1st freighter of season arrives at PI quarry

PRESQUE ISLE – The shipping season is finally under way for Lafarge’s Presque Isle Quarry and members of the local International Shipmaster’s Association lodge greeted the captain and crew of the first freighter of the season to arrive at Stoneport.

The 806-foot Hon. James L. Oberstar arrived Tuesday, and Capt. Joseph Ruch said the freighter was there to take on 21,000 tons of stone. From there, it’ll head south to DTE Energy’s power plant in Monroe, where the stone will be used in the plant’s pollution control system.

It’s been a tough start for Great Lakes shipping, and Ruch said it took the freighter nearly three days to break out of the ice in Sturgeon Point, Wis., to start its season. The Oberstar has been running for a month now, and has an extra engineer on board to help get the ship through the ice. The Oberstar typically hauls iron ore from Marquette to Dearborn or Duluth to Indiana Harbor, and Ruch said he’s glad he isn’t headed to points north just yet.

“There’s a lot of ships lined up to go north, but they’re not making a lot of progress,” he said. “They’re all stuck. It’s been a tough spring.”

ISMA Lodge President Lee Barnhill and members Ted Rayha and Paul LaBrecque came out to greet Ruch as part of a centuries-old tradition. In the pilot house of the freighter, they presented Ruch with a calendar and some cigars for him and Chief Engineer Mark St. Pierre. Ruch is a member of ISMA as well, and Barnhill said he was glad to greet a fellow member that day.

Plant Manager Allan Idalski and materials performance supervisor Tim Cordes came along. Idalski said he was glad for the opportunity to show off the plant, and to meet Ruch.

“It’s great to greet the captains like that,” he said. “We don’t get to meet them as often as you’d think. It’s a great opportunity to see the vessel and see where it goes from here.”

Presque Isle Quarry plans to ship 6 1/2 million tons of aggregate this year, and produce about 7 million tons, Idalski said. It should be a fairly good year for the quarry, especially after hitting a low of shipping 5 million tons in 2009. The quarry ships high-calcium limestone, with 60 percent of it going to the metallurgical market and much of the rest used for road building.

April 15 is a late start for the quarry’s shipping season, Idalski said.

“Typically, we’d be trying to start up by mid-March,” he said.

Jordan Travis can be reached via email at jtravis@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5688. Follow Jordan on Twitter @jt_alpenanews. Read his blog, A Snowball’s Chance, at www.thealpenanews.com.