of the oldest areas of the dock wall affected by severe corrosion found in the harbor. About 50 percent of the steel has been lost according to 2016-2017 inspections of the facility.  

“The $1.7 million award was less than what was requested,” said Jason Serck, economic development, port and planning director for the city of Superior. “CHS will be responsible for the differences.”

The city requested $1.89 million — 80 percent — of the projected costs.

Under the Harbor Assistance Program, the state requires the city to apply for and administer the project through a development and grant agreement.

CHS, which employees more full-time staff than any other grain facility in the area, ships the largest volume of grain from the Midwest to coastal areas of the U.S. and world markets —the east side of facility stores and ships consistently 20 million bushels of grain each year. Any reduction in the facilities ability to ship grain will greatly affect the area employment, revenue and taxes, according to a memo submitted to the City Council in July, when the Council approved seeking support through WisDOT’s Harbor Assistance Program.  

If not rehabilitated, the loss of this volume in full, or in part, will result in a significant reduction in overall facility revenue including the loss of many jobs. Revenue loss is projected between $50 to $125 million depending on partial or complete loss of storage capacity.

CHS currently employees more than 57 full-time employees at the its Superior facility and if the facility becomes inoperable, as many as 25 to 30 local jobs could be lost due to the loss of the east dock and grain storage.  

Additional jobs could be lost because of reduced shipping, rail delivery, facility maintenance, taxes and facility supply for the East side of the facility will impact a much larger number of full- and part-time employees in the local area.

The remainder of the west and east side facility has been repaired in stages over the past 20 years utilizing private and grant dollars. The current proposed project is designed with an expected minimum life of 50 years. This last key stage of rehabilitation on the project protects the viability and functionality of the facility remains in Superior.

With the award of the grant, Serck said the preliminary goal would be to have this project out for bid in the early spring with construction over the summer.

One other grant for projects on Lake Superior includes nearly $1.3 million grant to reconstruct the northerly wall of the city dock in Washburn.

The Wisconsin’s Harbor Assistance Program was created in 1979 to help harbor communities maintain and improve waterborne commerce. Through 2016, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation has administered more than $138 million in matching funds for 107 port preservation and improvement projects along the Great Lakes and Mississippi River.

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