“I believe Customs will come back with answers sooner rather than later,” said LaMarre, “but we won’t have any good answers. The Detroit office strategy is to get Chicago and other field offices in alignment with them, which will be incredibly harmful to Great Lakes seaports and the St. Lawrence Seaway.”
LaMarre estimates it would cost up to $6 million for the X-ray and scanning equipment the Detroit office demands of his port. Although cheaper portable machines do the X-raying and radiation scanning at the truck ferry in Detroit, he said Detroit CBP has told him he cannot use portable equipment in Monroe but instead must use larger, fixed equipment, which is much more expensive.
Cleveland’s two scanning machines are both portable. “We work really closely with Cleveland Customs. We’ve got a really good relationship with them,” said Gutheil. As for X-ray equipment, he said: “We’ve never been told we need anything other than what we have now. I can’t comment on what is happening with the Detroit office, but I know Paul LaMarre well and he’s done a great job of building the business in his port. I wish him well.”
The Detroit office of CBP declined to make Chris Perry available for an interview despite three requests. After the second request, Kristoffer Grogan, a public affairs officer for the Detroit office of CBP, responded by email with a quote that he said could only be attributed to an unnamed CBP official:
“Because no two ports are exactly alike, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) must evaluate all requests for new services individually. CBP is committed to evaluating the totality of circumstances — including facilities, equipment, resources and appropriate security — when evaluating requests for new services.
“CBP at multiple levels and on several occasions has met with the Port of Monroe to provide clarification, guidance, and feedback regarding CBP requirements as it relates to international marine cargo, vessel processing, and alternative funding programs/opportunities. CBP is sensitive to and understands the value of local initiatives to expand international business throughout the local area, and will continue to provide the Port of Monroe with the necessary information regarding the proper facilities, technology and infrastructure required to allow for the proper and adequate inspection of containerized cargo in the maritime environment.”
Before the meeting with CBP officials in Washington, Peters’ staff contacted ports around the U.S., including Baltimore, Philadelphia, Miami, Cleveland and Los Angeles/Long Beach. They found that different CBP offices operate with a great deal of autonomy, without clearly articulated and enforced screening requirements, resulting in the equivalent of picking winners — Toledo and Cleveland, for example — and losers — including Monroe, Detroit and Saginaw.
The UM report estimated that within the first three years of being allowed to handle containerized cargo shipping, the Port of Monroe could generate more than $50 million in docking and unloading fees.
LaMarre said if the Port of Monroe were allowed to operate under the same rules as the Port of Toledo, it would be reasonable to expect two foreign vessels a month to unload cargo there. At about $1 million in local economic impact per unloading and a nine-month shipping season, that would mean a local economic impact of about $18 million a year.
LaMarre said Detroit customs officials have told him their focus is on truck traffic across the Ambassador Bridge.
Ward said his ferry company averages about 40 trucks a day going across the Detroit River. All are scanned and X-rayed with a portable machine made by Leidos of Reston, Va. He said the truck traffic on the bridge goes past stationary radiation scanners but that the X-ray equipment on the bridge is so old and cumbersome that only a tiny fraction of trucks are X-rayed.
“You can X-ray one truck every 15 minutes, so you can see how that would back up traffic,” he said.
He said even though large East and West Coast ports have X-ray and scanning equipment, because of the large volumes of container traffic coming and going, only a small number are X-rayed.
The ongoing dispute with the Detroit office of CBP didn’t stop the Port of Monroe from receiving its first European vessel in several years when the M/V Happy Ranger from the Netherlands docked on Oct. 14, carrying what LaMarre said may very well have been the largest single item ever to make its way into the Great Lakes from Europe.
The ship was carrying something called a stator, an 800,000-pound component to be installed in a power generator at DTE’s Fermi 2 nuclear power plant in Newport, northeast of Monroe. Since it was too big to be put in a cargo container or boxed up in a crate, Detroit CBP rules for radiation scanning and X-rays didn’t apply.
The stator was loaded directly onto a rail spur at the port that was installed earlier this year after grants from the Michigan Department of Transportation and DTE.
The ship was then loaded with 42 wind-turbine-tower segments, which were also too big to be crated or containerized. Manufactured by Ventower Industries LLC of Monroe, they set sail for Peru, where they were to be assembled into 14 towers.