The INTERNal Outsider: Collaboration Between (seemingly) Opposing Mindsets

An Intern’s-Eye View of the MIC

When you listen to the news long enough, you’ll find a recurring theme at the base of many major news stories: the environment versus the economy. You can find these opposing ideas in stories impacting regions as large as the nation, all the way down to our own city streets (google “TransCanada pipeline”, or “4th Street long-eared bats in Duluth”).

HTAC Mtg1The MIC, however, does put these two opposing views together in a room at least four times a year at the Harbor Technical Advisory Committee (HTAC) meetings. As one of the MIC’s three advisory committees, the stakeholders of the harbor are brought together for presentations and discussions with other stakeholders of the harbor. The 31 voting members of the HTAC include business owners, environmental groups, and local and state federal officials. Non-voting stakeholders are also invited to meeting to participate.

During my internship I attended two HTAC meetings and have also been helping out with tasks from the Port Land Use Plan. Topics at the HTAC meetings encompass both the environment and the economy and demonstrate how they are not mutually exclusive.  At these meetings we heard about what the regulatory agencies in the area are doing to take the harbor off of the national Area of Concern list, followed by a summary of how the economic development of the port supports the region and connects our economy to the rest of the world. A report on research done on the economic impact of ports throughout the Great Lakes is followed by a description of the habitat restoration being done in Radio Tower Bay and a discussion on the impacts of ballast water.

Beyond these quarterly meetings, the MIC staff facilitates subcommittee meetings that get into even more depth of how the decisions of each side impacts the other.  The Open DuluthHarborAerialViewWater Mitigation subcommittee, for example, creates a working group for the regulatory agencies and the investors of the port to discuss their individual goals of restoration within the St. Louis River estuary and development within the harbor.  The objective of this group is for the Minnesota DNR and PCA, along with the Army Corps of Engineers, to help other entities such as the Duluth Seaway Port Authority, port businesses, and engineering and planning firms, understand how to get through the environmental permitting process for new construction.  Although much of the discussion went over my head, the desire to understand each other and wanting to be better understood was palpable.

The atmosphere at both of the HTAC meetings, along with both Open Water Mitigation subcommittee meetings, amazed me. The classic ever-battling mindsets are getting together on a regular basis to understand one another and to create a better setting for growth on each side.

One function I’ve come to appreciate about the MIC is that, as a neutral transportation planning organization, it is uniquely situated to support this type of coordination and collaboration.  Because the MIC is tasked by federal highway legislation with a primary responsibility of creating opportunities for public participation for all modes of transportation, the MIC includes funding and staffing resources for this harbor group in its annual work program. It serves as a much-needed, often-lacking champion or sponsor to gather diverse and unrelated stakeholders together as one group.

This type of collaboration is almost unheard of throughout the rest of the United States. In fact, the other ports of the Great Lakes are looking to the HTAC as a model to create this same type of collaboration between these two opposing mindsets.

From what I’ve seen so far, other port communities could benefit from an HTAC-type of group if their goals include improved outreach, education, state and local level participation and grassroots support for maritime industry.


Erica H-150pxErica Hansen is finishing up her final semester at the University of Wisconsin – Superior in the Transportation and Logistics Management program. She is intrigued by looking at transportation from a different side than freight movement, and helping to create an efficient and safe transportation network for the Duluth-Superior area. The INTERNal Outsider is her account of some of her work and observations while working as an intern for the MIC.


What will our Transportation System Look Like in 2040?

Updating the 25-year Vision for Transportation in the Twin Ports

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You are invited to attend one of the four public meetings on Connections 2040 – the Twin Ports Long Range Transportation Plan.


The Duluth-Superior Metropolitan Interstate Council (MIC) is updating its Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP) to provide policy guidance, goals and strategies for jurisdictions within the greater metropolitan area of Duluth, Minnesota and Superior, Wisconsin.  It covers a twenty-five year planning horizon and is updated every four years.Connections2040-logo-320px

The over-arching purpose of the LRTP is to provide a planning foundation for jurisdictions to work cooperatively to provide a well-maintained, integrated, accessible and multi-modal transportation system to safely and efficiently move people and freight for the next 25 years, within the constraints of funding the region can reasonably expect to receive.

The heart of the Plan is a listing of proposed federally-funded transportation projects, as well as transportation initiatives underway within the region, to be implemented from 2015-2040. You can view an interactive map of the projects here.

To learn more about demographic trends for this area, projections, transportation priorities and planned projects, you have three opportunities for input:

1. Attend a Public Meeting

Thurs. Sept 11, 2014
Community Action Duluth, 2424 W 5th Street, Duluth, MN 55806

Thurs. Sept 18, 2014
Superior Public Library, 1530 Tower Avenue, Superior, WI 54880

Thurs. Sept 25, 2014
Arrowhead Regional Development Commission (ARDC)
221 W First Street, Duluth, MN 55802

Mon. Sept 29, 2014
4:00-7:00pm (drop-in)
214 West Superior Street
221 W First Street, Duluth, MN 55802

2.  Visit our Connections 2040 web page at for more information about the plan and to view the interactive map of proposed projects.  You can use the “layers” tab in the upper right corner to toggle on and off views of information about environmentally sensitive areas, low-income and minority populations, etc.

3.  Contact MIC Senior Planner James Gittemeier by phone at (218) 529-7556 or by email at


Duluth-Superior’s Harbor Technical Advisory Committee: A Model for Successful Stakeholder Participation & Coordination

Aerial view of the Ports of Duluth-Superior “A committee that actually gets work done”

The HTAC is a working group for addressing challenges and opportunities in the Duluth-Superior harbor, while promoting the port’s economic and environmental importance to both communities.

It is one of three advisory committees to the Metropolitan Interstate Council (MIC), the federally designated Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) for the Duluth-Superior urbanized area.

And it is unique–the only stakeholder group of its kind in the country.

More important, it is, in the words of former Duluth Seaway Port Authority Director Adolf Ojard, “a committee that actually gets work done.”

Complexity, Controversy and Collaboration

Port-centered issues are usually complex, often controversial and sometimes downright contentious: dredged material management; marine safety; port security; land and recreational uses; economic development proposals; accelerated corrosion of maritime infrastructure; ballast water and invasive species management; legacy environmental degradation and habitat restoration initiatives –to name a few.

None of these problems affects one group alone, and none can be addressed except through the coordinated action of many diverse organizations and individuals. The HTAC has emerged as a national model for doing just that, through planning, collaboration, information sharing and long-term institutional involvement.

Its diverse members all hold a stake in the continued success and health of the harbor. Participation on the HTAC encourages representatives from industry, government, academic, environmental, regulatory and citizen groups on both sides of the bridge to recognize that although they have distinct missions they also have shared goals.

HTAC members, in other words, are genuine stakeholders who have, over its 20-year history, learned the value of playing nice and working hard together.

Result: a new paradigm for dredge material handling

Aerial view of Erie Pier re-engineered as a PRFOne recent example of the HTAC’s successful, collaborative planning process is what’s happening at Erie Pier. It might seem a little hard to get excited about this “hidden in plain sight” facility on the Duluth waterfront—but it represents an entirely new paradigm for dredge material handling.

Thanks to the efforts of many HTAC members who undertook an intensive multi-year planning process, and to the US Army Corps of Engineers which subsequently agreed to make a significant investment in redesigning and re-engineering the facility, a major physical restructuring of the full-to-capacity Contained Disposal Facility at Erie Pier was undertaken to convert it to a Recycle-Reuse Facility.  It utilizes hydraulic sorting to separate out the clean, uncontaminated sand and silt that’s dredged from the shipping channels for reuse in large-scale projects such as road construction and landfill cover.

The Duluth Seaway Port Authority now manages Erie Pier dredge materials as a valuable, re-usable resource instead of a waste product.  By creating a cost effective and environmentally sound alternative to standard dredge material disposal practices, it will save local taxpayers the millions of dollars it would have cost to develop a new CDF.

Sincerest form of flattery

It also has the potential to change the way other Great Lakes ports manage their dredging operations.  Erie Pier has recently gained the attention of the Canadian federal government, which is looking at the Erie Pier facility as a model for a new hydraulic sorting procedure at one or more of their dredging sites.

Most port communities face similar challenges.  For this reason, we’ve been invited to present the HTAC model at many national-level planning and port conferences in recent years.

More Information/Get Involved

You can follow or participate in this notable initiative that’s happening right here in Duluth-Superior.  For more information or to get on our meeting mailing list, check out the HTAC page on the MIC website at

Writing credit: Andy McDonald contributed to this article.

Photo credits:
Duluth-Superior Harbor aerial view – Gary Lidholm, USDA Forest Service, Superior National Forest

Erie Pier aerial view – Google Earth 2010

Great Lakes Short Sea Shipping (try saying that fast three times)

Steven Fisher, Executive Director of the American Great Lakes Ports Association, made the case for the value of the Great Lakes navigation system and discussed the legislative and regulatory issues posing challenges to the maritime industry at the MIC’s annual meeting on July 20, 2011.

Fisher noted that throughout the United States, road and rail congestion threaten economic growth and quality of life. Transportation planners (including the MIC) are examining how short sea shipping via the Great Lakes can ease some of the burden on the land-based transportation modes.

View Fisher’s discussion of all topics (4:39)

Safe, Cost-Effective, Environmentally Sustainable

Fisher asserted that waterborne transportation has demonstrated that it is the safest, most fuel efficient, cost-effective and environmentally sustainable mode of moving goods in the global economy. Vessels on the Great Lakes burn significantly less fuel and produce fewer emissions and have far fewer accidents than trains or trucks.

Great Lakes Harbor Dredging

Bottom line: there’s not enough money to properly dredge many Great Lakes commercial harbors.

Most ports require regular dredging to remove sand and silt that naturally accumulate in shipping channels. This work is the responsibility of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, but its FY 2012 budget only provides $22.4 million to dredge Great Lakes navigation channels, less than half the amount necessary.  As a result, many ports are becoming difficult for ships to navigate, and in some cases, shipping channels have become blocked and two are slated for closure.

Congress should provide adequate funds in the Fiscal Year 2012 Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill to address the backlog of dredging projects at Great Lakes ports,

Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund and Political Gridlock

Bottom line: The money being collected from waterborne commerce is not dedicated to commercial ports.

The Harbor Maintenance Tax is a fee collected from domestic commercial cargo loaded or unloaded from vessels using US ports in order to fund the Army Corps of Engineers’ operation and maintenance activities. This includes the dredging that is needed to keep the Great Lakes ports up and running.

Despite the fact that adequate revenue (approximately $1.3 billion annually) is being collected, Congress has traditionally used about half of the fund’s money to offset general spending. Fisher noted that although there is significant support in Congress to enact legislation to ensure that funds collected for harbor maintenance are spent for their intended purpose, the current political gridlock in Washington DC is hindering the progress of this initiative.

View Fisher’s discussion of Great Lakes dredging and funding (1:16)

Aquatic Invasive Species and the Great Ships Initiative

Bottom line: there is widespread agreement in both the maritime industry and the environmental community that the best way to prevent the transfer of aquatic invasive species is to keep them off ships in the first place. For that reason, there is considerable research being done to develop technology to treat ballast water and remove or kill aquatic nuisance species.

In 2007, the Great Ships Initiative (GSI) opened the world’s first fresh water ballast treatment technology test facility, located in Superior, Wisconsin.

View Fisher’s discussion of the GSI (1:13)

Future of the Shipping Industry on the Great Lakes

Bottom line: both the US and Canada are continuing to invest in the future of the shipping industry on the Great Lakes.

The Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway, which is managed and operated jointly by Canada and the United States, is a unique and significant navigation route into the North American heartland for deep-draft vessels coming from the Atlantic Ocean and beyond.

Fifty years after its construction, both countries recognize that it provides important economic benefits by transporting cargoes such as grain, iron ore, and steel into and out of the Great Lakes region. Recent policy changes in Canada have spurred $400 million investment in rebuilding its Great Lakes fleet.

View Fisher’s discussion of future prospects for the GL maritime industry (1:05)

Photo credit, Laker in Duluth Canal: Minnesota Extension Service, Don Breneman

Photo credit, Laurentian Great Lakes: NOAA, Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory

Video editing: Brian Heaton

Freighter Ballet

I spotted these two ships earlier this season, conducting a maneuver to enable both boats to enter the Duluth-Superior harbor with only one lift from Duluth’s Aerial Lift Bridge.

Preserving a Landmark

At first glance, the ballet these two ships performed looked like a demolition derby on a massive scale but turned out to be an impressive display of seamanship on a beautiful spring day.

The result fits nicely with a plan by the City of Duluth to lessen wear and tear on the bridge by reducing the number of times the bridge lifts each day.

The plan, recently approved by the US Coast Guard, was aimed at recreational boaters limiting them to entering only on the half hour from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. from May 27 to the Tuesday after Labor Day.

The system was tested last year and it reduced the number of lifts by over 1,000, a 23% reduction.  This not only saves wear on the Aerial Lift Bridge but also reduces roadway congestion on Canal Park and Park Point.

The bridge will still lift on demand for traffic like these freighters – but it was nice to see they are willing to do their part to preserve the iconic bridge.