Saginaw River shipping traffic drops to 10-year low

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Experts say, within the past decade, the number of ship visits to the Saginaw River has gone from the highest – in the 300s – to the lowest – in the low 100s.

Todd Shorkey, a reporter for BoatNerd.com, has kept track of the number of vessels that enter the Saginaw River – over the last 10 years.

He said the decline was originally brought on by last decade’s recession. Also, he said the demand was down among customers who used products such as limestone to build houses.

“Probably 80 percent of the cargo that are delivered on the Saginaw River are Aggregate products – stone,” he said. “Some interesting statistics: the average home, when constructed, uses about 29 tons of aggregate in the construction.”

In addition to the lack of construction and shipment of limestone, last year’s icy and bitter winter didn’t help shipment business. The winter proved too much for the Saginaw River’s backlog of shipments to recover from.

Paul Strpko is a port facility manager with Bay Aggregate Inc. in Bay City. He said 2014’s “traffic” never really got started because winter hit too soon.

“It came very early, which put a lot of the shipping industry on hold because of the early winter and it hung on very late,” he said. “A lot of the cargo that moves continuously throughout the winter ended up becoming more delayed and created a backlog.”

The less business, the less jobs to go around.

Shorkey, with BoatNerd.com, said the lack of traffic translates to a loss of jobs, particularly those located along the Saginaw River.

“The Saginaw River provides 200-300 jobs for the vessel, for the docks along the river, for the truck drivers who deliver the product once it reaches the dock, so it’s an important resource for the area,” he said.

Shorkey says he expects to see more diversification on the river in the future, such as fertilizer and crops, as well as limestone.

Slowly, but surely, he says shipping traffic through the Saginaw River will pick up – just not to its glory days of nearly 10 years ago.