Tom Van Dusen
Nation Valley News
JOHNSTOWN — Port of Johnstown realized a net surplus of close to $4 million on revenues of $8.5 million in a year of global pandemic and related shutdowns, says General Manager Robert Dalley in his 2020 Year End Review, indicating that cargo through the facility reached close to 1.3 million tons.
That compares to a 2019 surplus of about $3.5 million and marks the third best year in recent times, Dalley says. Positive freight and financial numbers have been stacking up at the port for most of its history as a municipal operation.
Downloaded 22 years ago by the federal government, the landmark port with its massive elevator, St. Lawrence Seaway freighter, rail and truck loading and unloading services, and ever-increasing grain storage, is owned by the Municipality of Edwardsburg-Cardinal. Marine traffic accounts for 62 per cent of business, truck traffic 37 per cent, and rail 1 percent.
The complex is overseen by a stand-alone management board which recently received Dalley’s Year End Review, also received by municipal council.
Any profits go back into port improvements and community projects, and to help keep residential taxes down. Among projects funded in 2020 were baseball dugouts, dog park, playground equipment, and ATV trail groomer. This year, the port is offering up to $75,000 in community project capital funding.
As essential services, the GM said the port remained open following the arrival of COVID-19 and transportation and agricultural sectors continued to operate providing critical supply chains. While 2021 will continue to be challenging, Dalley has no doubt “we’ll adapt and overcome any obstacles that lie ahead.”
Road salt and grain shipments account for most of the tonnage through Port of Johnstown, with salt loads traditionally higher. However, in 2020, salt was down by more than 110,000 tons while grain was up by 18 per cent, to 235,230 in 15 ships. Tonnage of all commodities including salt totalled more than 795,000 last year.
Grain cargo increases were across the board in beans, corn and wheat; corn volume included two incoming vessel loads and 100 railcars for one local processor. Regionally, unseasonably dry weather through May and June left corn without sufficient precipitation leading to a lower yield but good quality. Still, total corn volume through the port in 2020 including imports was 132,256 tons, up 58,000 tons over 2019.
The dry weather didn’t seem to have a negative effect on soybeans and that harvest was excellent; volume of beans received was 196,536 tons, up 56,683 tons over 2019. The volume of wheat was 30,630 tons, an increase of about 5,000 tons over the previous year.
The challenge with outgoing soybeans last year, the Dalley report explains, was slow arrival into port of vessels to load. Factors included the low price of beans meaning producers were in no hurry to sell so brokers didn’t book vessels; when prices started to climb, beans ended up sitting in storage. Arrival of sufficient vessels was about a month late with, at one point, about 90,000 tons in storage at the port.
Handling and storage of non-GMO corn continued to be an important service provided by the port, with 25,330 tons received in 2020, down by 7,000 tons but still higher than 2018. In 2020, the port recorded final departure to destination of components for Nation Rise Wind Farm in North Stormont; in all, 493 components moved through the port.
Several capital improvements were undertaken in 2020 for a total investment of $4.2 million, notably nine new ship loading spouts, replacement of rail ties, completion of a 16,000-ton storage bin, dust collection system improvements, new conveyor belt, new utility vehicle, and new eaves troughs and heat cables.
The port supports local growers by providing extended hours at night and on weekends; at one point, 24-hr. service was provided for five consecutive days to offset a mechanical issue.