Port authority seeks upgrade of Detroit sea wall
Detroit — Major upgrades are needed for an aging port authority cargo terminal to attract more business to the area, its governing authority said Friday.
Detroit/Wayne County Port Authority Executive Director Kyle Burleson said there's an urgent need to apply for grant funding to rehabilitate a 50-year-old terminal south of the Ambassador Bridge at the foot of Clark Street.
“The urgency is not because something is going to collapse tomorrow,” said Burleson, who presented the authority’s strategic plan to stakeholders and government officials Friday. “The urgency is to take advantage of the opportunities to get federal dollars.”
The port authority, he said, owns the cargo terminal on West Jefferson that's one of between 25 and 30 terminals along the Detroit River and River Rouge. The cargo handling facility, he said, is the only one that's publicly owned.
“The sea wall, as one unit, is very old and serving well past its designed lifespan," he said.
The sea wall is where the ships tie, and Burleson said up to 2,000 feet of the wall could need upgrades. It still must be determined whether the sea wall can be repaired or rebuilt.
The concern about the location comes as officials with the Detroit/Wayne County Port Authority on Friday unveiled an effort to upgrade maritime infrastructure while encouraging public and private stakeholders, as well as elected officials, to become more aware of the port's potential.
“A lot suffer from aging infrastructure. They’re getting weaker, and there is a threat of collapsing,” Burleson said.
Burleson noted the sea walls in Detroit were built in the 1920s.
"The Port Authority took over the cargo docks in 2005, and we haven’t done a very good job of maintaining it," he said. "... But in order to increase cargo growth, we need to make an investment to be able to handle increased cargo loads.”
He said a sea wall collapsed in 2014, showcasing the potential problems further wall failure would cause.
“There was a facility along the Rouge River where a pile of material was too close to the water’s edge, and without a sea wall, material and land washed into the river. That slowed down commerce on the Rouge River for three or four weeks. It is a privately owned facility.”
Asked how much money it would take to address the urgent need, Burleson said he could only speak to the cargo facility at 4105 W. Jefferson.
“We’re still putting together all the numbers, but on the low end, it would be between $3 million and $4 million,” he said. “On the high end, it could be between $10 million and $15 million, depending on the scope of the project.”
Port officials will apply for federal funding for the infrastructure work.
The port authority is prioritizing infrastructure and government relations. It also is developing several subcommittees involving these efforts. It plans to establish subcommittees by mid-March.
“We want to develop better relationships with elected leaders and the business community, and we’re here to roll out the new strategy to get this accomplished,” Burleson said. “Our focus is on the waterfront, but in the 21st century, all transportation is connected.”
Luke Bonner, of Bonner Advisory Group, is working with the port authority to help with its strategic direction. He asked for a show of hands from those who know about it on Friday at the gathering.
A few of the about 30 people raised their hands.
“A handful of you,” he said. “We have a lot of opportunity here to do more.”
Roy Freij, deputy treasurer for Wayne County, said he is among those with limited interaction with the authority.
“I’ve never really been exposed to the Port Authority,” he said during the question-and-answer period after the presentation. “I know you’re trying to reach the business community, but you might want to appeal to the average citizen — getting exposure at community events and making sure people know who you are.”