Minneapolis is the head of commercial navigation on the Mississippi river. The city’s barge facilities handle about 600,000 tons of traffic annually–not huge by water-transport standards, but not trivial either.
Concerns about a predatory fish called the Asian Carp have raised the idea of permanently closing the locks at St Anthony Falls and hence eliminating Minneapolis’s industrial waterfront. Maybe this is necessary, or maybe there is an alternative way of dealing with the carp invasion–I don’t know. But I do think that the reaction of the Mayor to the potential termination of barge operations in his city is a little–jarring:
Get over it. Minneapolis does not need a port
What Minneapolis apparently does need, in the opinion of many real-estate developers and politicians, is a new swath of riverfront parks, condos, and restaurants.
Mayor Rybak is a Democrat, and presumably positions himself as an environmentalist–he doesn’t seem very concerned about the approximately 200 additional truck trips a day that would result from the closure of the port. I feel confident that the Mayor talks a lot about the importance of good jobs, but he demonstrates a pretty cavalier attitude toward an important piece of industrial infrastructure.
Hostility toward those types of industry that deal directly with the physical world is quite common among politicians and academics. I’ve written before about the travails of a towboat company in Seattle which had to wait five years for a permit to build “dolphins”–basically, three piles tied together at the top. A local business leader observed that”It’s all cultural…If it were biotech, it would get the green light.” And a columnist summed up the government’s attitude in these words: “Biotech is cool. Propellers and pilings are uncool.”
The cool biotech and software companies, the waterfront condos, the upscale restaurants–all of these things rest on a foundation of barges, freight railroads, dams, mines, and furnaces. There are too many people in important positions who fail to understand this reality or try to obscure it.
As such things go, closing the port of Minneapolis would not be a major economic catastrophe, except for those directly involved…St Paul, with its more extensive waterfront facilities, is not all that far away.. But it provides yet another example of the dismissive attitude of many political and academic elites toward a whole range of economic activity. See my post faux manufacturing nostalgia for further thoughts along these lines.
Related: Environmentalism and the leisure class, in American Spectator
A nicely-done directory of Minnesota’s river ports, here.