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Twin ports coal shipping drags behind last year

Twin Ports coal shipments are off to a slower start this year compared to 2006. During March 2007, the Midwest Energy Resources Co. terminal in Superior loaded 12 vessels with nearly 578,000 tons of coal -- about 9 percent less than the 635,000 t...

Twin Ports coal shipments are off to a slower start this year compared to 2006.

During March 2007, the Midwest Energy Resources Co. terminal in Superior loaded 12 vessels with nearly 578,000 tons of coal -- about 9 percent less than the 635,000 tons of coal the same facility poured into 13 freighters during the same month last year.

Fred Shusterich, Midwest's president, said the market for coal remains strong but is slightly softer than last year, as most power plants are entering the spring with a decent inventory of coal on hand. He credited improved rail service and a relatively mild winter for the stronger coal supplies.

But Shusterich said more coal would be moving on the lakes were it not for low water levels. Lake Superior is down about 18 inches from its historical average.

Midwest is loading vessels about 3 percent to 5 percent lighter than last year due to low water levels, Shusterich said. He said shallow points in the St. Marys River between Lake Superior and Lake Huron -- namely, the Rock and Mud cuts -- are forcing lakers to reduce their loads.

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"The lack of adequate dredging has made the effects of the drought that much more pronounced," Shusterich said.

He said the average 1,000-footer now is taking about 59,000 tons of coal, as compared with about 62,000 tons last year. Given sufficient water depths, the same vessels could carry about 68,000 tons of coal.

Midwest's facility in Superior remains the busiest coal terminal on the Great Lakes.

Other coal operations on the St. Lawrence Seaway have had an even weaker start to the shipping season. System-wide, coal shipments totaled 1.2 million tons in March -- 28 percent less than during the same month in 2006.

While Shusterich said Midwest may be hard pressed to match its performance in 2006, which was a record year for shipments, he remains confident this will be another solid year for the terminal.

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