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Pittsburgh builds two new tugboats

by KEVIN BEGOS Associated Press on July 05, 2013 10:30 AM

PITTSBURGH — A Pittsburgh-based marine services company has built two new tugboats, a reminder that the old business of pushing barges along rivers continues even in modern times.

Campbell Transportation christened the Renee Lynn and the Alice Jean at a riverside ceremony last week. The 65-foot-long, 24-foot-wide boats are the first new major vessels built in Pittsburgh in 30 years, the company said.

The Port of Pittsburgh ranked 21st in the nation in terms of total tonnage in 2011, which means it handled more traffic than ports in Philadelphia, Tampa, Fla., or Seattle, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Technically, the river tugs that push barges are called towboats, while those that push ships in harbors are called tugboats. But the general public calls them all tugboats.

Peter Stephaich, Campbell’s CEO, said the boats will probably be in service for 50 years. He said his company has a long-term view of the business, and a big part of that is pushing coal barges along the rivers. The recession caused a drop in river tonnage, but it’s picking up again.

The boats were built from scratch and cost about $3 million each, Stephaich said. Pittsburgh was a major center for shipbuilding from the 1800s until after World War II, but the last shipyard closed down in the early 1980s, and production shifted to the Gulf Coast.

The Port of Pittsburgh Commission oversees about 200 miles of waterways stretching from the Ohio border to West Virginia. The system moves about 30 million to 40 million tons of products per year along the Ohio, Monongahela and Allegheny rivers, said executive director James McCarville.

But, he said, serious maintenance issues exist with the locks and dams that service the port’s river system and can lead to transportation delays and scheduling problems.

The port and river marine companies have been lobbying Congress to spend more money for such repairs, but federal budget problems have made the task difficult.

“We are creating problems faster than we are solving them,” he said.

McCarville said area businesses such as U.S. Steel have invested heavily in factory upgrades, and the boom in shale gas drilling is also leading to new business such as hauling pipe. He called that “very encouraging for long-term development along the waterways.”

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