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PORT NOTEBOOK: Search continues for Port Authority's next director

Rubber mulch formerly found on Duluth public school playgrounds is now being used to fill trenches at the heavy lift dock on the Clure Terminal Expansion. The trenches were considered tripping hazards. Photo courtesy Duluth Port Authority

With new temporary digs in Lincoln Park and the pending purchase of a new permanent home for 2020 on the waterfront, transition is the norm of late for the Duluth Seaway Port Authority.

There's more to come. But the hiring of a new executive director is still several weeks away. A batch of candidates has applied to replace Vanta Coda, who left in February to take over leadership of the Ports of Indiana. Currently, Kevin Beardsley, chief financial officer, is pulling double duty as interim executive director.

"It's moving along," commissioner Tony Sertich reported to the board during its June meeting last week. "We've got a great group of candidates."

After further vetting, Sertich suspected finalists would visit Duluth later this month and in August. Busy summer schedules on both ends will likely drag out the formal interviewing process, which is when finalists' names will be released to the public.

When Coda took over in 2013, he was seventh executive director since the Port Authority was created by state statute in 1955. The eighth ought to be decided by the end of summer.

School district discard finds home on waterfront

The rubber playground mulch that was the center of a Duluth school district controversy and ultimately removed from school playgrounds has found a new home on the waterfront. The mulch is being used to fill concrete trenches which house rails on the Clure Terminal Expansion on Rice's Point. The open trenches, maybe 8 inches deep along the heavy lift berth 8, presented a tripping hazard, said a written report given to the board by Port Authority facilities manager Jason Paulson. The Port Authority tried sand and gravel in the trenches, but each "held water and caused corrosion."

Cruise prep in progress

The return of cruise ships to Duluth was first reported by the News Tribune in July 2017, and the Miami-based Victory Cruise Lines is scheduled to make its first two stops in Duluth in 2019. To prepare, the Port Authority is working with local entities and the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol on a temporary secure facility to serve as a passenger terminal behind the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center. The Port Authority is seeking a grant to help fund technical equipment required to clear passengers. Past cruise ships also docked behind the DECC. It's the goal of the Port Authority and others, including the DECC and Visit Duluth, to ultimately feature a more permanent terminal, said an internal business development report submitted to the Port Authority board.

Study nearly complete

The Port Authority hired Duluth marketing firm Giant Voices to roll out a study later this year on Duluth's industrial economy.

A Boston-based organization, Initiative for a Competitive Inner City, is handling the study, titled "Strengthening the Industrial Economy in Duluth."

The study was entering a final draft stage and expected to be presented to the board at its July meeting.

Waves ...

President Donald Trump's campaign rally in Duluth was accompanied by a roundtable discussion on trade, mining and the economy which was held at Lake Superior Warehousing Co., on the Clure Public Marine Terminal. "Well-planned, well-executed," said board president Ray Klosowski of the event. St. Louis County and Port Authority commissioner Pete Stauber, who Trump was campaigning for in Stauber's bid to represent the 8th Congressional District, concurred. "A member of the White House staff came up to me and said, 'Unbelievable job,'" Stauber said. ... Representatives from the world's second-largest steamship line, container shipping giant MSC, visited Duluth in early June. MSC stands for Mediterranean Shipping Company. It is promoting Duluth Cargo Connect as a solution for its import and export customers, said Kate Ferguson, the Port Authority's director of business development. Ferguson called the news "excellent" for Duluth Cargo Connect, the Port Authority's multimodal cooperative with Lake Superior Warehousing. ... The Altec Industries expansion on Rice's Point that led to the Port Authority's move from its longtime offices on the Clure Public Marine Terminal is moving along on a number of fronts. A parking lot is nearing completion, prefabricated walls are going up on an Altec facilities expansion and the offices formerly housing the Port Authority are being converted to house 30 employees versus the 10 the building used to accommodate. ... Following May's St. Louis River Quest, the Port Authority reports having now served 25,000 sixth graders since the program started in 1993. Together with local schools and the Vista Fleet touring boats, the Port Authority uses the program to teach grade schoolers about the St. Louis River estuary.

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