Industrial Ports Are Evolving And Growing As Waterfront Redevelopment Opens Rivers To The Public
Rob Walters, a riverkeeper, launched his boat across from a staging area for barges on the Monongahela River, about 20 miles upriver from Pittsburgh’s downtown. His first mate, a Portuguese water dog named Rio — meaning river in Portuguese — whimpered in excitement. He counted about 30 barges before he turned on his boat’s engine and headed towards the city.
“Usually the general rule of thumb is biggest boat wins. So the barges really are the rulers of the river,” he said as he navigated between the moving barges.
Before too long, U.S. Steel’s Clairton Coke works came into view. U.S. Steel says it’s the largest coke works in the country and in aerial photos it takes up the entire crescent of land that lies in this bend of the Mon River. “My jaw drops every time,” Walters said.
The Clairton plant is part of the Mon Valley Works, a steelmaking operation along the Monongahela River. The various facilities along the riverbanks, as well the barges themselves, are a good reminder of just how industrial the rivers and their banks used to be. But just as other plants in the region have closed, the Mon Valley Works has shrunk. Today, the prior extent of industry's reach can be easy to forget when bicycling along one of the relatively new riverside trails in Pittsburgh or hanging out at Point State Park downtown. Still, they’re not just reminders, they’re active industrial strongholds in the region.
The other two major ports in the state, in Erie and Philadelphia, are also important industrial assets to their cities.
Public river access and recreation are becoming more important on urban waterfronts. But industry still thrives on the water, too. It’s evolving and, actually, in some cities, growing again.