News

Ship activity means bridges up often on Welland Canal

By Karena Walter, The Standard

A ship makes its way out of Lock 1 Monday April 17 2017 on the Welland Canal. Bob Tymczyszyn/St. Catharines Standard/Postmedia Network

A ship makes its way out of Lock 1 Monday April 17 2017 on the Welland Canal. Bob Tymczyszyn/St. Catharines Standard/Postmedia Network

Drivers waiting to cross the Welland Canal bridges have had to be more patient than usual this season as shipping is experiencing a surge.

Canal traffic is up 23 per cent from this time last year due to shipments of grain and iron ore.

“We are witnessing a very healthy level of traffic,” said Andrew Bogora, spokesman for St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corp.

The good news for drivers in St. Catharines is that Carlton Street bridge repairs are on schedule to be completed by the end of the month and the bridge will be back in service.

Bogora said it’s always a balancing act to accommodate everyone’s needs.

“I simply want to underline our thanks to the community for the understanding during both the maintenance that has been done and the current surge in traffic,” Bogora said.

“We are always appreciative and we hope to be a good neighbour.”

Bogora said the iron ore market is highly price sensitive and the canal is seeing export movement from the upper lakes down-bound that accounts for part of the increase in traffic. Shipments from the Mesabi Range in Minnesota and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan are destined for markets overseas.

He said there’s a natural synergy in terms of moving iron ore on a laker for its initial transit and then transferring it to a larger ocean vessel in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Rail companies may not have the facilities to transfer cargo at certain ports.

“In terms of efficiency, both energy efficiency and cost efficiency, moving iron ore by ship is the option that is virtually the only option,” he said.

Grain from the previous year’s harvest is also being moved to various markets.

Bogora said the harvest was late last year in certain areas of the Prairies due to weather. That meant it had to be stored and there wasn’t an opportunity to move it to market.

As well, some farmers store grain until they get the price they want.

“What we will witness throughout the year are certain bursts of activity coinciding with price opportunities for the sale of grain,” Bogora said.

With the increased activity, St. Catharines Mayor Walter Sendzik warned his residents during the last city council meeting they could be waiting 20 to 25 minutes at the Lakeshore Road bridge. He told them to be mindful of that as it’s caused a lot of frustration on both sides of the canal.

Sendzik said the fire chief has been working closely with his team to ensure there are trucks on the east side of the canal when the bridges are up.

“We trying to put safety first, but understanding that there’s going to be some challenges for those who are looking to get across the Welland Canal,” Sendzik said.

Fire Chief Dave Wood said he’s been working closely with the seaway over the winter months. Because the Carlton Street bridge has been closed, they’ve been working to minimize the number of times both Lakeshore and Homer bridges are up at the same time.

The fire department has a policy to move a truck across the canal when the bridges go up to ensure a rapid response to the citizens and businesses to the east in the Port Weller area.

Wood said as soon as the Lakeshore bridge is raised, a pump from Scott Street station crosses over the Garden City Skyway. If the Scott Street truck is at a call, a truck from Geneva Street headquarters or Merritton crosses the canal at the Glendale or Homer bridges.

Wood met with residents and businesses on the Port Weller side a year and a half ago to assure them they would get the same service that everyone else in the city receives. He said he’s continuing to work with other city departments and the seaway to come up with different ways of providing for the east side community.

“We are doing everything possible to try and help the citizens,” Wood said. “As for emergency services, we will not let our citizens down, we will provide them with the same level of service.”

The seaway introduced a radio channel at 93.3 FM last year that gives citizens up-to-date bridge status information.

It also has a bridge status app for smartphones.

The fire department has the seaway’s bridge status website on display in its communications room all the time, Wood said.

“The seaway working diligently and so is the City of St. Catharines to ensure we can provide the best possible service.”

kwalter@postmedia.com 



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