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Iron ore shipments up in Twin Ports

DULUTH — Iron ore was cruising out of the Twin Ports last month as this shipping season continued its best start since 2013.

"The first three months looked strong — that's obviously reflective of all six (taconite) production facilities being online this year," said Adele Yorde, spokeswoman for the Duluth Seaway Port Authority. "We hope the strength of the steel market will continue through this shipping season and into 2018."

The Port of Duluth-Superior saw more than 2.1 million tons of taconite leave the harbor last month. Year-to-date, iron ore shipments are 18.6 percent above the five-year average, according to port data. Two Harbors and Silver Bay shipments were right around average, according to the Lake Carriers' Association.

Across the Great Lakes, ore is up 6.5 percent over last year at 17 million tons; the season thus far is better than any since 2013. With the closure of the Empire Mine in Michigan, the Port of Escanaba shipped its last ore in April, which could depress shipment totals going forward.

International demand, however, has meant more ore moving on Canadian lakers for transshipment overseas, Yorde said.

Overall cargos across the Great Lakes are a "near carbon copy of a year ago," at least on U.S.-flagged lakers, the Lake Carriers' Association said, with coal leveling out and limestone and cement decreasing.

Coal dipped in the Twin Ports as less is being demanded by plants served by local terminals. Grain, however, continued a strong run that started last season.

"We hope the trend continues the rest of the season," Yorde said.

Brooks Johnson

Brooks is an investigative/enterprise reporter and business columnist at the Duluth News Tribune.

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