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CHS benefits from port program

From left, Transportation Secretary Dave Ross talks to Mayor Jim Paine as planning director Jason Serck, Sen. Janet Bewley, Rep. Nick Milroy and Agriculture Secretary Sheila Harsdorf prepare to speak during a celebration of a new dock wall under construction in the eastern slip at Cenex-Harvest States. Shelley Nelson

The Harbor Assistance Program is one of the smaller programs of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.

But it has big results for the ports of Wisconsin.

The program budgeted at about $12 million per biennium has leveraged between $30 million and $40 million in port improvements in Superior, said Jason Serck, the city’s economic development, port and planning director.

Friday, local and state officials came together to celebrate the benefits at the Twin Ports’ largest grain elevator, Cenex-Harvest States. Work is underway to repair almost 600 feet of dock wall by installing coated sheet piling on the east side of the 41-acre facility.

CHS has the capacity to store 81 million bushels of wheat and flax, and annually ships 40 million to 50 million bushels during a typical navigation season, according to Schwede. He said a typical vessel is capable of moving as much grain as 800 semitrailer loads or 200 rail car loads, and moves grain from fields in North and South Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin, and ships it to countries around the world, including Italy, the United Kingdom, South Africa, Venezuela and Mexico.

“We are very proud to be the largest grain shipper on the port, accounting for about 60-70 percent of the grain that exits this port,” Schwede said.

“CHS places a high priority on employee, community and environmental safety and the Department of Transportation grants and improvements to this east dock wall will help with that process,” said Chuck Schwede, director of agriculture business terminal operations at CHS.

“This is the place in Superior that everybody sees and nobody sees,” Mayor Jim Paine said of the grain elevators immediately to the west of the Blatnik Bridge. “Nobody gets right down here and it is one of the hallmarks of an industrial city.”

Paine said CHS is feeding people all over the world, and it’s important to the city’s economy and everyday lives of people.

While the Harbor Assistance Program is a very small portion of the state and transportation budgets, “it’s hugely important to port cities in Wisconsin,” said Rep. Nick Milroy, D-South Range. “Without the Harbor Assistance Program, we wouldn’t have the infrastructure in Superior and other port cities in Wisconsin to continue to have the industries that we have.’’

Since its inception in 1980, WisDOT has administered almost $140 million in state grants for 109 port preservation and improvement projects along the Great Lakes and Mississippi River. The Superior port alone has received about $19.4 million in state funding through the program, according to state figures.

Agriculture is a key industry in Wisconsin with an $88 billion impact on the economy, said Sheila Harsdorf, secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

“It’s one that creates about one in every nine jobs in the state,” she said. “And while agriculture is important to our state, trade is important to agriculture. Without ports and harbors like this, we would not be the great agricultural state.”

Superior’s been on the good side of the Harbor Assistance Program for years, former mayor and transportation secretary Dave Ross said.

In addition to the current project, CHS received a $2.1 million grant through the program in 2008 to replace sheet piling on its west dock. Other port facilities that have benefited from the program include Graymont, Hallett Dock, Fraser Shipyard and General Mills, Serck said.

The program provides grant funding to the city, which then enters into a development agreement with the company and awards project bids.

The City Council approved the CHS bids in April.

“This grant project will help us keep our infrastructure in place and we greatly appreciate the state of Wisconsin’s and the city’s involvement,” Schwede said.