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Port tonnage, activity is rising

The Port of Buffalo has enticed ships to unload so many heavy piles of salt, coal, gravel and windmill blades that the it won an award last year from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The port, now owned by Pennsylvania-based New Enterprise Stone & Lime, may win another wall plaque from the DOT's St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corp. this year: Its coal unloadings alone went up dramatically, from 180,000 tons in 2005 to 440,000 in 2006.

"We're always looking for more," said James Yamonaco, port director. "We'd like to increase our tonnage. That would put more people to work."

As the man in charge of recruiting new business, Yamonaco hopes to get word this spring about whether the port won yet another heavy contract. He bid for on a 5-year deal to unload 500,000 tons of steel a year from ships from Brazil. A port crew of 20 would join the 15 already working and load the metal onto trains bound for their West Virginia steel plant buyer.

Ships bring in coal from the Canadian side of Lake Superior, limestone from Michigan, windmill blades from Brazil and Ford plant stamping machines from Germany. T h e y pull into the port's canal-like trough that pokes into the old Bethlehem Steel plant grounds, and is wide enough for two side-by-side ships. "We can accommodate probably six vessels," Yamonaco said.

Yamonaco spoke from his office in a three-room construction trailer with views of gravel piles amid Bethlehem's old brick buildings.

In the early 1980s, Buffalo Crushed Stone bought 152 acres of the old factory land in Lackawanna between Route 5 and the lake shore. It named the area the Gateway Trade Center, rented buildings to industrial tenants and opened the Port of Buffalo inside.

In 2000, New Enterprise bought Buffalo Crushed Stone - a stone, sand and gravel seller with offices on Clinton Street - along with the port and trade center. To explain the center and its mix of decaying empty buildings, a newer corrugated metal one and reused old brick ones, Yamonaco got in his car and drove around.

"It's interesting to come in and look," said Yamonaco. "For somebody driving by here, you have no idea what goes on in the back."

Piles of gravel stood near his trailer office. On the other side of the slip, there are defunct smoke stacks and the steel plant's old coke ovens, which are not owned by New Enterprise.

An old brick building once used for maintenance of steel plant rail cars is now leased by Ferrous Mfg., which makes safety rails and other industrial pieces from steel piping.

Another long brick building, once the plant's ladle house for fixing giant bowls used for melting steel, now holds New Enterprise's Buffalo Redi-Mix concrete factory, another subsidiary.

The subsidiaries would like even more space. Gateway Trade Center has been thinking about building a new office near the old Bethlehem corporate offices. For many years the firm has been talking to Lackawanna officials about getting money to help fix up or tear down the brick building with elegant round windows and collapsing roof.

Yamonaco could use more room to store piles of gravel and salt. "We'd like to expand a little bit," he said. "There's a lot of acreage for sale near Route 5. It's a lot bigger than you think."