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Transportation Secretary Buttigieg tours Michigan's fast-growing Port of Monroe

The Port of Monroe will make repairs and expand its abilities to become a cargo shipping alternative to trucks.
Port of Monroe
The Port of Monroe will make repairs and expand its abilities to become a cargo shipping alternative to trucks.

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg toured the Michigan's fast-growing Port of Monroe on Wednesday. The port recently received an $11 million investment from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act.

In 2012, the port — Michigan's only seaport on Lake Erie — was underdeveloped, and used primarily to move waste from DTE's Monroe coal plant to nearby landfills.

Now, workers at the port are making concrete from some of that waste. And Buttigieg said the port is handling new kinds of cargo, including wind turbine components.

"That's an example of what a clean energy transition looks like," he said. "Some of the very same workers who have jobs involved in byproducts moving from the coal plant, for example, are also getting jobs in moving the elements of that wind energy infrastructure."

Buttigieg said developing ports like this across the Great Lakes will also help the country develop supply-chain resilience, to keep U.S. manufacturing humming without having to deal with parts shortages.

Port of Monroe Director Paul Lamarre said he was proud of how much the port has developed in just 12 years, and he looks forward to expanding its operations with the help of the federal infrastructure funds.

"I believe the Port of Monroe above all else is an example of how you put a port back on the map — how others can duplicate what we've done here in small communities around the Great Lakes to create economic impact and sustainability for the community," he said.

He said the port will also be the only port on Lake Erie able to scan cargo for radioactive material, under the U.S. Safe Port Act of 2006.

But Lamarre said that should not be seen as an element of competition with other port cities. Lamarre is also president of the American Great Lakes Ports Association, which represents all of the ports on the American side of the system.

"We are all in this together," he said. "Great Lakes ports should not see each other as being in competition. A win for Toledo, Detroit, Duluth, Cleveland, or Chicago is a win for the port of Monroe and vice versa. We need to get transportation on our waterways as strong as possible in the heartland of America."

Monroe Mayor Robert Clark said developing the port is an important part of the city's economic transition, since it anticipates losing part of its tax revenue base when the DTE Monroe Plant shuts down in 2032.

"We have to transition to what our other economic opportunities are," he said, listing local companies "[such as] Ventower Industries — it's one of only four wind turbine manufacturers in the country, and they're going to be making things for across the country and the world and shipping out of the port here. And Gerdau Steel, they're making high-grade bar steel — you can't find it elsewhere. So we'll continue to change."

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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