River Shipping Swells Up to 62 Percent in Western Pa
22 July 2013
By Tom Fontaine
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Staff Reporter Tom Fontaine can be
reached at 412-320-7847
The steady increase in the number of barges cruising Western
Pennsylvania rivers makes Peter Stephaich happy.
“It's good for everybody,” said Stephaich, chairman and CEO of
Campbell Transportation Co. Inc., which operates 36 vessels with
500 barges on the Ohio River.
An improving economy and the opening of a new battery of coke
ovens along the Monongahela River are spurring the sharp increase
in river shipping, experts said on Monday.
The Port of Pittsburgh Commission, citing Army Corps of Engineers
data, said companies moved 12.7 million tons of goods on the
Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio rivers in May, up 62 percent from
That represents the highest May total since 2008, before the
recession. Each of the previous seven months was the highest for
that month since at least 2008 as well.
Pennsylvania employers added more than 19,000 jobs in June, and
the state's 7.5 percent unemployment rate remained unchanged from
May. Americans are buying more cars and trucks, furniture and
clothes but are cutting back almost everywhere else, data show.
The shipping increase is “not only a good sign for the economy,
but I think it also helps us make a strong case as we try to get
more funding for maintenance and rehabilitation of our aging locks
and dams,” said Port of Pittsburgh Commission Executive Director
Many locks and dams in the Pittsburgh area began operating in the
1930s or earlier. Many are showing their age, with crumbling walls
and malfunctioning gates. Congress is considering a bill to
increase money for improvement projects in the area.
McCarville said shipping of mineral commodities and manufactured
goods increased in May, reflecting what he described as a general
improvement in economic conditions.
A scheduled two-week closure of Beaver County's Montgomery Locks
and Dam in June helped inflate the numbers, McCarville said, as
many companies that receive deliveries via the Ohio River ordered
shipments earlier than usual to stockpile goods in advance of the
The opening of U.S. Steel Corp.'s new C Battery in November is
playing the biggest role in boosting local river traffic, said
McCarville and Frank Gamrat, an economist with the Castle
Shannon-based Allegheny Institute for Public Policy.
“There's no question,” Gamrat said.
One jumbo-sized barge can haul about 1,500 tons of coal — meaning
C Battery requires enough coal annually to fill more than 900
The battery, which the company built for $500 million, replaced
three higher-emissions units at the Clairton plant. It can produce
about 960,000 tons of coke annually in a process that requires
more than 1.3 million tons of coal, said company spokeswoman
Courtney Boone. The coal is shipped to the plant by barge, while
finished coke goes out on rail for use in U.S. Steel blast
“U.S. Steel depends on the Monongahela/Ohio River system for
transporting raw materials and finished steel to and from our
Clairton Plant, Irvin Plant and Edgar Thomson Plant in the Mon
Valley,” Boone said.
Boone said C Battery opened on Nov. 25, but the company ordered
coal before then to stockpile it for the opening.
A spike in river shipping in the Pittsburgh area happened about
the same time, according to Army Corps data.
Shipping soared 38.2 percent in October, 83.5 percent in November
and 79.7 percent in December compared to those months in 2012,
data show. In the year's previous nine months, shipping had been
down about 5 percent over the same period a year earlier.
Shipping has been up between 34.5 percent and 62.3 percent year to
year in the first five months of 2013, data show.
Stephaich said several companies have benefited.
“If we don't get funding and locks and dams continue to
deteriorate, a company like U.S. Steel that's putting hundreds of
millions of dollars into river development, it's going to make it
hard for them to justify that investment. It's a huge issue for
our region,” Stephaich said.
Tom Fontaine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be
reached at 412-320-7847 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The Associated
Press contributed to this report.