Cuyahoga County Port’s Relocation Proposal Has Serious Flaws

Submitted by Jeff Buster on Tue, 01/27/2009 - 15:29.

Published to Realneo with the permission of Author -   Dominic A. LoGalbo

Recently, in the Plain Dealer, Michael Wagar, the out going chairman of the Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority, championed a vision of a new, 200-acre port he claims would be the catalyst for some 50,000 jobs, signaling an economic rebirth for the region. In a city struggling to attain a renaissance on so many levels, the message held out much needed hope. I believe, however, Wagar’s projections should be taken with a dash of reality, for the plan may be more of a mirage than a manifestation of economic prosperity.

To appreciate the potential folly of this project, one needs to consider the process that led to its birth and the arrogant manner in which it has been presented to a public that is expected to pay for it without questioning its feasibility.

I have spent a lifetime of involvement with the lakefront, first managing Dock 20 for the Cleveland Stevedore Co., and later representing eight international steamship lines for F.C MacFarlane Steamship Co.

My experience on the waterfront made me aware of the need for better planning if the city was ever to enjoy the acclaim and prosperity a beautiful shoreline would bring Cleveland. That planning seemed to take shape during Mayor Jane Campbell’s administration.

Like many others, I attended scores of meetings designed to draw ideas from the public and piece them into a master plan. Considerable time and money went into what would finally emerge after 200 meetings as the 2004 Lakefront District Plan.

The remarkable thing about the plan was its consensus. In a city known for its contentious nature, virtually every business, civic and political entity endorsed the plan. In all probability, it was the most extensive study of the lakefront since Cleveland emerged from the wilderness in the 18th century.

Then, in an astonishing move, made without public explanation or input, the plan was cast aside. It was replaced by a hastily conceived idea promising to be the largest public works project in the city’s history, costing upwards of a billion dollars and adding a new ribbon of industrial clutter to the shoreline.

At the meeting at which it was introduced a year ago, port officials explicitly stated that the public could not question officials about the plan. Since then, very little has been revealed about its progress.

The plan coincided with the arrival of Adam Wasserman in 2007 as president of the port authority and was based on two sketchy studies by consultants without even a façade of public debate. One of the port’s own studies concluded that the Wasserman plan was virtually a roll of the dice.

Even more alarming than the further marring of the shoreline’s aesthetic was the lack of economic data supporting such a costly endeavor. There was no projected return on investment on such a massive expenditure of public money.

Compare that cost to the fact that - in a good year - the port makes only about $1 million annually from maritime use and recently has lost money in its operations. While the port claims to have created thousands of jobs through its efforts, studies find only a few thousand that can be associated with its maritime endeavors.

At the crux of Wasserman’s plan is the establishment of a new port that would handle such substantial container business that it would create an economic development zone adjacent to it that would ultimately create 50,000 jobs. This would be achieved in 20 years.

Today, the Port of Toledo is in a position to handle all the container business available. But very little of this business exists, and there is little likelihood of any significant increase.

The shipping business as a whole has fallen off here over the years. When I first started at the port in the 1960s, there were 21 steamship companies operating here, and the Port of New York maintained offices in the Terminal Tower. These companies are long gone.

The loss of so much manufacturing in Ohio has had a serious effect on the port.

Ships entering the Great Lakes from the St. Lawrence Seaway prefer not only to deliver cargo but to pick it up as well, but there is little to export here.

Currently, rail and truck transport is favored by the container industry. No better example can be found than in Maple Heights where the Norfolk and Southern Railroad maintains a container facility. Each day some 1,400 containers pass through the facility, about 900 by truck and the rest by rail.

The likelihood of Norfolk and Southern relocating its transportation hub to a downtown site is remote, and there is no dramatic increase in Great Lakes shipping anticipated in the future.

In addition, the shipping season usually runs from April to late October, which means the port is idle for five months, hardly an encouraging factor for such a staggering investment.

The concerns around this project are legion and include environmental and recreational issues as well as the quality of life available on our waterfront. The port needs to conceive a realistic facility as was presented in the 2004 Lakefront District plan.

LoGalbo studied transportation at John Carroll University and served with the U.S. Army Transportation Corps. He was the first commodore of the E. 55th Street Marina.




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