The Port of Milwaukee usually doesn’t have ships coming in past mid-January, but this winter has been different.
Milder weather means salt ships—those that travel the Great Lakes only, mostly delivering road and table salt—have continued to come to port all winter.
“Usually the ships lay up in mid-January to the end of January,” said Port of Milwaukee marketing manager Betty Nowak. “Never do I recall having four or five salt ships coming in in February.”
The longer shipping season hasn’t had a huge impact on the local economy, though.
Ocean ships, those that travel overseas, couldn’t have continued all winter because the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Seaway locks close in late December and reopen in mid-March no matter the weather, Nowak said.
Salt ships will still need to moor at some point to do winter maintenance work, so they can’t continue non-stop, she said.
And the unseasonably warm temperatures also mean less road and sidewalk salt is needed ashore, so salt shipments will likely slow down this summer as a result.
The salt ships that come in to the Port of Milwaukee work on contract to supply salt to all of southeastern Wisconsin. Employees at the port load 800 to 1,000 trucks with salt per day for shipment, Nowak said.
“Certainly we’re getting more revenue from the additional cargo coming across the docks,” she said. “We have more truckers and more labor moving the salt around.”
The Port of Milwaukee saw a 32 percent increase in 2011 tonnage over 2010, Nowak said. That’s brought the tonnage numbers back to pre-recession levels.