The biggest little port

Booming port finds itself back on the map

 

Story BY Danielle Portteus
Photos Courtesy of Paul C. LaMarre III

When Paul C. LaMarre III came to the Port of Monroe in 2012, it was looking for new life.

Sure, the port moved marine cargo but its heydays seemed to be in the rearview mirror.

In his fifth year as port director, LaMarre, 38, has changed the port’s image. For years, the director has called the Port of Monroe the“Biggest Little Port on the Great Lakes.”

“We are being seen as a model for how to put an inactive port back on the map,” LaMarre said. “We went from being dormant to being a leader in the Great Lakes.”

In 2012, the port saw a 5 percent increase in its marine tonnage with 2,268,874 metric tons. By 2015, the port nearly tied its all-time high, moving more than 2.4 million metric tons of cargo during the shipping season. The record-setting tonnage for the port was set in 2014.

The figures for the 2017 shipping season are not yet finalized, but are expected to be on target with figures in recent years.

“Our tonnage numbers should be solid,” LaMarre said. “We have handled the most diverse number of cargoes this year.”

The port handed the large machinery cargo for the Arauco project in Grayling. The project is a $400 million particleboard factory, which will provide 200 jobs.

“Overall, the port has seen more activity this year on the River Raisin than it has ever experience,” LaMarre said. “We’ve had more vessel calls and more men and women working at the port.”

DRM Terminal Services, the port’s terminal operator, now employs 30.

When he was appointed, LaMarre became the first permanent full-time director the port had in 30 years. He’s the third generation to make his living from the maritime industry having studied under his father, Paul C. LaMarre Jr., a longtime mariner and noted marine artist. The youngest LaMarre also has a passion for marine art in the form of photography.

Born in Dearborn, LaMarre grew up on Grosse Ile and graduated from Brother Rice High School in Bloomfield Hills. After graduating from the California Maritime Academy, he worked as a merchant mariner on the Great Lakes until joining the Navy, where he piloted an F/A-18 Hornet. After discharge, he worked with his dad’s tugboat company until becoming director of the Willis Boyer museum ship in Toledo in 2007, shepherding it through a massive restoration and rechristening it to its original name as the Col. James M. Schoonmaker. The freighter is the focal point of the National Great Lakes Maritime Museum in Toledo. He played a key role in developing that museum.

Quick to tout the port’s successes, LaMarre remains humble crediting the City of Monroe, the Monroe Port Commission and the businesses and partnerships formed along the River Raisin.

Still, it is under LaMarre’s leadership the port continues to grow and increase the economic possibilities. This month, the latest investment in the port is scheduled to be completed. In 2015, the port received the first-of-its kind deal from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.

The project is $3.6 million and included $3 million loan from the MEDC’s investment funds for dredging and the creation of an intermodal dock with two large, cellular cofferdams, which allow ships to be moored against the port. The changes are expected to cause fewer cargo delays and accommodate larger vessels with increased shipping capacity.

Currently, the only dock available to load and unload cargo is the turning basin, which is 18 feet deep. When the water levels of the river rise, there is an additional 3 feet allowing for a current maximum depth of 21 feet. The dredging project allows load vessels at a minimum draft of 21 feet and an additional three feet will be available when waters rise.

While the new dock will not open until shipping season begins in March, the port is hardly idle during the cold season.

“Winter is one of the most active times for the port because we are securing our cargo for the next season,” LaMarre said. “It is our active planning period and we are still moving gypsum by truck and rail.”

The Port of Monroe’s role is more than just a seaport, the director said.

“While that is our primary mission, we serve as the glue to all of the partners at the port and the cargo so they are all successful.”

Indeed, LaMarre said the port continues to work around the clock to be one of the top economic forces in the community.

“The port never sleeps,” LaMarre said.

the Herbert C. Jackson of Interlake Steamship Co. is the largest vessel to unload cargo at the Port of Monroe during its stop in fall, 2016. The ship loaded crushed refractory brick for cement mix destined for Alpena. The ship is the closest in construction to the Edmond Fitzgerald of the remaining freighters on the Great Lakes, Paul LaMarre III, the port’s director said.

The Walter J. McCarthy Jr. unloads low sulfur coal at DTE Energy before the close of the shipping season. The ship, a 1,000-footer, is from the American Steamship Company and is one of the largest ships on the Great Lakes.

The Paul R. Tregurtha, known as the “Queen of the Great Lakes” because the ship is more than 1,000 feet long, moves outbound from the Port of Monroe after it stopped at DTE Energy’s Monroe Power Plant.

The Great Lakes Tug Colorado assists the M.V. Erik from St. John, Antigua back into the waters of Lake Erie after the ship unloaded cargo at the Port of Monroe.