Common Council Vote Could Clear the Way for Ethanol Shipments from Milwaukee's Port

May 31, 2017

U.S. Venture wants to lease less than an acre of land next to property it already uses at the Port of Milwaukee. The extra piece would give the company a path to create a pipeline to the city pier that handles liquid cargo.

"It's always been our desire to connect to the liquid cargo pier so that we can handle water shipments, and the primary cargo that we've been looking at for a number of years is ethanol," says Richard Sawall, director of business development. He outlined U.S. Venture's plans at a recent Common Council committee meeting.

"Wisconsin has a very strong ethanol industry and it's an export market for the state, so we've always looked at Jones Island as an outlet for that product for international markets, primarily," Sawall says.

Sawall says the company wants to truck ethanol to Milwaukee's port, then transfer it onto barges. The company says the system would be designed so no ethanol would seep into Lake Michigan during the transfer. The ethanol would be pumped through a pipeline to a hose that connects to the barge.

The company says it would put emergency plans in place, to contain and clean up ethanol, in the unlikely event of a spill. Yet the firm admits that a mishap could kill off a number of fish.

That kind of scenario worries the group Citizens Acting for Rail Safety. Members testified at the committee meeting, saying ethanol is volatile, and arguing that the flammable cargo would put the harbor and the whole community at risk.

Meanwhile, Ald. Jim Bohl says he's worried about a possible increase in trucks hauling ethanol through the city on their way to the port.

"It's all part of the same chain. And we are talking about safety for citizens in this community -- above and beyond the water. It's part of the whole process," Bohl says.

Ald. Nik Kovac says he's concerned about the city establishing an infrastructure to handle liquid cargo, perhaps even crude oil. Kovac says by doing so, the city could become a hub.

"The idea that infrastructure is destiny really does concern me, made famous, you know, in the movie we've all seen -- Field of Dreams -- 'if you build it, they will come.' If you build pipes, people are going to put stuff in (those) pipes because they've got capital investments," Kovac says.

The Common Council will vote Wednesday not on whether to allow shipments of flammable cargo from Milwaukee's port. Rather, members will vote on U.S. Venture's desire to lease the small parcel, that would enable the company to extend a pipeline to the city’s liquid cargo pier. The company already has permission to use the pier.