Agri-business wants river barges to access Muskegon’s deep water port

Feb 14, 2014

The Michigan Agri-Business Association wants to open the Port of Muskegon to river barge traffic.

The large, flat-bottomed boats already carry huge shipments from New Orleans up the Mississippi River to ports in Milwaukee and Indiana.

The Michigan Agri-Business Association wants the U.S. Coast Guard to allow the ships to come to Muskegon’s deep water port too.

“It’s a real opportunity. I mean this is a game changer potentially for businesses in West Michigan,” said Jim Byrum, president of MABA, “It creates the opportunity to move things more efficiently, move them at lower cost. Water is a resource but it’s only a resource if we use it.”

Byrum says the need for imported fertilizer is the main reason his association got involved.

But he says there are a number of other industries, like scrap metal and renewable energy that are interested too.

“It’s kind of a chicken and egg issue. You know you don’t really think about moving by barge if you can’t move barges. So if we create the opportunity I think it would be astounding how much commerce would be conducted,” he said.

The U.S. Coast Guard is collecting public comments on the proposal now. It’s not clear when exactly the agency will make a decision.

The effort fits into Muskegon’s broader goal to make more and better use of its port. It’s the deepest port in the state off of Lake Michigan.