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Ports and Waterways

Minnesota's principal commercial waterways are the Lake Superior/Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Seaway system and the Mississippi River and its tributaries, the Minnesota and St. Croix Rivers.

duluth lift bridgeThe state's agricultural and mining economies depend heavily on both of these waterways to move commodities.

The Lake Superior/Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Seaway System

Minnesota's four Lake Superior ports Duluth/Superior, Two Harbors, Taconite Harbor and Silver Bay transported nearly 61 million net tons in 2010, mainly taconite, steel products and minerals, and other products such as wind turbine equipment.

The Port of Duluth/Superior is a well-regarded port, ranking among the top 20 ports in the U.S. by cargo. It handles an average of 42 million short tons and nearly 1,000 vessels each year. Commodities shipped through Duluth/Superior include coal, iron ore, grains, limestone, cement, wood pulp and heavy equipment.

In 2011, the Port of Duluth /Superior was voted the top port in Top Ten Ports by the Railway Industrial Clearance Association (RICA), an organization that includes representatives from all areas of the transportation industry (railroads, ocean carriers, manufacturers and truck companies). Additionally, the Port of Duluth/Superior passed the one million mark in freight tons of wind turbine components. With over 360,000 square feet of warehouse capacity, the port has become a popular distribution center for American wind companies.

The Mississippi River System

The Mississippi River system stretches more than 222 miles. Its five ports combined transported nearly 11 million net tons in 2010.

  • More than 60 percent of Minnesota's agricultural exports are shipped down the Mississippi River.
  • The largest river tonnage commodities are corn, soybeans and wheat
  • River ports also handle dry cargo products such as coal, fertilizer, minerals, salt, cement, steel products, scrap and liquid products including petroleum, caustic soda, vegetable oils and molasses.
  • The river navigational system serving Minnesota is maintained by the federal government. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers maintains a nine feet deep channel by dredging and operates all 29 locks and dams on the upper Mississippi River.
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