Peters highlights Port of Monroe during tour with customs officials

Group of officials take tour of Michigan's only port on Lake Erie

A local seaport’s campaign to more broadly participate in international trade attracted some of the country’s highest-ranking border security officials.

On Monday afternoon, the Port of Monroe hosted a delegation of bureaucrats from Customs and Border Protection, the federal agency that has largely barred the port from handling international containerized and break bulk cargo. Experts have said those actions have cost the community millions of dollars in revenue, job creation and economic growth.

Joined by U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Michigan, Port Director Paul LaMarre III spoke with Troy Miller, the acting commissioner of CBP, and a gathering of CBP officials and local politicians.

“Every time CBP officers are at the port, we’re incredibly thankful,” LaMarre said. “… Because of (CBP’s current policies), we have lost more cargo than we’ve handled.”

During a tour, LaMarre pointed to several partnerships in which the port has played a part, as well as future potential for further projects. It currently handles synthetic gypsum and bottom ash through its work with DTE Energy, which operates the Monroe Power Plant.

The port also works with General Electric Wind, Ventower and Gerdau Steel, LaMarre said, adding that he is proud of the work that the port has been able to accomplish.

But LaMarre expressed his desire to expand the port’s ability to handle international cargo.

Peters, the chair of the Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee, said the hope is to find a cooperative way in which to facilitate that venture.

“(The port) has a significant impact on economic development — not just in Monroe County, but the entire region,” Peters said. “A key partner in that is Customs and Border Protection.”

Miller thanked Peters and LaMarre for providing a tour to CBP officials and officers.

“We got to see some of the development at the port over the last few years and we got a good overview (of the port’s) vision,” Miller said.

The Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway also have the ability to ease the burden placed on ports on the country’s coasts, where costs are dramatically rising, Peters said.

“… We have this underutilized resource that can bring cargo right into the heartland of the United States, and in the process create good-paying jobs in Michigan,” Peters said.

A federal grant of nearly $771,000 was awarded to the port earlier this year. The grant will be used to fund the purchase of upgraded cargo screening equipment, specifically a radiation portal monitor, which scans cargo for traces of nuclear or radiological material.

LaMarre said the port is also in the process of pursuing a $14.4 million federal port development grant, which would be used to upgrade the seaport’s security gate, pave additional areas of the port and construct an additional security facility.

“I believe in my heart that CBP’s investment of personnel and time in this community will make (the agency) proud,” LaMarre said.

The port has long sought to increase its ability to handle containerized cargo and break bulk cargo. LaMarre has often pointed to Monroe’s location on Lake Erie, which gives it proximity to Canada and the St. Lawrence Seaway, as advantageous. Its proximity to major transportation routes also gives it a competitive edge, he said.

 “We would immediately be able to capitalize on regional manufacturing (companies) and become a hub,” LaMarre said.

CBP previously intervened in two deals spearheaded by the port. A pilot program with Ford Motor Co. in 2016 would have positioned the port to export Ford Mustangs in containerized cargo to Europe via the St. Lawrence Seaway. That deal fell apart when CBP said it could not regularly dedicate the manpower needed for such efforts.

A year later, as a ship neared the Port of Monroe carrying break bulk cargo earmarked for Arauco North America, CBP officials rerouted that ship to the Port of Cleveland, stating the local port needed to make a series of security upgrades to be able to handle such cargo.

Such restrictions were not in effect at the Cleveland or Toledo ports, which has fueled criticism of trade policy inequities among Great Lakes states.

A 2018 University of Michigan study examined the two cases, and determined CBP’s policies cost the community jobs and tens of millions of dollars of revenue.

Peters has been an active partner with the port in attempting to address the issue. For years, he has sought answers as to how CBP implements its policies and why restrictions differ state to state.

Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Tipton, has also pressed for answers from CBP. And earlier this year, state lawmakers passed a resolution calling for equitable regulations for all Great Lakes ports.

The resolution, which was sponsored by State Sen. Dale Zorn, R-Ida, claimed CBP’s policies had a devastating impact on the state’s economy, which has more than 3,000 miles of shoreline and the most ports of any Great Lake state.

“… CBP restrictions have economically disadvantaged Michigan and hurt infrastructure and the environment,” the resolution reads. “Cargo that cannot be unloaded in Michigan is taken to nearby ports, leading to high fees for businesses and creating hundreds of jobs in other states.”

LaMarre said discussions to revive the Ford Mustang project have persisted, despite the current policies in place. The project would move several thousand vehicles a year through the port and the seaway.

Similar talks have also occurred between the port and other auto companies manufacturing vehicles and parts in the state. The port also would likely be able to attract additional opportunities with other manufactures operating in Michigan, LaMarre added.

“The opportunities are still out there,” he said. “We fight for them every day.”

By:  Tyler Eagle
Source: The Monroe News