ASHTABULA, Ohio — The coal bridge over the Ashtabula River stands as both a symbol of this region’s industrial and shipping past and a reminder of what could once again be in this community that is home to one of the Great Lakes' first ports.
“When we look at the development of the U.S. economy it was fueled in large by ports like Ashtabula, ports like Conneaut,” said Greg Myers, Executive Director of Growth Partnership of Ashtabula County. And they still quietly play a role in that today, according to Conneaut City Manager Jim Hockaday.
“Every ounce of steel that comes out of Pittsburgh comes through Conneaut’s port first,” he said.
So as Hockaday looks at the global supply chain issues he says why not us?
“We absolutely can help with this. What most people don’t understand is Ashtabula, Conneaut, Cleveland’s port we’re all linked by rail and we’re linked in proximity to all of these major markets so there’s always an opportunity to alleviate some of that by putting in some of the infrastructures that would be required to move containers in an efficient manner that can make it competitive with some of the overwhelmed coastal ports."
Yes, these two ports are ripe to take on more work but Ashtabula City Manager Jim Timonere points out that a lot of this current infrastructure was built up more than a half-century ago.
“We need that infrastructure to be improved in order to bring it in and get it out to the United States and other countries for that matter,” Timonere said.
Enter the infrastructure bill and the $17 billion it brings to ports alone and while many older ports are landlocked, unable to expand Ashtabula and Conneaut are not and Ashtabula County Port Authority’s Mark Winchell said you wouldn’t have to start from scratch.
“These were industrial sites, so rather than creating industrial sites somewhere else building them here where we already have the infrastructure is really the key component,” Winchell said. “This is a once in a generational opportunity for us it truly is.”
That’s why the port authority and city leaders were showing Senator Sherrod Brown Wednesday what could be accomplished with his help in carving out a piece of that $17 billion pie. Brown said there will be formulas involved in determining some of what ports get what but he will do what he can to translate what he saw, what this place can do.
“I talked this week to the Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg about a number of infrastructure things from public transit to things like ports and we will be on the map, I will make sure of that,” Brown said.