Metro Ports took over handling bulk cargo at the Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor on Lake Michigan five years ago.

The stevedore, the largest bulk cargo stevedore in the United States with operations up and down the coasts, invested millions at the deepwater port in Portage, brought in more environmentally friendly equipment and helped drive the port to record cargo volumes.

It came as a shock to the company and the longshoreman unions that represent workers there when the port told Metro Ports its lease would not be renewed at the end of this year.

"It's been a huge success," Metro Ports Vice President of Operations David Parrott said. "There's been a high quality of work, a lot of volume added, jobs for families and environmentally friendly equipment."

Parrott estimated Metro Ports boosted bulk traffic at the port by 50%.

"We've put in millions. We've invested a lot in eco-friendly equipment and machines. Anyone else that came in would have significantly older pieces of equipment, odd pieces of junk that would pollute the air and water," he said. "It was surprising to hear the port doesn't want us anymore and wouldn't renew our lease for another five years."

Metro Ports also has a good relationship with the unions that represent dockworkers.

"They're good guys. They're hard workers. They know their jobs," Parrott said. "They are committed to the community."

Leases typically get renewed in the maritime industry unless the stevedore is falling short somehow, whether not bringing in enough traffic, polluting the environment or creating unsafe work conditions that get workers hurt.

"We've utilized our existing customer base throughout North America to encourage new business into Burns Harbor and the Great Lakes," he said. "We're disappointed in the way the port has approached this. We've done everything asked of us. We've increased working hours. We've brought more cargo. We've been a good steward of the environment. We've done it all and the port still says no, they're going to bring in someone else. I've been in this business 32 years and never seen anything like this."

The Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor did not immediately return requests for comment.

Union leaders with the International Longshoremen's Association questioned why the stevedore that brought record traffic to the port would be let go and expressed dismay that the ports system, a quasi-governmental agency based in Indianapolis, has not answered their questions.

"We haven't been able to find out why," International Longshoremen's Association Local 2038 President Rusty White said. "There's no transparency."

White said Metro Ports employs 25-30 full-time workers and got regular hours loading and unloading ships for most of its 180 workers.

Local 1969 Business Agent Joseph Perez III said Metro Ports was a great employer that brought job opportunities to the Region.

"Over the course of five record-breaking years, they've brought in eco-friendly equipment, investing in the city and had very good employment for the union," he said. "The union is concerned we will no longer have a shot to continue with these jobs. To be honest, they're union-friendly. They pay well and give overtime."

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