ASHTABULA — Most Ashtabula County residents who have gray hair can recall a time when the harbor’s winter landscape was one of lake freighters packed into slips for winter lay-up maintenance and repairs.
That’s a sight that Joseph Craine of Jefferson would like to restore to the harbor. Craine, owner of Lake Erie Ship Repair and Fabrication, said the work goes to Toledo, Lorain, Cleveland and Erie, Pa., when it should be in Ashtabula.
“Ashtabula left the marine industry slide out of here,” says Craine, who drives to Cleveland to work on vessels.
“Toledo and Cleveland are loaded with boats,” Craine said.
He feels that the city is literally missing the boat on 75 to 80 jobs, as well as the money spent on supplies necessary to complete the repairs.
According to the Lake Carriers’ Association in Rocky River, more than 1,200 boilermakers, welders, electricians and other skilled craftsmen will be involved in maintaining and modernizing U.S-flagged Great Lakes freighters this winter. Total investment in the 56 vessels in this fleet is expected to be around $75 million.
The lay-up season began in late December. The Carriers’ Association lists Sturgeon Bay and Superior, Wisc.; Erie, Pa.; and Toledo as the major lay-up ports on U.S. sides of the lakes. Smaller “top-side” repair operations are located in Cleveland, Buffalo and several Michigan cities.
Craine said “top-side” work is his company’s specialty, and it is work that could be done at docks in the Ashtabula River during a time the river is not used for recreational boating.
“It’s crazy,” he says of the long drive he has to make from a county that has some of the best ports on the lower lakes. “All I need is the empty dock and the power (an electrical connection from shore).”